of people have argued long and hard that limited
editions, no matter how special the extras, how limited the
production run and how ostensibly desirable the result has
been, they are never worth the price premium they inevitably
attract. And I’ve always been a vociferous supporter
of that logic. I mean, look at the Ducati 999R for example.
Sure, so it’s got some good quality bits tacked on,
but at the end of the day it’s just a basic biposto
with some frills and a price tag almost twice that of the
standard machine. And as such, it can’t possibly be
Well listen carefully to the sound of a bike
journalist eating his words. Because, £18500 price tag
or not, the Ducati 999R is worth every penny.
Now that’s probably a comment worth
justifying. It is, after all, an awful lot of money for a
motorbike. As many, many people told me during the test. But
the truth is that if you took a standard 999 and added a beautiful
carbon fairing, carbon seat unit, carbon front mudguard, cam
belt covers and exhaust, magnesium cam covers and Marchesini
wheels, top line Ohlins suspension and steering damper, Brembo
radial brakes and a few subtle engine tweaks to boost power
you would spend maybe twice as much. And it would still, ultimately,
be a base model so come resale time it would be painful indeed
to see all that money get thrown away. No, purely in financial
terms the 999R is actually quite good value.
But the real
value of a bike like this is not financial. This Ducati,
more than any other in the range, cries out to be ridden.
And, more than any other 999, it is an object of beauty as
well. I’m not entirely sure why the 999R manages to
look so much better than the still less than utterly beautiful
base machine. Even now we have got used to the looks, there
is something about the 999 that jars, while the 999R is, simply,
gorgeous. Maybe it’s the depth of the finish, maybe
the red frame and one piece fairing. Maybe it’s the
quality of the components hanging off the ends. Maybe it’s
all of the above, I don’t know. But what I do know is
that wherever we went people stopped, looked, pointed and
commented. Not a single person had anything bad to say about
the bike, whether they were bikers themselves or simply passers
by. Everyone said it was beautiful and that it looked expensive
and classy. Then, of course, they all said it was an awful
lot of money for a bike. I guess you’ll have to get
used to that if you get one.
For those of you not familiar with Ducati
sportsbikes in general and the 999 in particular, there are
some things you should know. First of all, they are physically
small and somewhat single minded in design. Secondly, they
are bikes that really need to be ridden properly. By that
I mean that they don’t really respond well to be ridden
in a half hearted
way. Sure, you can just bimble around savouring the noise
and the looks but the whole package comes alive when you get
your head down and start concentrating on what you’re
doing rather than just acting as ballast. And third, they
are not bikes for shrinking violets. Especially the 999R.
There is a Ducati trademark. They make a
horrible, dry rattling noise when running. A by-product of
the dry clutch that almost all of the Bologna machines carry
as standard. Now under normal circumstances, clutch rattle
is the loudest thing you’ll hear on a Ducati, at least
one supplied for road test. Because Ducati are very good and
only give us bikes to test that are exactly as the customer
would receive them. The 999R is a slight exception to this
rule. The bike as we received it is still in standard customer
spec, it’s true. But the 999R comes with two different
exhausts – a standard wheezy and restrictive affair
stuffed full of catalytic converters and baffle plates, and,
um, the other one. The test bike came with the other one fitted.
Quiet, discreet and subtle it is not. But the enormous carbon
resonator box of the Termignoni system that comes as standard
with the ‘R sounds simply fantastic and drowns out the
unpleasant mechanical clatter quite nicely. It’s one
of those noises that, despite our certainty that it is totally
illegal in terms of volume, provokes no more than an amused
and indulgent smile from everyone who encounters it. I rode
down to Hastings, bastion of the blue-rinse, and parked up
outside a coffee shop on the seafront. Lots and lots of elderly
folk saw and heard me arrive and many of them walked last
and looked at the bike. And not one of them tutted, shook
their heads or looked disapproving. Likewise the pair of West
Sussex’ finest in their Volvo patrol car. It’s
a bike that you simply can’t object to.
So we know that the Ducati 999R gives you
the social acceptability of Terry Waite and Kylie Minogue
rolled into one. Which on it’s own is worth the asking
price. But it gets better.
All you need
to do is ride to see how.
Swing a leg over the 999R and you will be
astonished just how small it is. For those brought up on a
diet of Japanese performance machinery, the Ducati will come
as something of a culture shock. The narrow tank feels as
though your knees are touching. Many riders will never have
ridden something this skinny, while most others will immediately
feel as though they are back on a 125. Or more likely, given
the price and the likely age of most buyers, that they are
on their old Suzuki X7 or RD250. The bars are the perfect
reach away and the seat, which seems so hard and unyielding
before, provides a surprising amount of padding. The mirrors
are there, both of them, and are about as usable as one would
expect. Actually they’re better than one might expect,
but not by much. Turn the key, watch the display panel do
its thing and press the starter button. Oh yes, it’s
a Ducati alright. The starter struggles against the mighty
compression, sounding for all the world as though the battery
is flat and you’re going to have to bump start it. And
then, provided you have remembered to set the choke, it catches
after just two or three turns. And the world and its uncle
knows that you have just started a Ducati 999R with a race
Termignoni exhaust system. My elderly neighbour thought it
was marvellous, but you may want to check with yours. Give
it a moment to get warm and revel in the noise. This, my friend,
is what a Ducati should sound like.
