After bouncing various theories around about why the Aprilia and Duc might feel stronger on the street, (aside from the low-rpm lean condition), we delved deep into the spec charts. By calculating the overall ratios in each gear, we noticed the Ducati is shorter geared no matter which cog it is in. Shorter gearing allows greater torque multiplication, giving each pony an accelerative advantage at a given rpm.
The Aprilia is hampered somewhat by the tallest first gear in the group, but in any other gear it’s the Honda that is handcuffed by taller ratios. A sprocket change would alleviate this situation and allow the RC51 to reach its full potential without cracking the cases.
The Honda dyno readings made us salivate over the prospect of wringing these bikes out at the track, but that was to come. For now we had to focus on the street portion and focus we did.
On The Road
Engine performance and dyno readings are fun, but they are far less important than ergonomics and handling capabilities when on the street. Taking quick blasts on our favorite roads for an hour or two is one thing, but climbing aboard one of these V-Twin superbikes for a full day of riding reveals much more about their real-world capabilities than anything else.
In our quest to give these machines a thorough workout we took them down across the Oregon border from our Medford base to California Highway 96, which winds its way between Happy Camp and Yreka. After six hours of seat time and plenty of clean and smooth high-speed corners, we learned a great deal about each bike’s ability to provide power, comfort, and inspire confidence on the street.
One of the first things that became clear on our extended trip is the 999S is one sick carving tool. The tubular trellis chassis provides excellent rigidity and offers ample feedback to the rider as corners are navigated. The one aspect of riding the 999S that immediately separates it from its two challengers is an elongated feeling. The rider is positioned “in” the bike and, despite having a wheelbase which is the same as the Honda, it felt like it was the longest and lowest of the bunch.
- Super-sick aggressive engine
- Quickest steering
- Most aesthetic appeal
- Lowest pony output
- Lowest bars
- Look Ma, no rear brakes!
The performance from the 999’s 43mm inverted O–hlins fork could be described with one word: superb. The fully adjustable unit soaked up bumps and dips with ease, thanks in part to their low-friction titanium-nitride coating, but did their best work when they were providing feedback to the rider and keeping the 999S heading in the right direction. Out back a fully adjustable O–hlins shock keeps the rear planted and compliant.
Every test rider that participated in our shootout gave the Duc the highest of praise when it came to inspiring confidence around tight and twisty corners. However, not all is perfect for the 999S. The long wheelbase may provide stability, but it also made quick direction changes more difficult.
2004 V-Twin Shootout
2004 Ducati 999S Comparison
2004 Honda RC51 Comparison
2004 Aprilia Mille Factory Comparison
2004 V-Twin Shootout Conclusion