History Of Ducati Motorcycles (Ultimate Guide)

There are tons of different motorcycle brands in the world. Each of them is known for different traits and loved by different types of people. Ducati is known all around the world for speed and style, and the people who ride them value these traits the most.

Ducati has built many motorcycles, but what they’re mostly known for is lightweight, powerful, and stylish sports bikes. Ducatis are generally fast and handle very well. They’re probably not as reliable as Japanese motorcycles like Hondas or Yamahas, but they’re still great bikes.

The history of Ducati Motorcycles is filled with racing. Ducati has had many victories and triumphs, as well a few defeats and tragedies, on and off the track. In the article below, we’ll go more in depth on the history of this well-known and respected motorcycling company.

The History Of Ducati Motorcycles

In 1926, a man named Antonio Cavalieri Ducati founded a company called “Società Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati” with his three sons, Adriano, Marcello, and Bruno. The company was founded in Bologna, Italy, and produced radio components such as condensers (now known as capacitors) and vacuum tubes.

The company was successful continued to grow. They were successful enough, in fact, to merit the construction of a new factory in Bologna. Production continued, even throughout World War 2, although the factory was a consistent target for bombing raids by the Allied Powers. The factory was destroyed by the United States Air Force in October of 1944 as part of “Operation Pancake.”

Transition To Motorcycles

While Ducati had been manufacturing radio components, a small society in Turin had been working on a small-displacement pushrod engine that could be mounted on a bicycle. In 1944, after the liberation of Italy, SIATA (which stands for Societa Italiana per Applicazioni Tecniche Auto-Aviatorie), announced that they would be selling their engine.

The engine, known as “Cucciolo,” which is Italian for “puppy.” The engine was originally sold directly to buyers to mount on their bicycles, but it didn’t take long for enterprising businessmen to buy large quantities of them and start selling complete motorized bicycles.

Ducati rebuilt its factory and after 200,000 engines sold, the company offered their version of a Cucciolo-based motorbike. This first motorcycle weighed less than 100 pounds, had a top speed of around 40 mph, and an engine displacing just under 50 cubic centimeters. The bike ended up achieving just shy of 200 miles per gallon, an astonishing figure even in comparison to the 50cc bikes of today.

Developing New Products

Larger motorcycles were starting to become more appealing on the market, however. Determined not to be left behind by this change in demand, Ducati introduced several new larger motorcycles at a motor show in Milan in 1952. Though initial interest seemed strong, the sales numbers didn’t reflect this interest.

Ducati was far from giving up, though. In 1953, the company was split in two. One division, “Ducati Elettronica,” continued to work on producing electrical parts, while the new motor division, “Ducati Meccanica SpA” would focus on motorcycles, with Dr. Giuseppe Montano as the boss. Within a year, the factory was overhauled with updated equipment and could churn out 120 new motorcycles every day.

The Mach 1

Ducati continued to produce motorcycles, with some success. Their next big achievement was in 1965, with the release of the Mach 1. It was a single-cylinder, 250cc road bike, and it was notable because it was the fastest road-legal 250cc motorcycle in the world.

The Mach 1 was capable of a little over 100 miles per hour with all the road-going parts, like a proper muffler and working lights. Many Mach 1’s ended up being used for racing purposes. It’s now one of the most sought-after bikes in Ducati’s history, as well as motorcycling history in general.

Ducati continued to produce sporty bikes, and in the 1970’s introduced bikes with high displacement, V-twin engines. Ducati branded them as “L-Twins,” in reference to the 90-degree angle of the two pistons.

Changing Hands

In 1985, Ducati was acquired by Cagiva, another Italian motorcycle manufacturing company. They had originally planned to rebadge the Ducati motorcycles with the Cagiva name, but eventually decided against it for brand recognition. In 1996, 51% of the company was sold to Texas Pacific Group, and in 1998, the group bought the remaining 49%.

They initially offered Ducati stock to the public and ended up selling more than 65% of their shares, although the group remained the major shareholder. In 2005, they sold the majority of their remaining stock to an Italian investment fund.

