Shazaam's Tech Library - Buying A Used Superbike

A useful technical article from guest contributor Larry Kelly of San Diego CA (aka Shazaam!).


As with any used motorcycle, your best approach is to find a bike with a well-documentated service history and have the bike inspected by a Ducati-trained mechanic.

A motorcycle that uses the same oil to lubricate the engine and gearbox loses viscosity more quickly and therefore needs oil changes more frequently than an automobile. So look for a service history showing use of a synthetic oil changed at 2,000 mile intervals.

The maintenance schedule is thoroughly covered in the Owner's and Service manuals that haven’t changed much over the years. The Owner's Manuals for the 2000 to 2006 model year bikes are available for download at:

Here are the questions you need to ask the previous owner and your mechanic.

Has the rear wheel spindle been inspected?

1994-1998 models were recalled so Ducati could inspect for possible cracks present on the rear wheel spindle. The concern was that this condition could cause the spindle to fail, causing a loss of control of the motorcycle and increasing the risk of a crash. Ducati sent ultrasonic inspection equipment to their dealers who were authorized to replace spindles if necessary.

Has the alternator wiring been inspected and replaced?

The wiring and in-line connectors between the alternator and the regulator/rectifier (on all model years) overheat because they have to pass over 30 amps continuously. The solution is to replace the wires with a larger gauge and eliminate the in-line connectors. Do it before you have problems. More info

When was the last time the cam timing belts were replaced?

It's critical that the cam belts be replaced every 12,000 miles to avoid potentially catastrophic engine damage. Ducati uses smaller diameter pulleys that cause the belt to turn tighter corners than the larger pulleys used in automobile engines. Ducati also uses a small diameter back-side belt-tensioning idler pulley arrangement that causes the belt to flex back in the opposite direction on each revolution. This back-and-forth belt flexing promotes premature fatigue failure. The original drive belt material often failed before the first recommended 6,000 mile replacement interval so Ducati now uses a Kevlar fiber reinforced belt.

Have the fuel lines been replaced?

Ducati fuel injection uses a high pressure fuel pump and in-tank fuel line failures are common if the recommendation to replace fuel hoses every two years is not followed. Further, a partially clogged fuel filter will disrupt fuel flow, cause bad throttle response, and can lean out the motor on the fuel injected models. In particular, it will present excessive back pressure to the fuel pump which increases electrical current demands thereby making the charging system work harder which commonly leads to a regulator/rectifier failure.

When was the last time the fuel filter was replaced?

A clogged fuel filter causes the high pressure fuel pump to draw much higher currents that are prime contributors to regulator failures.

Has the connection to the starter motor been inspected?

The rubber boot that covers the connection to the starter motor catches and holds water that corrodes the terminal making it crank hard or fail to start. Cover the connection with dielectric grease and check it seasonally.

Were the cams pulled at the last valve clearance check to inspect for the chrome plating flaking off.

Do not ignore this issue! The consequences can be very expensive. This is a major unresolved design problem that affects all model years.

The chrome plating on the rocker arms flake off and damage the cam lobes. A time-consuming removal of the camshafts is mandatory to determine the full extent of the condition of the rocker arms so ANY PURCHASE SHOULD BE PREDICATED ON AN ACCEPTABLE INSPECTION. Depending on the circumstances, Ducati may elect to replace defective parts on out-of-warranty bikes but the owner will have to pay the labor costs.

Be Aware ...

The following are some design deficiencies and common problems that you should also be aware of:

In-Line Fuses. There's been reports of corrosion developing at connections at in-line fuses causing a high resistance to develop that overheats the wiring and fuse holder causing a partial meltdown and/or loss of continuity. The engine management relay fuses (one 15A, one 15A and one 20A, or one 5A and one 20A fuse depending on the model and year) located underneath the seat. Failure can cause your bike to stop running without warning. A clue is that the fuel pump will not run when you turn on the ignition and toggle the handlebar switch to RUN. The 30A fuse (or 40A on later models) between the regulator/rectifier and the battery. Failure can prevent charging and eventually drain the battery during a long ride. A clue is that the charge warning light (pre-1999 models) will come on.

Starter Relay Connection. The electrical connector that goes to the starter relay is often a poor fit and can cause inability to start for no apparent reason. Zip-tie it tight.

Coolant Expansion Tank. The tank sees repeated thermal cycling and it cracks at a high stress point (underneath the ignition key) where the shape abruptly transitions from horizontal to vertical. So watch for small coolant droplets on the inside of your windscreen. Check that your dealer keeps replacements in stock or pick up a spare on eBay. When you replace it, make sure that the mounting holes allow for some thermal expansion.

Flywheel Retaining Nut. Problems develop when this retaining nut is removed. They may loosen and cause extensive damage and they are difficult to re-install reliably.

Cush Drive. These occasionally are reported to back-out and cause damage to the swingarm.

