There are now a handful of objectively high-end motorcycle manufacturers currently in operation, ranging from big-name brands to smaller boutique outfits. And while all of these companies are considered to be elite marques, none boast the legendary status that Ducati has cemented for itself over the last approximate half-century. Having now been in the motorized two-wheeled game for more than 75 years, Ducati boasts a long and illustrious history in motorcycling that’s ultimately been responsible for a slew of thoroughly iconic models — of both the race-spec and road-going varieties — the most important and historically significant of which we’ll be counting down in this guide to the best Ducatis of all time.
The (Two) Wheels Of Time
A Condensed Telling Of The History Of Ducati
The Ducati that we all know and love today is a far cry from the outfit that was first founded by brothers Bruno, Marcello, and Adriano Ducati in 1926. Operating out of the brothers’ hometown of Bologna under the banner of “Società Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati,” the company got its start producing radio equipment, first as a small independent operation before blossoming into an enormous factory that employed hundreds of staffers. Unfortunately, the size and success of Ducati — coupled with the fact that it was producing radio and communications gear for the Italian military — made it a prime target for Allied bombers, and in October of 1944, the factory was leveled.
On the heels of WW2, Ducati was ready to rebuild its factory and get back to work. However, Italy’s enormous demand for utilitarian, economical modes of transportation ultimately prompted the marque to develop and release a 48cc engine in 1946 that could be strapped to an existing bicycle frame — a product dubbed the “Cucciolo” (Italian for “puppy” due to its high-pitch “barky” exhaust note). The Cucciolo’s popularity would prompt Ducati to go further down the moto path, releasing its first complete turnkey bike in 1949 with the Ducati 60. These early successes would also allow Ducati to hire some of the country’s sharpest designers and engineers — an area helped along by the fact that Italy was barred from developing aircraft following WW2, leading the nation’s best and brightest mechanical minds to work in the auto and moto industries.
Ducati has also long looked to two-wheeled competition as a means of both further developing its machinery as well as marketing it — taking the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” approach. As such, Ducati boasts a long tradition of thoroughly cutting-edge, race-derived bikes that have been pushing the motorcycling envelope for more than half a century. And this tradition very much lives on today, with Ducati still being responsible for some of the world’s most state-of-the-art motorcycles — both on the race track and out on the road.
Ducati’s Five Most Important Moto Designers
The creation of every Ducati motorcycle has undeniably been a team effort, made possible by crews of designers, engineers, fabricators, and other staffers. With that said, there are still a handful of individuals that are largely credited with bringing some of Ducati’s most iconic models to fruition. Below, we’ll briefly touch on five of the most significant designers ever to serve at Ducati.
Fabio Taglioni: Serving as Ducati’s chief designer and technical director from 1954 up until 1989, Fabio Taglioni is the single most important Ducati engineer in history. Taglioni was the architect of Ducati’s trademark Desmodronic valve setup as well as the company’s hallmark trellis frame and its signature 90° V-Twin – or “L-Twin” — engine architecture. Of the more than 1,000 projects that “Dr. T” would work on over his three-and-a-half-decade tenure at Ducati, Taglioni would also design numerous complete motorcycles for the brand, including both race and road bikes.
Massimo Tamburini: Often referred to as the “Michelangelo of Motorcycles,” Massimo Tamburini is not only one of Ducati’s most important designers, but is also objectively one of, if not the most legendary moto designer of all time, as well as one of the most influential. In addition to penning iconic models such as MV Agusta’s F4 and a slew of Bimota bikes, Tamburini’s most famous designs include the Ducati Paso, the 748, and the legendary 916 superbike.
Miguel Galluzzi: Born in Buenos Aires in 1959 and trained at the world-famous Pasadena School of Design, Miguel Galluzzi is another massively important Ducati designer that helped turn a surplus from a failing model (the 900SS) into the Italian firm’s best-selling bike. Over the winter of 1991, Galluzzi took the SS’s 900cc L-Twin engine and stuffed it into the chassis of the 851 superbike before treating the naked sportbike to a roadster tail, a knee-dented tank, and a circular headlight — a design that we know today as the Ducati Monster.
Pierre Terblanche: Pierre Terblanche is a renowned South African designer who’s been the force behind some of Ducati’s most iconic models over the last three decades or so. Made all the more impressive by the immense diversity of his designs, Terblanche’s resume includes penning the 1990s-era Supermono race bike, the first-generation Multistrada, the first-ever Hypermotard, the ultra-idiosyncratic MH900e, and the game-changing SportClassic — the latter of which is widely credited for kicking off the insanely-popular modern retro moto genre.