In 2012, Audi, now a division of the Volkswagen Auto Group, announced that they intended to buy Ducati, and would pay 860 million Euros for it. The chairman of Volkswagen said that he had coveted Ducati for a long time and regretted a missed opportunity to purchase it earlier.

Through a combination of their various subsidiary brands, Volkswagen acquired 100% of Ducati’s shares in July of 2012, and they have owned the brand since. Despite the many events of Ducati changing hands, they continued to produce powerful and sporty motorcycles, and people continued to love them.

What Are Ducati Bikes Like?

Ducati is one of the most popular motorcycle brands in the world. They are known for their sporty designs, their powerful V-twin engines, and, of course, the history of the company itself. Motorcycle enthusiasts pay top dollar for historical models and continue to buy new models as well.

Ducati Engines

As far as riding experience, there are a few common characteristics between most Ducati motorcycles. The first of them is that famous 90-degree V-twin engine. These engines come with desmodromic valves, a trademark Ducati design. These valves are closed with a cam and lever system instead of a spring and have been used by Ducati since the 70s.

The initial idea behind this design was to remedy a few problems with valve springs. First among these issues was metal fatigue. At the time of development of desmodromic valves, valve springs tended to break a lot, especially on higher-revving motors. Even when metal quality was improved, many springs would still fail over 8000 rpm.

Also, as the maximum rpms of an engine increases, higher force from the valve springs is required to prevent valve float. However, using thicker springs increases engine wear and limits efficiency at lower rpms, so using desmodromic valves remedies this issue.

Ducati’s Clutches

Another thing that sets Ducati apart from other manufacturers is their use of dry clutches. Almost every motorcycle out there uses a wet clutch system, a series of clutch plates and friction discs immersed in the same crankcase oil bath that lubricates the engine and the transmission.

In the past, Ducati chose not to do this. The idea was that a dry clutch system eliminates the power loss caused by high engine oil viscosity. This idea works, but the cost is notable. The dry clutches were often not as smooth to engage as the wet systems, and tended to wear down a lot faster. Ducati now uses wet clutch systems on their bikes.


As far as reliability is concerned, Ducati is not bad. Their bikes still have issues from time to time and aren’t as reliable as their Japanese sports-bike counterparts. Ducati really seems more concerned about speed and style than they are about reliability. They have cleaned up their act in recent years though, thanks to Volkswagen’s management.

If riders want the style, power, handling, and above all, the brand recognition that a Ducati offers, they may not care as much about reliability as they do about those other things. They are undeniably cool motorcycles.

The 5 Most Popular Ducati Bikes Of All Time

1. Ducati Mach 1

The Ducati Mach 1 is a legend. It put Ducati on the map when it comes to racing, and it was at one time the fastest 250cc bike in the world, which is pretty incredible. It’s one of the most sought-after vintage bikes in the world. The speed, the weight, and the handling were all notable for the time. It had a 5-speed transmission, which is uncommon for a bike built in the early 1960s.

2. Ducati 750 GT

The 1970 model of the 750 GT came with what is probably Ducati’s most important engine ever, the 90-degree V-twin (nicknamed the L-twin because of its 90-degree orientation). This engine became the template for many of the engines Ducati would build for the rest of their history.

The L-twin came with desmodromic valves, making them fun and more rev-happy in comparison to a lot of other V-twins at the time. It also helped Ducati to extract quite a bit of power from the engines.

3. Ducati 999

The Ducati 999 was described by some as the greatest twin ever manufactured. Whether that’s true or not depends on who you ask, but it does give you some idea as to the impact this bike had. The 999 was well designed and the styling was good. It kept winning races at tracks around the world, and it looks just about as fast as it is. The design is aerodynamic, and it looks sleek and sporty.

The top trim of the 999 produced almost 150 hp and over 85 lb-ft of torque. All this power came in a bike that weighed in at just under 400 lbs. While an R1 from Yamaha at the time did make 25 more horsepower, it made a bit less torque and was a few pounds heavier.

