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In 2016, Ducati, the legendary Bologna, Italy-based maker of high-performance motorcycles, celebrated its 90th anniversary. Ironically, the company that is today one of the world’s most renowned motorcycle manufacturers spent its first two decades in the radio components business, and didn’t even build an engine until the late 1940s. From such improbable origins the name Ducati rose to become synonymous with two-wheeled performance and world championships. Although Ducati built many motorcycles with 4-stroke single-cylinder engines and a few with parallel twins, the company is best-known for its 90 degree V-twin engines. Ducati is also celebrated for its use of the desmodromic valvetrain, a valve actuation system that uses cam lobes and rocker arms to close the valves instead of relying on conventional valve springs.

In the early 1920s, Italian scientist Adriano Ducati conducted experiments with short wave radio, and was granted patents for electronic devices of his own design. Along with his brothers Bruno and Marcello, on July 4th, 1926 Adriano Ducati established Società Scientifica Radio Brevettie Ducati (Ducati Scientific Radio Patent Company) to manufacture the electronic components he devised. The Ducatis were very successful, and by the 1930s their firm was the largest manufacturing company in Bologna. However, during World War II, the factory was heavily damaged by Allied bombing, ending production. Elsewhere in Italy during the war, lawyer and writer Aldo Farinelli saw that there would be a need for cheap transportation once the conflict was over, so working with engineer Aldo Leoni and the Siata (Società Italiana per Applicazioni Tecniche Auto-Aviatorie) company of Turin, Italy, he developed a small 4-stroke engine that could be mounted on a bicycle. The diminutive 17 lb. 48cc motor’s exhaust note sounded like the yapping of a little dog, and so the engine was dubbed “Cucciolo” (little puppy).

Production of the Cucciolo commenced almost immediately after the liberation of Italy, and they became so popular that demand soon outpaced Siata’s ability to manufacture them. Some businesses were buying the engines in quantity, installing them on bicycles and selling complete units. At the same time the Ducati brothers were rebuilding their factory and looking for new product opportunities to make use of their facilities. Siata and Ducati came to a manufacturing agreement and the first Ducati-built Cucciolos were produced in March, 1946, with Ducati becoming the exclusive manufacturer a short time later. Unfortunately, the Ducati brothers would not be around to enjoy their namesake’s eventual success. Even with the addition of the Cucciolo they were unable to operate the company profitably and they were forced to cede control to the Italian government in 1948. In 1949 Ducati built its first complete motorcycle, a moped with a Cucciolo-based engine, which was followed by a succession of 60cc, 65cc, and 98cc OHV (Over Head Valve) single-cylinder models in the early 1950s. By this time the volume of motorcycle production had so increased it was decided that motorcycle manufacturing should be split off from the electronics product line and become a separate company, and so Ducati Meccanica SpA was created in 1953.

From the very beginning Ducati went racing to demonstrate its machines’ capabilities, even setting speed records with Cucciolo engined bicycles, but these efforts were insignificant compared with the exploits of older, more established Italian firms like Gilera and Moto Guzzi. However, the relationship between racing and production bikes would become permanently intertwined when the engineer Fabio Taglioni joined Ducati in 1954. Taglioni had distinguished himself building race winning motorcycles at rival Mondial, and when hired he was tasked with doing the same for Ducati, to establish a reputation for success on the racetrack, and use the research and development knowledge that was gained to build production motorcycles that would appeal to buyers. During his 35 years as Ducati’s technical director and lead designer, Taglioni would leave an indelible stamp on the company’s products. But all that was in the future in 1954, and Taglioni’s first design was the 100 Gran Sport “Marianna”, powered by a SOHC (Single Over Head Cam) 98cc single-cylinder engine, with the camshaft driven by a vertical shaft and bevel gears. A factory racing team astride Mariannas dominated 100cc class racing, which was very popular in Italy at the time, for the next several years.

