2006 Ducati 749S
As the lone Twin in our shootout, the Ducati 749S has endearing qualities, but they weren't enough to keep it off the bottom of our rankings.
Sixth Place - 77.4%
A sixth-place ranking for a thoroughbred such as the 749S is a bit of an injustice. In some ways, the Duc is as good as it gets, offering riding-on-rails corner speed and perhaps the most cooperative engine of the group.
"This is an amazingly easy bike to ride hard on the track," Kenny enthuses. "It only takes about a lap for me to get comfortable and then I am going fast right away. The torquey motor really seems to help in this area. Keeping the V-Twin on the boil is easy compared to the high-revving bikes, and I had the confidence to really pour on the power when leaned over."
If the rich and soulful Desmo V-Twin doesn't suck you in, the 749's confidence-inspiring handling will. "Like it's on rails," says Roberti.
"Once in the corner, it's pure magic," Chamberlain glows. "The bike is very stable in the corner and offers up the best front-end feel of the bunch. There were times when I felt like I could just let go of the bars at mid corner and it would just continue the line I had set for it."
And the 749 would have been even more impressive with full race-compound tires to exploit its corner-speed advantage and get good drives out of the turns. The Duc's high rate of speed through the turns caused the front Pirelli Diablo Corsa's right side to be torn up at the end of the day.
Given these characteristics, it should come as no surprise that our two slowest riders (Kenny and I) rated the 749 in a very respectable third place. In fact, I cut my second-quickest lap aboard it. Our fastest guys, however, ranked it last.
"I tended to find myself fighting the bike and working too hard compared to the other bikes in the test," Becklin counters. "The gear-change points were definitely different, and I found myself having to grab gears mid-corner."
Unlike Hutchison, fast-guy Roberti needed a few laps on the decidedly different Duc to extract its potential. "Its chassis is very good and stable, but it does take some time on the bike to get comfortable."
Out of the six bikes in our track shootout, Donny B found the 749S to demand the most effort of the lot. Superb high-speed stability works against itself in the tigher corners.
While the Ducati excelled in the sweepers, it was held back in a few of Spring Mountain's tighter switchbacks, requiring more muscle to get it turned.
"Hurt by its weight and long wheelbase, the 749 doesn't turn in or transition as quickly as the other bikes," notes BC, whose lap time on the Duc was easily his worst. Had we another day at the track, we would've loved to experiment with the more radical rake and trail offered via a steering-head eccentric insert.
Ergonomically, the Ducati's lanky riding position proved to be better on the track than on the street. Its slot-car handling can be fully taken advantage of by virtually limitless ground clearance from its adjustable pegs, but some of us didn't like the position of its clip-ons that stretched our bodies far forward.
"Even though I'm tall and don't mind an uncomfortable bike on the track," says Chamberlain, "I just don't feel that the long reach gives me the control and feel that I get from the other bikes. Other than the bar placement, the Ducati's ergos are perfect for the track. The bike is extremely thin between the knees, almost non-existent."
It should be noted that the 749S' fore/aft-adjustable seat/tank/tailsection combo was kept in its middle setting, and it might've been worthwhile moving it ahead 10mm to its most forward position.
One of the Duc's most obvious blemishes (other than its Honda Civic-like price tag) is in the Transmission/Clutch category, where it scored well below its competitors.
"By no means is the gearbox clunky, but it just doesn't offer the smooth, precise shifts offered up by the Triumph and some of the others," notes BC. "Its clutch was also a little heavy and didn't offer the easy modulation enjoyed by its competitors." Kenny and I also noted the 749's reluctance to shift without using the clutch, which, by the way, should really be a slipper-type considering the $15K this black beauty costs.
BC enthused about the 749's cornering abilities, describing the bike as "pure magic" once settled in to a corner. A long reach to the clip-ons and a less-than-smooth gearbox, however, had him whistling a different tune.
The Ducati also fell a bit behind in the braking category, as its non-radial-mount front Brembos were universally judged to have a little too much initial bite.
"The brakes are excessively grabby and unsettling," says Becklin. "And they stand you straight up if you have any kind of lean angle. I had it scare me a few times." A pad change would likely alleviate the harsh bite, which most of us eventually got used to. As for the standing up while trail-braking, you have to ride around it.
If it sounds like we're making excuses for the Duc, you obviously haven't ridden a 749S. Smooth throttle response, a torquey and forgiving powerband, and one of the best chassis in the business help us forget its shortcomings.
"The Ducati was the easiest to get an early drive on the exit of any given corner, and it begs to be leaned over further and further yet never touches down," says Hutch. "This is a purpose-built track bike, and it reminds you of that every time out."