The Ducati 999S showed its true racing heritage during our track test besting the efforts of the RC51 and Factory in the eyes of most our riders.
Yet despite its superiority on the dyno, the RC51 didn’t seem to get as good a drive out of corners as its Italian counterparts. Honda is doing its faithful a disservice by sapping the RC’s potential with tall gearing. Its Twin packs 120.3 horsepower to the Duc’s 119.5 and the Mille Factory’s 116.2, yet it doesn’t accelerate as strong off the corners. Shorter gearing on the Euros offered up plenty of grunt when hitting the straights, while the RC’s taller gearing buried its power. It’s certainly a problem that could be fixed with a sprocket change, but stock is as stock does, and in this case it doesn’t.
Ultimately, the majority of riders preferred the smooth power and glossy tranny of the 999S to the aggressive disposition of the Mille R. The Duc pulls hard off the bottom and continues to pull linearly until redline, which is in stark contrast to the gnarly, wheelie-inducing power of the Mille Factory. While the Aprilia’s nasty temperament is fun, it also makes riding on the track a little more difficult.
As for the Duc, our test crew was surprised at how far the 999S revs, pulling hard and rising smoothly until the rev limiter shuts down the party. The Ducati’s willingness to rev is due to two reasons. The 999S has hotter, more aggressive cams for extra power, and its lightweight titanium connecting rods significantly reduce reciprocating mass. In practice, we found the longer the rider holds the Duc’s throttle open, the more it responds.
“I concentrated on twisting the throttle to the stop because there is some real power up on top,” said Becklin. “If you short-shift, you lose that punch.”
The Ducati’s eagerness to spin up can mislead its rider into thinking redline exists much higher than it actually does. It revs willingly and continues to make more power the higher it’s revved, but the rev limiter kicks in abruptly as power continues to build. Its shift light helps, but it’s not directly in the rider’s line of sight.
The linear power delivery of the 999S coupled with a buttery smooth transmission and clutch made us better understand why it’s the most expensive of the three bikes. There were no complaints about missed shifts or an imperfect transmission. In fact, while we expected the most refined components from Honda, the Duc ended up getting the highest scores for silky shifting capabilities.
Likewise, Mille’s shifting was praised on the track. Its pneumatic slipper clutch received praise from testers who enjoyed not having to worry much about rear-wheel hop when downshifting. The RC51 had a few uncharacteristic missed shifts which had us seeing red occasionally.
When the time came to choose a winner we eventually sat down and took everything into consideration. Our scorecard lists 15 categories that are relevant to racetrack performance and instructed our testers to rate them on a scale of 1-5. Check out the individual ratings. When the scores were tallied, this is how the V-Twin Superbikes stacked up.
The $11,599 Honda’s Showa and Nissin components aren’t quite the equal of the top-notch Ohlins and Brembo jewelery on the Italians, but they still performed very well at Thunderhill, as Korf shows here.
Third Place Honda RC51
Honda’s superbike won the street portion of the test, but it didn’t quite stand as tall as the competition on the track. The glaring difference was the Italian duo’s expensive Ã–hlins suspension which outclassed the Honda’s Showa components. The less expensive suspension and binders aren’t a big deal on the street, but we would’ve loved to have the same HRC Factory components Nicky and Colin won championships with on the track. Also, the tall gearing that caused an inability to get a good drive out of corners frustrated many of our riders who expected to utilize its class-leading horsepower.
Despite its limitations, the Honda only lost to the Mille Factory by 13 points once all the scores were tallied, 339 to 352. The 51 was most hindered by Becklin’s score sheet. The former RC51 owner only gave a total of 47 points to the Honda, seven points lower than the next lowest score of 54 points by Brian Chamberlain. Becklin’s comments contrasted sharply with that of the other experienced riders in our group who actually selected the Honda as second best; Roberti gave the Honda 61 points while Mitchell gave it 60.
That aside, the RC51 is a ridiculously good value at $11,599. It’s an excellent street-going bike and is definitely worthy on the track regardless of what the man writing the paychecks says. Heck, for the price of an RC51 and an upgraded suspension, we think you’d have a bike that would give the 999S and Mille Factory all they could handle on the track. Even though it’s in third place here, it’s losing out to two expensive machines equipped with top-shelf Ohlins components.
Excellent components like Ohlins suspension and an aggressive motor landed the Mille Factory second place in our track shootout.
Second Place – Aprilia Mille Factory
The Mille generated the most wildly varying reviews of the three machines in our shootout. When reviewing bikes, testers often like to sit the fence, but we had no trouble discerning people’s opinions on this machine. The scores varied greatly from rider to rider, with Ken Hutchison scoring it as low as 53 points; Mike Mitchell gave the Aprilia its highest score of 65.
The attraction to the Mille depends on one’s point of view. For the cynics in our group, the glass was half empty because it lacked a bit of mid-corner stability, friendly riding manners, and a rear brake. For the other contingent of testers the glass was half full thanks to an aggressive temperament, razor-sharp handling, and its Italian exotica factor. Ultimately, the Mille is judged on what its rider expects of a track bike. Some love it, like Chamberlain and Mitchell who gave the Mille Factory the highest marks; some don’t.
Winner Ducati 999S
While we saw some crazy discrepancies on the score sheets for the RC51 and the Mille Factory, the 999S was unequivocally the winner in our test. It scored more than sixty points from every rider and, moreover, accumulated the highest scores from four of the six test riders.
The 999S combined the characteristics of refinement, stability, and loads of linear power to win the track portion of our V-Twin shootout. It certainly wasn’t head and shoulders above the other two competitors, but it did everything on the track extremely well.
We simply have no choice but to declare the Ducati 999S the winner of our 2004 V-Twin track shootout, even if it comes with the highest price tag. There is no other V-Twin-powered machine we’d rather navigate a racetrack on than the S version of Ducati’s Triple-nine.
We’d like to give a big “thanks” to the following who helped make our test a success.
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Check out the “Specs.” for the 2004 V-Twin Track Test.