The glory years for classic Ducati fans was between 1994 and 2004. The Ducati 996 followed on from the glorious 916 before being replaced by the much loved 998.
In that decade Ducati produced motorcycles that have created a lasting legacy. They are equally loved now as they were upon their original release.
Ducati have of course created many other classic machines and continue to do so with the re-imagined and evolved Panigale of this year being a great example.
However, that decade was a really special time not only for sales but for racing wins too.
The Ducati 996 played a big part in that story and that is the bike that we will focus on in this article; from its origins to when it was replaced and with a review covering all bases.
Let’s get started.
Ducati 996 Review
In 1994 the Ducati 916 was released and it pretty much blew the press and public away not only with its performance specs but also with the sheer beauty of the bike.
It is often recognised as the “World’s Most Beautiful Motorcycle” and designer Massimo Tamburini had created his masterpiece. Working alongside Tamburini was Pierre Terblanche who was working on the Ducati Supermono at the time of the 916 development.
The Ducati 916 was a Superbike for the track dressed to make it acceptable as a production motorcycle for use on the street. It also won more World Superbike Championships than any other bike.
It would be 1998 before a new model was ready to replace the Ducati 916 and with eager anticipation the world awaited, how could any other motorcycle match the standard that the 916 had set?
Anybody remember the Matrix released in 1999? Of course you do, the Matrix trilogy is iconic, and as a motorcycle fan you probably know that Keanu Reeves is a major bike enthusiast with a big role in ARCH motorcycles.
Anyway I digress but what better way for Ducati to show the world their new model than by putting the brand new Ducati 996 into a high speed, high octane, thrill-inducing chase on the Speedway in one of the key scenes of the Blockbuster movie.
Clearly still under the influence of Tamburini’s work, Ducati released the Ducati 996 in 3 main variants: the Biposto (base model) in 1998 followed by the 996S and then the 996R in 2001. There was also the 996 SPS released in Europe in 2001.
The engine was based around the Ducati 916 SPS with a stronger crankcase and altered stud spacing which meant bigger pistons could be used. A stronger crankshaft handled the increased power from the bigger engine and the fuel-injection system that previously had one injector per cylinder was replaced to provide two per cylinder.
The Biposto model claims a max power of 112 hp, the 996S – 123 hp. It was the later Ducati 996 R that would be most coveted though as it came with a new engine design producing 135 horsepower. The 2001 996R was the first Ducati to be fitted with the all new Testastretta engine and the difference in power was clear.
The original engine in the Ducati 996 Biposto provided plenty of torque on tap though and it makes for an incredibly smooth experience and also a reassuring one. Hitting a bend at speed and not having to worry about switching gears to get enough power to get out of it makes for a ride that you can just enjoy.
The twist of the throttle is seamless and the light clutch and gear selection makes for a very enjoyable experience. The traditional Italian grunt is the only thing that reminds you that you are riding a beast of a machine.
It’s rather easy to lift the front wheel but the steering damper certainly helps you get back on two wheels safely even if you are slightly off balance.
It is safe to say that the only real downside of this much power on two wheels is that it encourages you to want to use it and to go a bit quick. It’s very easy to forget the speed limits and soar up the speedo without even thinking about it.
As said previously, the last of the Ducati 996 models was the 996R. The Testastretta engine it was graced with was built with more aggressive cams, titanium connecting rods, a shorter stroke and wider bore. This allowed for significantly more power and torque and to rev safely at higher rpms.
The Ducati 996R (known as the 996 SPS in Europe) was the true pinnacle of the range, although only 500 of these were ever built.
The Ducati 996 doesn’t handle like a modern sportsbike and why would it, part of its charm particularly with the Biposto edition is that it is stripped back, simplicity at its best.
Steering lock is restrictive and immediately reminds you that it is not a bike for city riding, that isn’t where it wants to be and neither does it want to be on straight highways for miles on end.
You need to remember the Ducati 996 like the 916 is a track bike fundamentally and a street bike second.
Where it comes to life is in the bends on the back roads and twisty mountain passes.
