An EVOlution of power, aerodynamics and
style, for a dream Ducati which is
more competitive and powerful than ever Based on the motorcycle representing Ducati
in this year's American Superbike Championship
(AMA), the 999R has been significantly
upgraded for the American market.
A new front fairing, new rear swing
arm and suspension, a major upgrade to
150 horsepower for the engine are all
intended to reinforce the bike's
Superbike status. AMA technical regulations allow fewer
modifications to the engine than the
international Superbike regulations so Ducati,
which returned to the AMA championship
this year, has produced an engine with
technical characteristics that are much
closer to those of the racing version. The new 999R is yet another step
forward in Ducati tradition, which has
always been characterised by the manufacture
of series production bikes similar to
their race versions not only in
styling, but also in technical features.
With the arrival of the 2005 model, the differences between the
999R and Ducati's competition bikes have almost disappeared. The R features the
latest, most advanced Testastretta engine, radically redesigned from the cases
up. The result is an engine that delivers 150 HP, the most power of any Ducati
production engine and a safe bet for anybody who wants a bike that leaves the
The race-ready 999R confirms Ducati's determination to bring their production
Superbikes closer to their official racing machines.
In terms of power, efficiency and weight, the 999R is equipped with the best
components currently in production.
Customise your new Superbike with Ducati accessories. Working closely with R&D
and the Corse race team, Ducati builds motorcycle accessories that let owners
create their own Dream Bikes. With a passion for design innovation and new
materials, Ducati itself has become the industry reference point for the finest,
custom Ducati accessories available.
2005 has been an exceptional year for Ducati Superbikes, the range having been
completely rEVOlutionised with a series of stylistic and functional refinements
and, above all, with a general upward shift in terms of power ratings and
performance in both engine displacements and all versions. The 749 and 999
machines have been made more aggressive, edging closer to the dividing line
between the street bikes and the official machine used on the world's
For the Superbikes manufactured in Borgo Panigale, 2006 will be dedicated to
digesting the generational shift, which has taken place just two years from the
launch of the new series, with the numerous innovations and refinements
introduced in 2005.
The decision to rEVOlutionise the machines was driven by the return of Ducati to
the North American AMA Superbike Championship, which has more stringent rules
than European championships with regard to modifications to mechanical parts and
chassis: the new model is a result of the efforts aimed at creating a machine
that would be race-ready straight off the production line, with a large number
of adjustments for attitude and riding position, while also being suitable for
use on the road. The result is a superbly contemporary range that is highly
sophisticated and able to meet the most demanding sports rider with the basic
equipment of the 749 and 999, and gradually approaching the S and R versions in
a series of EVOlutionary steps. This brings us to the current state of the art,
with the top of the range position occupied by a 999R packing a massive 150 HP,
proposed for 2006 also in a Xerox replica version, sporting the colours of the
"official" SBK ridden by James Toseland and Regis Laconi.
The Ducati sports machines share aesthetics based on the concept of racing
aerodynamics, with fairings that are highly effective also at extreme speeds.
That's the thinking behind the development of a new upper fairing, designed to
protect the rider's head and shoulders and eliminate air turbulence. The
fairing, which is higher and wider than its predecessor to increase the level of
protection, joining a tapered lower section of the body, equipped with a pair of
sweeping wrap-around and highly effective deflectors. Protection of the rider is
one of the key concepts of the latest generation of Ducati machines: the absence
of air turbulence makes the cockpit more comfortable - an important factor when
riding in traffic and offering significant benefits on the racetrack because
stress and fatigue levels are reduced, allowing riders to achieve consistently
fast lap times for longer. The unforgiving stopwatch has amply proved this
The styling and aerodynamic strategies adopted are just two of the factors used
to achieve the close relationship between competition and series production
machines. The box-section swingarm - very light and with very high torsional
strength - comes from the world championship experience in the Superbike class
and is the most EVOlved solution for road riding and for the racetrack, apart
from adding to the already mean appearance of the 749 and 999. Style and
function are also reflected in the exhaust silencer, which is integrated into
the rear fairing and protected by a black anodised aluminium cover, and also in
the ergonomics of the machine and the multiple possibilities for adjusting rider
position. Since their introduction in 2002, the current Ducati Superbikes have
been characterised by the ability to modify the positions of the handlebar
levers and footrests, and also the facility to adjust steering head rake to two
positions, a feature that is unavailable on any other sports machine on the
There's also one final detail worthy of note: fore-aft adjustment of the
seat-tank unit on single-seater versions of the machines. These unique features
make the 749 and 999 the production machines that, of all the bikes currently on
the market, are the closest to the thoroughbred race versions.
The sports personality of these machines are also reflected in the engines, with
the impressive twin cylinder engine bringing sheer performance prowess to all
equipment versions. These results have been achieved while keeping a close watch
on environmental concerns: all the twin cylinder engines, including the 150 HP
mounted on the 999R, comply in full with stringent Euro2 regulations.
