'03 Ducati SuperSports

Ducati Applies the Spin in Spain


That's DS for Dual Spark, the tell-tale sign of which is a spark plug poking out from the right side of the rear cylinder head (the one in the front is less visible), of the latest air-cooled Ducati twin.

Along with the extra spark plug in each head comes, well, an entirely new head. Two-mm bigger valves--45mm intakes, 40mm exhausts--set at a steeper included angle produce 10:1 compression (9.2 in the old 900) when banged closed into new, supertough beryllium/bronze valve seats, and those bigger valves are lighter too thanks to 7mm stems. Revised desmo cams (feels like for more low end and midrange) now ride in plain bearings instead of rollers, and exhaust ports are 40 percent shorter for greater heat dissipation. Bore and stroke are now 94 x 71.5mm instead of the 92 x 68mm of the long-running 904 L-twin. A couple of new cooling fins add strength, shed more heat and give the new engine looks to go with its heritage.

Ducati says the new heads give more complete combustion, increase power especially in the midrange, and improve fuel economy, all while weighing three pounds less per head. Ducati uses a new casting process for these heads--"gravity chilled." With the combustion chamber facing down, the first alunimum poured into the mold chills quickly around the combustion chamber, which produces smaller aluminum grains, which supposedly means better molecular structure around the chamber.

New pistons, of course, with tighter-sealing nitrided-steel rings live in thicker cylinder barrels. New rods are made from 3ONiCrMo4, which flows very nicely during forging, we're told, thereby making possible a rod of optimal cross-section--thinner but wider fore-to-aft. After forging, both mechanical and chemical stress-relief processes are used, the end result of which are rod surfaces free of imperfections. These reciprocate on a new, more rigid crank with better mass centralization, and oil delivery ports redesigned around structurally critical areas. Speaking of oil, a new pump and channels produce the kind of higher flow the new cam bearings require, which also happens to aid engine cooling in the process.

This kind of stuff sure is fun on someone else's bike.Wait there's more. The clutch basket and plates are now of a special aluminum alloy, which Ducati says will have much greater service life compared to the old steel units, as well as being quieter due to the lower resonance value of aluminum compared to steel (come to think of it they're right). And a double-row bearing on the countershaft output gives greater strength where power feeds into the new, MOunted-to-the -spline-with-one-big-nut countershaft sprocket.

In short, there's a lot more going on here than bigger pistons and an extra couple of spark plugs (which are not of the $20-each iridium type).

To find this all out, I drove to LAX, flew to London in a middle seat, changed planes to Barcelona, stayed overnight there at the Hotel Alfa on the outskirts, flew to Almeria the next day, and rode a bus to an almost empty hotel/time-share deal there on the Mediterranean which looks almost exactly like the ones I've been to in Baja--same scheme, different continent. In the middle of nowhere in the off season, there was little for the American/Canadian motopress to do but eat, drink, sleep, discuss bacon and ride motorcycles. I don't know if Ducati was trying to guard us from Spanish terrorist cells or ourselves?

Your fearless Editor, JohnnyB Anyway, the plan worked--there was only one man unaccounted for on the bus to Circuit Almeria the next morning to ride the new 749. Naturally, it was raining not quite sideways when we got there, though the track did dry long enough to get in a few laps. More on the 749 later. Suffice to say for now that its strengths compared to the 999 remain the same as

  748 to 998: less power but greater revvability result in a more engaging riding experience if not quite as quick of one, and a $13,495 sticker for the base 749 opens the Ducati Superbike door to more potential customers (while making you curious as to the mark-up on the 999 since they're so nearly the same motorcycle?).

As they've been doing ever since the introduction of the 916, Ducati's air-cooled Supersport models have gotten used to playing second fiddle, and the day-two street ride upon the new DS1000, and the new 800 and 620 Sport models, felt like a sort of consolation prize following the 749 near rain-out. Looked like rain again that day, too, which luckily failed to materialize since there was no way, it turned out, I was going to get my decade-old rainsuit over the hump in my Spyke leathers. In my day we had no humps....

A pulsing Ducati Twin beneath you...
And wicked canyons ahead...
Equals pure bliss! What more can you possibly want from life?

What happens at these press events lately, is that the organizers lay out a nice little route, and provide maps and even laminated roll-chart type cards which tell you exactly where to turn according to your tripmeter--and they even post their people at crucial junctions to wave you in the right direction (the point of which is to herd the group to its pre-ordained pho tography stops since the whole damn production is aimed at getting words and pics of the new bikes out there), and almost every time I wind up riding mindlessly along, taking in the local color through the little towns (where all the critical direction changes take place), and assuming the people ahead of me must know where they're going since they seem so confident--barely even glancing at the maps thoughtfully taped to their tanks by Ducati. (Yet another lesson that confidence is so often directly proportional to cluelessness.)

The mud road was one indication that we might be off-route. "Damn Ducati people I can't believe they'd send us down a dirt road on these bikes," spat Ken from Rider magazine, while our fearless leader Dave Searle of Motorcycle Consumer News fame (Ken calls him "the Searlmeister") appeared as usual unfazed or is that well-sedated? The Spaniard directing traffic through the construction site informing us our motorcycles probably wouldn't make it through the foot-and-a-half deep puddle down below was another clue that we might have made a wrong turn. No big, we turned around, me first since I'd been at the rear. Say, this is some nice gooey mud, isn't it? Yes, and once headed the opposite direction, it was roost heaven on the big DS1000, point and shoot. The mud gave way to pavement soon enough, but the tires of everything that had come before left a nice slick residue for miles; the big air-cooled bike starts producing really useful torque at around 2500 rpm, but is so well-controlled by its new 5.9 CPU brain that even in real slick stuff, you can spin the tire or not with your right hand.

The 904cc twin in the last big SS was an excellent motor, the new 992cc unit is even excellenter: smoother-running, more tractable at lower revs, and more powerful. Ducati claims 5.5 more horses (at only 7750 rpm), and its claimed hp figures lately seem to coincide closely to the rear-wheel numbers produced by our Dynojet. Ducati says 85.5 for the DS1000, which probably is just about 83.

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