The Showa suspension is adjustable (upgraded Ohlins on the S) and while it is firm, that comes into use when throwing the bike into corners and leaning it over side to side.
The bike feels in control, precise, it knows where you want to go and takes you there with little complaint.
Although the steering is surprisingly heavy, this is perhaps unfair as it is being compared to today’s sportsbikes; having a little heavier steering will instill a confidence in the bikes sturdiness at speed.
Are there quirks? Of course. When you hit a bump, you will feel it. There is a significant lack of ABS, traction control and other rider aids, but that is part of the joy of owning a Superbike from this era.
It hones your riding skills, demands your attention, absorbs all your focus and overall provides a riding experience that is somewhat meditative. Isn’t that what we all love about riding?
A wet weight of over 200kg means the Ducati isn’t particularly light, but in terms of power-weight ratio it is spot on, once you are up and moving the weight is non-existent.
Of course the Ducati 996R was blessed with the best power-weight ratio thanks to use of titanium and carbon fiber parts. An adjustable steering head was fitted which meant changes were made to the steel tube trellis frame. This modification allowed the bike to be adapted to suit different riding styles and environments most crucially track or street.
There is absolutely no question that the Brembo brakes do their job to stop the powerful bike and nobody has any complaints about their ability.
Comfort and Ergonomics
When it comes to comfort I think we all need to just accept the fact that much like the 916 the Ducati 996 just isn’t built to be comfortable. You will not be buying a 996 to go touring, it isn’t impossible but it certainly isn’t a good option.
The seat in the typical Ducati way is stiff, the ergonomics put you into an aggressive track-riding position, hunched over at one with the bike, man vs machine style.
100 miles at best would be most people’s limits for the day but it will be the best 100 miles you have done in a long time.
Racing Success and Awards
The Ducati 996 decided it was going to carry on the legacy of the 916 on the track and this has gone some way into solidifying it as a true Italian weapon that many want to get their hands on.
Ducati 996 Wins:
1999 – Superbike Manufacturers World Champion
1999 – Superbike World Champion – Carl Fogarty
2000 – Superbike Manufacturers World Champion
2001 – Superbike Manufacturers World Champion
2001 – Superbike World Champion – Troy Bayliss
Reliability of the Ducati 996 was like its predecessor – a bit of hit and miss. The problem at the time of release is that they were very expensive, parts were expensive and so was servicing. There is that well-known Ducati premium for owning an Italian machine that came as part of the package.
Today however, there are many specialists that have found ways to solve problems for less money and parts are available at a more reasonable cost.
Electrical issues are common and keeping the battery in optimal condition will go a long way to keep everything ticking over.
Wiring looms and connectors need to be looked at as water can run down them and cause them to cut out. Keep them clean and dry, using a silicon sealant will keep things trouble-free here.
Another crucial tip is to make sure the cambelts are changed every 2 years regardless of how many miles the bike has done. The belt and service isn’t too costly but the damage if a belt breaks could really hurt your wallet, so best to stay on top of it.
Another important check is to look over the bodywork panels to make sure they are original, date stamps will be on the underside of each panel and should match up with each other.
If there have been replacement panels fitted there may well have been an accident and there could be potential frame damage, which you will want to be aware of from a safety point of view.
What Replaced the Ducati 996?
The 996 was replaced in 2002 by the Ducati 998 and gone were the days of the Desmodromic engine replaced with the new Testastretta only before seen on the limited run of the 996R. It was simply time for evolution and with a new engine in the wings it was inevitable that the Ducati 996 had reached its end.
I must come back again full circle to the Matrix here as for the third movie Ducati was once again instructed to supply a machine and it came to the Ducati 996 to deliver the goods one more time, in a dark green design.
So popular the Matrix bike proved to be with bike lovers Ducati actually produced a limited run of around 350 made-to-order bikes based on the Ducati 996 used in the movie in the same colorway.
However, the actual bike was a 998 underneath made to look like the 996 as it was no longer in production by the movie’s release in 2004.
Is the Ducati 996 a good bike?
The Ducati 996 isn’t just a good bike, it is an excellent bike of its class and one of the best motorcycles to come out of the Borgo Panigale factory.
