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Ducati 916

Buying Nina

(from our Travels with Guido series MT255, March 2012, updated June 2020)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Getting a taste of Italy

Youngest offspring Ms A jnr, the pilot, knew immediately when I rolled up to Short Stop Aviation in sunny Essendon, grinning like a fool. Muggins was on Nina the 916, which I’d picked up just 20 minutes before from Peter Stevens – the giant motorcycle emporium in the city. Scoping the silly grin on my face, she opined, “You’ve bought it, haven’t you.” It was a statement rather than a question.

“Yep,” I happily confessed.

Then came, “What is it?”

“A Ducati 916.”

“And that would be…?”

“This is a seriously cute bike,” I began, “and one of the greats…” The lecture continued, but I could see the ears had slammed shut. She had enough info. Red, noisy, cute. Dad was happily out of his cotton-picking mind, again. All was right with the world. She decided to distract me with a tour of the new jet in their hangar.

Despite lots of misgivings over the years, a 916 has been firmly in my sights as a bike on the must-have list. The misgivings? Their reputation on the service and quality front has been ordinary. I’ve spent time talking to unhappy owners of high-end versions, who seemed to climb financial mountains to sort their toys. All too often, it’s ended in tears. Which is scary.

But what I’ve come back to is the ride. Through good fortune, I got to play with a few 916s, and their successors, over the years.

They’re exciting. I particularly love the early versions. Narrow, snarling little monsters that are far from perfect but steer like angels. In some ways, they’re the mermaids of the road, capable of sucking you deep into corner lines and speeds that you didn’t think possible. Freak out and you crash. Keep that sliver of nerve and you make it through.

It’s accompanied by the booming operatic noise of the twin pipes under the tail.

Right or wrong, I needed to have one, if for no other reason that I’d yet to add an Italian bike to the fleet. A few Guzzis and MVs were also high on the shopping list, but a 916 was at the top.

Fellow Motorcycle Trader mag staffer staffer Ian Falloon shares the blame. His story in issue 250, nominating the top five influential motorcycles of all time had the 916 scrape in at last place. He’s also written the seminal 916 bible, predictably titled Ducati 916, tracing a colourful history.

The final straw was seeing the right bike at the right time. It was a 1998 Strada with an SP tail and aftermarket carbon mufflers at $11k on the road. (It was a while ago...). I would have preferred something earlier and dead original, but the price was right.

Fitted with a fresh set of Dunlop Sportmax Qualifiers, it boomed its way up the freeway to Essendon airport. Terrible ride position, head-down and bum-up, narrow as a scalpel, boasting a mere 114 horses for near 200kg, when I have Hannibal the modded Hayabusa with near double the power for 225kg.

Nina (of course it has a name) is also a little cranky by modern standards. She needs revs on board to get away, and the clutch rattle is unbelievable. Oh, and I know I’m up for maintenance bills in two years’ time (or less) to replace the cam belts.

You know what? I could not give the proverbial fat rat’s arse.

On the odd occasion I can cut loose the throttle and tip her into a curve, it really is a sublime experience. Much like I remember from the original versions of 25 years ago. It’s a sense of carving as much as riding.

So, yes, I have bought it…

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