2002 Ducati 999 Comes to America
Get the Flash Player to see this player.What more is there to say at this point really? By now you've read your eyeballs out on the matter of the new 999 -- including Yossef's quite inclusvie road test from Italy -- and know everything about it.
Now that we've had our actual paws on the bike for the last couple of weeks, and have ridden it at speed at the Willow Springs North American debut and upon actual U.S. soil, we have a few thoughts of our own.
Why not begin with the beginning then? As luck would have it, Ducati decided to use Pirelli's excellent Supercorsa tires for the Willow Springs launch, which was wise on their part if the goal was to show what the bike is capable of, I mean of what the bike is capable. The Michelin Pilot Sports the bike will be delivered with are excellent tires, but Willow earns its reputation as Fastest Road in the West; street tires, no matter how good, are not optimized for constant 100 mph-plus speeds mostly on their right edges. For us, the use of these tires was particularly beneficial, as we had just ridden the 999's competition--in the form of the $17K Aprilia Mille R and a tricked-out Honda RC51--less than two weeks before, in identical conditions, on the very same dang tires, which makes things nearly scientific...Around Willow, with my 160-pound mass, the bike feels not so different from its 998 predecessor, which is to say extremely capable -- stable and often, as somebody mentioned -- leaving you with the DUH! feeling that you could've rolled through that last corner about 20 mph faster. The base 999 outfitted with performance chips and exhausts -- but even if it were making ten more horses via its own engine mods, it seems doubtful the Ducati would pick up three seconds.
As with the Mille R, there didn't seem much need to me to mess with suspension settings at all -- everything felt fine right out of the box. Jerry the Pirelli man did suggest the front tire looked like it might benefit from raising the rear end of the bike a bit, as it didn't appear to be carrying its usual load. Doubtless, dialling in ride height and things on a bike of your own is the way to go -- but things have a way of not getting done at press launches where there are more riders than bikes. And again, the bike's suspension and attitude didn't feel at all out of the ballpark to begin with. It was a different day. Could've just been me. Naaaaah...Great bike. Easy to ride. Not quite so rapid out of the crate it seems, though, as Mille R and RC51.
On the road, in the actual world of cars and buses and trucks and things -- I personally am on the confused side as to why everything I've read says the 999 is much more comfy than the old bike? The rear of the gas tank is a friendlier shape now, but beyond that it is still a loooong way to the still-really-low clip-ons. We took delivery of a Biposto bike, which as it turns out, does NOT have the adjustable seat/tank unit of the Mono 999, for reasons which seemed obvious when explained to me but escape me now. The Biposto supposedly carries its rider in what would be the middle position on the adjustable version -- and while being able to slide 10mm forward would be nice, it doesn't seem as though that would be enough difference to much modify the infamous "first-day-in-prison" ergoes of the bike. The Biposto does have adjustable footpegs, but even set low, they remain pretty high (they also don't drag at Willow).
Quite a bit of heat exits the engine bay via the rider's legs and butt, too -- nice when it's chilly, probably a real drag in the summer in Florida.But the one thing that would preclude me, for one, from riding the 999 much on the street, is the fact that the miserable mirrors of the 916 have been made even more useless on the 999. Maybe that seems like a minor thing, but in truth it feels like a huge safety issue in L.A. traffic to me. I for one like to know if there's a Mercedes up my ass, and on the 999 you have to crane around or lift your left arm in the air to check your six. I also tend to ride slightly faster than the posted speed limit, and doing that consistently while retaining a mostly clean license requires eternal vigilance out the rear for fast-closing pursuit vehicles. In Italy, maybe that doesn't matter. In America, it's critical. You could find yourself on COPS before you know there's one behind you. Now that the 999's mirrors are an integral part of the bike and even carry the front turn signals -- I don't foresee an easy inexpensive fix. If you're an investment banker and only ride track days, your manservant will have an easy time popping them off, at least.