2005 Ducati 999

Ducati 999 – Model Year 2005

It's all about balance.

Spaghetti Pomodoro. This is the most basic of all Italian dishes consisting of pasta and tomatoes with a little olive oil, basil and salt. This dish is prepared in an infinite spectrum of variation depending on region and chef so that a traveler could, in theory, order the same dish on consecutive evenings as one traversed the country and never tire of the meal.

Given the simplicity of the recipe one may be easily lead to believe that such a plate could be easily reproduced anywhere around the globe and certainly in the land of milk and honey that is the USA but yet this seemingly unsophisticated dish is virtually never found, properly prepared, outside of the borders of Italy.

Some may postulate that it is due to the superiority of local ingredients in Italy that explains the difference but they would be wrong. Although not sold at the local supermarket, fine tomatoes, good imported olive oil and fresh basil can be found in the US and even true aficionados of Italian cuisine will defend the use of mass produced dried pastas. Despite the presence of the raw materials, Spaghetti Pomodoro remains elusive due to more complicated problems than mere logistics. It is a question of philosophy.

Without getting mired in a developmental debate of nature versus nurture, the Italians have an uncanny instinct for balance. As Leonardo's drawings so eloquently illustrate (and the indigenous female population of Italy substantiate) proper proportion is the foundation for beauty. Its not the sheer quantity of one ingredient or another, it is in having just the right amount of basil versus just the right amount of tomatoes all while never forgetting that even the flavor must be balanced against the presentation. A dish that tastes delicious but is visually unappealing is still a failure.

Most 999 owners will probably showcase their bikes thusly.

Pulling the lens back from the table this philosophy of beauty and proportion, so clearly expressed in a simple plate of pasta, is replicated in the Italian table setting, the room decor, the staff, the building and the city. Ducati is the physical manifestation of the Italian philosophy of beauty, proportion and balance in the form of a motorbike. Nothing about the bike overshadows any other aspect of the design. The motor is powerful, but not intimidating, the brakes are good, but not overpowering, the chassis is stable, not nervous.

Porsches are for divorced men in their fifties.

With World Superbike losing influence in sporting motorcycles the 999 is in a little bit of a lame duck position. Ducati has been rebuilt from its ashes in the mid-eighties on the basic premise that a twin-cylindered Ducati (albeit tuned to the gills) could beat four-cylindered Japanese bikes in World Superbike races. Of course, the street legal Ducatis were far from competitive with the street legal versions of the 750s but that didn't matter because few consumer Ducatis ever saw a race track when lap times mattered. The 999 is no exception in that a GSX-R 750 will turn faster lap times for about $8,000 less.

Lower left corner, lap times.

Now that World Superbikes have lost their luster and more factories are starting to take their styling cues from MotoGP the twin cylindered Ducatis have a tougher time establishing their cutting edge racing credentials. With a four cylindered street legal Ducati on the horizon (as soon as 2006) which will probably be able to compete with the Japanese on every facet of performance save price (which has some to do with Ducati and a lot to do with the Japanese government keeping the yen weak against the dollar google: “US deficit spending”) the 999 is probably nearing the end of its flagship tenure.

The Ducati factory does not have a mural of their GP bikes facing the Autostrada.

To get this effect the Ducati folks had to set each lift to a progressively taller
height from the front of the garages to the back and hang special lights in all
the corners of the garage to make the bikes seem to glow. Performance
meets presentation.

So what does every manufacturer do with its sportbikes when they are not longer competitive performance-wise? They are relabeled as being “more of a streetbike, a sport tourer” or as Ducatis puts it in their sales literature “the best v-twin”.

Roadracing World tested the 999 at Mugello which is located in the Tuscan region of Italy. Mugello is one of the two best race tracks in the world. Tuscany is one of the two best places in the world.

Mugello has one bump.

The Ducatis uses the trick CAN electronics systems introduced two years ago and the 999 retains the great instrumentation with the integral lap timer (use the starter button crossing the start/finish line) and a variety of other readouts.

Because in Italy speeds limits are dictated by the laws of physics not the laws

of man.

The 999 series has a decidedly softer edge than the 916-998. This makes for a bike that is easy to ride to a quick pace but can be frustrating when trying to ride a fast pace. The Ducati is a little heavy at 410 pounds but it carries the weight centralized and low which allows the bike to easily roll back and forth on its central axis. The 999 has very conservative steering geometry. Depending on your viewpoint this either imbues confidence or frustration. On the plus side the 999 never shakes or wobbles and, once put on a line, stays there. On the minus side the 999 takes a lot of effort to get turned quickly and is sluggish in full right to full left transitions.

The 999 does sport adjustable suspension so we used the stock ride height adjuster to lift the back of the bike substantially and removed a little compression damping front and rear. Raising the rear improved the steering but the bike remained without a real edge, on the other hand, it was also much more stable than bikes that are set-up sharp. The forks did not have the smooth action that one would expect from Showa.

