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2003 Ducati 749S

Monday, December 2, 2002
2003 Ducati 749
2003 Ducati 749
Baby Duc Blaster!

Imagine this: The new Ducati 749 is almost exactly like the new Ducati 999 we previewed last week, with the exception of less horsepower!

Master of the obvious award notwithstanding, this is a great compliment to the S version of the 749 series we sampled today at the Almeria circuit in southern Spain.

Blessed with the same forgiving handling track characteristics of past Ducatis, the new 749 is also endowed with the added agility of the 999. It also has the same love-it-or-leave-it styling of the 999, which incidentally continues to grow on us even if it doesn't have the timeless purity of line the 748 and 916-998 series has.

Behind the bars, though, a rider is more concerned about the way this middleweight contender gets around the track. Here, the 749's new Testastretta (narrow head) design pays off with a claimed 103 horsepower at 10,000 rpm, up from 97 at 11,000. A 2mm larger bore (90mm) and 2.7mm shorter stroke (58.8mm) give it a revvier nature, and the narrower valve angle of 27 degrees results in a more efficient combustion chamber. One extra tooth on the rear sprocket helps get the 749 up to speed quicker.

Still, as noted in the opening paragraph, the little Duc can't hope to compete with the power of its big brother. With an identical claimed weight of 439 pounds to pull around as the 999, the 749 feels a bit wheezy in comparison. Which is not to say the screamin' yellow machines don't get around a racetrack with considerable haste. We saw upward of 143 mph on Almeria's long back straight into a strong headwind, and its corner speed was limited only by the street compound Pirellis on this cold and sometimes wet day. The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but it also does in the hills around the coast.

Feedback through the Showa fork is exemplary, perhaps aided by the titanium nitride coating on the fork legs (for less stiction over small bumps), something the standard 749 does without. The rider is able to tuck in closer to the top of the lower (and narrower) fuel tank for a choice of body position entering corners, and the 15mm longer swingarm makes the bike more stable under braking.

2003 Ducati 749
The brand new Ducati 749S looks as good as it runs.
The seat on the monoposto version is adjustable over a range of 30mm, but it handled the twists and hills of Almeria just fine on the middle of three settings. Ducati says the 749 now has 50/50 weight distribution, compared to 48% on the front on the 748, thanks to the longer swingarm. In practice, the 749's front tire seems to cut into the road as accurately as anything we've tested.

Braking, too, is excellent, with the same 4-pad, 4-piston Brembos as the 999 offering superb power combined with stellar control, while the bike is more stable under negative Gs due to the longer swingarm and lower center of gravity. The front discs have been moved 5mm outboard for better cooling under extreme decelleration. The 749 may not have the same acceleration as the lighter and more powerful 600cc four-cylinder sportbikes, and it's certainly more expensive. But with the booming drone and wide powerband of the Italian V-Twin, it's at least debatable which middleweight race-rep you'll have the most fun riding.

Still to come is the even more extreme 749R which will likely have 1000 extra rpm to play with plus perhaps 10 additional horsepower. Sign us up!
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