Two Much Trouble: Ducati's Parallel-Twin Engines

A history of the parallel-twin engine saga in Bologna.

| November/December 2016

One of motorcycling’s most enduring designs is the parallel-twin engine, but not all manufacturers have made it a success.

Right now Ducati is proving that if you stick to what you know, you earn trust and buying confidence from your customers. The Italian factory is in the middle of record sales growth. Last year alone its worldwide sales increased 22 percent, with the U.S. firmly entrenched as its biggest market. The trend is expected to continue this year as nearly half its 2016 lineup are new models.

This success is based on one basic engine configuration: the 90-degree V-twin, or L-twin as it’s also called. It is available in a huge range of options, from the detuned, air-cooled Scrambler to the full-on Superbike mode of the 1299 Panigale. The business plan isn’t that much different to those of the major British motorcycle manufacturers of the 1940s and 1950s, which dominated the U.S. market. Their sales platform was based on various versions of the parallel twin.

The parallel twin is an enduring design, first brought into major motorcycle production by Triumph in the 1930s. As the 1960s progressed, Italian manufacturers joined a lemming-like rush to make their own parallel twins. This included Laverda, Benelli and Ducati.

Ducati had earlier experience in this area, developing several parallel twins as pure racers, not street models. Interestingly, Ducati made three stabs over three decades at a production parallel twin, yet none delivered sales success. Ducati’s various attempts at the parallel twin have seldom been documented in any detail. Certainly, Phil Aynsley is the only person to have photographed in detail all the surviving Ducati parallel-twin models. Each is an amazing story.

Twin sports

By the mid-1950s, Ducati’s single overhead cam 125cc single-cylinder was the bike to beat in Italy’s hugely popular long-distance road races. An example of its dominance was when factory rider Giuliano Maoggi won the Moto Giro outright in 1956. Over a gruelling 745 miles, he left the entire 175cc class in his wake. But things were different on the world stage, with both the 125cc and 250cc Grand Prix championships reeling from the dominance of NSU’s twin-cylinder racers of 1953-1954.

bike on highway

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