2003 Ducati 999
Had Ducati's 999 been the follow-up to, say, the Honda RC51, we have no doubt it would've been an instant smash hit. But instead it replaces the much loved and revered 916-998 series, bikes widely considered to be the most beautiful of the past several decades. But as lovely as that series of bikes is to look at, the legend wouldn't have been created if not for its high level of performance on both the track and the street. That performance is upped with the 999, so there should be much rejoicing. Instead, Ducati has been faced by many who consider its new shape to be a mistake and won't take the bike seriously because of it. Well, all we can tell you is that the 999 is probably the best streetbike Ducati has ever produced, and the whiny poseurs who poo-poo the new design are missing out on a thrilling Italian thoroughbred, cutting off their collective noses to spite their face. I must admit that I, too, was among that crowd of naysayers who judged the 999 on the basis of its appearance. After all, Italy is the epicenter of design, and the Triple-Nine, while delivering a stunning styling statement, is a radical departure from the clean, flowing lines of its predecessors. But as we found our during the press introduction at Willow Springs racetrack, the new Ducati superbike has nothing to fear, functionally, from the old 998. Several days riding on the street (not to mention more track work at a DP Safety School at Infineon Raceway and a bit of amateur drag racing) have solidified our early impressions and even increased them in some ways.First off, let's address some of the styling points of this controversial design of South African Pierre Terblanche. Its lines aren't as sublimely harmonious as the previous bike, but there are many trick elements that please the eye. The tiny fuel tank has an aggressive, multi-faceted look that is mimicked by the minimal and sleek tailsection. Also, many positive comments were made about how the rear cylinder can clearly be seen from the left side underneath the rear of the fuel tank, giving the bike more of a mechanical presence. The area above the rear is gloriously unobstructed thanks to the continued use of silencers set under the rear seat, except this time the single muffler looks like a big toaster. The single-sided swingarm that we all loved from the old bike has been replaced by a one-piece cast double-arm device that weighs the same but is 8% more rigid torsionally. It is also 15mm longer for better stability under braking plus better traction from the rear tire. Its design also has the added benefits of not altering the rear ride height when adjusting chain tension and it keeps the wheel spacers in the same spot when changing tires so it bolts back on with no fuss.
Much time was spent in the wind tunnel to hone the aerodynamics of the Ducati 999. The large muffler is designed to fill the entire underseat area to be even more slippery.
The slots parallel to the lower light ram air into the new, larger pressurized airbox, while the upper slots are either cosmetic or smooth air on a rider's shoulders, depending who you talk to at Ducati.
A 15mm longer swingarm supposedly makes the 999 less wheelie-prone, but the front end won't stay down in first gear with 998cc of V-Twin torque.
Instruments have loads of features, but it's the hollowed-out triple clamp that bystanders always want to talk about. Steering rake can be reduced from 24.5 degrees to 23.5 degrees by changing the steering head insert.