Taglioni’s next design was a larger 125cc version of the Gran Sport engine, this time with DOHC (Dual Over Head Cams). Although this engine produced respectable power, he felt it was constrained because of the engine’s rev limit. At high rpm the valves would “float”, a condition where the momentum of the valves overcomes the springs and they no longer follow the cam lobes. This not only restricted power but serious engine damage could occur if the valves contacted the pistons. The design and metallurgy of valve springs used at the time caused them to oscillate at high rpm, resulting in valve float and frequent spring breakage. To solve the problem, Taglioni designed a 3 camshaft desmodromic system, where one cam each opened the intake and exhaust valves, and another closed the valves via rocker arms. The 125 Desmo that debuted in 1956 revved higher and made more horsepower than the valve spring 125. A desmodromic valvetrain was not a new technology, but because of cost and complexity its only other application at the time was on Mercedes-Benz racing engines. Although valvetrain materials and technology, including lightweight valves, double and triple springs, beehive springs, and asymmetrical cam profiles, have virtually eliminated valve float and spring failure on modern engines, the desmodromic valve system is still a signature feature of Ducati motorcycles.

During the remainder of the 1950s and into the 1960s Ducati built a number of singles in ever larger displacements for racing and regular production. Notable models included the 200 Elite; the 250 Diana and Diana Mark 3 Super Sport; 350 Sebring; 250, 350 and 450 Scramblers; and 450 Desmo. For a time the Diana Mark 3 Super Sport was the fastest 250 street bike in the world, with a top speed that was even higher than a Yamaha TD-1 road racer. The Mark 3 D, available in 250cc, 350cc, and 450cc displacements, was the first production desmo in 1968; until that year the system had only been used on racing models. The production desmodromic system was much less complicated than the original, with all lobes on a single camshaft and valve opening and closing actuated via rocker arms.

In the late 1960s the motorcycle market was changing, especially in the U.S., with riders demanding more power, speed and larger displacement engines. Ducati and Taglioni responded with the now-famous V-twin engine design in 1970. The new 748cc engine was basically 2 Ducati single cylinders with the same shaft and bevel gear drive SOHC configuration, mounted on a common crankcase. The cylinders were spaced 90 degrees apart for perfect balance and the front cylinder was tilted forward almost parallel with the ground for optimal cooling, which is why it is also often referred to as an L-twin. The 750 GT entered production in 1971 and featured an open cradle tubular frame, 5-speed gearbox, and single front disc brake. The 750 Sport, which was based on the GT, debuted the following year. Whereas the GT was what we would consider a “standard” today, the Sport was a “café racer”, with low, clip-on handlebars and rear set foot pegs, fiberglass fuel tank and solo seat. Higher compression pistons and larger carburetors boosted horsepower.

Of course Ducati went racing to demonstrate the proficiency of the new design and the result was Paul Smart’s win at the 1972 Imola 200, one of the most celebrated racing victories in Ducati history. To commemorate the event, Ducati introduced the 750 SS (Super Sport) the following year. The SS was a production replica of the race-winning bike, weighing just over 400 lbs. and complete with huge 40mm carburetors, frame-mounted fairing, 2 front disc brakes and a rear disc brake, clip-on bars and rear set pegs. It was also the first Ducati V-twin with the desmodromic valvetrain. Only 401 examples of the original round case, duck egg green and silver Super Sports were produced. They set unmatched standards for performance when they were new and they are possibly the most significant models the company has ever produced. In 1975 V-twin engine displacement was increased to 864cc. Electric starting was added to the GT model, which subsequently became 860GTS and then 900GTS before ending production in 1979. The 900 SS, which was based on the original Super Sport but equipped with the 864cc engine, was produced until 1982. The final variant of the original V-twin design was the full-fairing 900 MHR (Mike Hailwood Replica), created to commemorate the legendary rider’s win on a Ducati at the 1978 Isle of Man TT.

With its roller bearing bottom end and shaft and bevel gear cam drive system, the original design Ducati V-twins were expensive, complicated and time-consuming to produce. Fabio Taglioni designed a new 90 degree V-twin with automotive-style plain bearings and belt-driven cams. The new 500cc engine was first used in the 1979 Pantah, and would subsequently be enlarged to first 600cc and then 650cc. This design would form the basic architecture for all Ducati V-twins to come. The first racing models with the new engine were the trellis-framed 600cc TT2 and the 750 F1, which was successfully campaigned in the late 1980s in the Battle of the Twins series. In 1983 Ducati was purchased by the Castiglioni brothers and became part of the Cagiva Group. The first new model under new management was the Massimo Tamburini designed 750 Paso, which was introduced in 1986 and featured a unique, fully-enclosed fairing. But the most technological advancement under the Castiglionis was the development of the 851cc engine that premiered in 1987. The Massimo Bordi designed 851 was based on the Pantah engine, but had liquid cooling, 4-valves per cylinder, and fuel injection. This new engine immediately made Ducati competitive in the new World Superbike Series, and a production version of the 851 soon followed.

