Ducati 999R 3rd Place (87.6%)
The 999R proved it belonged with the best in the class with a superb track performance at Portland International Raceway.
Down at least a dozen ponies and several tenths in the quarter-mile, you wouldn't think the underpowered Duc would be able to compete on PIR's power-demanding dragstrip front straight.
Wrong, sushi breath. There's a reason why Ducati has dominated decades worth of World Superbike competition, and all that good stuff is represented in Ducati's racing platform, the 999R.
It's got nearly all the race-spec hardware you could mention, including titanium valves and rods, adjustable triple-clamps, carbon fiber fairing, a pricey and highly adjustable suspension, and an overall feel that makes its rider think he's sitting on the front row of the grid at Monza.
"I was amazed at the fact that the 999R could keep pace with the big Fours on a fast track like Portland," says Becklin. "Even though it's down on top-end speed, that torquey grunt gets it out of the corners well enough to run right with the other bikes."
Keep pace with the Fours? Yep. We were all shocked when we looked at Roberti's lap timer and saw that it was only four-tenths off the quickest time run all day. Perhaps even more impressive, it lapped quicker than two of the four-cylinders in this class. Test rider Mike Mitchell cut his quickest lap on the Duc, though he didn't get equal time on all the bikes.
And when your snooty Ducati friends tell you their bike corners like it's on rails, believe them. The 999R recorded the highest g
readings on our Vbox in both right and left turns at PIR.
Each of our testers marveled at how well the Duc's power was able to be applied coming out of PIR's corners, and we were much more confident dialing up the throttle than on the other peakier bikes in this group. It's not nearly as intimidating when dialing on the power while still leaned over. "You could really put the power to the ground," Roberti raves.
Even though it runs with the Big Four from across the Pacific, the 999R's hefty price tag makes it tough to justify picking it over one of the others. Still, if you've got the money to throw down, you'll be in riding nirvana.
"Its motor has great grunt from turn to turn and a surprising amount of top-end speed," Becklin notes. "I was able to stay in the draft of most of the other bikes." The Duc is aided aerodynamically by a narrow front profile and a short fuel tank that allows a rider to tuck behind the short windscreen. Although its accelerative g
force ranked dead last in this group, its top speed down the front straight was down only 4-7 mph on the more powerful Fours.
The 999R also awed mightily while scrubbing off speed for the corners, and its 4-piston, 4-pad Brembo calipers emerged as the best in class. They recorded the highest negative g value on our Vbox under braking when about 100-mph of speed needs to be shed before tipping into PIR's Turn 1. No matter how hot we entered, the 999R's brakes shrugged it off with plenty of margin for error. These binders are probably the most potent we've ever experienced on a streetbike.
"The braking power of the Ducati was absolutely unbelievable," says Roberti, "but only an experienced rider can really tap the potential these brakes have to offer."
Ducati's most expensive model impressed us in the turns at a level we've previously never known from a V-Twin. Forged aluminum wheels give it an agility that would make an RC51 snort like a swine, and its highly evolved trellis frame gives it composure that is unsurpassed. It feels wonderful banked over in corners, like gracefully carving a line while water skiing on a smooth lake. It rewards a smooth rider yet copes nicely with an aggressive one. Roberti says it's the most stable and has the most precise front-end feel, and he noted its exemplary ability to hold a line on very fast turns.
Its one handling caveat is its tendency to stand up under braking. While this might surprise an unsuspecting rider, it becomes tolerable once accustomed to.
The Duc's Ohlins suspension was as good as you'd expect from the pricey Swedish dampers, with plenty of adjustment latitude. Despite the transmission's long throws, it was judged to have shifted smoothly and with precision. We liked the quarter-turn fairing fasteners and quick-release turnsignals, and we know its race-spec motor responds well to modifications. A buddy of ours bolted on a pipe and a Power Commander to uncork a significant 20 horsepower out of his 999R, bumping it up to 153 hp and 82 lb-ft of torque, which makes it more powerful overall than the stock Fours.
Despite the fact that it was down on top-end speed, the 999R's torquey nature allowed it to get out of the corners more quickly than the rest of the machines in our test.
One aspect of the 999R that disappointed was its instrument cluster that has no redline indicated. "It's nice with the big ol' tach front and center, but you have to learn where the rev limit is and then make up your own redline," Becklin whines. "I guess we could have put a piece of duct tape at 10,500 rpm, but that seems a little cheesy on a $30K bike." And for that price we might also expect a slipper clutch.
In the end, our group was somewhat torn on how to rank the Ducati. While it certainly impressed us with its ability to run with the big dogs, its $29,995 MSRP makes it difficult to compare.
"I would call the 999R confidence inspiring except that it's worth $30K and all you think about is trying not to crash the damn thing," says Becklin, the guy ultimately responsible for writing any crash-damage checks. "Roberti and (test rider Mike) Mitchell scared the shit out of me when they were laying down the hot laps." You could buy a Suzuki SV650 for what the R's carbon bodywork costs to replace.
Yep, the 999R is a unique piece of Italian machinery that almost defies comparison. It's not the fastest thing on two wheels, but it's one of the most desirable.
"Sure, you can buy three of the others instead of this one, but who in their right mind would want three Corvettes instead of one Ferrari?" Hutch asks in his own inimitable way. "The vibes that come from deep within the Ducati is that little extra something that it offers which the others cannot. If you have the cash for this bike, you probably have a specific bike for the street. If not, at least your one bike will be unbelievable."