Just a glance is enough to recognise a no-holds-barred solo machine, designed
expressly for use on the racetrack at the highest level of competition. The
engine hails from the Testastretta series, while the solutions adopted for the
chassis equipment are among the most EVOlved and extreme in the world of
Superbikes, meeting with the approval of the most discerning racers.
IT DOESN'T LOOK ALL THAT DIFFERENT...
Yes, at first glance the new 999R looks basically identical to the '04
model, of which only a handful were officially imported into the U.S. That's
mostly because externally, the only real change is the elimination of the
holes in the upper fairing and the leading-edge "flow conveyors" that were
aimed at smoothing the fairing's airflow for better aerodynamics.
Ironically, this change came from experimentation on the factory Corse WSB
racebikes to address rider complaints of excessive buffeting at high speed;
the supposed result is much better stability at triple-digit velocities. The
windscreen has also been reshaped and is taller, which removes the problem
of the edge obscuring the dash that we complained about with the 999.
The big changes were reserved for the 999R's testastretta 999cc V-twin
engine. The highly oversquare bore/stroke configuration of 104 x 58.8mm
(versus the standard 999's 100.0 x 63.5mm setup that displaces 998cc) is
identical to last year's, but major revisions were made to the cylinder head
and other internal components. The compression ratio is increased
incrementally from 12.3:1 to 12.45:1 using new pistons with reshaped faces
to aid in better combustion with the relatively huge bore and single spark
plug. Instead of the usual individual cutouts for each valve in the piston
face that provide adequate clearance during high-rpm operation, the new
999R's pistons use a single longitudinal cutout for each pair of intake and
exhaust valves. Ducati engineers found that with the engine's large bore and
resulting shallow combustion chamber, the "flame front" of each burning
combustion charge was slightly impeded by the ridge between each singular
valve cutout; by using one larger cutout for both valves, combustion is
quicker and more complete, providing increased thermodynamic efficiency (in
other words, a better and more complete burn for more power at all rpms).
The cylinder head features larger titanium valves (intakes grow to 42mm from
40mm, exhausts up to 34mm from 33mm). With such large valve sizes, the
weight savings garnered by changing to titanium were pretty significant: The
intake valves are 36 percent lighter, while the exhaust poppets are 39
percent lighter than their stainless steel counterparts. More aggressive
cams are used on both the intake and exhaust sides (1.3mm more lift on the
intake, 1.2mm on the exhaust, along with slightly more duration and
overlap), with new half-cone retainers that were first introduced on the new
749R ensuring positive actuation from the trademark desmodromic valve
system. The new valve retaining system contributes to the lighter valves by
enabling the use of thinner stems (6mm versus 7mm).
The combustion chamber is also redesigned, with the larger valves moved away
from the cylinder walls to prevent "shrouding" at lower valve lifts that can
hamper combustion-chamber filling efficiency; however, due to the larger
valve sizes, the valves themselves were moved farther apart from each other
to ensure adequate metal between the valve seats. The included valve angle
remains unchanged at 25 degrees total, however. In order to help prevent the
aforementioned valve shrouding, the valve seats are also raised
incrementally into the combustion chamber. This required compensating for
the lost combustion chamber volume; thus, to keep the compression ratio in
check, the piston has a slightly lower deck height.
A new, more powerful Magnetti Marelli ECU controls the engine management
system, offering greater memory and faster computational capacity for racing
applications. The injectors are now 12-hole (instead of the older four-hole)
units for improved fuel atomization.
The titanium connecting rods are attached to a lighter crankshaft scaling in
at 8.6 pounds from the previous 9-pound unit. The crank counterweights are
now "knife-edged" to enable them to cut through the crankcase oil froth more
easily, reducing internal windage power losses. The counterweight's
different shape was made possible by a more efficient "cross-drilled" oil
passage pattern, which also provided the side benefits of less machining and
fewer internal oil galley plugs for better reliability.
All this engine work boosts power significantly, with the new 999R pumping
out a claimed 150 crankshaft horsepower at 9750 rpm, versus the previous
999R's 139 horsepower at 10,000 rpm. Note that the changes to the new motor
have resulted in a slightly lower power peak, indicative of more efficient
power production. It should also be noted that since the 999R is street
legal for road use in the U.S., this power is produced with the dual
catalyzers and street mufflers in the exhaust.
There are some minor changes to the suspension for '05. The 43mm inverted
hlins fork has revised damping and spring rates, along with a new top-out
spring to aid stability accelerating over bumpy pavement. The fork spring
also uses a new internal spring guide made from hard plastic; by keeping the
spring from bending torsionally, the internal guide is claimed to provide
less friction as well as less metal debris in the oil from metal-to-metal
contact with the inside of the fork tube. The rear hlins shock now has a
one-way valve in the rebound piston, allowing rebound damping to be isolated
from the influence of the compression damping adjuster.
