Two-Wheel Tuesday: 1991 Ducati 851 Superbike

1991 Ducati 851 Superbike
The Ducati 851 Superbike was among the most advanced bikes sold in the U.S. in 1991

On July 15th, 1992 I bought a 1991 Ducati 851 Superbike. This was my second Ducati, after selling my 1987 Ducati Paso a few days earlier. I had graduated from CU Boulder a couple months earlier and couldn’t normally afford a near-new Italian motorcycle, but I sold the Paso for $4,600 (a nice profit after buying it for $3,200) and the same dealer in Fort Collins, Colorado, offered me this bike for $8,700. A 1991 Ducati 851 Superbike cost over $12,000 new, and only a couple hundred were imported to the U.S. Getting a year-old 851, with 1,800 miles on the odometer, for $8,700 seemed like a deal I couldn’t pass up.

1991 Ducati 851 Superbike Gauges
The 851’s gauge cluster, controls and riding position were designed for aggressive performance

These Ducatis had an impressive spec sheet for the era. In 1991 there were only about four bikes offering fuel injection, two were Ducatis and two were BMWs. The 851 Superbike’s 90-degree V-twin also featured four valves per cylinder and water cooling. Horsepower was rated at 93 and weight was about 460 pounds. The Ducati 851 Superbike’s technology and performance was a big step up from my 1975 Triumph Trident and 1987 Ducati Paso. It’s capabilities on Colorado’s twisting mountain roads were, quite honestly, above my skill level at the time, though I slowly expanded my riding prowess. It’s red paint and Italian styling were also quite exotic in 1990s Colorado.

1991 Ducati 851 Superbike Karl Bandana
A blood-red Ducati 851 Superbike with matching jacket…and bandana

I kept my Ducati 851 Superbike for 8 years, bringing it with me when I moved to California in 1994. When I finally sold it in 2000 the bike had over 11,000 miles, which means I put almost 10,000 miles on the Duck. That’s the most miles I’ve ever put on a single bike, which sort of amazes me when I think about its extreme riding position. I had to fold my 6-foot frame on to those high foot pegs and low handlebars every time I rode it, which was pretty easy in my mid 20s but seems incomprehensible at twice that age. I sold it to a Berkeley professor for $6,500, which has to be one of the cheapest per-mile and per-month costs in the history of motorcycling. I had heard rumors of nightmare maintenance issues on these Italian motorcycles, but mine had none.

1991 Ducati 851 Superbike Front
The Ducati 851’s blood-red paint and Italian styling made it a head-turner

If I found another one in clean condition I’d be tempted to buy it, though as mentioned, at this age I could likely only look at it versus ride it. My wrists hurt just thinking about the long reach to those low clip-ons.

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