Pop the sidestand up and notice how it fits
neatly into a cutout in the fairing. Quality. Pull in the
clutch and select first. Yes, you can comfortably use the
clutch with just the one hand. Pull away and you will discover
that first is a little on the tall side. No problem –
dry clutches are pretty tough and slipping a bit to pull away
won’t be a problem. Notice how precise the handling
is, even at low speed, and how little effort is needed to
turn. In fact, you may well
need to be careful at first to avoid clouting apexes rather
than clipping them as the turn-in is quicker than you’ll
probably be used to. At low speed the 999R does feel a little
as though it is going to fall over, though it only takes a
few minutes to get used to it. You may be surprised to find
that riding through town is nowhere near as painful as you’ll
have been led to believe. Oh, the 999R is by no means the
perfect commuter, but the narrow width, incredible presence
and razor sharp responses mean that actually it’ll hustle
up to the city quite nicely if necessary. And your wrists,
though they’ll know they’ve done it, won’t
have seized up either.
But that’s just silly. You do not,
under any circumstances, buy a Ducati 999R to ride in town.
Or if you do then you seriously need some professional help.
No, the 999R belongs in the country. Or, even better, on a
Get out of town, drop behind the bubble and
let it rip. OK, at least two of those ideas are reckless at
best. Getting behind the bubble will require the sort of contortions
that really don’t work on the road. Unless you need
a stepladder to get on, that is. The bubble is very small
And letting her rip on the road is an almost
instant way to say goodbye to your licence, liberty and possibly
life. More on that later. For now, let’s look at the
Out of town that slightly twitchy, keen to
drop in steering becomes communicative and alive. And it makes
the 999R incredibly easy to position exactly where you want
to be. All the time. The brakes, when you need them, are phenomenal,
applying immense retardation at the squeeze of a single finger.
They tyres did the business as well – Michelin Pilot
Race that were well worn but heated up fast and gripped like
anything. They were even OK in the rain provided I kept them
warm, sliding occasionally but giving so much warning that
it was never a problem, especially with the rather circumspect
way that the fact I’m on someone else’s very expensive
motorbike in the torrential rain tends to make me ride…
My long term
GSX-R 750 is a bike that I really, really love. It’s
precise, focussed, powerful, fast and all-round brilliant.
And yet the 999R makes it feel like a sofa – soft, springy,
heavy and saggy. No really – it is that much of a difference.
Approach a bend and will the Ducati into the right spot. Exactly
the right spot. Need to lose some speed? brush two fingers
over the lever and the big Brembos just scrub it off instantly.
Drop a shoulder, look through the corner and you’re
already turning, hitting exactly the right apex and getting
back on the power to pick her up. Smile, relax even more and
repeat ad infinitum.
A word about performance though. On paper,
140bhp from a litre bike isn’t all that. And, despite
all the exotic material, you’ve still got a dry weight
of 181kg to haul around. So performance isn’t going
to be that good, is it? I mean, physics alone should mean
that the 999R will get destroyed by any decent Japanese sportsbike.
Even that little GSX-R has a better power to weight ratio.
And the laws of physics are absolute and immovable, right?
picks up speed like a big vee twin, and no big vee twin goes
like a Ducati 999R. And I don’t know why. This bike
is a rolling paradox. It has no real powerband and feels slightly
flat and yet anything approaching serious throttle action
sees the numbers on the digital speedo change faster than
it can keep up. It picks up the front wheel everywhere but
stays perfectly stable and still steers. And we know that’s
impossible. You can put your knee down on every corner in
any conditions but it still works fine if you stay neat and
tucked in. It’s physically tiny yet I rode over 2000
miles on it and didn’t get a single ache, even with
my camera gear in a rucksack (‘cos that’s the
only way to carry anything on this bike).
Let me put this into perspective. Regulars
will know that we use the Nurburgring and that I have instructed
there. I’ll go public here and now, and say that with
a couple of days to get comfortable and no traffic I would
happily go for the lap record around the Nurburgring Nordschleife
on a Ducati 999R with these tyres. And I reckon I might even
be able to get it, too.
I hate superlatives. Once something is the
best, the fastest, whatever, you run out of things to describe
the next, better one as. Which gives me a problem here. Because
the Ducati 999R is, by far, the best bike I have ever ridden.
The most desirable, most exciting roadbike on the planet.