2002 Ducati 998

Page 2
As with previous variations, set-up is critical and there was quite a difference in the way the various test bikes felt. The eight bikes available at the test had all been individually tweaked at a previous track session, so all the settings were different. On the softer set-ups there was quite a bit of wobble at the rear when changing direction hard, something that was completely absent on the bikes with a firmer set-up. This is very much an individual thing, but if you are serious about riding a bike like this hard, you'll be well advised to get it properly set-up to match your riding style and location. I preferred the harder settings at the track. Out on the road, where outright performance isn't that crucial, the softer settings are a better compromise between comfort and performance.

Speaking of which, while I am sure the 998 will make a stunning road bike, there's no denying that a machine like this is most at home on a track where its capabilities can be exploited to the fullest in relative safety. There are not many roads where you can lean the bike over onto its foot pegs and then power out of the turn with the rear end smoking and sliding. On the contrary, Silverstone has many places where such behavior is encouraged and, thankfully, unlikely to be interrupted by myopic Volvo pilots or highway patrol cars

The bike does stand a little when braked mid-turn, but a little extra pressure on the relevant stubby clip-on handlebar corrected this immediately.

The front end on the Ducati is extraordinary. The level of grip and control from the front end is faultless, the front Pirelli gripping at the tarmac with amazing force. Even a ham-fisted application of brakes mid-turn when I realized I had drifted way off line failed to push the front. The bike does stand a little when braked mid-turn, but a little extra pressure on the relevant stubby clip-on handlebar corrected this immediately. In the final turn before the front straight, a long constant radius corner that really loads the front as you wind the throttle back to get drive for the main straight, you could actually feel the grip - as if the tire was in fact your hands. Superb. The OEM Pirelli Dragon's really compliment the Ducati's set-up.

Despite a hard day's riding at Silverstone, I failed to reveal any significant faults on the 998. OK, the absolute fastest riders could get the rear to break grip and get very sideways mid-turn, although none of them fell off as a result, confirming that this is a bike thats controllable even at, or beyond, the limits. What it also revealed was that the new 998 is a real rider's bike, a motorcycle meant to be used hard and used purely for fun.

  This isn't a get-to-work ride, although some owners will no doubt commute on theirs, possibly because they just have to ride it again and again! But the 998 is also far from being a banzai, balls-out motorcycle - it's actually very refined. This all-around user friendly feel is relatively new on a Ducati, leading one of the testers to comment on how it was getting to behave more and more like a Honda VFR800, a comment that didn't actually go down too well with the Ducati factory guys present! It's true though, this is the smoothest and most civilized version of the 916 ever released. But don't worry, they haven't washed the soul out of the machine - no way. This is still every bit a Ducati eight valve Desmo twin. It can still make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck in time-honored Ducati style.

This all-around user friendly feel is relatively new on a Ducati, leading one of the testers to comment on how it was getting to behave more and more like a Honda VFR800, a comment that didn't actually go down too well with the Ducati factory guys present!

There's not a lot to run through as far as equipment is concerned, this is a road bike made from a race bike. If it ain't needed, it ain't fitted, so 'accessories' are restricted to stuff like a steering damper and a dual seat on the Biposto model. There's the usual array of add-on parts, both from Ducati and from a host of companies that have grown up to serve the increasingly popular machines. They vary from performance to pretty parts, and a trip to any Italian motorcycle dealership or show will find you plenty of illustrations of just how far you can take 'personalizing' a Ducati.

There's no denying that a machine like this is most at home on a track where its capabilities can be exploited to the fullest in relative safety. There are not many roads where you can lean the bike over onto its foot pegs and then power out of the turn with the rear end smoking and sliding.

Who would buy the 998? The seriously rich are probably going to want the more expensive (and more importantly to them, exclusive) 998R or S versions. Still, even for the cash-laden, owning an R isn't an easy feat. Apart from the cost, there won't be many about and most of them will end up in the hands of privateer racers. Those on a tight budget are likely to decide that the 998 is too dear, and settle for an, arguably equally capable Japanese four. The 998S isn't that much further up the price scale than the standard 998, and it produces a useful amount of extra ponies from its higher tuned motor.

Then there's the cheaper Aprilia V-Twins or even a Triumph triple to further muddy the water of decision. But the answer is simple, the 998 is going to be purchased by riders who want to experience the credibility, the exceptional thrill and the soulful experience of Ducati ownership - probably by those who have already owned a 916. Those who can't or won't stretch the extra few thousand for the S model will get all of vital Ducati ingredients with the standard 998. And whoever buys the 998 in any of its guises, if my impressions are anything to go by, then one thing is for certain - they wont be disappointed.

Spec Sheet
Engine
Type V-Twin, 4 valve per cylinder Desmodromic, liquid cooled
Capacity 998cc 
Bore x Stroke 100 x 63.5 mm
Compression Ratio 11.4:1
Power   123 bhp @ 9750rpm
Torque  96.9nm @ 8000rpm
Gears  6 speed
Clutch Hydraulic dry multi plate 

Chassis
Frame:  Tubular steel trellis
Wheelbase:  1410 mm
Rake:  23.5 x 24.5
Suspension:  Front Showa fully adjustable upside-down forks
Rear Ohlins fully adjustable monoshock
Wheels: Front - Marchesini 3,50 x 17 Tire Pirelli Dragon 120/70 ZR 17 
Rear - Marchesini 5,50 x 17 Tire Pirelli Dragon 190/50 ZR 17
Brakes: Front - 2 x Brembo 4 piston calipers, 2 x 320mm semi floating 
Rear - 1 x Brembo 2 piston caliper, 1 x 220mm disc  

UK OTR Price
998 10,450
998S 13,150
998R Not announced

Get Motorcycle.com in your Inbox