In 1990 Ducati won the first of its many Superbike World Championships with the 851, which was enlarged to 888cc the following year. During the 90s Ducati continued to race and build street-going superbike replicas, first with the 851 and 888, and then with the totally redesigned, lighter and more powerful 916. The 916 had all new bodywork, a single-sided swingarm and an underseat exhaust system, and has been described as one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever made. It would be succeeded by the larger 996 in 1999. The company also continued to build a line of less expensive Super Sport models powered by 900cc air-cooled 2-valve V-twin engines. But the most significant Ducati of the decade, a motorcycle that would become an icon and spawn a whole new class of bikes, was the 1993 Monster 900. The Monster was the first “naked” bike, a sport bike less bodywork and with a more upright riding position. The Monster was a motorcycle reduced to its essence: saddle, gas tank, engine, wheels and handlebars. Ducati has since produced over 250,000 Monsters and they remain an important part of the lineup today. In 1996 Ducati was purchased by the investment firm Texas Pacific Group.

In the new century Ducati continued its winning ways in World Superbike, winning 6 more championships, and returned to Grand Prix racing, winning the 2007 Moto GP championship. In 2005 the company reverted to Italian ownership when it was sold to the Investindustrial Holdings investment fund. A new series of superbikes was launched with the debut of the 999 in 2003, which in turn was succeeded by the 1098 in 2007 and 1198 in 2009, each model producing more power and featuring more sophisticated electronics, suspension, and running gear. Ducati went retro as well, first with the 900 MHe in 2000, inspired by the earlier MHR, and later with the Sport Classic family, including the Paul Smart Limited Edition, based on the 1973 750SS, and the GT1000, which paid homage to the original 1971 750GT. The Monster line was improved with the addition of fuel injection and upgraded brakes, and expanded with more models and engine sizes including the S4 and S4RS with their liquid-cooled 4-valve per cylinder superbike engines and the air-cooled Monster 1100. In 2006, Ducati released the Desmosedici RR, the road going version of the bike the factory campaigned in Moto GP. Only 1500 copies were produced and it has since become one of the most collectable Ducati motorcycles.

In 2012 Ducati changed ownership again, becoming a subsidiary of Automobili Lamborghini SpA, which is part of the Volkswagen Group. The current Ducati lineup includes the Panigale superbike series, including the awesome 215 horsepower, 368 lb. 1299 Superleggera; the Monster, with powerplants ranging from the air-cooled 803cc 2-valve per cylinder engine in the Monster 797 to the 160 horsepower 1198cc liquid-cooled 4-valve per cylinder engine in the Monster 1200R; the sport-touring Multistrada series including the ready for any terrain Multistrada 1200 Enduro; the powerful and agile Hypermotard 939 with customizable Riding Modes that allow power, response, ABS (Anti-lock Brake System), and traction control to be tailored to rider preference and road conditions; the Diavel, named "Best Cruiser” by Cycle World Magazine in its first 2 years on the market and now available in several versions including the XDiavel with its torquey 1262cc engine and almost infinitely adjustable riding position; and the all new SuperSport, with features you expect on a modern sport bike, like a powerful 113 horsepower 937cc liquid-cooled 4-valve per cylinder engine, ABS, traction control, and selectable riding modes, and ones that might surprise you, like a comfortable riding position, adjustable windshield, and Ducati Quick Shift, which allows shifting up or down without using the clutch or closing the throttle.

Owning a car gives you comfort, owning a motorcycle gives you freedom. Your bike is your therapy, your passion, and your access to off-the-beaten-path places. In our selection of motorcycle accessories and parts, we have everything you need to keep your Ducati running, show some love to your prized possession, and hit the road or trail with confidence. We take the hassle out of your motorcycle maintenance, repair, and tune-up experience.

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