Last Updated on 14/02/2021
Last week I was offered the chance to purchase a very good condition 1992 Ducati 900SS for just shy of 5k. I’m not or have ever been a big sportsbike fan so my knowledge on them is limited but like most bikers, I can’t help but drool over an Italian piece of art on two wheels when I get up close to an iconic Ducati.
Common sense got in the way and in the end I passed on it. Still, a few restless nights had me wondering if I’d made the right decision. Kurt knows his sports bikes so I asked him to write up a review of the early 900SS, probably in the hope his conclusions would help justify my choice.
Here’s Kurt’s thoughts on the iconic Ducati 900SS.
Few motorcycles achieve classic status as quickly as an air-cooled Italian V-Twin.
The Hypermotard 1100 is probably my favorite example.
A noisy, dry-clutch, two-valve terror with big booming dual underseat exhausts and more character than your rich uncle with multiple personality disorder at the Thanksgiving table after he’s done a couple of lines in the bathroom. You know the one.
The 1100 Hypermotard was made an instant classic the moment Ducati decided to “modernize” it with a watered down, water-cooled 4-valve engine and a bunch of accompanying “upgrades” that looked good on paper but just didn’t have the same character.
The same could be said for the Ducati 900 Supersport, which was well received in its time, and then promptly minted “classic” thanks to the unpopular facelift it received in 1998, effectively memorializing the death of a ‘90s style icon and one of the most unique bikes of the decade.
A Brief History of the Ducati Supersport
The Ducati Supersport name started way back in 1974 with the rarely seen and highly collectible 750 Super Sport, a cafe bike that enjoyed a short-lived production of a whopping 401 units.
In the decade that followed, the Ducati Supersport name lived on in one form or another, but it wasn’t until after Ducati was purchased by Cagiva in 1985 that the Supersport would find it’s sweet spot in the motorcycle marketplace.
Much like the SuperSport 950 that Ducati produces today, the reinvented Ducati 900 Supersport of 1991 was intended to be a sporting Ducati for the masses: An accessible yet unmistakably Italian motorcycle that didn’t carry the usual Ducati baggage of a steep price tag and painstaking maintenance requirements.
The 900SS was built to be ridden daily, a sporty all-rounder that was as comfortable commuting as it was lighting up a tight canyon road.
At its introduction in 1991, the Ducati 900SS was a hit as a tastefully designed motorcycle that oozed svelte Italian style from its streamlined red fairings, subtle decals, white trellis frame and matching white wheels. It was a welcome newcomer to the full-fairing sportbike scene, and a much-needed break from the angular designs, bright colors, and four-cylinder engines that dominated the market.
By the end of the Supersport’s production in 1997, it had sold over 27,000 units and become popular enough to spawn multiple factory configurations. Notable favorites include the half-fairing cafe version and the strictly-business “Superlight” model, which came with a solo seat, carbon trim, lightweight wheels, and even a number plate on the tail section to make damn sure there was no misunderstanding the bike’s sporting intentions.
Although the Ducati 900SS borrowed heavily from the style of the 851 Ducati Superbike, mechanically it shared very little with its high-maintenance, high-strung stablemate.
Designers opted to stick with the tried and true design of an air-cooled v-twin engine utilizing a 2-valve head, which succeeded in keeping the cost and maintenance down (relatively speaking, this is still a Ducati), but also meant missing out on about twenty or so additional horsepower at the rear wheel that the 4-valve water-cooled bikes were capable of pulling.
The Supersport also stuck with carburetors rather than adopting the fuel injection of the 851 (fuel injection was available on very few bikes at the time, to be fair), but upgraded to a pair of Mikuni carbs for the new bike rather than the spotty Weber setup of the previous generation.
Simplified or not, the 900SS was fast and full of character, rated to produce around 84 hp accompanied by a satisfyingly flat torque curve that never seemed to stray too far from its 60 ft-lb or so peak.
The 900SS chassis received high marks from journalists during its initial launch for its light weight, stable handling, and responsive brakes (the Supersport actually got hand-me-down Brembo units from its Superbike cousin). Its suspension was a little on the stiff side, but not painfully so, with adjustable Showa units both front and rear that allowed the rider to transition from long miles to tight curves with equal aplomb.