Gianandrea Fabbro: While Gianandrea Fabbro may not boast the historical significance of other long-term Ducati designers on this list, this individual is more than worthy of a mention as he’s responsible for penning the current flagship superbike range for Ducati — the Panigale lineup. As such, Fabbro will likely be responsible for much of the future direction of Ducati’s design language over the next decade or two — as evidenced by the styling of models like the Jeremy Faraud-penned Streetfighter V4.
Generations of Ducatista
The 15 Most Important Ducatis Of All Time
Now that you’re privy to the history of the brand and are up to speed on the marque’s most historically significant and noteworthy designers, let’s dive into our picks for the best Ducatis of all time.
Deriving its air-cooled SOHC single from the brand’s 1955 and 1956 Motogiro d’Italia and Milan-Taranto race-winning bikes, the 175 T is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most significant Ducati motorcycles of all time, laying the foundation that every one of Ducati’s single-cylinder engines would follow for the following two decades. Equipped with an idiosyncratic “Jelly mould tank,” the 175 T was designed by Fabio Taglioni and featured a 174.5cc bever-gear-driven single that packed a peak output of 11hp at 7,500rpm. In September of 1957, two Ducati employees would also embark on a year-long, around-the-world moto trip aboard a pair of 175 Ts — an achievement that was widely publicized and helped to bolster Ducati’s reputation in the global moto industry.
Year Released: 1957
Engine: Air-Cooled 174.5cc Single-Cylinder
Top Speed: 71.5MPH
Known as the “SCR” in the European market, the 450 Scrambler is a popular on and off-road-capable two-wheeler that’s responsible for inspiring the line of Scrambler Ducati bikes that the firm introduced in 2015 — and now accounts for more than 25% of the brand’s total sales. The 450 Scrambler was created in response to the then-rapidly growing scrambler and trials space — mainly the U.S. market where it was known as the “Jupiter” — taking aim at models like Honda’s CL350 and BSA’s B44 Victor Special. Also produced in 250cc and 350cc sizes, more than 10,000 of these machines would leave the factory before production ended in 1974.
Year Released: 1969
Engine: Air-Cooled 436cc Single-Cylinder
Top Speed: 81MPH
While Ducati had experimented with road-going multi-cylinder models like the Apollo V4 and twin-cylinder race bikes such as the 250 Desmo Twin, the company had only ever produced relatively small-displacement singles no larger than 450ccs, however, this would change with the arrival of the Taglioni-designed 750 GT — Ducati’s first-ever L-Twin engine of which every single future model would use some variation until the arrival of the Desmosedici Stradale V4 platform in 2018. This new “L-Twin” platform would quickly prove itself when Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari piloted a pair of 748cc 750 GT-based race bikes — the legendary 750 Imola Desmos — at the inaugural Imola 200-mile in April of 1972, putting Ducati on the map of the larger racing world in a major way.
Year Released: 1972
Engine: Air-Cooled 748cc L-Twin
Top Speed: 124MPH
750SS (“Green Frame”)
After Spaggiari and Smart’s historic win at the “200 Miglia di Imola,” Ducati opted to celebrate the illustrious win with a limited-edition run of three-quarter-liter Super Sports that paid homage to the Imola-winning 750 Imola Desmo with a similar livery and a distinctive green frame that earned this model its nickname. The first factory production Ducati to utilize Taglioni’s float-eliminating bevel-driven desmodromic valvetrain, these homologation specials rode on Borrani 4777 wheels and featured Imola tanks with vertical translucent fuel-level stripes, a quarter-fairing, and the last round crankcases ever used by the Italian brand. Something of the archetypal Italian cafe racer, only 401 units of the Green Frame-spec 750SS were ever produced. One of the most sought-after and prized Ducatis of all time, clean “Green Frame” specimens have been known to fetch around $250,000 at auction.
Year Released: 1974
Class: Homologation Special
Engine: Air-Cooled 748cc L-Twin
Top Speed: 143MPH
Though Fabio Taglioni was the most impactful designer and engineer for the first half of the company’s history, Massimo Bordi is credited by the moto marque’s current CEO as being the most important figure in Ducati’s recent history thanks to him ushering in the mechanics that would establish the brand’s current reputation as a producer of cutting-edge sportbikes. Along with Pierluigi Mengoli, Bordi developed Ducati’s Desmoquattro engine — first appearing on the company’s 748 IE WSBK racer before making its production debut on the 851 superbike. Successor to the air-cooled 2V Ducati 750 F1, the 851 was lauded as the most significant four-stroke motorcycle of its era, thanks to a modified version of the Pantah engine that had been bestowed with liquid-cooling, fuel injection, and Desmo quad-valve heads.
