In the October issue of SuperBike Magazine we re-visited the Ducati 999, so here’s what we thought of it when an update model was released at the end of 2004.
SUPERBIKE ROAD TESTER: SIMON ROOTS
RADICAL REVISION IS SO TWO YEARS AGO DARLING. NOW SUBTLE STYLE CHANGES AND UNDER-THE-SKIN POWER HIKES ARE ALL THE RAGE
Excitedly mustered in a spacious Mugello garage hydrating the previous night’s toxins out, the world’s press caught its first glimpse of the 2005 Ducati 999. As the dry ice of the presentation cleared and an imposing soundtrack boomed homage to the new machine, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room craning his neck to try and spot the difference.
Accustomed to Ducati’s previous ‘redvolution’ (a self proclaimed red revolution) that consigned the 916-series into revered nostalgia, we soon learned that the revised 999 is a gentle evolution of the lineage, incorporating subtlety rather than shock. The busy pen of designer Pierre Terblanche has calmed, but it’s the guts of the 999 that have so engrossed Ducati’s engineers.
Style changes are slight and confined to the upper fairing that improves rider comfort, while the matt black finished silencer is a deservingly sharp conclusion to the now familiar silhouette. The WSB replica swingarm looks as if it’s come straight off the back of a (Corse) lorry, replicating the WSB object (albeit only in appearance). But the real meat of the revision comes in the form of the 140bhp motor, a stiff kick to the tune of 16bhp – healthy in anyone’s books.
The reprofiled cams are the source of the power increase, so in tuning parlance Ducati has given the 999 the best bit of a stage two conversion. Lift is increased by 15 per cent, with a five per cent longer opening period getting the fuel in and gases out with improved dynamism and purpose.
There’s no hint of these changes at an obedient idle, and there would be no hint of me finding them as I cruised around the celebrated Tuscan track for the first few laps trying to transfer Playstation dexterity into genuine survival skills. Equally, there was no discernible loss in usability at lower revs, as warned by Andrea Forni, Ducati’s head of Research and Development just before we headed out for the first session’s wobble. ‘The way we develop the cam profile means there is a little less power lower down but this is the price any engineer has to pay to develop the power further up in the rev range,” said Forni, but who cares? The whole industry has gone power crazy this year, and it’s about time that Ducati went loco.
Bedding in the brain meant that the Ducati was left in third and fourth gear for two thirds of the 3.2 mile track. Power delivery through the 54mm throttle bodies was smooth at these enforced lower levels, but the revs don’t stay laconic for very long. Short stabs of throttle between the many flicks of Mugello’s circuit saw the Ducati suffer from summit fever as the big pistons pump quicker than you expect for a twin. An agile left boot treats the symptoms as you change up smoothly, but it’s all too easy to bring the rev-limiter into action again at 10,250rpm because the 999 simply doesn’t sound like it’s at the peak of its power. A four-cylinder sports bike screams when it needs changing, but not this baby, and its tones need a sharp ear to recognise the optimum shift point. The notion of going steady goes straight out the window when the final mile of the circuit rolls out before you as you drivehard, but carefully given the adverse camber, out of the last corner. The mile long straight (made famous by Shinya Nakano crashing his brains out after his tyre blew) couldn’t be a more inviting test for the 999’s new power. It’s so long, and as you charge into the forested distance, you can’t help thinking that you’re Troy Bayliss or Loris Capirossi easing your way past 200mph. But then you’ve got more time still to think, and you picture yourself with Loris Capirossi’s beautiful wife, Ingrid. The 200-metre braking marker then bitch-slaps you out of this little fantasy world. You’ve got no chance with the wee man’s missus, and you’re nowhere near 200mph. But you’re still going pretty quickly, and you’re still at Mugello so life’s pretty sweet still.
By the end of the morning session, the 999 was indicating just over 270kph, which is no mean speed. TV coverage of MotoGP flattens the straight, when in actual fact there’s a sharp rise just where Nakano ended up in a pile of his own hurt. Ducati held its revs at this point, then climbed again, enough to snick top, before the massive slowdown began again.
Elsewhere, the new engine demonstrated its flexibility and not just its pure strength. Delivery through the rear Michelin Pilot Power was nigh-on impeccable, and even better when the Italian mechanics returned from a long lunch and short espresso to fit Michelin’s Pilot Race tyre. So long as the motor’s humming at 6,000rpm or above, the 999 will stomp out of comers predictably and with a real appetite to do it all again at the next turn. Indeed, much lighter and the Ducati’s willingness to rev means that a gear change needs to be fitted in alongside the cranked over exit – or suffer the ignominy of lost momentum as you splutter onto a straight. The Tuscan micro-climate sired a cloudier afternoon, and with it, strong headwind that stiffened the Ducati flags starch-straight Now the 999 was struggling to rev out in fifth, despite barrelling out of the last the last left-hander with increased speed thanks to the upgrade in Bibendum’s rubber. With revs at a premium, the modification to the upper fairing really made itself known. The slightly taller windshield now allows a perfect view while your unruffled body suggests that the wind tunnel work has paid off.
A light lunch, the Pilot Race tyres and an all round stiffening of the suspension let the 999 prove why Ducati didn’t mess with chassis and suspension components. The Pilot Powers worked much better than the original Pilot Sport Cups fitted to the old version (and after four hard sessions they looked pretty fresh), but a bike as good as the 999 and a track as demanding as Mugello warrant tyres that fit the occasion.
If the 999 steered quickly before, then now it could be slammed on its side bang on your now tuned-in turn-in marker. Typically for Mugello, another hard turn followed, always in the opposite direction, and the 999 could be picked-up and then thrown down again within two stabs of counter-steer.
For positive cambers, the power could be wound on hard and early with the stiffer swingarm, Showa shock and Michelin rubber combining to drive hard in the intended direction, but the real test was the feeling in the off-camber corners where you typically sense the front-end falling away from you. But feel was good here, a tight line could be kept, hugging the rumble strip just when you expect to part company with the track decoration. Similarly, changing a line was simple, normally required when you confuse one chicane with another. Easily done, believe me. But when concentration is wound up to the max, the 999 unlocks rhythm, a vital, yet rare, ingredient in a track bike.
Yup, the race rubber really perked up the performance of the 999, offering deep braking, vicious lean angles and useable drive – not to mention high speed stability that never bothered the revised steering damper. And all on a package whose only real change was a tarted-up swingarm. The redvolution’s a while off yet.
Ducati isn’t stupid and the whole idyllic notion of riding a blood red Ducati in the most expansive, green amphitheater in racing makes you start rolling your r’s and talking in gestures before you know it. But there’s a reason for this, and that’s because the 999, already a good bike, has just been made better..
Just one revision into its short life and already the 999 offers massive power, but all of it useable. The unchanged chassis, suspension and brakes (not to mention the revised OE tyres) all combine to consolidate this power, eschewing the notion that if it’s not broke then change it anyway to make it a more marketable proposition.
The Bolognese factory has certainly added new sauce to the market, but in true Ducati style, the rebalanced recipe tastes as good as it ever did.
I don’t know if it’s the less desirable looks when stacked up next to other red bikes from Bologna, but these 999s are cheap for a Ducati superbike.
An unregistered, brand new, museum piece on ebay:
Just 5000 miles from new:
An S model with the stunning race replica paint job: