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Ducati 999 - turn up for the books

Road test by Simon Bradley

Things you should get used to hearing when you ride a Ducati 999. "It looks much better in real life, doesn't it?" "Isn't it tiny!" "Blimey, it goes well!"

Things you should not expect to hear. "Let's hop on the bike and ride to the South of France." "Wow, doesn't that standard pipe sound good."

Something else you won't hear, either. "The old one was much better." That's right, folks, it may be heresy but here and now I am standing up and yelling it at the top of my voice. The Ducati 999 is way better than the 998. That isn't to say that the 998 is a bad bike - read the review elsewhere on the site and you will see that we certainly do not think that. No, it's just that the 999 has moved the game on so far that comparisons become almost meaningless.

When the 999 was announced there was a fair amount of eyebrow raising among the press and public. After the iconic beauty of the 916 family, how could something this functional looking be expected to follow? And when Ducati started talking about practicality, improved engineering, comfort and all the other things that one does not automatically associate with the marque, quite a few people came to the conclusion that the Ducati management had lost the plot.

They were wrong. And how.

Get on a 999 and the first thing that will strike you is the size. Or rather, the lack of size. The funny thing is, despite being physically tiny there is plenty of room to get comfortable. Bars, pegs and controls all fall readily to hand and the instrumentation is as clear as you could possibly want. Which is a novelty. The big central tacho has a very clear digital speedo under it along with a host of other useful add-ons including, of all things, a fuel consumption computer and a clock. Turn the ignition on and the tacho does a full sweep while the digital display reads "Ducati 999." It may not sound much but it's very cool. Trust me on this. Start the engine and, just in case you'd forgotten, you are forcibly reminded you are on a Ducati. It sounds as though the battery is flat as the starter manfully struggles to turn over the big engine. It never sounds as though it will start, but it always does, settling into a slightly irregular, lumpy tickover accompanied by the unmistakable sound of a dry clutch rattling. The phrase "bag of nails" springs to mind - no wonder so many Ducatis have aftermarket pipes. They need them to drown out that horrible noise.

On the move, then, and Ducati's next little trick comes to light. Despite the 999 weighing in at a hefty 199kg it feels like a complete featherweight. I'm guessing that this is down to the low centre of gravity and the compact dimensions. Whatever it is, it works. Steering is very light and the turn in is razor sharp. In keeping with the other contradictions on offer, though, despite this eagerness to change direction, once in the turn the 999 is absolutely solid. The suspension, while hardly plush, is compliant enough for the roads I was able to try and the brakes are powerful although the rear one, in true Ducati tradition, is of little use for anything other than stabilising the back end. Talking of the back, seeing what's behind you takes a little more contortion than usual. The best way is to raise your arm and use the mirror to look underneath. Actually that is not true. The best way is to sit up and look back over your shoulder, but assuming that you want to retain at least some street-cred then do the underarm trick. One thing, though. It doesn't work if you're wearing waterproofs.

Of course, one of the most important things about a Ducati, especially one with such an obvious performance bias, is the engine. Well, it doesn't disappoint, that's for sure. There is plenty of power as well as the great dollops of low down torque that only a big vee twin can deliver. That's not to say that there is no reward to be found further up the rev range - delivery is smooth without any obvious lumps or holes right up to the rev limiter - but you can make pretty rapid progress without actually needing to run through to the red line in every gear. The clutch seems lighter than before and seems well up to the job, despite the occasional horrible noise. The box itself is quite light and generally well behaved although the occasional false neutral is still to be found. Clutchless upshifts are a doddle, though, as well as being totally reliable.

Because of what it is, you wouldn't expect to find sumptuous provision for a passenger. Indeed, although this is the Biposto model, meaning it has a pillion pad (I'm reluctant to describe it as a seat) and rear footpegs, to describe the conditions your passenger would endure as merely spartan would be to understate things rather. Given the option, I would probably recommend that you do away with the pretence completely and get the monoposto version. Especially as the underseat exhaust renders it almost impossible to strap anything on the back as well, consigning the rider to a world of rucksacks and travelling light.

Reaction from other road users is interesting. I got a far more positive response from non bikers when I rode the 998. They all knew what it was and what it stood for, I guess. But other bikers gave the 999 much more respect, partly because it is so new but partly because it seems more purposeful somehow. The 999 is a bike that you appreciate more from the saddle that from the side of the road. It may not make you look as pretty as the 916 family did but it will make you look like a better, smoother and faster rider instead.

The 999 is proof incarnate that a bike can be well made, reasonably comfortable and functionally beautiful without losing its soul. This is still a proper Ducati - charismatic, slightly quirky and blessed with the sort of handling finesse that us mere mortals will never do more than scratch the surface of - without demanding the sort of sacrifices one might reasonably have expected a short time ago. It is a bike that you probably could live with on a day to day basis. I wouldn't want to go touring on it but it wouldn't have a problem if it were asked to do so. It's not the best commuter I've ever ridden but I came through the middle of London in the rush hour tonight and it took it all in its stride. It goes like the clappers and has the potential to sound fantastic. It is, in short, a damn fine bike.


When I reviewed the 998 I said that I didn't see how the 999 could be that much better. Well, now I do. The Ducati 999 takes an already excellent yardstick and improves on it in every dynamic area. Aesthetics are a personal thing, but after getting used to the functional design of the 999 I think it actually looks pretty good. If I had to choose the best bike I've ever ridden this would be on the shortlist.

2nd Opinion -Adrian Percival

Ducati's domination of World Superbikes started with the 851, which soon became the 888. We were then presented with the glorious and timeless 916, eventually becoming the 996 then the 998. The latest 999 is the culmination of all these past machines together in one package and is, well, 'one step beyond'. To be a bit more precise, it's lighter, faster, definitely more aerodynamic and a lot easier on your body than the older 998.

999 is a good choice for this bike, it summons up images of Fire Engines on full chat (as they are Red), or Police cars in mid chase (because this bike just has to be illegal!), and maybe an Ambulance because at this rate I will surely end up in a ditch, upside down, somewhere out on the open roads of nowhere. Come to think of it may be a good idea to despatch a Priest as well because 999 upside down is actually 666 - the number of the Beast!

So what's the 999 all about then? Well it goes like a rocket, it handles like a dream, is comfortable and has a unique presence on the road unlike no other bike. OK, with the exception of the 916/998 ranges. Yes it's beautiful, it's arty as most Italian designer products are, but it's that appeal that no other Japanese Sports bike has ever been able to manage which makes it so special. A Ducati was put on display in the Guggenheim Museum in New York as a Design Icon, and without doubt the latest Ducati 999 is worthy of that position.

After riding it for the first time for some 45 miles back from a meeting I got an idea of just what this bike is all about. It was a revelation in comfort over the older 998 and just got me even more anxious to go out the following day and see just what this baby could do! Following day - nice weather for January I thought, a bit cold but sunny, so where shall we go today? Two people to see and about an hours ride between them, so off we go.

Its only 28 miles to the first call the other side of Oxford on dual carriageways, but it tells me that this bike is good for some distances as I was not uncomfortable at all, and felt that I could go on until the compulsory tank re-fill. The second part of the trip over to Bicester was a bit further on country roads in the Cotswolds (my favourite!), but a short while later I find myself, inexplicably in Evesham, then Stow-on-the-Wold, then to Stratford-on-Avon, Chipping Norton and down to Banbury! Four hours later I arrive in Bicester after consuming most of the roads in the Cotswolds, happy as Larry, no sore bum or wrists and raving over this stunning bike.

Think of this bike in terms of music. A cheap guitar is a cheap guitar - the Japanese make perfectly good ones - great for jamming in your garage, but if you want the best you go out and get a real guitar, something a little special. It's the same with bikes, and the 999 is a Fender Stratocaster, and in the right hands it makes rock come to life. I'm not saying I have the right hands, but at this moment I feel like Jimi Hendrix!

During one of my 'quick trips' out I have the urge to stop by the Riossi store in Milton Keynes for a cup of tea! A mechanic who is practically wetting himself with excitement rushes out as soon as I park the bike outside the shop. "Wow its a new 999" he promptly informs me. "I've only seen it in magazines. It is yours?" I lie. "Yes" Soon several other bikers and nearly bikers with their wives and children are admiring the beautiful red Ducati 999 (albeit somewhat filthy now). Maybe I really am the coolest person in Britain.

There are a lot of ways of getting from A to B. A family saloon will cost less, but who wants one of those? The Ducati 999 is not sensible, nor has it got anything to do with getting from A to B. This bike is all about what you do in between.

Tech Specs

  • List price £10 450
  • Liquid cooled 998cc vee twin 8 valve four-stroke.
  • Tubular steel trellis frame.
  • Tyres 120/70 x 17 front, 180/60 x 17 rear on Marchesini alloys
  • Kerb weight 199kg
  • Colours – Red
  • Performance 124bhp. Torque 102Nm @ 8000rpm
  • Our Rating (out of 5)
  • Engine 5
  • Handling 5
  • Braking 4
  • Comfort 4
  • Fun factor 5
  • MotorBikes Today overall rating - 5


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