Road Test: Ducati 999 vs. 998

There’s very, very few bikes that’ll have me getting into my leathers at 7am on a Sunday morning, but here I am at the girlfriend’s place, shunning the snug delights of a breakfast shag followed by breakfast in bed, choosing instead to go for a ride on a motorcycle. At my age? What am I thinking of?

It’s not a regular occurrence, granted. Riding – as we do – motorcycles day in and day out during the week, sometimes (if I’m completely honest with you) the very last thing I want to see at the weekend is a motorcycle. Last time I got up indecently early for a proper weekend blast was when I had the Foggy Replica Ducati 996 SPS all to myself for a weekend.

And this time, coincidentally enough, it’s a brand-new 999 Biposto testbike that’s tempting me out into the Autumn air.

I’ve got the 999 for a full five days, all the way through the August Bank Holiday. I’ve collared a 998 off our good friends at PH Motorcycles in Crawley (01293 413300) by way of comparison, and a 100% Bikes trackday (0870 8722532 or at the legendary Brands Hatch GP circuit.

Does the 999 look better than the 998? Does it go better, does it sound better, does it evoke the same reactions from the passing public? And does it make me – as any 998 still does – want to ride like it’s my last day on Earth, go screw the police and just go plain bananas on road or track?

Well, this is what we’re here to find out.

Looks are the most contentious issue regarding the 999, and it looks totally different to the bike it replaces. Totally. The 998 is tall at the back, low at the front, angular and uncomfortable.

The 999 is remarkably low at the back, rounded and very comfortable. It’s much more waisted at the rear of the tank and the seat unit than the 998.

Looked at from above, the new bike is much more interesting, as the fuel tank slims away to virtually nothing where the rider’s legs go, then broadens out to accommodate the exhaust unit. It’s very 3-D and makes the 998 look stodgy and fat in comparison. The seat unit and exhausts that were so cutting-edge suddenly look old and out-dated on the outgoing model.

But there’s this bizzare marriage of acres of fairing plastic and twisted steel tubes that – regardless of how you look at it – just doesn’t work on the 999. The 998 holds together as one designed unit, looking as tight in the studio today as it did nearly 10 years ago. The 999 goes for some retro/modern fusion thing that, for me anyway, isn’t happening.

Ducati 999

There are some stunning lines on it, but they tend to be located at different points on the bike and never get a chance to gel. Most oft-quoted reference from other bikers was that it looks like a 900SS – which makes sense as the 999’s designer, Pierre Terreblanche, penned that bike earlier in his career.

The two bikes couldn’t feel more different to sit on. The 998 is firm on the suspension and extreme in its ride position, with you perched high atop and pitched forwards. The 999 is much narrower around the tank (like you could touch your knees together) the suspension is pliant, and you sit low at the back.

Infact close your eyes and it could be Japanese. Apart from the saddle, which is as hard as ever.

The view from the saddle is totally different, too. The 998 runs foam-surrounded analogue clocks and neat little mirrors, the 999 has a very nifty digital layout, enormous and yet oddly ineffective mirrors and a curious nipple-light that sits atop the screen. Why it is there, I do not know.

It looks crap and serves no purpose. Still, soon as you get underway things like this cease to annoy.

From the off, the 999 is the better bike to ride. The throttle is wonderfully light after the muscle-grinder fitted to the 998, the footpegs (in the standard position of a possible five) don’t cramp your legs up underneath you, the bike responds instantly to rider commands to turn, the steering is light and the Brembo pad-per-piston brakes merely stunning. The big numbers on the digital dash spin up the instant you accelerate or brake, and all the while that 998 Testastretta engine thrums away underneath.

Ducati 999
Ducati 999
Ducati 999
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