OK, MORE POWER...
BUT IS IT BETTER?
Ducati reps fitted all the test 999Rs with Michelin's excellent Pilot Race 2
DOT rubber, so we knew the tires surely weren't going to be the limiting
factor during the track riding introduction. And with Mazda Raceway at
Laguna Seca's roller-coaster layout, we were ensured of being able to put
the Ducati's chassis and suspension through their paces.
Noticeable right off the bat is the new 999R's revvier motor. We haven't
ridden the previous 999R, so we don't have a comparative sense there, but
relative to the 999S we recently tested ("Twin Pipes," September '04), the R
model devours the upper portion of its rev range far quicker. Throttle
response was crisp and snappy without being overly sensitive, and there was
no fluffy carburetion down low like we've found in some other race-oriented
Ducati twins. Usable grunt can be found as low as 4500 rpm, with a serious
midrange lunge beginning at 6500 rpm transcending into a zippy yet smooth
top-end charge that will have you slamming into the 11,000-rpm rev limiter
(which, incidentally, has the same abrupt onset as the 749R's) surprisingly
quick--quick enough that you need to be on your toes in the lower gears to
avoid repeatedly bouncing into the limiter. Although there's plenty of
overrev available, you can feel the power tapering off at 10,250 rpm, so
revving the piss out of the motor doesn't really get you any more speed.
In fact, you have to force yourself to not ride the Ducati like a
four-cylinder because of its quick-revving nature, instead using its
long-legged midrange to carry a gear higher through corners to keep up
momentum. Ridden as such, the 999R will make serious time in a very subtle
manner compared to the frenetic visceral sensations of a four-cylinder.
Aiding in this deceptive production of speed is a remarkably agile chromoly
steel-trellis chassis using the standard 999's geometry numbers, along with
the expectedly superb hlins suspension action. However, with the engine's
added power, proper suspension and chassis setup is critical for stability.
Until we cranked in enough rear spring preload and compression damping to
get some front-end weight bias under hard acceleration, the 999R would
seriously shake its head even over smooth pavement, despite stiffening up
the hlins steering damper to quell the swapping bars.
We originally started off with the steering head set to the more radical
23.5-degree angle, thinking it would provide more front-end weight bias and
quick turning characteristics. Front-end feedback was OK with this setup,
but sometimes tended to get a little numb when really pressed through Laguna
Seca's fast turns. We then changed to the conservative 24.5-degree rake
angle setting and found a marked improvement in cornering stability and
feedback, especially through the aforementioned fast corners, such as the
bumpy, downhill Rainey Corner heading down from the Corkscrew. There was
only a barely noticeable increase in steering effort, and once dialed in,
the 999R offered up excellent stability combined with surprising agility.
Braking into the slow Turn 11 at Laguna Seca had us wishing for a slipper
clutch, however, as the rear end would chatter no matter how carefully we
fed out the clutch. This was somewhat exacerbated by the Ducati's relatively
tall gearing, which made using first gear unavoidable. When asked why the
999R didn't come with the slipper unit now becoming ubiquitous among
race-oriented machinery (including Ducati's own 749R), chief engineer Andrea
Forni replied that "because the World Supersport regulations forbid changing
the clutch, it was included with that particular model. Current superbike
rules allow clutch replacement, however, so we figured that since the 999R
is a streetbike, any owner who needed one for competition use could easily
fit one if he so desired." Streetbike in concept, maybe...
Braking from the radially mounted four-pad Brembo calipers biting on 320mm
discs was excellent, with a very linear response and feel at the lever.
However, we'd prefer slightly more progressive action, as the brakes became
very high effort the harder we rode, which tended to cause fatigue during
longer sessions. We're sure this issue can easily be corrected with
different brake pads.
SO IS IT WORTH IT?
Well, that obviously depends on your priorities. The new 999R is a
limited-production homologation model with a race-ready pedigree, so it's
not cheap by any means: One of these prized Ducatis will set you back a cool
$30,000. What you get for your 30 large is the pinnacle of V-twin technology
and performance, though, so the usual aspects of panache and exclusivity
inevitably apply here. It should also be noted that if you purchase one, you
will supposedly be given first priority at placing an order for the
Desmosedici RR MotoGP streetbike--that alone is literally worth the price of
admission in our opinion (given the fact that if you can afford this, the
Desmosedici isn't much of a stretch at all).
NOTE: Any correction or more
information on these motorcycles will kindly be appreciated,
Some country's motorcycle specifications can be different to
motorcyclespecs.co.za. Confirm with your motorcycle dealer
before ordering any parts or spares. Any objections to articles
or photos placed on motorcyclespecs.co.za will be removed upon