Year Released: 1987
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 851cc L-Twin
Top Speed: 174MPH
If we had to choose just one single model to represent the “best Ducati of all time,” it would unequivocally be the legendary 916 superbike. Designed by the aforementioned “Michelangelo of Motorcycles,” the 916 is one of the most groundbreaking and influential sportbikes in history, as well as being considered the first motorcycle to boast Ducati’s current brand of DNA — an amalgamation of exotic, unmistakably Italian style, cutting-edge technologies, and world-class performance. Upon its release, the 916 was crowned with “Motorcycle of the Year” from a slew of big-name magazines and publications in the moto space, and would later be featured in countless books as well as displayed at the Guggenheim Museum’s “The Art of the Motorcycle” exhibit.
Year Released: 1994
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 916cc L-Twin
Top Speed: 186MPH
In 2001, Ducati announced that it was working on a new MotoGP prototype race platform — a two-wheeled missile that would debut in the 2003 season as the Desmosedici GP 03. The following year, the Bologna brand shocked the world when it revealed that it would be producing a small batch of road-going replicas of its multi-million-dollar prototype race bike in 2006 dubbed the Desmosedici RR (or “Race Replica”). Unlike anything else that had ever been released by the brand, these models were little more than legitimate MotoGP bikes that had been bestowed with a headlight, indicators, and a license-plate holder — while still maintaining the MotoGP missile’s otherworldly 200-hp output and nearly 190-mph top speed. It’s also worth noting that the MotoGP bike that the Desmo RR is based on — the GP 07 — would be ridden to a World Championship title in 2007 by Aussie racer Casey Stoner. Priced at $72,500 when new — almost $100,000 exactly when adjusted for inflation — the Desmosedici RR was limited to only 1,500 units worldwide, making it one of the rarest Ducatis in recent history — as well as the most exotic.
Year Released: 2006
Class: Road-Going MotoGP Replica
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 989cc V4
Top Speed: 188MPH
Around the turn of the millennium, custom supermoto bikes — dirtbikes that have been modified with street wheels and tires and markedly tighter suspension — had become so popular that numerous big-name moto manufacturers started producing turnkey factory “SuMos.” Despite not possessing a dirtbike in its lineup, Ducati nonetheless opted to get in on the action with the Pierre Terblanche-designed Hypermotard. First unveiled at EICMA in 2006, the “Hyper” combines the performance of one of Ducati’s trellis-framed and L-Twin-engined sportbikes with the visual theme of an MX-saddle and high-mount fender-equipped supermoto bike. Add some incredible tuning to the mix, and you’ve got one of the best hooligan bikes ever created, with the Hypermotard absolutely begging to be hooned— and offering license-jeopardizing amounts of fun in the saddle.
Year Released: 2007
Class: Supermoto-Inspired Sportbike
Engine: Air-Cooled 1,078cc L-Twin
Top Speed: 136MPH
Though Mike “The Bike” Hailwood experienced a long and fruitful career in elite motorsport competition — first racing at the age of 17 — it wasn’t until the tail-end of his career that he would become a motorcycling legend. On the heels of a more than decade-long hiatus, a then-38-year-old Hailwood would return to the Isle of Man TT where he would shock the world with an outright victory in the Formula I class aboard a specially-prepped Ducati 900. To honor Hailwood’s accomplishment, Ducati would release a road-going model inspired by Mike’s TT-winning bike that was known as the MHR 900 — or “Mike Hailwood Replica”. Just like the NCR-prepped racer, this limited-edition two-wheeler — which would quickly become Ducati’s best-selling model by a substantial margin — was based on the firm’s existing 900SS which had been treated to a replica livery, special bodywork, and a sweeping set of blacked-out exhaust pipes.
Year Released: 1979
Class: Limited Edition Sportbike
Engine: Air-Cooled 864cc L-Twin
Top Speed: 137MPH
Born out of a novel formula, the Ducati Monster is an iconic parts-bin special that was created by dressing up an existing frame and engine in a minimalistic set of bodywork. Spurred on by Miguel Galluzzi’s design philosophy of “all you need are a seat, tank, engine, two wheels, and handlebar,” the Monster intentionally left the bike’s engine, framework, and much of its componentry on full display, highlighting the Monster’s world-class blend of form and function. Also accounting for another one of Ducati’s long-time best-selling models, the original Monster 900 — or “M900” — first broke cover in 1992, though has since received countless updates with each new model generation that’s followed, culminating in the recently-redesigned 2022 Monster, Monster Plus, Monster 1200, and 1200 S.