Buying An Original Ducati 900SS
Good news for prospective owners, the 900SS is still a fairly easy bike to find thanks to its popularity and seven-year sales run, and it’s also still less expensive than trying to buy one of its 851 siblings of the same era, which have been on the rise with collectors in the past five years or so thanks to their historical significance in the racing world.
Of course if you’re looking to get picky about which sub-model 900SS you want, say, if you’re only interested in a Superlight or won’t settle for the half-faired “CR” version, you might have a harder time finding your dream bike, and a much harder time finding a good deal on one at that.
Currently the 900SS can be found in a range of models and years starting around the $4,000 mark and going up from there with the cleanest low mileage examples creeping up over the $8,000 threshold.
This special edition 1995 900SS SP (Sport Production), for instance, was an absolute peach with less than 4,000 miles on the clock, and sold last year on the popular auction site BringATrailer.com for nearly $9000.
The main thing to look out for when buying an original 900SS, other than a clean bill of health and convincing maintenance records (the Desmo valve adjustments are tricky, and best handled by a skilled mechanic), is for frame cracks around the steering heads, which were a known issue that prompted a recall for later models.
Restoring a Ducati 900SS
Here’s where Supersport ownership gets tricky.
Finding new OEM replacement parts for these bikes is getting tough. There are a handful of online retailers that stock certain odds and ends, mainly replacement hardware, but if you want a new replacement fairing or muffler or front end, well… Good luck.
Which leaves us at the mercy of places like eBay, which feature a wide range of parts (and a wide range of quality) at an even wider range of prices.
For instance, if you were shopping for a gas tank for your 1992 Duc on eBay at the time of this writing, your list of options would look like this:
- 1992 Ducati 900SS Gas Tank: Includes gas cap, tank pad, large scrape, and custom dent handmade using an authentic wooden baseball bat, all for the low price of $600 (plus shipping).
- 1996 900SS OEM Fuel Tank: Missing a gas cap but also includes a tank pad, a slightly smaller scrape, plus a ding or two- An absolute steal at $699.99 (free shipping!).
- 1995 Ducati 900SS Superlight Gas Tank: Includes all parts, spacers, and hardware. And two large dents, possibly made by the same baseball bat as the 1992 above. For $657.
A set of forks will set you back around $300-$500. Genuine used bits of fairing start around the $200 mark and vary (wildly) from there.
All of this is to say that if you’re looking to buy a 900SS with the intention of restoring it back to showroom quality, you’d better be a skilled craftsman with deep pockets, because you’ve got some hard work ahead of you.
Is An Original 900SS A Good Investment?
Well… that depends on what kind of return you’re hoping to get back out of one of these air-cooled classics from Bologna.
A $5,000 purchase that nets you a good looking bike with a character-rich engine and a quality chassis is a great investment… If you plan to ride it.
And that’s because the 900SS models were made to be ridden and ridden often without the rider having to sell a kidney to keep the thing up to date on its valve adjustments. And guess what? They’re still a great bike for that very reason.
So yes, $5,000 for a well-equipped, fairly reliable sportbike with unique Italian style and character that actually makes for a surprisingly comfortable touring bike is a very good investment.
If you’re considering a frame-off restoration, however, let’s just say you better be doing it for love rather than money, because chances are you’ll be waiting somewhere between a long time and forever to get back all the money you’ll sink into these machines to make them collector worthy.
I once had a friend try to explain to me that he didn’t get out and ride his 2015 899 Panigale too often because they were going to be a collector’s item one day (you know, because they only manufactured them for two years… Wrap your head around that one).
I think it’s safe to say not every Ducati is going to be a classic just because it’s a Ducati.
The 900SS, on the other hand, has all the makings of a Ducati-lovers Ducati: Air-cooled motor, dry clutch, distinct bodywork, and a beautiful trellis frame. I mean, you’re not going to mistake it for anything else on the road.
And the 900SS has a legendary past to boot as well, at least in my house, as the bike that inspired Hunter S. Thompson’s “Song of the Sausage Creature” published in Cycle World’s March 1995 issue, which is probably still my single favorite piece of “moto-journalism” to date, a true piece of Gonzo right down to the accompanying illustrations by Ralph Steadman.
Few engines inspire the kind of love and devotion these air-cooled twins command with their booming mechanical symphony at idle and their “BOTTOMLESS PIT OF TORQUE” on the road, as the good doctor would say.
Good investment… maybe not. Certified classic? 100%.