To the untrained eye, a motorcycle is a motorcycle — two wheels, typically ridden by someone who likes to circumvent traffic laws just to get ahead. But to the riding cognoscenti and lovers of all things motoring, they are objects of power and beauty. There are a handful of motorcycles in history capable of not only capturing your eye, but stealing your breath. The bike that does this best is the resplendent Ducati MH900e. No motorcycle in history can claim a more comprehensive and artful execution of two-wheeled beauty. Ducati made a bold move in producing the MH900e, and the risk paid off in the creation of a legend.
Naturally, any bike fiend finds it hard to select the most stunning motorcycle ever made, especially with the dizzying array of motorcycles produced throughout history. And while vintage motorcycles hold a certain nostalgic mystique, there’s also beauty in the execution of modern engineering. The MH900e falls between the two, toeing the line between past and present.
While vintage motorcycles hold a certain nostalgic mystique, there’s also beauty in the execution of modern engineering.
The MH900e was the first in an illustrious group of Ducati’s famous SportClassic line of motorcycles that bowed at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show. Created specifically with classic style in mind, they were modern bikes that paid homage to Ducati’s deep racing roots, and the MH900e demonstrated this best. The now-famous South African motorcycle designer, Pierre Terblanche, headed up the design of the MH900e, and both the bike and the MH900e’s nomenclature pay tribute to Mike Hailwood’s (MH) victorious 1978 Isle of Man TT bike — a Ducati 900SS with handsome rounded bikini fairing.
The MH900e played off a simple design intention. Terblanche focused on the bike’s 904cc air-cooled L-Twin engine with a 75 horsepower output, and worked to frame the engine with a bike deserving of the powertrain. Parking the engine within the glossy red trellis frame accentuated a crisp and simple beauty, with no question about the significance of the bike’s heritage of racing performance. Everything else about the MH900e’s appearance is gorgeous and speaks to its intended purpose: to win. The lines of a 1970s racer are unmitigated, from the silver-trimmed round headlight on the long fairing to the deeply sculpted fuel tank, the chunky tail section and integrated exhaust pipes. Finally, the classic red-and-white paint scheme that highlighted the dramatic flow of lines from the fairing to the back of the fuel tank is equal parts artwork and racing representation.
Ducati showed the original concept sketch of the motorcycle at the Intermot show for motorcycle manufacturers in Munich. The crowd was thrilled, even without an actual bike present. Then, after receiving even more enthusiastic responses from fans through an internet poll, Ducati gave the nod to a hand-built, limited-production run of 2,000 bikes between 2000 and 2001.
Rather than heading to showrooms, potential buyers went to the web, where it was sold directly to consumers — an industry first.
The production version of the motorcycle changed little compared to the MHe concept, retaining the unmistakable ’70s ethos, the racy silhouette and the exposed engine. The MHe had its rear turn signals integrated into the exhaust, but the production version moved them below the twin pipes and gave up the rearview camera and screen. As far as powertrain was concerned, the MH900e lacked nothing with a 904cc air-cooled V-Twin engine from the race-ready 900SS. And though 75 horses doesn’t seem like all that much compared to the larger output bikes of today, it moved the bike with authority — especially with the lower gearing adopted from Ducati’s street missile Monster 900.
Ducati also went about selling the limited run in an innovative way. Rather than heading to showrooms, potential buyers went to the web, where it was sold directly to consumers — an industry first. On January 1, 2000, the first 1,000 MH900es sold out in a ridiculous 31 minutes, lending credence to the fact that the design execution was a hit. The remaining 1,000 motorcycles sold out over the next few weeks, with hungry customers snatching up the instant icon as quickly as they were released.
There’s no question that Ducati produces some of the most amazing motorcycles ever made, but 15 years ago, they put together a magical formula. The MH900e is the showbike of showbikes, and Ducati had the guts to not only build it, but also to sell it in a way that marked a change in the brand’s approach. The MH900e isn’t the fastest, the boldest or the most expensive motorcycle to ever hit the streets, but it is — perhaps more memorably than any other superlatives — the most beautiful.