Ducati 851

Ducati 851 1980s Italian sports bike

The Ducati 851 was something of a slow burner. Insomuch as it took a rerun of the original - released in '88 - for the new Duc to really kick into gear. Not that the first version did not have its inches in the credit column. Mainly, they came in the form of its engine and styling. The 851cc motor would always be sound. And the three-tone paint - red, white and green - was irrepressibly Italian. The problem with the first incarnation 851 was its handling. Due to a supply-chain glitch, the bike had been fitted with smaller 16″ wheels. They were nimble - but to a fault. There was now less room for error, when it came to quick cornering. The flexible ladder frame did what it could to keep the rubber side down - but there was a limit.

Ducati 851 - take 2! The most obvious update was paintwork. Gone were the tricolore hues of the original. The new bike was pure fire-engine red. More importantly, the wheel-size issue had been resolved. A set of safer 17-inchers were now in situ. Things were looking up for the 851 … literally, perhaps! But - while there had been cosmetic and cycle part changes - the engine stayed untouched. The water-cooled 8-valve V-twin had been universally praised. It had taken Ducati just a year to complete the 851 makeover.

The 851 was the start of a new superbike era for the great Italian marque. Not only was its V-twin engine liquid-cooled, it came with 4 desmodromic valves per cylinder. Ducati's 'desmo' system saw valves opened and closed by cams alone - as opposed to the standard cams and springs set-up. Springs, after all, are prone to go out of adjustment. That had long been a feather in Ducati's powerplant cap. Massimo Bordi - lead engineer - now added Weber-Marelli fuel injection to the motor mix. Torque - and its rev-range spread - was upped significantly. At the top-end, 104bhp meant the 851 maxed out at 145mph. Super-tuned Marzocchi shocks fanned the performance flame still further. Time to call Ducati's race department! Three WSB titles on the spin duly followed - courtesy of riders Raymond Roche and Doug Polen. The Ducati 851 road-bike - and its race-going derivative - had truly taken the world of superbikes by storm!

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