In case you forget what you're riding, the tag on the triple reminds you it's a Ducati.
1995 Ducati 900 SS
If you've never started an Italian twin before you'll swear something's wrong when you thumb the starter. The dry clutch on the long-running Supersport series of bikes makes a rattle that's been described as similar to a load of wrenches in a washing machine. The Bologna bike's trademark Desmodromic valve gear-which operates the Supersport's two valves per cylinder without traditional valve springs-also emits a unique soundtrack (that dedicated Ducatisti find absolutely hypnotic). But mechanical orchestras are only a part of the allure of the world's longest-running sportbike line. In a set of tight corners, nothing this side of a MotoGP bike can hang with it. Sure, the 900SS is no faster than a modern Suzuki SV650 and its boxy, mature design isn't to the tastes of riders raised on the razor-sharp lines of modern sportbikes. But as for classic European motorcycle cachet, the Supersport is an affordable entry into an exclusive club.
Ducati's Supersport line has a pedigree that would shame an Italian count, its lineage traceable all the way back to the original 750cc racing Supersport of 1972. That bike won the famous Imola 200 race under rider Paul Smart, cementing respect for the odd-sounding Italian motorcycle manufacturer. As with today's sportbike market, riders back then wanted a streetable version of the race-winning Ducati SS and the tiny manufacturer happily complied. Thirty-five years later, the Supersport may not have the high-dollar panache and media buzz of faster, four-valve Ducati twins like the 999 and more recent 1098, but the fact that Supersports are still in production proves how right Ducati got the formula in the first place.
Part of the appeal of the SS is the steel trellis chassis, an unusual design that at a glance seems too spindly to work very well. But thanks to years of racetrack development and that special "Ducatiness" that somehow makes all the company's bikes solid handlers, the low-slung Supersport steers like it's on rails. Wiggle around in the seat mid-corner and the SS remains on line. Dunk the front wheel into a pothole? No problem. Whip in some stupid levels of throttle on your apex? This motorcycle's mild power delivery (80 rear-wheel ponies for the 900 model and about 65 for the smaller 750 version) ensures there's no fear of rear-wheel spin or losing your line. And that is why experienced Ducati Supersport riders can and do pass faster, bigger bikes like they were standing still.
As with any V-twin, the Ducati Supersport needs louder exhausts from the get-go; letting that Desmo music play is one of the primary joys of owning a bike such as this. Like this 1995 model, it's unlikely you'll find an SS without a set of aftermarket pipes, though in these days of eBay mania, many sellers will strip their Supersports of all aftermarket parts before selling. Before buying a used Supersport, make sure the machine has the extra bits you want already in place because nothing at a Ducati dealership comes cheap-not even replacement key blanks, which can cost $20, or caliper bolts that run about the same. Because European sportbike owners tend to be a slightly older crowd with more conservative customizing tastes, the average SS will still sport its factory red or yellow paint, while some have a set of white numberplates on the box-shaped tail section or front fairing for a custom touch. Supersports came in either half-faired CR (caf racer) or fully faired versions, but in either case, their low production numbers mean owners cherished these motorcycles and most looked after them religiously. The most common custom changes will be carbon-fiber fenders, cam-belt covers and the odd tinted windshield. Serious Ducati performance enthusiasts will opt for 944cc big-bore kits, which make these lightweight (410 lbs., dry) air-and-oil-cooled machines real fire breathers.
Naturally, an 80-horsepower sportbike with a top speed of 135 mph isn't going to outgun an R1 (or even a well-ridden R6) in a straight line, but that's not what the Supersport was designed for. Instead, study a map, choose a road with more turns than your last divorce case, and let 'er rip.
If there's one warning that must be issued with any used Ducati, it's this: Demand a complete service history from the owner or walk away. As someone who has owned three Supersports, I've learned that it's better to buy one with a few miles showing on the clock rather than a pristine, museum-condition bike that's been languishing in some rich guy's game room. Why? Motorcycles, as they say, were meant to be ridden, and no marque reflects this lesson more literally than Ducati. The rubber cam belts that operate the valve gear must be religiously replaced every 6000 miles or every two years; neglect to and they'll dry rot, launching a valve through the top end and costing thousands to repair. Likewise, a Supersport's running gear must be properly maintained, as wheel bearings can go bad along with the electrical system if the battery has not been maintained with a charger when not in use. That said, there are advantages to the Supersport's relatively simple design and modest power. It's easy on tires, and brake pads for the Brembo four-piston front calipers are also admired for their longevity, though be sure to replace the rubber hoses on early models with modern Kevlar lines for better stopping power.
All things considered, the Ducati Supersport is a bike for riders more interested in understanding the finesse and style of riding excellence over stunts or outright top speed. That, while looking very cool in the process.
Average Used Price: $4000-$5500
Weight:410 pounds (dry)
Torque: 62 pound-feet
Quarter mile:11.94 @ 114 mph
SSB Suggested Mods:
Motor: A Ducati dry clutch makes a very distinguishable clack-clack rattle, and an open clutch-basket cover lets the wonderful noise out while looking pretty sweet too.
Controls: Upgraded levers and rearsets would be a boost to the bike's performance while adding a sportier look as well.