Year Released: 1993
Class: Naked | Standard
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 904cc L-Twin
Top Speed: 118MPH
Scrambler Desert Sled
Arguably the best-executed retro-inspired scrambler currently in production, Ducati’s Desert Sled perfectly blends vintage and contemporary visual themes. The Scrambler Ducati Desert Sled was designed with more than looks in mind, and actually boasts some decent dirt-going capabilities, largely thanks to a longer-travel suspension package affording 8” of movement front and aft, as well as a host of off-road-focused stock elements such as a skid-plate, grilled headlight, spoked wheels shod in knobby tires, fork-guards, and a high-mount MX-style front fender. First debuting in 2017, the Desert Sled’s popularity has also given way to a wide range of available aftermarket parts and upgrades for the Italian scrambler, as well as several transformative bolt-on kits from brands like Hookie Co.
Year Released: 2017
Class: Modern-Retro Scrambler
Engine: Air-Cooled 803cc L-Twin
Top Speed: 120MPH
First unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2003, the SportClassic is something of the ultimate modern-retro cafe racer. Designed by Pierre Terblanche, the SportClassic featured modern, high-end componentry, a retro tubular frame and swing-arm design, and an air-cooled 992cc Ducati 1000 Dual Spark Desmodue engine – also known simply as the “DS9.” Alongside the base model, Ducati also offered a limited-edition “green-framed” version of the SportClassic known as the PS1000LE that pays homage to Paul Smart’s 1972 Imola 200-winning race bike — just like the 1974 750SS before it. And, as previously touched on above, the SportClassic is largely credited for kicking off the now-booming modern-retro motorcycle genre.
Year Released: 2005
Class: Modern-Retro Cafe Racer
Engine: Air-Cooled 992cc L-Twin
Top Speed: 135MPH
Not long after debuting its flagship 1098 model, Ducati tasked Damien Basset with designing a naked version of the superbike that would offer a more practical, upright riding position and powerband in an equally aggressive-looking package. Fast forward nearly a decade and shortly after launching its new Panigale V4 superbike platform, Ducati has now taken this same route, this time calling on designer Jeremy Faraud to turn the MotoGP-derived flagship V4 superbike into a menacing naked sportbike — an objective that Faraud absolutely nailed. In addition to debuting an ultra-top-shelf SP-spec, Ducati has also recently released a “more affordable” twin-cylinder version of the Streetfighter that starts from $16,995 — $3,000 less than the base model V4’s MSRP. We’re also of the belief that the Streetfighter V4 just happens to be one of the best-looking motorcycle designs in recent history.
Year Released: 2020
Class: Naked Superbike
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,103cc V4
Top Speed: 195+ MPH
Translating to “Superlight” from Italian, the Superleggera V4 is unquestionably the most advanced and exotic motorcycle Ducati has ever offered to the public. Weighing only 350lbs, this rolling piece of exotica rides on carbon fiber wheels and is crafted around a carbon fiber frame (and swing-arm) that houses a 998cc V4 engine that can put down as much as 234hp — when equipped with its track-only full titanium 4-2-1-2 Akrapovic exhaust. In addition to sporting some of the finest GP-spec running gear that money can buy, this superbike also comes cloaked in carbon fiber bodywork equipped with carbon aerodynamic winglets and features a carbon fiber open dry clutch cover. Limited to only 500 units worldwide, the SLV4 first debuted in early 2020 and carried an exorbitant MSRP of $100,000.
Year Released: 2020
Class: Ultra-Premium Limited-Edition Superbike
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 998cc V4
Top Speed: 200+ MPH
Another prized Ducati that routinely fetches upwards of six figures at auction, the Supermono was a purpose-engineered track-only machine developed specifically for Italy’s Supermono race class. Weighing only 260lbs, the Supermono packed a liquid-cooled four-stroke half-liter thumper that put down 75hp at 10,000rpm — allowing for a top speed of over 135mph. Penned by Pierre Terblanche and engineered by Massimo Bordi — along with help from Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali — the Supermono sported a myriad of then cutting-edge features such as an advanced electronic fuel-injection system, water cooling, and balancing double con-rods that kept the 500cc single’s immense vibrations at bay.
Year Released: 1993
Class: Super Single Race Bike
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 500cc Single-Cylinder
Top Speed: 137MPH
The Complete Buyer’s Guide To Ducati Motorcycles
Interested in checking out the latest and greatest models currently being produced by the Italian firm? Well, our complete buyer’s guide to Ducati motorcycles contains an in-depth look at every single bike presently being offered on showroom floors.
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