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Ducati 999 for 2005

Road test and photographs by Adrian Percival

A few months ago I had the pleasure of riding a 999R for a couple of hours or so on some of my favourite country roads out in the Cotswolds. That bike was probably the most focused motorcycle I have ever ridden on public roads. The handling and power delivery were straight off the World Superbike arena and the brakes were the best I have ever experienced on any road bike. So not to understate just how I loved riding that bike, it was possibly the best experience I had on any bike in 2004, but I couldn't live with it in general day to day use.

The downside of any bike of that nature is that something has to be sacrificed for supreme handling and race bike looks and performance, so in terms of useability it was absolutely dreadful in traffic and in town. The gearing was so high that in first you could easily pull well in excess of any legal speed limit with ease, and comfort is not on the priority list by any means. After a town ride you ached, big time, but get it out where it belongs and that's where it turns into the World Championship winning bike that it is, it is a thoroughbred through and through.

Ducati like many other manufacturers evolve superbikes at an amazing rate, the race bike techology affects superbikes more than any other size or class of machine. Last year we tested the 999 and the 999S, beautiful bikes with distinct differences beween them. The 999 was a softer version of the S with 124bhp on tap, the S was a 136bhp race tuned motor with seriously uprated Ohlins suspension etc. Both these bikes are awesome pieces of machinery in their own right and have distinctly different characters. But as all things change for 2005 Ducati has upped the stakes even more with the all new entry level 999.

With evolution in mind the 999 has now jumped up the ladder and has taken a mighty slice of WSB technology and now offers a staggering 143bhp and a whole host of tweaks and styling modifications directly from the race bikes. Now don't get confused here with the Japanese power outputs of 1lt bikes, those staggering figures of 170-180bhp are way ahead of the Ducati, but ask any seasoned Ducati rider and you will get the same answer, its all about the way the power is delivered...

Ducati has gone through all sorts of different phases in order to come up with the new 999. Improve the looks, improve the running gear and above all else make huge changes to the motor. Take a look at the photographs and you will instantly recognise it as a 999, but look a bit closer and you will begin to notice many differences. Take a look at some race bike photographs and here you will begin to see just where these modification have come from.

The lower and top fairing has changed in both size and volume and now offers a much better aerodynamic shape and protection at high speed. The top fairing and cockpit area is now larger and more rounded with a higher screen, as found previously 999R. The lower fairing has a different shape, but still with similarities to the 2004 999 R. The total fairing shapes is now far more rounded and this change has come about from extensive wind tunnel testing by Ducati. There is also a weight saving with the new fairing of some 1.5kg as the overall thickness has been reduced in many areas. The new 999 is also now lighter overall than its predecessor, weighing in at 186kg it is still well in excess of its Japanese rivals, but light weight is not the whole story for a road going superbike.

Looking at the new 999 you can see some of the changes to the outside, but the most impressive developments are inside the motor or underneath that gorgeous fairing. Lets take a look at the engine for starters. Gone is the old 124 hp unit, it is now replaced with a fabulous 143bhp motor with some 111Nm of torque at 9750rpm, t6his makes it more powerful and higher torque that last years S version! The new engine has a whole host of developments including revised cam profiles for higher power, and it is now fitted with ventilated belt covers specially designed to lower timing belt temperatures from 100 deg C to 90 deg C.
The motor now runs higher compression ratios and has a much deeper oil sump as per the factory race bike. This addition gives much better levels of internal oil control and offers a lot less movement during hard acceleration, and when the front end goes skyward, which seems to be most of the time!

The 999 has also benefitted from a number of chassis changes. The now trademark traditional steel trellis frame is pretty much the same but it now features a modified rake angle improving stability. At the rear you will aslo notice a brand new swingarm which looks exactly like the like the ones fitted to the Fila bike ridden by World Champion James Toseland. Not only does this new box section swingarm look the part it has led to a dramatic improvement in the overall rideability of the new 999. The new design is far more rigid without changing the standard dimensions, but the bonus here is that it is also now lighter by some 500g yet the torsional strength has gone up by 27%.

So there you have it, a look into some of the changes made to the new 2005 999 entry level bike, but what's it like to ride? Getting on the bike you soon realise that the overall riding position has changes also, it's a bit more comfortable with less strain on your wrists than the previous model. Maybe this is because there are slight changes to the seat dimensions and the peg/bar placement, but whatever it is it just feel right and you are instantly ready for the off. Out on the open road it doesn't take long to realise that the 2005 engine is truly amazing, it has power, power and more power just everywhere! The way the 999 rides and it's ability to rev is just amazing. When you think of a V-Twin you would not normally imagine it being able to spin up like a 4 cyl motor, yet the 999 does just that, it will get to high revs in a split second and deliver you the most astonishing acceleration without any fuss or bother at all. This bike is not a drama queen like some Japanese superbikes, it delivers all the power straight down to the ground in a turbine like way, no fuss, no bother, just fantastic traction and serious acceleration no matter what type of surface you are on! Compared to the previous 999 when you reach the peak power at 9000rpm the 05 model is still raring to go on whereas the old model felt a bit gaspy at this stage and wanted you to change gear, but no so now as you go on enthusiasticly to hit the rev limiter in almost evey gear!

Ride the new 999 out on the open road and you will very soon find out just why Ducati win most things there are to win, I would go on to say that I seriously think that no other top level superbike stands a chance of keeping up with this motorcycle under normal road conditions with a good rider on board. Even with the power defficiency over some Japanese bikes the sheer power delivery, the way it puts it down onto the road and the supreme handling of the 999 makes this bike a dream to ride. The 999 goes around corners like you would not believe, never a foot wrong and it goes just where you put it, you can even correct mid corner and it won't make a fuss, no so some other so called superbikes!

The Ducati 999 for 2005 is an absolute gem, Ducati has made changes to this bike that takes it into the realms of the true race bike for the road, yet it is a useable bike in town and in traffic. The clutch now seems lighter and the brakes are just as good as they have always been, which in reality means fantastic!

Perfectionists may want more but in all honesty the std 999 offers you just about the best platform to do whatever you want on road or track. If you still feel the need there is always the new 999R with an amazing 150bhp and weighing in at 181kg. It is a true replica with an all new engine and dripping in carbon fibre and titanium. The 999R is a true race replica and comes with Marchesini wheels, carbon fairing etc, etc. The 999R is the most powerful production twin in the world but it does cost almost twice as much as the std 999, so is this an option? The standard 999 will give you as much performance as you can possible handle, and in honesty I would say that any other variants are purely for the race track or for collectors.
In conclusion the new Ducati 999 entry level bike is about as good as it gets, I certainly would love to be the proud owner of one of these and I'm sure that there are many more like me to ensure the success of this true Italian Diva!


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