It is from an era of Ducati dominance of World Superbike racing and even the Biposto model carries that energy through into a street riding experience.
Unfortunately it is from the era that plagued Ducati in terms of reliability issues, but for today’s engineers it shouldn’t be too much of an issue to put things right and then once looked after and religiously serviced a Ducati 996 won’t give you too much grief. The joy from riding the 996 outweighs any problems you may encounter.
Ducati 996 Specs (1999 Base Model)
Engine and Transmission
- Engine – Four Stroke, 90° L Twin Cylinder, DOHC, Desmodromic, 4 Valves per Cylinder
- Bore x Stroke – 98 x 66
- Compression Ratio – 11.5:1
- Fuel Injection
- Clutch – Hydraulically Activated – Multi-plate Dry Clutch
- Gearbox – 6 Speed
- Max Power – 112 horsepower
- Max Torque – 93 Nm
- Final Drive – Chain
Chassis and Dimensions
- Frame – Tubular Steel Trellis Frame
- Front Suspension – 43mm Adjustable Showa Fork
- Rear Suspension – Showa Mono-Shock – adjustable
- Front Brakes – 2 x 320mm Brembo discs
- Rear Brakes – Single 220mm Brembo disc
- Height – 1090mm
- Length – 2095mm
- Wheelbase – 1410mm
- Seat Height – 790mm
- Dry Weight – 198kg
- Fuel Capacity – 17 litres
Ducati 996 Top Speed
Top speed regardless of model for the Ducati 996 is stated to be 161mph.
Ducati 996 0-60 Time
According to Zeroto60times the Ducati 996 has a 0-60mph time of 3.1 seconds.
Current Ducati 996 Used Prices
In the UK Ducati 996 prices run from £6,500 – £25,000 and it all boils down to which model you are looking for and the condition of the bike.
On Autotrader there is a 1999 Biposto model in classic red with close to 20,000 miles on it and is priced at £7,995.
However, advertised next in the list is a 2002 Neil Hodgson GSE Replica which is only 1 out of 35 produced and that is priced at £14,000. You can check that out here.
There is also a Ducati 996 R which claims to be number 27 out of 350 units produced (for the UK or Europe) and that is priced at £25,000.
Whether the Ducati 996 R is worth it is up to the person who buys it, given it is more expensive than the current flagship Supersport from Ducati, I’m not so sure.
With that said the rarity and collectability may mean it holds its value well and may increase in time.
In the US prices start at $6,000 for the base model and soar again in excess of $25,000 for a Ducati 996 R.
On SmartCycleGuide you can pick up this 2001 Ducati 996 for $7,000 in my favourite color way of yellow. The bike has less than 3,000 miles on it so is a real bargain.
On IconicMotorbikeAuctions this Ducati 996 S sold for $10,700. If you want the upgraded Ohlins suspension then the extra money and time to find one is well worth it.
There are some bargains to be had, and I say this with caution as if it is priced too good to be true then it probably is. Aside from that and you are willing to take a risk of having to do some work on a bike then I say go for it.
For example this advert in Oklahoma is for 2001 Ducati 996 S priced at $2,450.
Is the Ducati 996 likely to be a future collectable Ducati?
Given the short production run the Ducati 996 had, it has depreciated very slowly over the last 20 years.
The 916 and 998 are generally considered the most coveted of the era, however, the Ducati 996 is also thought of as an exceptional machine.
The Ducati 996R (Ducati 996 SPS in Europe) and other limited edition models such as race replicas will always hold their value over and above the Biposto models. The 996S with its sporty upgrades will also fetch more money over the base model.
We can’t ignore the fact that the Italian brand had a lucrative racing streak with the Ducati 996 and that in itself has set the model up for being a fan favourite.
I would suggest the Ducati 996 has earned its place in Ducati history and therefore it will go on to become a collectible even more so than it already is.
While I would likely sell my left arm for a 996R, I would more than happily settle for the Ducati 996 Biposto.
To follow in the footsteps of the Ducati 916 and to be considered a success means it has to be something pretty special. Tamburini’s DNA runs through it and continues on to the Ducati 998.