Crankshaft Oil Galley Plug. Check your oil screen at each oil change for aluminum fingernail clipping size particles. Early-year bikes had problems with this plug backing-out. If not caught in time, the plug will come out and you'll get a catastrophic loss of lubrication. In 2001, the aluminum oil galley plug was replaced with a steel plug.

Oil Pressure Sending Unit. These parts are unreliable. However, if your oil pressure light comes on don't run the engine until you diagnose the problem.

Low Fuel Sending Unit. This part is unreliable. Get in the habit of resetting your odometer when refueling.

Clutch Slave Leaks. Watch your reservoir fluid level. There are after-market replacements for the stock unit that are more reliable. Also, 2001 models were recalled for attention to a clutch slave cylinder problem. These slave cylinders would hydraulically lock the clutch if they leaked. Ducati has stocked its dealers with replacement cylinders.

After You’ve Bought

OK, you've just bought a Ducati so what do you need to know? What do you need to do?

Well, first you'll need to know where to find accurate and complete information, sources of in-depth experience, and even sources of informed opinion. This may, or may not, include the personnel at your local Ducati dealer.

Then you need to fully grasp the bike's maintenance requirements and the nasty consequences of ignoring them. And so, you'll also need to be aware of common problems and their solutions. Some are mentioned above.

Third, you'll need to understand how to balance the benefits of modifying your bike against any reduction in reliability and ride-ability. That is, learn the reasons why Ducati engineers made certain performance trade-offs and understand why adding race-bike components is not always the best solution for a street-bike. In particular, keep good records. They'll help you backtrack when you get lost, be of help in resolving warranty disputes, and be valuable to you when you sell your bike.

Finally, you'll probably need to adjust your suspension to suit your weight and riding style.

Information Sources

Ducati's official web site contains product information, technical articles, parts lists, and manuals.

Buy a Haynes Service & Repair Manual for your bike, even if you don't plan on making repairs yourself. I guarantee that you'll refer to it regularly and it'll save its price many times over. Ducati dealers also sell a shop manual containing similar information at a premium price.

Diving into a complex, expensive motorcycle with a screwdriver, a wrench, a snippet of impressive-sounding advice off the internet or from your neighborhood garage mechanic, and no manual, is a very risky business, especially if you want to avoid warranty issues.

Authorized Dealers

Your local Ducati dealer has to make money to stay in business, so if you don't support them they won't be around when you need them. Most dealers sell and install the line of Ducati Performance and other vendor's after-market parts and accessories. They're not deceptive, but try to understand where they're coming from when they offer advice.

Ducati Specialists

Bike owners are fortunate when they live near a Ducati specialist's shop since some owners ship their bikes cross-country to take advantage of their expertise. Accessories can be bolt-on affairs but proper balanced engine performance modifications require years of first-hand product development, testing and tuning experience. In particular, suspension component selection and tuning is both an art and science. If you have special needs for the track or street, these people can help.

John Hackett Performance
204 Keresley Road
Coventry, UK
Tel: +44 (0)24 7633 5300

Internet Forums and Email Lists

As you become familiar with your bike and you spend some time on the internet you'll see many instances where someone asks for help and gets incomplete and somewhat inaccurate advice. You really don't know whether the response to your question is from a real expert with technical training, an experienced rider with suspension savvy, a hands-on guy who's done it all, or just a well-meaning guy just repeating something he's heard.

If it's opinion you're after, internet forums speak volumes. It's great fun to watch or join the banter over the best tires, spark plugs, motor oil, suspension settings, air filters, and more. It's the only way to sort out complex issues and share your experiences. But, it's hard to sort-out opinion from fact when your looking at a two or three sentence answer.

There are de facto experts on these forums who spend a great deal of time helping others in need but they don't answer every posted question. They offer-up their knowledge and experience freely, but like most people, they're disinclined to offer extensive explanations to someone who doesn’t read the Owner’s Manual, or hesitates to spend the money on a shop manual, but want to pick everyone's brain with how-to do-it type queries. Something about helping those who are willing to help themselves is the logic behind that. It's pretty easy to tell when someone hasn't read the owners or shop manual by the nature of the question.

The following forums and mail list are Ducati-specific. Don't forget to use the search function.

The Ducati Index

Club Desmo

Ducati Sporting Club

Ducati Message Boards

Then there's Ducati Online/The Ducati List. It's a Ducati-related e-mailing list that can generate scores of e-mails to your in-box a day, although you can also subscribe to a condensed version. There is also a list of answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ's) on-line.

Performance Improvement

The biggest performance boost to a Ducati comes from rider improvement. Handling is truly awesome in stock trim, so a riding school and track time will pay huge dividends here.

A sure way to improve handling performance is to reduce weight. Ducatis are not as lightweight as current Japanese machines but weight reduction is easy albeit expensive. After you remove any extraneous equipment (tool kit, reflectors, etc.) and have switched to a lightweight battery, it then requires an expensive diet of magnesium wheels and swingarm, carbon fairings, fuel tank, and titanium nuts & bolts etc. (the sky's the limit here.) But take care not to reduce weight at the sacrifice of safety, reliability, and normal maintenance and inspection requirements. For example, too much flywheel and clutch weight reduction and you give up drivability and traction exiting corners in order to gain acceleration.

