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Ducati Ownership Again!

I know this is yet another distraction away from Vincent's, but as I am sure you have realised now, I am a bit of a motorcycling butterfly, flitting from one interest to another. Perhaps it is becoming clear to you why my Vincent is still not built after 16 years of ownership!
That said, I hope that the reason why a lot of you are reading this website is not just because of your interest in Vincent's alone, but because, like me, you love big V-Twins. That being the case, I hope you might find this section on Ducati 916's interesting, if only so you can see what many believe to be the ultimate development of a Vee Twin engine, married to a strikingly beautiful and well handling chassis. And besides, I don't think I am alone amongst British bike enthusiasts in having always had a soft spot for this Italian company with a history of distinctive sports designs. I have always considered them akin to a Ferrari of the bike world, but I suppose this might ruffle feathers with some MV owners (tough!)

December 2003
I had started thinking about a replacement for the Fireblade shortly after my accident last January, about 3 hours after the accident actually! ( well - once I realised I was still alive, I had to have something to take my mind off the 8 hour wait in A&E!).
Like many people, I had been smitten with the Ducati 916 ever since it first appeared in 1994, but like most people, could not afford one and, already owning one of the most reliable well built superbikes, was not ready to exchange this for the (reputed) dubious build quality and high maintenance associated with the Ducati, even if they do sound and look drop dead gorgeous.
Anyway, with the Fireblade gone and the Ducati 916 a lot more affordable these days (if you are prepared to look around), I felt now might be the ideal time to buy one.
I haven't ridden a superbike since the accident, and know that my leg/hip injuries are still not fully healed, but wanted to start looking in the winter, as this is the best time to find a good deal. I could worry about if I can ride it come the spring!

Although my own insurance company has (finally) paid out on the Fireblade, (the other blokes insurance company has admitted liability but I am still in the process of reclaiming this), I did not want to spend too much for the Ducati, and was therefore prepared to look for a slightly older model and take the risk of buying privately.

1997 916 Bi-Posto

Library shot of 1997 Ducati 916 Bi-Posto (standard spec 916)

1997 916 SPS

1997 Ducati SPS - This is the genuine article. See if you can spot the differences between this and the standard Bi-Posto above (not all are obvious)

Ducati Bi-Posto and SP/SPS - What's the Difference?
Ideally I would have liked an SPS model, or even the earlier SP model, as both these models are pretty exotic when compared to the more standard Bi-Posto (dual seat) model. Unfortunately, both of these bikes still fetch a premium and would almost certainly be out of my price range (good SPS models still seem to be fetching £7,000+!).
As a bit of background, although all the 748/916/996/998 are by their very nature exotic, the SP (1994-1996) and SPS (1997 onwards) are even more so. The main distinguishing feature on the chassis side was an Ohlins rear shock as standard, single seat, and Termignolli Carbon Fibre exhausts. Dependant on year, there were also a number of other smaller differences, such as carbon fibre mudguards etc. The other main difference between SP/SPS and standard models was in the engine department. Again, dependant on year, there were mods such as higher compression, different cams, larger valves and even Titanium Pankl con-rods. Interestingly enough, the main feature of the SPS 916, distinguishing it from the earlier SP model, was that it was actually bored out to 996cc and had different crankcases to allow for this. It was this engine that then became the basis for the standard model 996 Ducati (although not with some of the other exotic SPS features). Even the very last 916 SP models were not actually 916cc but were instead bored out to 955cc (sometimes I feel like one of those people you meet on their own at parties, who insist on telling you everything there is to know about shower curtain rails . . .)


1998 916 SPS

In 1998 Ducati went very 'minimilist' and the only logos on the bike was a single white 'Ducati' on the bike. This is the SPS version again, note the Carbon Fibre airbox

 

My Bike
Eventually I found the bike you see here, a late 1997 Bi-Posto 916, but fitted with many of the SPS goodies I was looking for. To me, 1997 was the best year as far as overall style and features were concerned. By then they had overcome a lot of the reliability problems that plagued the first examples, and although the build quality was improved further in 1998, unfortunately Ducati's went very minimalist in their finish for that year, with only a single 'Ducati' transfer on the fairing. I personally think that these bikes look like they had come out of the paint shop only half finished, and regardless of better electrics or not, I would rather not have one. By 1999 they had realised they had screwed up and put a couple more transfers on and were bearable again, however, by this time they had moved on to the 996 model, which again was out of my price range for a reasonable example. Unlike some, I also prefer the gold frame and 3 spoke wheels of the earlier models, believing them to be more 'pure' than the later designs.

