Zen and the Art of OBDII

My first Ducati was quite a learning experience. Out of the gate my head was swirling with new and strange stuff: keyless ignition, timing belts, desmodromic valves, and… the dreaded onboard diagnostics.

My laptop running MelcoDiag is connected to the Ducati.

Freeware software is available for DIY diagnostics and resets. Use these cables to connect to the Ducati onboard diagnostics. This applies to 2010 thru 2014 motorcycles – and possibly others?

Like it or not, a modern motorcycle uses an electronic control unit (ECU) to manage engine functions, read sensors, track mileage between service intervals, etc. While the dashboard provides a small window into this digital world, it requires additional hardware to tap into the magic inside the black box. Mere mortals typically do not have access to this stuff.

When you take your bike to an authorized dealer for service the first thing they will do is connect it to the Ducati Diagnostic System (DDS). This tool is how a technician takes readings, makes adjustments and resets various codes and settings. The DDS is also connected to Ducati central online and can download updates for the bike’s firmware. But what if you aren’t a dealer? Fortunately, there is a very affordable DIY option that can perform many of these same functions.

I have dealt with the automotive version of onboard diagnostics for many years. The infamous Check Engine Light has become common on almost all modern vehicles, but motorcycles are a bit different. While cars have been required to standardize their interfaces and connectors, motorcycles are not so streamlined. You’ll find a jumble of different connectors being used by various manufacturers. Plus, the maker of the computer determines what interface you’ll need. It’s almost retro!

When cars started using computers the engineers included fault detection features to assist with debugging the vehicle. In those early days there were all sorts of wacky methods to “read” these faults: Press the gas pedal five times, honk the horn, turn the key twice… I’m not kidding! Fortunately in 1996 the madness was reigned in by a new standardized interface called On-Board Diagnostics II (presumably the first one flunked). This new OBD-II specification required all manufacturers to use the same 16-pin diagnostic connector.

But the OBD-II standard (and later European version known as EOBD) is only required on automobiles. Motorcycles can dream up their own variations. So of course Ducati use a 4-pin connector developed by Fiat, and have their own array of acronyms and onboard diagnostic system that blink lights, store trouble codes, issue service interval reminders and interface with diagnostic information. Then we have a multitude of electronic control unit (ECU) manufacturers to deal with- Marelli, Mitsubishi, Siemens, etc. But most bikes built between 2010 and 2014 will use the same hardware.

What you’ll need:
First you’ll need this adapter cable to connect the Italian four-pin interface used for the ECU. This plugs into your Ducati’s diagnostic connector which is usually hidden under the seat. The other end of this cable is a standard OBD-II plug and connects to…

Next, connect the ELM327 microcontroller. To read the bike’s OBD-II signals on your PC you’ll use this ELM327 box and USB cable. Don’t skimp, this is where most troubles arise. Cheap bootleg copies are troublesome and usually won’t work motorcycle ECUs. You’ll also find Bluetooth versions available, but those are best suited for interfacing with a mobile app. Since we’re connecting to a laptop it’s best to use the USB cable.

Finally, the software. Up to this point our list covers most models built between 2010 and 2014. The software you need will need depend on whether your bike has a Marelli, Siemans or Mitsubishi ECU, JPdiag, M3Udiag or MelcoDiag respectively. You’ll find the freeware downloads available at the following link:


Formerly known as DucatiDiag, these packages are the work of JP, a French coder who is also a motorcycle enthusiast.

The ins and outs of this software and the registration process is too complicated to cover here— besides, there is an entire forum devoted to that purpose! Suffice to say: most issues reported by users stem from cheap/bogus ELM327 cables. Also, when registering your ECU be patient. It’s a manual/email process and the guy is not getting rich by any means. Speaking of… as I mentioned previously, this is all freeware (he also offers a timing belt utility) and has required hours of coding, trial and error and troubleshooting. If you find it helpful, look for the Paypal link and say Merci.

5 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of OBDII”

  1. I’ve owned 3 Ducatis. A brand new ‘93, and used ‘95 and a ‘97. This newfangled computer crud is witchcraft. The only electronics any bike needs is a voltage regulator.

    1. Negative. If your bike has a fuel sender labeled as 592.1.021.2F or newer you can replace it and ride. If it is E or previous and you buy a replacement you’ll need to visit a dealer.
      Or you could wire 1/4 watt 1k ohm resistor across the fuel sender connector leads and call it a day. Then reset your trip odo when you buy gas!

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