Ducati 749 Dark The Wild Card
The Duc's stable chassis scoffs at most rider's feeble corner-speed efforts. Korf said he really enjoyed the Ducati in the mountains, but he had nothing good to say about riding the uncomfortable Italian on the highway.
Ducati's 749 again joins our supersport comparo because it is eligible to race against 600cc four-cylinder bikes in most race series around the world. But make no mistake, the Italian V-Twin is unique unto itself. Even your grandma could tell at a glance that the Ducati is something exceptional.
The exotic Duc feels different from the moment a leg is thrown over it. V-Twins are known for their grunt, and you will be too when your friends see you wheeling it around the garage. It takes considerably more muscle to move the mass of this substantial, steel-framed machine than the alloy-chassis-ed 600s. Incredibly, the Duc is 73 pounds heavier than the class lightweight ZX!
Once aboard, you'll notice the seat is a board, the reach to the bars relatively torturous, and the little 4.1-gallon tank is so narrow it feels as if your knees could touch. It fires up and settles into Ducati's distinctive low-pitched rumble, making its rider feel a little bit special.
The 749's clutch is heavier than the others and it's geared rather tall, so this is the least likely bike in our group that we'd choose to ride down to 7-11 for a quart of milk. No, the Duc's natural habitat is the open road, and so much the better if it's a racetrack. In slower corners, the lanky 749 feels a bit awkward and reluctant to steer. But get it into some higher speed sweepers and the Ducati comes into its own.
For instance, I always disliked riding up or down the fast, pockmarked backside of San Diego County's Palomar Mountain, especially in relation to the smooth and tight front side. But a recent trip on the 749 made me feel otherwise. The longest-in-class wheelbase and a fairly conservative 24.5-degree rake makes the 749 feel as if both tires have equal grip on the pavement, and once set on its line, there is nothing that can deter it otherwise. The Duc's unflappable stability allows its rider to concentrate as far into the corner as line of sight allows, slowing the relative impression of speed. I was able to blast up Palomar's backside on the 749 quicker than ever.
The Ducati 749 Dark has the motor that everyone loved on the street. It makes nearly as much torque at 3300 rpm as the Honda does at its 11,000-rpm peak.
And climbing hills is easiest on the 749. Its bountiful torque curve shames the 600s, and its squirt up to redline is nothing to sneeze at, either, peaking with 98.4 ponies at 10,600 rpm. It's a shame, then, that the rev limiter rudely kicks in just 400 rpm later when it's still pulling hard. Our testers all enjoyed the torquey powerband of the Ducati.
"The motor pulls hard down low and carries the power on through the range," says Becklin. "The 749 motor feels like it's in a different league compared to the 600s. There's no need to rev this powerplant, just pick a gear and apply throttle."
But all is not well in the Duc pond. Its radiators struggled to keep coolant temperatures in check, and the gauge frequently soared above 220 degrees. Combine that with some stifling SoCal or Southern Oregon summer heat and a set of leathers, and you've just created your own personal sauna. During one highway trip with the mercury sitting in the triple digits, my thighs soaked in so much heat that I almost had to cry uncle, even when cruising at 85 mph. More heat is emitted from the undertail toaster, er, breadbox, uh, muffler, adding up to a bike that might be best suited for a climate like rainy old England.
Although Ducati's Pierre Terblanche spent years designing the 749/999, the R&D department came up a bit short. The upper lip of the windscreen shields the shift light and other indicators from view, and the stylish mirrors are virtually useless, making for a Dainese-clad "chicken dance" whenever a view behind is needed. And its extreme riding position will force a 749 rider to have either strong abs or sore wrists.
The 749's 6-speed tranny is decent but it appreciates a forceful toe. First gear is a bit tall, making for slower getaways at the Stoplight Grand Prix, and the lever requires a long throw during one-two shifts. We'd make a sprocket change to shorter gearing if it were ours.
- Corner speeds, inspired by supreme chassis balance.
- A riding experience unique in this class.
- Style the rice burners can't match.
- Oppressive heat from the engine and exhaust.
- Last to be chosen for long rides.
- Dubious reliability considering its lofty price.
But the woes for the high-strung thoroughbred don't end at these design failings. One afternoon the 749's shifter detent spring broke, leaving me stuck in neutral and stranded many miles from home. The Duc was repaired, though not for long. It took just three quarter-mile runs before its clutch was toasted. Since we had to replace the clutch on our 999 test bike, we're getting a little too familiar with this procedure.
The Brembo 4-piston, 4-pad front brake calipers and 320mm rotors have an aggressive bite and a strong, linear feel, but the 240mm rear brake was weak at first and became non-existent by the end of testing. We also experienced a few electrical glitches: Korf said that one time the tach registered way high for a short time before resuming normal operation; and one time the starter kept cranking after the engine had fired.
So we were enchanted by the Dark side, especially when in the appropriate venue, but ultimately we found a dark side.