Blkes were a way out of the war — but one genus made it a path to glory
Until a USAF bombing raid flattened its factory in 1944 Ducati had manufactured electronic goods, but after the war the Ducati brothers thought they might do better by building cheap, utilitarian motorcycles.
Ducati’s first bike, Il Cucciolo (the Puppy) was certainly utilitarian. A bicycle with a tiny engine attached (above), it was almost identical in concept to the Puff Puff that Honda was building at the same time. It didn’t take very long for Ducati to take its little puppy racing and the company has been chasing race track glory ever since.
The most important date in Ducati’s history came in 1954 when the company signed a young engineer called Fabio Taglioni. He would design the first Ducati with desmodromic valve gear eschewing the need for valve springs which were a constant hindrance in the search for revs and power.
Taglioni is rightly seen as a genius. His first desmo, a 125 single, would have taken the 125 world title at its first attempt in 1958 if his lead rider hadn’t crashed in a crucial race.
Ducati’s modern era started in 1972 when Paul Smart won the Imola 200 on Taglioni’s desmo v-twin 750 Super Sport. Since then Ducati has been a desmo v-twin firm. Mike Ha ilwood was the next to cement the legend when he won the 1978 F1 TT on a 900SS.
Over the years Ducati has been perilously close to bankruptcy, always saved from the abyss at the last moment. The company has been in better health in recent decades, becoming the ruling force in World Superbike, taking titles with Britons Carl Fogarty and Neil Hodgson among many others.
Most impressive was its 2003 move into MotoGP, when it beat the might of Honda and Yamaha with its new four-cylinder Desmosedici, designed by Ducati’s current genius Filippo Preziosi. Four years later Casey Stoner secured the MotoGP crown. Preziosi currently has his work cut out trying to get Valentino Rossi competitive on the bike. Ducati’s reputation undeniable for so long is once again at stake.