Raymond Roche (top, left) on the Ducati 851 and Valentino Rossi with the Panigale. Legends from two different eras. And, amazingly, the 851 is still up for a scrap...
Remember the Ducati 851? It came out in 1987 and blitzed the world of sportsbikes like few other machines have ever managed to. Desmoquattro V-Twin, liquid-cooling, fuel-injection, four-valve cylinder heads, 95bhp and a top speed of about 240km/h made the bike a bit special 25 years ago and that’s the way it remains today, despite the fact that it probably requires motorcycle breakdown cover more than the Panigale does!
The 851 and its various avatars (851 SP, 888 and 888 SP) were produced from 1987 to 1993 and the bike won three World Superbikes championships – with Raymond Roche in 1990 and with Doug Polen in 1991 and 1992. By 1993, the Ducati 888 had twin fuel injectors per cylinder, power was up to 125bhp and the bike had the best bits that companies like Termignoni, Brembo and Ohlins were making back then.
The Ducati 851 was pretty much the top dog of its time, the baddest boy on the block. And that makes you wonder how the bike would stack up against the modern day Ducati 1199 Panigale, a bike that has, in one fell swoop, made every other superbike on the planet look old and slow and outdated. For their August 2012 issue, Motorcycle Sport & Leisure magazine have ridden the 851 and 1199 back to back, and here are some brief excerpts from what they have to say about the two machines:
"After riding both of them, it was the 851 that left the strongest impression. Where the 1199 feels overwhelmingly fast and verging on out of control pretty much the whole time on the road, the 851 is a manageable challenge. The older engine feels much more mechanical, like it has cannonballs in the cylinders instead of the oversized tennis balls of the 1199. The heavy throttle, heavy clutch and teeny-weeny steering lock combine to make eight-point turns on a busy road very interesting indeed."
"On the 851, there’s not a lot of room between the bum pad on the pillion cowl and the back of the fuel tank, so instead of hanging off, you tuck in and take wide, fast, classics arcs through corners. The 851 seems to need half the lean angle to go faster through the corners than a modern bike and it rides on well controlled suspension. Its handling is sharp, predictable and reassuring. Only the brakes gave its age away. If you think bike engines have advanced in the last 25 years, it’s nothing compared to braking performance."
So there you have it – the 851 can still, it seems, hold its own. Nobody is trying to imply that it would be comparable to the 1199 in terms of outright performance. It’s just that even with the passage of time – a quarter of a century, no less – the 851 hasn’t gotten fat and slow. And we’re sure Messrs Roche & Polen will be happy about that…
Source: Motorcycle Sport & Leisure