Ducati 998 R

2002 Ducati 998 vs. Aprilia Mille R Conclusion

The Mille’s styling, though voluptuous, is just a little too busy for us, and its slathering of decals somewhat cheapens its appearance. Your mileage may vary. And even though Claudia Schiffer may be at the top of your list, that doesn’t mean you’d turn down a date with Heidi Klum.

Both of these bikes are supermodels in their own right.

Controlling the rear wheel on both bikes is an Ohlins shock. The Mille gets a less progressive shock linkage for 2002 that works with a revalved damper and, combined with the higher swingarm pivot, its rear tire seems to bite harder into the pavement under acceleration than the stiffly sprung 998.

While many street riders would kill to have an Ohlins shock on their bike, we did find details to carp about. The Mille’s rebound adjuster, located at the lower end of the shock, is a pain in the knees to access. By the same token, the 998’s shock preload adjuster is a nightmare to get at, whether by spanner or by the trusted punch and hammer combo.

The R-version of the Mille earns the award of quickest-steering big-bore V-Twin, largely attributed to the OZ Racing forged aluminum wheels. OZ, a supplier to F1 teams, uses an 8000-ton hydraulic press to forge the wheels, resulting in a wheel 25% lighter than a cast aluminum wheel, with no cracks or imperfections.

Riding a standard version of the Mille at the track confirmed the theory that lighter wheels result in a quicker steering bike. Though the two bikes had different tires fitted, which can affect steering qualities, the R-version was much more nimble in a tight flip-flop chicane. The forged wheels, besides looking trick as hell, are worth price as part of the R-version.

The 998’s tall gearing results in one less gearchange than the Aprilia around the Streets course. With a max speed of nearly 130 mph on the track, the top three gears of the 998 don’t get used. Also, the 998’s transmission popped out of first gear twice on compression braking, making for sphincter-puckering moments.

Unlike cruiser riders, sportbike fans care only about performance and don’t care a whit about the appearance of their bike, right? Well, despite what most of us might say publicly, how a bike looks is a major factor in a sportbike purchaser’s decision.

The Mille’s shorter gearing necessitates an extra gear change, often making for harder corner exits through better torque multiplication. And even going in a gear high, like the slow, 35-mph Turn 4 in second gear, the wide powerband still allows the bike to torque away with authority.

While the Mille gets through the tight stuff a bit quicker, the 998 comes into its own in fast sweepers. Its lack of nimbleness pays off with high-speed stability, and the Duc carves into corners like its front wheel is following an ordained path.

The 998, though, is not a bike for a gentle rider. It demands a firm and sure hand to command it what to do, and it does not suffer fools gladly. The Mille is simply easier to ride than the aggressive Ducati.

This is no better illustrated by lap times. The greater horsepower and torque of the 998 catapults it harder when the road opens up, but there’s just two places on the track where it can be fully exploited. Conversely, there are four slower sections of the track that demand quick steering and acceleration from lower speeds.

Ducati 998 R
Ducati 998 R

The tale of the stop watch says the Mille had the best combination of power and flickability on the Streets track, though just barely. Its best lap was 0.16-second quicker than the 998, and perhaps more important, it was easier to string together consistent laps. A trip to the much higher-speed Willow Springs big track would’ve likely swung the victory to the more powerful Ducati, but that’s an environment far removed from street riding which, despite racy pretensions, is where these bikes will spend the vast majority of their time.

2002 Ducati 998

And this brings us to the topic that decides this comparison test: How and where will you use your Italian Twin?

You’re the perfect candidate for the Ducati if: you like to spend weekends on the racetrack; ride less than 150 miles a day, usually only on weekends; have fallen for Ducati’s legendary and historic racing mystique; or have the need for people to look admiringly at your bike (or you).

The Aprilia is the fitting choice for those who: need enough comfort to ride several times a week, often for day-long sorties; desire trick bits slathered on your bike; and root for the youthful racing underdog.

Simply put, the Aprilia RSV Mille makes a better streetbike than the Ducati 998. If you want more comfort, high-style and rare hardware, the exotic R-version of the Mille will never disappoint. The Ducati 998 Testastretta counters with eye-grabbing styling, more power, and affiliation with the most dominating World Superbike race heritage in history.

Now, how many boxes of mac and cheese would I have to eat to come up with 17 grand.

Check out the Road and Track for the 2002 Ducati 998 vs. Aprilia Mille R.

Ducati 998 R
Ducati 998 R
Ducati 998 R
Ducati 998 R
Ducati 998 R
Ducati 998 R
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