Chain adjusters are no longer parallel to the ground. Sensor counts brake bolts for the speedo.

Picking the bike up out of a turn on the throttle taps into that legendary Ducati torque which forgivingly pulls a rider out of any turn regardless of mid-corner RPM. The estimated 126 rear wheel horsepower delivers a decent top speed and is delivered with smooth and consistent fueling. The twin's power delivery does not easily induce slides and the bike encourages early application of throttle.

After badgering the mechanic for changes after each testing session it was gratifying to receive a “Ees good!” 
and a nod of the head when Enrico reviews the lap times from the last stint of the day.

Twins are supposed to be narrow and this wasp waisted Ducati makes an R6 seem fat. This Ducati is incredibly thin at the knees which allows the rider to tuck in completely behind the slightly larger windshield. The surprisingly comfortable broad seat, low (but a little slippery) pegs and narrow bars are roomy. The bike is physically small and the generous relationship of the seat to the pegs allows lots of movement without getting bound up on the bike.

When two of the world's moto-journalists crashed 999s that day I was very surprised because the bike is, dare I say it, difficult to crash. Nail the throttle and the v-twin's flat power delivery pushes the bike forward without breaking the rear wheel lose. Running wide out of a turn? Simply ease out of the gas and the bike tightens the line by itself. The brakes are very powerful and the radial master cylinder gives significant feedback allowing deep trail braking with impunity. Even full throttle exits over bumpy rises in the track refused to elicit a head shake which would have some other modern sportbikes in knots.

If you can't drag your knee off one of these it ain't going to happen for you.

Although your friends still might say “nice legs, shame about the face."

Spaghetti pomodoro not withstanding Italians sometimes get it wrong (google: “Mussolini” or “Morbidelli” or “risotto milanese” or “casu marzu”) and so it is with the 999. There are some faults with the 999 for which I would happily crucify the bike if it had been manufactured in Japan. The 999 has a harsh redline with no overrev at all. The transmission would not speed shift from 4th to 5th or 5th to 6th and required the use of the very noisy (rattles when idles, screeches when launched hard) dry clutch for those upshifts. The fork action felt primitive. Slippery pegs should not be found on a sporting motorcycle. The handling is overly conservative for a bike that is supposed to have race track pretensions.

Turns faster

Turns slower. Since the adjuster is threaded on both ends
the adjustment is double what is shown 
in this picture.

Few of these faults will bother most street riders. Track day enthusiasts who wish to push their lap times will probably be able to solve most of the handling faults with some fork work and raising the back of the bike as far as it will go. Racers will need to perform a fair amount of work to build a competitive race bike based on the 999.

Shifter position can be changed by sliding one piece of the shift rod into the other. Shifter cannot easily be
flipped to GP. Footpeg position is adjustable but remain slippery no matter when you put them.

The 999 is a balanced bike which will inspire confidence in most riders by forgiving rider mistakes and offering predictable performance. Riders seeking something a little more challenging will have to wait until Ducati releases the 999 Alla Arrabiata.

Radial master cylinder combines brute force with control. 

Beneath the Red Paint

The 2005 999 has only a few specification changes (see January 2003 issue of RRW for the complete write up of the 999) from 2004. The engine gets new cams, new crankcases, new oil sump, new pulse generators and a vented timing belt cover. The chassis gets a new stiffer swingarm and a bigger windshield.

Venerable twin with shower fuel injection.

The cams kick up the power on the 2005 999 to 140bhp from 124 bhp in 2004. In 2004 these cams were standard fitment to the S model. The '05 cams have more lift and duration. The intake has .56mm more lift and 16 degrees more duration. The exhaust has 1.03mm more lift and 14 degrees more duration. These cams will retro fit to the 2004 999 but it might be a pricey proposition.

Bolt secures coil to prevent vibration from wearing the insulation and shorting the coil to the head like the
some other *cough* R6 bikes.

To avoid oil starvation the '05 is fitted with a deep sump oil pan and to reduce the temperature of the timing belts the engine now has a ventilated ram air timing belt cover.

It's insulated but you should still get the mono-posto.

The 2005 crankshaft is manufactured in a difference manner to reduce the number of oil passages which much be drilled. This has allowed the crankshaft to be a little lighter. The 999 also has a different pulse generator wheel to deliver a cleaner signal to the ECU for more accurate fueling and ignition.

Yeah but can you say desmosedici

The swingarm is now manufactured with compound construction so the stamped side plates are welded to a cast front section and forged axle holders. The weight is down 3.4 percent while torsional stiffness is up 27%.

The '05 comes with a taller windshield and the still controversial bodywork is formed from a different material allowing for the fairing to be slightly thinner and lighter.

This is an expensive piece of equipment. It is thousands more than the Nipponese sport bikes which, although the 999 has more class and style, it also has sub par performance. The 999 is available in black or red for $17,995. The S version (3 more bhp, ohlins suspension) is $22,995.

che figata


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