First there was the 916. Then the 916 Biposto and 916SP. Now
there's the 916SPS, except it's not a 916 at all — it's a 996.
Confused? Don't worry — at £18,400 it's a problem none of us
mere mortals are likely to face. Simon rides the beastie and
fills out his lottery card...
There comes a time in every man's life where he has to hold
up his hands and say, 7 was wrong'. It may be the first
time you cheated on your girlfriend and got found out. It might
be when you had a few too many at a party and decided you were
sober enough to drive home. Or howabout when you were 18 and you
swapped that 125 you were riding for a nice little Escort coz
you thought it was better for pulling the birds, except you
failed to realise in 15 years time you'd have missed out on some
of the finest thrills money can buy (and you never got a decent
shag in the car anyway)?
We've all been there, done that, seen the film, etc.
I had one the other day. I slung a lower limb over a red bike
parked in a pitlane and thought to myself, 'Here we go again.
Another over-priced, unreliable piece of Italian perversity
which requires the riding style and physique of a lemur to get
the best from...'
I was not a Ducati fan. Never have been. Used to read the
euphoric road tests and dream about them before I got to ride
one, but I can still remember the acute sense of disappointment
when I tried a Bologna twin (a 900 Superlight, it was) for the
first time. Yes, it was torquey, yes it went fast, and yes it
handled. But it did none of the things I'd spent a lifetime
expecting from a bike. It didn't scream when you revved it. It
was too narrow. It vibrated. It sounded like it would explode at
any moment. It was awkWard to ride slowly, as the lumping
pistons clattered the transmission to death. And when you did
get going it turned so quickly and easily the kerbs kept rushing
up on wrong-line-city.
I sought refuge in Japanese fours and kept Ducatis at a
distance after that, despite one Mark Forsyth's continual urging
and one Carl Fogarty's continual winning.
And so here I am, in Goodwood pitlane on a Fontiers track
day, sat on a Ducati worth 18 grand — a Ducati which, from the
crate, finished ninth and set fastest lap in the hands of racer
Ian Cobby at the Donington Proddy race four days previously. Not
only that, but I'm under the sceptical scrutiny of the bike's
owner, Jack Gratton. This is a man who's dealt with enough
journos to know what treacherous bastards they are, who races
himself and knows a crap rider from a good one, and about whom
it would be not be possible to say has more money than sense
because ■ the reason he has money in the first place is he used
his sense to get it.
Oh well. Press the button, hear the twin lump into life,
wobble out onto the track. | Usual Goodwood rules apply — five
riders, five laps, then into the pits and join the back of the
queue. Don't they know i need about a million laps to get used
to riding these things?
First lap is a mild surprise. Either this Ducati feels
Japanese, or it's different from every other Duke I've ridden,
including the 916 we had at Paul Ricard last month. There's
something more natural about the way suspension and the chassis
gels... the way it doesn't feel like it's about to be skittered
off line by a series of bumps... Next lap is more of the same...
what an astounding piece of kit. Massive, dolloping gobs of
fuck-off drive from every last rpm of the rev range, a
cacophonous bellowing from the mighty Termignonis poking out of
my bottom, Dunlop D207s gripping the tarmac like a pair of
black, circular magnets, four-pot Brembo calipers grasping at
320mm Brembo discs, and susupension caressing away the bumps
like a Thai' masseur who's just seen the size of your wallet.
The rest of the day was spent wallowing in the reflected
glory of the 916SPS. There was no way i was going to even get
close to its limits on the track — that's what people like Mr
Cobby are for. Get on the gas as early and hard as you dare,
feel the big motor thumping through the back tyre, and think,
'could have gone harder there...'. Brake like mad for the
chicane off the back straight from around 150mph, and think,
'shoulda braked later there...' as you peel in. Sweep
through the 130mph right kink with the tarmac eating into your
slider like it was made of butter, and think, 'another Wmph,
easy, next lap...'. The SPS doesn't just redefine your
riding ability it takes the piss.
So what is this thing, where does it fit in the Ducati scheme
of things, and why does it cost 18 fatties?
The WSB race motors started life at 916cc — as twins, they
can run to lOOOcc. Gradually the competition increased, and to
keep ahead of the game Ducati opened up the bores, and each time
they did they had to build a number of bikes for sale as
homologation models. This is the latest (and last?) version. And
it costs £5600 more than a stock 916 because it's got a
top-flight Öhlins shock instead of the 916's Showa unit, re-valved
Showa forks and the latest fully-floating Brembo discs, calipers
and pads with braided hoses. The motor gets two injectors per
cylinder (like the SR.. err... confused yet?), bigger valves and
downpipes, as well as 4mm on the bores and 10mm more stroke
(new, lighter crank). And the cases and barrels are stronger.
And the SPS has an upgraded EPROM chip, and you get a set of
carbon Termignonis in the crate with the bike.
The result of all this is some 20bhp over the 916, more top
end, more midrange and low down, better handling and more
stopping power. Of course. It makes the standard 916 feel like a
Certain Italian foibles remain. A blanking bolt in the
downpipe (where the factory shove the mixture probe) fell out.
Not a problem, apart from the system drawing air in, backfiring,
and blowing the packing out of the cans unless you plug it. They
all do that, sir. And they all come with self-retracting
On the road the SPS is as deeply stimulating as it is on the
track — more so. It's completely composed over the shittiest
tracks, and when you get on fast, open A roads the way it howls
along at improbable speeds while you drift around on the seat
guiding it this way and t'other... sod the police — you just
ride it flat everywhere. They'd never catch you anyway...
And, let's face it, they'd be so impressed with the SPS
they'd probably forget to book you. And as for the reactions of
that little blonde number in the white Escort at the filling
station... doesn't matter what grim fizzog is lurking beneath
your helmet — you can afford an SPS, you can afford the plastic
surgery to go with it...
Wot a bike.
Source Trevor Franklin