Gilera 180

Ducati 916 as purchased, kinda cute eh?!

Duke 916 Near Side

Near side shot of bike. It had just come back from JHP Coventry, after having cam belts changed

Anyway, this particular bike appealed because as well as being a reasonably presented 1997 model, it was fitted with the following goodies:
• SPS style single seat
• 45mm Termi race cans (fabulous noise and essential for any real 916!), and ECU chip to complement these
• Ohlins rear shock, as fitted to SPS model (this is a very exotic item and was one the reasons why the SPS model cost so much more than the standard model)
• Goodridge braided front brake hoses
• Carbon fibre rear hugger/chainguard
• Carbon fibre heelplates and exhaust guard (this last item is actually an SP item as opposed to the bigger SPS version)
• It also came with a rear stand for the single side swinging arm and a tatty but useable cover

Anyway, I will be the first to admit that these goodies helped persuade me, despite the fact that its service history has been sporadic of late. In fairness, the current owner admitted he had hardly done any mileage since he had owned it, and because of this and a couple of other faults I had found, I had accounted for a service and cambelt change in the amount I would need to pay to get it roadworthy. Certainly it looked to have a reasonably comprehensive history for the main part of its record mileage, including the very important 12K service. With regards the little recent use, I had heard horror stories of 916's being used in spring after having been laid up for a few months and immediately shedding the cambelts, so had been told if there was any doubt at all, it was safer to have these replaced.
I knew there would be a certain amount of risk in buying it but it seemed to ride well and the price was reasonable, so decided to take the plunge.

JHP Ducati - Coventry
As it was deep in the depths of December when I bought the bike, I picked it up in a van and without even first taking it home, deposited it at JHP Ducati in Coventry. Although I had not heard of JHP until recently, having made some enquiries, I found they are one of the most respected Ducati service agents in the country and are used by a number of people for race preparation as well as just road servicing. Indeed, the owner John Hackett was a successful racer himself in the recent past.
Having now had the opportunity to visit them and see their service facilities I can tell you I was tremendously impressed, in fact I would rate them as the best laid out motorcycle service setup I have seen, bar none. As well as a fabulous showroom, which would do justice to many a supercar brand (in fact I believe it was previously a Porsche showroom), they have the most amazing service area, spanning the whole width of the building and having a bay for each bike being worked on as well as a separate (clinically clean) engine shop.

JHP Showroom

Beautiful selection of new Ducati's in the JHP Showroom

JHP Workshop

Spotlessly clean workshop area of JHP Ducati service department

One of the points that impressed most, was that for each bay there was a purpose built trolley that held each bikes body panels in just the right place. To me, it is this attention to detail that separates the best from the mediocre.
It was clear that I was not the only person who held this impression of JHP because the main service bay was packed with customer Ducati's, including some very exotic race machines (I won't name drop, but will tell you there was at least one works spec bike sat close to mine when I went to collect it!). All in all, a mouth watering sight.
Apart from all this, I can report back that the customer service I received from them was excellent (even John Hackett himself was kind enough to offer me a coffee, despite being obviously busy at the time), and the service turned out to be not quite as expensive as I was expecting. All in all I would definitely recommend them to any other Duke owners contemplating a service.

JHP Workshop 2

One of the mechanics working on a customer bike. Note the purpose built fairing stands

Front Mudguard and Rear Brakes
At the same time as the bike was in for service, I started looking on e-bay to see if there were any carbon fibre front mudguards available (as fitted to the SPS). Over a couple of weeks I saw two or three, although it was clear that anything carbon fibre for Ducati fetch's a premium. Eventually I was successful in bidding for a very pretty Harris version (although it looks identical to original Ducati), this too arriving a couple of days before Christmas. Obviously, Santa arrived early for me this year!
As always though, once having got the bike home, I could not resist but have a play with a few bits myself! I noticed that although the standard front brake hoses have been replaced with braided hoses, the rear hose was still standard. This was easily enough rectified, so I ordered a braided hose from Earls. Jeff, the service manager at JHP had identified that the brake pads needed changing, and although I asked him to replace the fronts, I thought I might as well do the rear pads myself at the same time as replacing the brake line.
Clutch Slave Cylinder
Another area that that Jeff identified needed attention was the hydraulic clutch slave cylinder, which looked to have a slight weep. This I'm told is a not uncommon fault with 916's and a modified fix is now available, which is a marked improvement over the original, but requires a slight mod to the pushrod.

