2005 Ducati 999
We arrive at the scene of the crime on Sunday morning, take an espresso break and then let the hostilities begin. My friend Sandro is leading, behind him there's a quite-briskly ridden ZX-9R and I am following, with the rest of the bunch behind me. What doesn't cease to amaze me is the amount of gear lever tap dancing that the guy on the ZX-9R has to perform, in order to keep up with Sandro's 999. All the while, I am riding mostly in third gear, rarely downshifting to second and using fourth only for the few 80-90Mph stretches. Yes, the 999 can be ridden with frantic four-cyl-style gear changing too, but the tach face seems to stare back and you and say: "Yo man, you have all the drive you need and more, chill out"! I don't know if I,m actually riding this Duc any faster than I would a 600, 750 or 1000cc four cylinder either. What is certain, is that this gem of an engine lets you really concentrate on where the road is going and react accordingly, rather than wasting your brain power on gear guessing. Is one downshift enough for this corner? Will I fall flat on my face when rolling on? Better downshift another one, just to make sure. I can almost see the cog wheels in the Kawi rider's brain turning as I follow him and see his foot covering the gear lever, "just in case".
On really tight, slow corners, the 999 steering is perfect, really linear. It requires some muscle, but the bike turns in quickly, despite its utter stability mid-turn. It's more on the quick right to left and vice versa passages that the 999 doesn't feel so up to date, especially compared to this year's featherweight big bores.
For the photo shoot, I pick a nice-and-long hooking bend and contrary to what I remember from my last 999 ride, this 05' lets me tighten my line better than before. Two years ago, I blamed the 190 section rear on this tendency to run wide and the 05' wears a 190 too. So maybe those new Michelins are masking up for that, though it still feels like a 180 would be a better choice. This perfect bend could have been transplanted to a race track and indeed the 999 feels so at home here, while leaned over hard, bum slightly off the seat, knee lightly skimming over the tarmac. The magic narrowness of the 999 lets you feel so natural while performing these antics. If you've had any trouble dragging your knee, get a 999 quick.
While discussing the 999 at another coffee stop, I remember being told that at the model's launch in Mugello, the bikes were set up lower in the front and higher in the rear for quicker steering. Makes you wonder what else can be done to this bike by just playing with available set-up parameters. As before, rake angle and trail can be changed, ride height adjusted at both ends and that's besides all the normal suspension adjustments.
Talking about suspension, Sandro is not that happy with the boinkers at both ends, blaming them on being too hard overall (Not that it stopped him from going fast as stink). I am happier, but then I weight in at 170 while Sandro has that typical racer build and must weight less than 140. But I must admit that I also notice some harshness over really bumpy stuff. Not that it bothers the 999 much. It keeps the line regardless, without even a hint of headshake, but I can imagine that a much lighter rider would suffer more. The upside of this typical Ducati set up is the perfect poise the 999 keeps while braking hard into or powering hard out of turns. The non-radial mount binders supply perfect feel and power and make you wonder what all the fuss is about those radial mounts in the first place.Heading back home, the tight canyon turns start to open up, and the rev range can be stretched. The increase in claimed power is substantial and is surely felt by the seat of my pants. However, it's just that the goal posts have moved this year and the 999 (twins in general) remain some 20 hp down on the 1000cc fours. Does this matter? Yes and no. It's only on open stretches that the R1 in the group opens up a sizable distance, unmatched by the 999. Revving the tits out of the Duc mill doesn't bring a banshee head kick as you hit five digit revs. It's very strong, 125-130 RwHp was four cylinder territory just a few years ago, but the Ducati's horsies are delivered without any dramatic fear inducing peaks, just a user friendly torque stream that makes the most of the road's available traction. Being the odd-man-out in a four cylinder ruled world (together with the RSV Mille and RC51), getting used to the way the 999 finds traction instead of wheelspin takes some getting used to, but once mastered is pure magic.
So time passes, the competition gets stronger, Ducatis too and the more things change the more they remain the same. This 999, like all sporting Ducatis before confronts you with questions like: Who you are as a rider, maybe even who you are as a person. Where do you want to make your pass? While carving a decreasing radius corner or while out dragging someone with sheer horsepower? How do you settle arguments? With brainy brilliance or punches and a baseball bat? Do you find the fact that this bike is after all, an ultra refined 851 poetically amazing or poetically embarrassing? If you tend toward the firsts answers, the new 999 will supply more of that fabled Ducati experience; it's simply the best Bolognese Twin ever.
|SPECS PROVIDED BY DUCATI|
|Type:||L-twin cylinder, 4 valves per cylinder Testastretta Desmodromic;liquid cooled|
|Bore_x_Stroke:||100 x 63.5 mm|
|Claimed Power:||103 kw - 140 hp @ 9750 rpm|
|Claimed Torque:||11.1 kgm @ 8000 rpm|
|Fuel Injection:||Marelli electronic fuel injection, 54 mm throttle bodies|
|Exhaust:||Single steel muffler with catalytic converter|
|Ratios:||1st 37/15, 2nd 30/17, 3rd 28/20, 4th 26/22, 5th 24/23, 6th 23/24|
|Primary Drive:||Straight cut gears; ratio 1.84|
|Final Drive:||Chain; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket 36|
|Clutch:||Dry multiplate with hydraulic control|
|Frame:||Tubular steel trellis|
|Wheelbase:||1420 mm / 55.9 in|
|Rake:||23.5° - 24.5°|
|Front Suspension:||Showa 43 mm upside-down fully adjustable fork with TiN surface treatment|
|Front Wheel Travel:||125 mm / 4.9 in|
|Front Brake:||2 x 320 mm semi-floating discs, 4-piston 4-pad Brembo caliper|
|Front Wheel:||Y-shaped 5-spoke light alloy 3.50 x 17|
|Front Tyre:||120/70 ZR 17|
|Rear Suspension:||Progressive linkage with fully adjustable Showa monoshock|
|Rear Wheel Travel:||128 mm / 5 in|
|Rear Brake:||240 mm disc, 2-piston caliper|
|Rear Wheel:||Y-shaped 5-spoke light alloy 5.50 x 17|
|Rear Tyre:||190/50 ZR 17|
|Fuel Capacity:||15.5 L / 4.1 US gal (includes 3 L / 0.8 US gal reserve)|
|Claimed Dry Weight*:||186 kg / 410 lbs|
|Seat Height:||780 mm / 30.7 in|
|Instruments:||Speedometer, rev counter, high beam indicator, turn signals, oil pressure warning light, low fuel warning light, neutral light, water temperature, immobilizer system|
|Warranty:||2 years unlimited mileage|
|Tank Colors:||Red, glossy black (for two-seat only)|
|Frame and Wheel Colors:||single-seat: (red-red-black); dual-seat: (red-red-black) (glossy black-black-black)|
|Versions:||One or Two seats|
|* = The weight excludes battery, lubricants and, where applicable, cooling liquid.|