When your mind conjures up images of famous Ducati superbikes that have emerged from the Bologna factory there are only two colours required – red for the fairings and gold for the suspension. The link between the two companies is so strong it seems incomprehensible that a top of the range Ducati wouldn't come equipped with Öhlins suspension. Performance takes a look back on a partnership that has taken over a quarter of a century to develop and is now stronger than ever…
Paris-Dakar rally they turned to Öhlins for help. Always looking for a new challenge, as well as having their eye on the attention that race success would bring within Ducati, Öhlins equipped the Cagiva with its latest suspension.
The gamble worked and although it wasn't until 1990 that a Cagiva won the Dakar, a Ducati Paso was delivered to Öhlins' Upplands Väsby factory to be measured up for suspension in 1986.
The early days
Sharing the same philosophy when it comes to the connection between racing success and production development, it was always only going to be a matter of time before Öhlins and Ducati started working together. However the first 'Ducati' to be fitted with Öhlins wasn't actually a Ducati, it was a Cagiva.
In the early 1980s the late Claudio Castiglioni owned both Cagiva and Ducati. The two companies had worked closely before with Ducati supplying the engines for Cagiva bikes and so when Cagiva decided to enter the Ducati powered Elefant into the torturous
Before working with Öhlins, Ducati relied on other suspension manufacturers for its race projects and so Öhlins had to build a whole new range of shock absorbers to fit the Ducati models.
With its high tech factory and advanced production facilities this wasn't a problem and soon Ducati asked Öhlins to expand its range of suspension to include not only the Paso, but also its hugely successful 851 race bikes.
The glory years
The 851 and its later update the 888 were little more than race bikes with lights. Although homologated for road use to fit within the World Superbikes rules, the SP (Sports Production) versions always carried the very highest specification of components to allow racers to succeed on track – it was on these bikes that the first OEM (original equipment) Öhlins suspension was found on a Ducati. And as you would imagine, the link between road and track was as strong as ever…
When Marco Lucchinelli's factory Ducati 851 became the first bike to win a WSB race at the inaugural round at Donington Park, he did it on Öhlins suspension – but better was to come. In 1989 Raymond Roche's 851 wore Öhlins suspension and finished third in the championship before 1990 saw him take Ducati and Öhlins' first WSB championship together. The next year Doug Polen retained the title for Ducati, a feat he repeated in 1992, making it three on the bounce for Ducati and Öhlins. That in itself seemed a tremendous achievement – but Ducati was about to unveil a brand new machine that would change the face of motorcycling and a British rider that would go on to be a Ducati and WSB legend.
The Ducati 916 was launched in 1994. Designed to win WSB, the ultra rare 916SP version came with an Öhlins shock absorber as standard equipment while the race bikes ran Öhlins forks as well. At the hands of 'King' Carl Fogarty the Ducati 916 won the 1994 and 1995 championship before taking the 1996 title with Troy Corser at the helm. In 1998 normal service was resumed when Fogarty returned to Ducati from Honda and won the championship before retaining his title in 1999. After being forced to retire through injury, Ducati found a new hero to replace Fogarty in 2000 in the shape of Troy Bayliss. The likable Aussie won the 2001, 2006 & 2008 titles on the Ducati 916, 999 and 1098 while British riders Neil Hodgson and James Toseland took the 2003 and 2004 championship respectively on the 999 and most recently Carlos Checa won the 2011 title on an 1198. Thirteen world titles and all with the help of Öhlins suspension, however it wasn't just race success, the road bikes also carried Öhlins suspension….
Although Ducati's racing history is intrinsically linked with that of WSB, perhaps their greatest moment came in 2007 when their new young rider Casey Stoner snatched the MotoGP title away from the likes of Valentino Rossi, to shock the Japanese factories who had won the series since the 1970's. The forthright Australian took 10 victories on the awesomely powerful and electronically superior 800cc Desmosedici machine in a devastating display of man and machine in perfect synchronicity.
Throughout the life of the Ducati 916, 996, 998, 999 and 1098 models the higher specification SP, R or S versions all came with Öhlins suspension as standard to signify their sporting potential and premium status. Away from the track-orientated bikes Ducati’s Monster range of street bikes also featured Öhlins suspension on higher specification versions and so did the touring ST models and later the original Multistrada in 2005. Ducati and Öhlins were now linked thanks to their shared passion for sporting excellence and it was now time to show the world how strong the partnership was…
Shaping the future
The 2008 Ducati Desmosedici RR was not only the first MotoGP replica for the road, it was also the first, and only, road bike to feature gas-pressurised Öhlins FG353 inverted forks. And this was just a taste of what Ducati and Öhlins' could offer motorcyclists…
Thanks to the closeness of the relationship between Ducati and Öhlins, the 2010 Multistrada S became the first road bike to feature Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES). Designed by Ducati and Öhlins, DES was tested by Öhlins' R&D team and was developed specifically for the Multistrada. As well as allowing the rider to alter the suspension while on the move, DES was unique when it came to electronic suspension as it included the ability to programme the settings rather than be forced to rely on pre-determined configurations. Due to their vast understanding of suspension, Öhlins understood that not all riders are alike and suspension needs to be tailored to suit individual riding styles or weights.
Two years later the DES system became the first electronic suspension package to be fitted to a sportsbike when it appeared on the Ducati Panigale 1199S, again thanks to the close links between the two brands. Even those Ducati's not sporting OE suspension of Swedish origin are often quickly uprated by enthusiastic owners, which may explain the success of Öhlins as aftermarket products for the Ducati. It has been quite an eventful quarter of a century for the red and gold of Ducati and Öhlins, however the best maybe yet to come as both companies continue to strive for excellence both on and off the track…