4. Ducati Monster

The Ducati Monster was first produced in 1993. Some say the Monster is the bike that saved Ducati from extinction. In 2005, the Monster sales numbers accounted for more than half of all of Ducati’s sales numbers across the world. The original Monster was built from a litany of spare parts to keep costs down.

The engine was from a 900 Supersport. The frame was from an 851 superbike and the fork was from a 750 Supersport. This parts-bin style design remained relatively unchanged until the early 2000s, when Ducati started editing the design a bit more.

Before long, the Monster accounted for more than 65% of Ducati’s sales. They started production in 1993, and they’re still making brand new ones now, although they’ve evolved since the first generation. The new generations have several different engine sizes and a lot of upgraded bike components.

5. Ducati Scrambler

The Ducati Scrambler has seen quite a bit of popularity since its release in 2015. In truth, it’s far from the first scrambler produced by Ducati, since they made a bunch of them in the 1960s and 70s. While the 2015 borrows the name from the earlier ones, it’s certainly a much different animal.

Like many scramblers before it, the Ducati Scrambler isn’t built to go off-road.It’s just designed to look off-road like. It has a lot of styling elements that off-road bikes traditionally have, such as a swept-up exhaust and motocross-style handlebars. The suspension, motor, and weight level, however, really tell the truth of its on-road design intent.

Despite being a bit of a poser in the off-road department, the Scrambler is still quite a bike. If you’re interested in the off-road styling, but really spend most of your time riding on pavement, an actual off-road oriented bike wouldn’t be a great choice, given how much you’d sacrifice riding characteristics for style.

The Scrambler is a great little road-going bike − it’s just wearing off-road clothes. Clearly, people seem to like it. The sales numbers have been excellent. Part of it may be playing on the current trend towards vintage styles, but either way, the Scrambler is a great bike.

Ducati’s Motorsports History

Ducati is a motorcycle brand that has been involved in racing almost since its founding. Many motorcycle companies see involvement in racing events and some influence within their street models, but Ducati builds racing-inspired motorcycles, and that has been true for some time.

In the early 1950s, the 50cc Cucciolo-based motorcycle built by Ducati set quite a few speed records for its class, as did the 100cc version. In 1954, Fabio Taglioni began working with Ducati. Taglioni would work with Ducati until 1989, and the Desmodromic V-twin (“L-twin”) design he came up with is still used by Ducati today.

Ducati had a few non-championship wins and did well in some Grand Prix races, but their first GP win was in 1958. Alberto Gandossi took first place in the Belgium Grand Prix on a Ducati 125 with a desmodromic, 125cc engine. Gandossi, Bruno Spaggiari, won two more Grand Prix, pushing Ducati to second place for the 125cc class Riders’ Championships and Manufacturers’ Championships.

Mike “The Bike”

In 1960, Ducati’s first 250cc-class World Championship points were scored by a British rider called Mike Hailwood. Mike was known as “Mike the Bike.” He had a seemingly very natural and strong ability to ride motorcycles of any size with skill. He is believed by some to be the greatest racer ever.

Before his untimely and tragic death at the early age of 40, Mike racked up 76 Grand Prix wins, an incredible number. He won the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy 14 Times, an annual motorcycle race believed by many to be the most dangerous in the world.

The Beginning Of A New Era

In 1971, Ducati’s first V-twin hit the racecourse. British rider Phil Read scored points at the Monza race, the first scored by the Ducati 500 GP. Less than a year later, Paul Smart, also a British rider, would win the Imola 200 on a Ducati GT750 with the famous V-twin design.

Unlike manufacturers that produce a wider range of motorcycles and market them for a lot of different types of riders, Ducati’s image, at least in the west, has always been solely that of power and style. Ducati’s many racing wins have inspired the confidence and admiration of riders and prospective riders alike.

Final Thoughts

Ducati is a brand of style, speed, and class. While they may not produce the most reliable or the most practical motorcycles, they do produce some of the coolest. Ducatis, like many Italian sports vehicles, can’t be adequately judged based on things like reliability and specification numbers alone.

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