Billet Slave Cylinder

New Billet slave cylinder. As well as being great quality, results in approx 30% less pressure required at lever

Rear

Rear shot of slave cylinder. Unlike original, uses 'O' ring to seal it from road grime

That said, I had recently seen a very pretty billet slave cylinder being advertised on a website that not only looked the business, but also reduced the lever pressure required by about 30%. As this billet cylinder would not turn out to be very much more money to purchase than having the original refurbished (and substantially less than a similar item from Ducati themselves), I decided this was a better route to go, so purchased it with a view to fit it myself. It arrived over the Christmas period and certainly looks the business (see photographs). If you own a Ducati 916 yourself and would like to try one of these quality items, then go to www.ducati-shed.com or go to my 'Links' page for details.
Fitting
Over the Christmas holidays, we had one particularly bright cold morning, which was ideal for me to go out and fit all the new bits. I opened up the garage, and with the bike half in/half out of the garage on its rear stand, and the sun shining down on me, I had a very pleasant day, fitting the new parts with no serious issues.
Changing the rear brake hose was relatively straight forward, and I took the opportunity to remove the brake caliper and thoroughly clean it, before lightly smearing the working surfaces with Copaslip. Some people seem afraid of getting grease anywhere near brake calipers but I have found that (particularly with rear calipers) they stay smooth in operation for far longer if the surfaces adjacent the pads are lightly smeared, to stop them corroding and locking the pads.
I use a special spray fluid to clean brake calipers (which does not attack the seals). It is the fluid used to clean computer systems (my main occupation) and evaporates soon after being applied.

Working on Bike

Bike on stand about to fit new parts. Lovely cold winter morning with bright sunlight making it a pleasure to be outside

Changing brake line

Replacing original brake line with Earls Braided Line. Note non-oil based degreasing spray for caliper cleaning

Rear Brake Pads

Like real pads, only smaller . . .
Rear pads are tiny

Master Cylinder

Rear Master cylinder was drained and then bled with new DOT 5 fluid, once new hose fitted. New copper washers fitted also


As a new rear braided hose was fitted, and the clutch slave cylinder replaced, I took the opportunity to fully drain both hydraulic systems and fill with new DOT 5.1 fluid. I have always found bleeding brake systems strangely rewarding, although I normally spend the first 10 minutes thinking 'this is never going to work' as I keep pumping but nothing seems to happen! I think it is rewarding, because eventually it does seem to work, and it is great seeing the last few air bubbles pop up through the bleed tube.

Routing new hose under carbon rail on chainguard. Bit of overkill area here for Carbon Fibre freaks. Ohlins shock also visible in this shot

Final task was to use nylon clamp to secure brake line

Original Slave Cylinder

Original Clutch slave cylinder had slight weep, as can be seen by engine laquer deteriation behind it

Fitting Slave cylinder

To fit, I first disconnected hydraulic pipe and connected to new cylinder. I then clipped it out of the way until old cylinder removed

Finished slave

Completed job, much better!

Finished For Now . . .
Anyway, by about 3.30pm (just as the light was starting to drop) I had finished fitting all the new parts and was able to wheel the bike out onto the road and step back and admire. It is certainly a thing of beauty, so I took a few photos to show you, see what you think.

I will let you know over the coming months how I get on with being back in the Ducati fold, but am hoping (pleeeeaaase) I won't have any serious horror stories to report. At the moment I am just really looking forward to getting back on a big bike and enjoying some nice summer blasts, hope the leg bends enough!

Finished bike

Finished bike with new SPS mudguard fitted

Drive Side

. . . and from the other side

   
 


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