Some sounds are as legendary as the machines that make them. Take the rattling sound of a Ducati. Far from indicating a bike in dire need of a good tune-up, it’s exemplative of exactly what made Ducati rise through the ranks to become one of the world’s most popular motorbike manufacturers. Some people might prefer their bikes to purr like a pussycat, but others like them to roar like a lion. For riders who fall into the second camp, the explosive sound of the Ducati dry clutch was practically heaven-sent. We say was… In the last couple of decades, Ducati, like almost every other manufacturer, has moved away from the dry clutch in favor of the less noisy and generally less problematic wet clutch. It still employs them in a few models – the Panigale V4 R being one example – but as a general rule, bikes with dry clutches are something of an endangered species. Why? Bluntly put, the wet clutch is better, cheaper, and more reliable. But all that being said, there’s still something about the rumble of an old school Ducati that gets the heart pumping just that little bit faster. So, what do you need to know about the Ducati dry clutch? And is the wet clutch really that much better?
What is a Dry Clutch?
Before we start getting into the whys and wherefores of the dry clutch versus wet clutch debate, let’s take a minute to look at exactly what a dry clutch is. As vivadifferences.com puts it, a dry clutch is one with a plate outside the engine casing. It uses friction to engage and has no need for lubricant. Due to the increased friction, it tends to overheat quickly – to counter the problem, it has a large surface area to allow for optimal air cooling. Thanks to the fact they’re not awash with oil, dry clutches deliver increased power to the rear wheel and less drag to the engine.
Ducati and the Dry Clutch
Over the past few decades, most motorbike makers have turned away from the dry clutch. But a few still cling to them. Moto Guzzis is probably the best example of a manufacturer who still uses them religiously, with Ducati a close second. But even Ducati has started to lose the faith. Within the past ten years or so, the number of Ducati models that utilize the dry clutch has fallen to extinction point. Nowadays, you’ll need to either invest in a Panigale V4 R or dip your toes in the second-hand market if you want one. But even though it’s no longer quite the dry clutch addict it once was, Ducati is still the name most people think of when they hear that distinctive, dry clutch rumbling sound. So, what is it about the dry clutch that made Ducati hold onto it long after everyone else had given up the ghost?
According to autofarm.blogspot.com, the explanation comes down to marketing. As we mentioned previously, a dry clutch delivers less drag and more power than the wet clutch, making it the favored choice in racing circles. Fitting it to street bikes, then, bought a bit of racing star pulling power to the brand, elevating Ducati’s lineup above the humdrum and giving a distinctive angle to their marketing strategy. And then, of course, there’s that beautiful rumble. Wet clutches might be a little more PC, but the deafening sound of the dry clutch is manna from heaven for those who like their bikes to announce their presence long before they arrive. As motorcyclistonline.com notes, the sound itself comes from the clutch plates knocking against each other as the clutch is disengaged. The more wear and tear the clutch experiences, the louder the rumble. By the time the clutch is on its last legs, the noise is less of a rumble and more of a roar.
Dry Clutch vs Wet Clutch
So, we know what a dry clutch is. But what exactly is a wet clutch? And why have so many bike manufacturers abandoned the one for the other? Essentially, a wet clutch, as the name suggests, is the exact opposite of a dry clutch. Unlike dry clutches which are exposed and free of oil, wet clutches are bathed in a sea of oil and completely sealed off. While dry clutches rely on surface air cooling to keep their plates from overheating, wet clutches keep their cool via their lubricant bath. Due to their superior cooling properties, wet clutches can take a lot more abuse than their dry counterparts, which tend to kick up a fuss in stop and go situations. If you do a lot of city riding where stop-start traffic is a daily issue, you’re likely to find a wet clutch much easier to live with. Wet clutches also tend to last longer and cost less to repair or replace if anything does eventually go amiss.
But it’s not just their tolerance for a bit of abuse that’s seen wet clutches become the preferable choice. Dry clutches are loud. They start loud and they get steadily louder and louder with age. It’s part of their attraction. It’s also part of the reason any bike maker with a fondness for keeping the right side of noise regulating legislation avoids them like the plague. And as motorcyclistonline.com asks, when every decibel counts, why waste them on a noisy clutch when you could have a sweet-sounding exhaust instead?
The Lasting Legacy of the Ducati Dry Clutch
At the end of the day, wet clutches are quieter, cheaper, and altogether more reliable than dry clutches. But here’s the kicker. The wet clutch is spinning in oil, and while that has its advantages, it also comes with a problem – namely, a loss in power. It’s not much, admittedly, but the fluid drag you get from a wet clutch is exactly the reason dry clutches tend to be the preferred choice in racing bikes. For most bikers, the difference in power between a bike with a wet clutch and one with a dry one is nominal, and certainly not enough to overlook the other benefits of the wet clutch. But there are others who claim they can feel enough of a difference to count. It’s that difference that makes the Ducati market in pre-2011 models (the year they dropped the dry clutch from their mainstream models) so huge. That, and that awesome rumble, of course.