2005 Ducati 999
Ask any hip industrial designer what's the current mega buzzword in the field, and chances are that you'll hear "user experience" as an answer. Be it while conceiving digital cameras, mobile phones, condoms or tooth. paste, everybody seems to be obsessed nowadays with "designing the brand experience". Funny how all the black golf-shirt wearing creative big heads have discovered the concept only now. At Ducati, they've seemingly known it for ages. If you hopped blindfolded on a 05' 999 and rode away, before you crashed your brains out, you'd know there was a Super Sporting Duc pumping down there between your legs. The sound, the solid handling, the uncompromising riding position, that particularly smile inducing engine response, the ultra-slim width between your knees. Surely, there's a direct DNA link between this; the most refined ever Bolognese twin, and that first bevel head 900 SS I took for a sweaty spin sometime in 1980. There are 25 years distancing them, but the "Ducati experience" I'd been imprinted with on that first ride is, oh so present in this 05'. Yes, that's a proper and refined "brand experience" The 05' 999 is a very refined thing indeed.
Let's start with the news for 2005. The base 999 model now gets the previous 999S, state of engine tune and that means a claimed 140 horsies for the base 999 package. A classic hot rodding operation of bumping compression and hotter cams has been performed and Ducati didn't skimp on the deeper, S type oil sump. The crankshaft has been strengthened too and cam belt covers are now ventilated, something that should add a few thousand miles to their replacement intervals thanks to the reduced running temperature.
On the cycle side of things, the one notable change is to the swingarm. Not a fully cast member any more, the 05' swingarm is now a mix of sheet aluminum welded to a central cast section. Ducati claims that 30% more torsional rigidity has been achieved with the new swingarm. The thing also weights some 6 pounds less, while looking like a dead ringer for the swingarm installed on Toseland's racebike. Talking about looks, you'd be hard pressed to notice what exactly has changed just a quick glance at the exterior, but the 999 looks so much better now.
The color-matched frame, that beautiful swingarm and the retouched upper fairing all do wonders for the controversial styling of the original 999. Maybe it's just growing on us, maybe the removal of the devilish looking upper air intakes on the front fairing does the trick. Whatever the reason, the 999's shapes do seem to have come of age and finally morphed into a sexy object of lust. While redoing the upper fairing, almost an inch has been added to its width and it's a tad higher too for better wind protection. Some areas of the bike were never in discussion; the waspish form of the seat/tail piece is in my eyes as suggestive as that of the MV F4's sinful rear end.
Refinement continues to be the mantra, as I start the 999 up and take off. After the big jump in civility levels achieved with the passage to the Testastretta motor in its last 998 incarnation, hot rodding or not, the 05' mill is smoother and quieter still. As I carve through some city traffic, the velvety pull of the twin from down low, the way it just hustles forward on a whiff of throttle is so, so cute. I and my lower vertebra discs are supposed to be growing old, but even the riding position feels a tad less extreme and comfier. While short shifting through the sweet box, the only distractions come from a stiff clutch lever and the warm air hitting my inner thighs in slow going.
"Where's the fabled Ducati experience?", you might rightfully ask. I hit the autostrada on my way back home, and traffic is doing around 60-70Mph. The Duc's tacho needle is buried down low and at the first clear stretch I crack it, just a tad, not really minding what gear am I and that patented surge forward from whatever revs, is there, intact, just stronger and fuller higher up the rev range. The thing goes from 60 to a 110 real quick with such a reassuring, casual like attitude. As traffic bottles up again, a light tug on the front brake lever slows the 999 in a jiffy, another whiff of throttle and I am flying along again at one-one-OH! What gear was I in? Doesn't really matter. The ride is taut, typical Ducati stuff yet not jarring, pure controlled absorption. Although I've been slicing through traffic quite swiftly, the 999 does it all in a relaxed manner, no four-cylinder franticness here, oh no. Long legged nirvana? Oh yes.
Now that it's the weekend, it's time to switch from my Aerostich, to full racing leathers. The weather is surprisingly balmy and sunny for early winter, so I only don an insulating vest on top and I am all set. I've been toying around until now, trying to prove to who knows who, that no SBK replica has the right to be so well mannered. However, as I press on into the upper half of the rev range, things sure get interesting. The 05' 999 has been dynoed by local publications in Italy and put down close to 130 RwHp, but what matters more in real life, is that bulging torque peak at a measly 8,000 revs. I roll it on and at that engine speed, the 999 flies and drives out of fast autostrada sweepers with authority, while accompanied by a deep Broaaa!!!! Broaaa!!! as I upshift clutchless, deep into the triple digits. True audiophiles should invest in a Termignioni rear can for best effect though, as the greens have censored the soundtrack somewhat.
Geometry has not changed, but this 999 feels sharper than ever when tipping it into ultra fast bends. Maybe the Michelin Pilot Power tires are behind this razor like response. Suspension just keeps the things very well settled and even at full lean on a sweeping fly-over, the gaps between bridge segments get swallowed without any distress. When flying fast like this, going at 120-140Mph on clean autostrada stretches, the extra wind protection becomes evident. It's no sport tourer mind you, but on this 999 I can actually tuck-in properly. On the old model, all my hands-on Kamasutra experience couldn't help me while trying to hide behind the bubble. Widened screen and all, the mirrors are still useless as ever. After this long day of fast speed work, I land back home quite relaxed. The one piece rubber injection seat has not caused me too much trouble (or heat, thanks to the cool weather) and by fitting the pegs to their lower position, my knees are in a reasonable position.