How do you improve upon perfection? That’s been the monumental task facing the design team at Ducati, as they’ve struggled to come up with a successor to that 90’s icon, the 916. Some might argue that Tamburini beat them to it with the MV Augusta F4, but at long last, here it is: the 999.
Kevin Ash went to the official launch of what is probably the most important bike that Ducati have produced in the last 5 years.
When it comes to organisation, the Italians do seem to struggle sometimes. The presentation of Ducati´s crucial 999 superbike took some eight months to prepare, an evening event which was to tease us with snapshots of small parts of the bike before the complete motorcycle finally appeared in a spectacular blaze of light, music and dry ice smoke – our first sight of the new machine, displayed for maximum impact. Before this took place, we went for lunch in the restaurant at the Bologna factory… and someone had left a 999 in there – Doh!
Whatever, wrapped in swirling clouds of fog, surrounded by plates of pasta or out the following morning in the pit lane at the Misano race track, the 999 is an arresting sight. Sadly in pictures it´s nowhere near as good looking or purposeful, so reserve your judgement until you´re close enough to touch because that´s when you can appreciate what an effective job designer Pierre Terblanche has done in following on from what is probably the most beautiful motorcycle in the world, the 916. A bike which, once you´ve seen the 999, looks rather old fashioned.
There´s a lot to take in on the 999, from the aerofoils on the leading edges of the fairing, standing proud by a centimetre or so from the rest of the bodywork, to the subtly shaped fuel tank and the fact that, for the first time in years, here´s a superbike on which you can see part of the engine – the rear cylinder head is proudly displayed beneath the back of the tank.
The exhaust system still lives under the seat, 916-style, but the space is used more efficiently by the steel box with twin oval outlets than the old bike´s pair of conventional cans, while the pair of tiny piggy-back headlights allow a sharper, more aerodynamic profile at the front. The vertical slots on each side (hints of the 888 here) direct air through the fairing past the rider´s hands, and beneath them are intakes for the pressurised intake system.
Those aerofoils scoop up the turbulent air thrown aside by the front wheel, smoothing it out and directing it along the deep red flanks of the bike, although surprisingly the 999 is only one per cent more slippery aerodynamically than the 916/998. Still, much of that is because it also protects the rider better from the windblast, and here is a hint here about the new direction Ducati has taken with the bike – ergonomically, it could not be more different to the 916.
Where the riding position of the 916/998 sat you perched on top of the bike, wrists throbbing and bum in the air, on the 999 you slot down into the bike in an utterly natural, easy stance which is, dare I say it, comfortable. Not only that, you can adjust the footrests into one of five different positions and even alter the rear brake and gear levers to suit different sized boots.
On the monoposto single seat version, the seat and tank unit adjust backwards and forwards (which as the rider makes up some 30 per cent of the bike´s total weight, is a very useful tool for tuning the handling as well as getting more comfortable. Overall, the seat is some 15mm lower than the 916´s (more at the back as it doesn´t slope so much), all of which opens up the potential pool of customers substantially – in other words, shorter riders can now consider owning one too.
And they´ll want to… As a riding experience the 916/998 was always very special, but the 999 has moved things on yet again. It´s not just retained the fabulous Ducati stability but actually improved on it, which you notice under braking as the bike sits solid and secure on the road where even the 998 would have been waving its back end around. This is with the most tactile, gorgeously powerful stoppers on any road bike, by the way.
Power it out of corners, front wheel skimming over bumps where a Fireblade would be waggling its bars furiously, and the 999 sits serenely as it fires out of the turn. You´d maybe expect this knowing the swingarm is 15mm longer (a double sided item, used in place of the old mono-arm for its lighter weight and superior stiffness, even though it doesn´t look quite as cool) but what will surprise you is the 999 is much more agile than the 916/998 too.
This is a hell of a trick to pull off as these two traits ought to be mutually exclusive, but that´s just what Ducati has done – bury the bike´s nose with a fierce grip on the brake, and where the 998 would demand a huge heave to get it to turn, the 999 flicks down into the bend like a 600. Once there the corner speed is huge, like all Ducati’s, but the 999 manages to be breathtakingly nimble too.
The engine is the first true street version of the new short stroke 999cc unit first used in the 998R, which in turn is designed solely to homologate the World Superbike racers. It works superbly, offering phenomenal mid-range torque (massively superior to the Honda SP-2 for example) with the ability to trickle down to 2000rpm in the higher gears without excessive snatching, then punch away like a well set-up Harley. At the top, the motor revs with liquid smoothness and a deliciously crisp throttle response to 10,500rpm and a maximum speed of 168mph, free of stutters, holes in the torque curve or anything else to disrupt the willing, compelling cascade of power and torque.
Track or town and the motor is fine, as is the riding position, and you´ll even find as much steering lock as a Japanese superbike, so no more excursions around the block because you don´t fancy a three point turn…
Even more unexpected is that you get more information on the dash (an analogue tacho above a comprehensive LCD display panel which includes a large digital speed readout) than the majority of touring bikes. This is thanks to the Controller Area Network (CAN) electrical system, in use on some cars but here for the first time on a motorcycle. Instead of the various sensors on the bike (mostly used for the engine management system) each having their own separate wiring, their information is transmitted digitally along one or two wires serving all of them.
A second computer in the dash exchanges information with the engine management unit along just two wires where normally up to 30 would be required, and as a consequence the display can show ambient temperature, lap times, highest speed and revs, fuel consumption and various diagnostics as well as the usual mileage, fuel and engine readouts. Oh, and it even tells the time!
Trick as hell, and entirely in keeping with the 999´s ultra-sophisticated, high technology air. But it still feels and looks like a real Ducati should.
This bike had a monstrous, daunting task in succeeding the 916/998, and it still has to win a clutch of World Superbike championships to complete its aims (it probably will…), but there´s no doubt, it´s a worthy successor which frankly, is even better than expected. And an awful lot was expected of it.
Get Ducati motorcycle insurance for the ducati 999.
|ENGINE||999cc four stroke, V-twin, DOHC|
|BORE AND STROKE||N/A|
|CLAIMED POWER||135bhp (est)|
|IGNITION||Computer controlled multi-point sensor type, linking throttle opening, fuel, air flow, air temp, etc.|
|FRAME||Steel tubular trellis|
|SUSPENSION||Multi adjustable monoshock|
|FUEL CAPACITY||15.1 litres|