The Ducati 749S arrived at our Shootout a little late, but when we got the opportunity to add the $15,000 Italian beauty into the mix, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Ducati 749S Italian Class
Full disclosure: Through no fault of Ducati, the 749 arrived to the street testing party after we’d finished our group photography. However, we were able to ride the bikes in a group in California and also rode the Duc on the same roads in Oregon where we had ridden the others. So, although it didn’t get as many miles on it, we still think we represent it fairly.
Some of you might wonder about our audacity to include a $15,000 exotic in a category of $9K bikes. Sure, the Duc costs 70% more than the Kawi, but what would you do if Ducati said they’d give you one to thrash? At least we didn’t include the $21,995 749R, which boasts titanium valves, retainers and con-rods, plus a slipper clutch. To fit tighter budgets, Ducati also offers the $13,995 standard 749 or the $12,495 749 Dark, the latter doing without glossy paint or a steering damper.
In a strange way of looking at things that Ducatisti understand, the S model of the 749 series can actually be seen as a bargain over the standard 749. A higher compression ratio of 12.3:1 help give it a claimed 8-hp boost, and its suspension is upgraded with a titanium-nitride coating on the Showa fork plus a Showa shock to match instead of the Sachs rear damper on the standard 749. Available in the U.S. only in the monoposto (single-seat) version, the S also has the trick fore/aft seat adjustment (20mm range) and five-position adjustable footpegs the “lowly” 749s don’t.
Just looking at the 749 is enough to convince you this is a unique and special bike in this collection. Compared to the stubby multi-cylinder bikes in this test, the Duc looks long and lanky. Indeed, its 55.9-inch wheelbase is more than an inch longer than the rest of the bikes and a massive 1.6 inches rangier than the compact R6. The little Superbike feels different, too, with an ultra-slim midsection, long reach to the bars and a low, hard seat. A rider is stretched out more than on the others, but the bike feels so cool underneath that some riders quickly forgot about any pain it might induce.
“The 749 doesn’t compromise form for function,” says our Editorial Director Ken Hutchison. “The bike is a purpose-built carving machine, so if you are looking for a nice comfortable ride this might not be for you. Funny thing is, this bike has a wide array of adjustability with fore/aft seat adjustments as well as variable pegs mounts. But its bars are quite low, and that’s what causes that ache after a long ride.”
The Ducati shines away from traffic where its long legs and aggressive riding position combine to carve through fast sweepers with confidence. Around town, it feels like a bridled thoroughbred.
When we last tested a 749 in 2004, the Dark edition came up a bit short on the dyno with its 94.8-hp pull. Its bounty of torque couldn’t overcome is top-end deficiency. The 749S we included in this shootout had no such problem, as its 106.6-hp peak exceeded the Triumph’s and nearly matched the revvy Yamaha’s. And, naturally, nothing else in this group could match its 55.1 lb-ft torque peak.
“The sweet V-Twin offers up the type of low-end and midrange grunt that makes you not worry so much about how comfortable you may or may not be,” adds Kenny, “and it reminds you why Ducatis are so much fun to ride on your favorite canyon road.”
Getting to your favorite canyon road, however, is less pleasurable. Imagine driving an early-’70s Ferrari and you’d be close: heavy clutch, wide turning radius, relatively balky shifting and crap rearward visibility.
But get your Italian steed pointed for the hills and the perception changes from awkward to bella. Thoughts of a long reach to the wheel, er, ‘bars become vapor and instead turn to visions of Troy Bayliss nearly dragging his elbow over the curbing in one of Monza’s chicanes. A booming, sonorous soundtrack bounces off canyon walls, and you just know the trophy girl at the end of the road is going home with you.
The 748cc Twin pumps out power everywhere, responsive and obedient, and its tubular trellis chassis is virtually unflappable. On the right kind of road – full of sweepers and long sightlines – the Ducati offers an experience the more frenetic competition just can’t match.
It’s in the tighter stuff where the 749 feels less adroit. Part of the blame lies in its second-laziest 24.5-degree rake angle, but it’s a combination of its long wheelbase and extra poundage that holds it back. At 435 lbs with its tank empty, the Duc weighs a significant 28 lbs more than the next heaviest of the group, the GSX-R, and a massive 45 lbs lardier than the flyweight Daytona.
As the lone Twin in the group, our Duc was still able to hold its own on the dyno, where its 106.6 hp almost matched the Yamaha and its 55.1 lb-ft of torque stomped the others.
Thankfully, serious braking power is supplied via 4-piston, 4-pad Brembo calipers biting on dinner-plate-sized 320mm rotors. Although the calipers aren’t the trendy radial-mount type, the blend of braided-steel brake lines and the largest discs in the group allow eyeball-ejecting deceleration. Our only gripes are an initial bite that can be a bit harsh and a marginal lack of feel. And, depending on the tires, the bike might stand up when trail-braking.
Thus far we’ve been able to paint a fairly flattering picture of the debonair Italian, but when ranked as a streetbike, there are a few rough seams in the Armani.
Along with punishing ergonomics, a rider has to endure considerable heat coming off the engine and exhaust. Gear changes are accomplished with a bit more effort and less precision, and the only slipper clutch it has is controlled by your left hand. You also won’t find a handy gear-position indicator or even a redline on the tach. Tie-down hooks and on-board storage are a figment of your imagination, and trips to your dealer for valve-clearance inspections will come just 6000 miles apart, mercifully longer than the frequent gas stops forced by the minuscolo 4.1-gallon fuel tank. Also, your favorite passenger will be taking the car.
But, let’s face it, if you’ve got the deep pockets to afford a $15,000 single-seater, you probably have something else in the garage that’s a bit more practical. For those who are in that fortunate situation, you’ll be happy knowing your Italian speedster offers up a riding experience that in many ways surpasses that of any rippin’ upstart that revs north of 12,000 rpm.
A chassis as good as anything
Sex appeal of an exotic
Only game in town for V-Twin enthusiasts
Platinum price tag
Is a redline too much to ask for?