The 999R is a mechanical and visual work of art. Even those who turned their nose at the front end were swayed, thanks to ample carbon fiber and that little letter that represents the ultimate in performance motorcycles, "R".
All you Duc hunters out there might decry the 999R's outrageously expensive $29,995 price tag or sneer at its relatively puny peak horsepower numbers. To be fair, these are legitimate concerns. But a glance at the comparative dyno torque chart shows that it's right up there with the Japanese literbikes. In horsepower terms, the 999R matches or exceeds the others, rpm to rpm, until about 9000 revs when it tapers off near its 10,250 rpm redline to a still-formidable peak of 133 ponies, at least 10 down on the Fours.
In our previous experience with Ducati's most exotic machine, we found the 999R to be one of the most enjoyable bikes we've ever ridden on a racetrack, boasting the seemingly dichotomous characteristics of rail-like stability and quick-stepping agility.
In street situations, the 999R experience is a bit less rosy. Throw a leg over, and you'll immediately come to two conclusions: First, this has to be the narrowest literbike ever built. And, second, it would take a durable rider to endure its elongated riding position over a full day in its wide but not well-padded saddle. Reach out to its clip-ons and you'll find they take a bit of a stretch to grasp. It's less torturous than the 916-998 series of Ducs, but its bars are noticeably further away than on the Multis in this test.
In keeping with this theme, you'll also find on the 999R the heaviest clutch pull, the least precise transmission, stylistically-brilliant but essentially useless mirrors, a feeble rear brake, and an exhaust system and engine that will radiate enough heat on hot days to push you in the direction of the nearest Gatorade machine. And the reason why Ducati insists on not providing a redline on the 999R's tach (10,400 rpm, according to our dyno runs on EDR Motorsport's dyno) continues to be lost on us.
Now we know why Ducati won so many races and titles with the 999R. Impressive turn-in capabilites and rock-steady mid-corner stability make the triple nine a blade on sinuous roads.
That said, getting a chance to fire up an exotic Italian beauty like this definitely makes its rider feel special. On a cold morning, you'll need to toggle the only fuel enrichener lever of the group (electronic fast-idle circuits on the Asian bikes makes this seem a bit quaint) before commanding the starter to twist. The 999cc Twin makes its familiar Ducati chug for a couple of revolutions before its barks to life in a fluidic, muted roar. The last several years have brought about much quieter operation of its typically noisy dry clutch arrangement but enough rattle remains to remind you yet again this isn't a typical literbike.
Its rider is already excited even before engaging a gear, but the experience only gets better from here. Unexpected from its more oversquare bore/stroke ratio than lesser 999s, the titanium-valved and â€“rodded jewel of an engine offers instant thrust even at low revs. Let is gather rpm and there's a wonderful curl of torque to surf that is remarkable in its thrust and duration. Our test riders loved how its potent midrange drove the bike ahead out of the corners in a more tractable way than the more explosive Fours. Simply put, this is the best sporting V-Twin ever offered for semi-mass consumption (just 500 Rs will be made for 2005).
"While you need to be a little timid with the throttle on the Fours," notes Brian Chamberlain, MCUSA's graphic-head and a former racer, "you can be a little more generous with the throttle on the Ducati. The bike puts power to the ground very well and I was actually quite impressed with how competitive it actually was against the other bikes."
Included in the R experience are top-shelf components from Ohlins and Brembo.
"The Ohlins suspension on the 999 was easily more competent than the other bikes," BC continues. "Even during our slower street rides, it was evident that the suspension soaked up the rough stuff better than the others and allowed you to put more power to the ground." Similarly, the awesome radial-mount Brembo brakes were a notch above the rest, although their brutal power might be considered overkill on the street.
- The tastiest V-Twin motor we’ve ever sampled
- Ferrari-like exclusivity An absolute riot on the track
- Elite price tag
- Uncomfortable, especially for high-class asses
- We’ll never be able to afford one for ourselves
One area that's impossible to measure empirically is a bike's cool factor, but there's no doubt the 999R brings a little something extra to the table. Slathered with buckets of titanium, magnesium, and carbon fiber, the top 999 scales in with a tank-empty weight of 422 lbs., nearly identical to the R1 and 14 lbs lighter than the CBR. Together with its blood-red paint job that's impossible to ignore and its Italian styling flair, everyone from the cognoscenti to the motorcycle-uninitiated gravitated toward the Duc wherever this group gathered.
"Every component on the Duc is a work of art, and attention to detail is as good as it comes," BC sums up, although he admits taller riders are forced to look through the windscreen to see the upper part of the instruments.
"The 999R is obviously not the most practical choice for a streetbike, but it is truly a work of art and anyone who is laying down $30K for a sportbike is not really looking for practical anyway."