For increased acceleration it's much cheaper to increase horsepower than it is to reduce weight. Every seven pounds of weight reduction is about equal to one horsepower from a physics point-of view.

Higher compression pistons, increased displacement, fuel system changes, port work, cams, valves, crank work, rods, and full exhaust systems all are effective ways to increase horsepower, but pushed to the limit, engine life and service costs suffer.

The idea is to try to build a balanced package based on how you'll really ride the bike - a hard thing to do for many of us, myself included. Start off by making sure that the stock machine is properly tuned and adjusted. This often can make a stock Ducati much faster for very little money.

Suspension Settings

Let me say it up front. The factory recommended suspension settings will give you the best OVERALL handling. Period.

The factory settings won't provide the most comfortable ride nor will they always result in the fastest track times because any set of suspension settings is a compromise and the stock setup is no exception. The suspension settings were developed by Ducati's test riders to give them the best handling characteristics over the widest possible range of riding conditions, so they are not necessarily the optimum settings for your favorite road or your personal riding technique.

Nevertheless there are some initial adjustments you may need to make. Also, one point bears mentioning up front. It is important in any suspension work, to keep a record of the starting point settings and all changes to avoid later confusion regarding the effects of each change.

Initial Setup

Ducati often makes two versions of their bikes. Monoposto (single seat) Ducatis have a softer rear spring in them as standard because they are not capable of carrying two people. Biposto (two seat) models have a stiffer spring installed to allow the bike to occasionally carry a passenger, when you temporarily increase the spring pre-load.

Ducati monopostos, as delivered, are set-up for a rider in the weight range of 65-75 kg (143-165 lbs.) If your weight (including gear) is significantly outside this range, you'll want to replace your springs with a more (or less) stiff unit to allow you to adjust the suspension correctly to suit your own weight. If you're heavy and you ride a biposto you'll probably still be OK but a lightweight on a biposto will definitely need a softer spring.

If your weight with gear on the bike is 200 lbs. or more, even if you've set your static pre-load properly, the stock spring probably isn't stiff enough to keep the rear end from bottoming out unless you crank up the compression damping.

To pre-load the stock spring for this heavier weight you'll need to compress it so much that you've reduced its effective range of motion. The higher pre-load needed for a heavier rider's weight will also cause the rear to top-out more readily requiring you to increase rebound damping to slow it down.

Too much rear spring pre-load will also cause your bike to ride higher in the rear. A higher rear end (or lower front) will give the front forks a steeper angle. This then results in a tendency of the bike to over-steer, where the rear wheel looses traction first so the rear end breaks loose.

The idea here is that you need to let the spring (not the dampers) control the range of motion of the suspension. Too-stiff damping causes handling problems over bumpy road surfaces. Handling is enhanced when the dampers are set soft enough to control the wheel movement, allowing the tyres to track the bumps rather than skip over them. Track surfaces are smoother so higher pre-loads and damping of a taut suspension are less of a problem.

It's important that in beginning any suspension setup that the spring pre-loads should be adjusted first (including correct determination of required spring rates.) It's also important to note that all of this should be done before any adjustment of damping rates, or steering head angle.

You need to set the front and rear spring sag amount for your own weight plus gear and a half tank of gas. The way this is done is by measuring the suspension change with you on the bike sitting in the riding position, leaning forward with enough weight from your hands on the handlebars to mimic your riding at speed. See your bike's service manual for the procedure for setting the bike's spring pre-load and measuring sag. Again, buy a Haynes or Ducati manual, you'll need it.

After setting the pre-load on the correct springs, you can then go on to adjust the suspension's rebound and compression damping.

Also, if you make any sprocket changes, then make sure you've reset the ride height by changing the length of the tie-rod adjuster. On superbike models any size changes to the final drive sprockets or chain length will usually require an adjustment of the rear axle eccentric hub that, in turn, affects your rear ride height and wheelbase - and your handling.

Finally, you should probably avoid using suspension settings developed by other riders, specifically motorcycle magazine test riders who commonly tweak each new bike's suspension settings in an attempt to improve on factory settings, and then publish the results. These settings may actually be an improvement for one particular rider on one particular track but the factory settings are still the best overall comfort-performance trade-off for the average rider on an average road.

For example, a review of a dozen magazine tests of Ducati superbike compression and rebound damper settings showed that even though there is a wide variation between riders, their settings average-out to the factory recommended settings. So it looks like Ducati knows its business.

Please note that cannot accept any liability for the accuracy or content of this section. Visitors who rely on this information do so at their own risk. If you are unsure it's worth contacting your local Ducati dealer who will be able to help. Do not attempt a repair or modification if you do not have the correct tools or knowledge to do so.