2005 MV Agusta F4 vs. Ducati 999R |Let’s take a look back to 13-years ago when two of the hottest exotica motorcycles were the Ducati 999R and the MV Agusta F4 Ago. Here’s a retro review…excuse the lack of photos but they got lost somewhere!Two of the very finest, highly pedigreed superbikes bred carefully by two very different Italian manufacturers take the term “exotica” to another level. These two machines are very much alike—though clearly very different.
Superbike Motorcycle Comparison
For 2005, Ducati decided to make its most concerted racing effort on American soil since Texan Doug Polen and Australian Troy Corser each took the top spots in 1993 and 1994 respectively. This year, England’s Neil Hodgson will join American Eric Bostrom in a program committed to regaining the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) Superbike Championship aboard the proven Ducati Corse 999R factory racers.However, a rule book proviso requires that any manufacturer wishing to compete in AMA-sanctioned Superbike events must make at least 300 machines—of a similar specification to those racing—available to the general buying public. This homologation requirement prevents factories from campaigning exotic “one-off” machines that would hopelessly outclass the other runners in the series. Consequently, the potent, limited-production R version joins the standard Ducati 999 and the updated S-models on showroom floors this year.The connoisseur/consumer is now provided an opportunity to purchase a racing-spec, road-legal motorcycle that otherwise would simply be unobtainable. The Ducati 999R is the closest thing a mere mortal will come to owning and riding the machines about to be proffered on the starting line by Ducati Corse. Thanks to the AMA National Series and Ducati’s uncompromising commitment to racing, every 999R buyer is arguably a winner by proxy.The centerpiece of the 999R is Ducati’s fabulous eight-valve, 90-degree Testastretta twin with desmodromic valve operation. The 999 “desmo” system is a far cry from Dr. Fabio Taglioni’s original design in the ’50s and ’60s, but the desmo concept—now so closely identified with Ducati—remains a linchpin of Ducati technology. The R-model departs from its 999 stable mates with a radically over-square high-revving engine: 104mm high-compression pistons run up and down on a 58.8mm stroke. The connecting rods are titanium, as are the valves.The engine breathes deeply courtesy of the remarkably efficient Marelli fuel-injection system and dual 54mm throttle bodies. A lofty 12.5:1 compression ratio aids the rapid engine response and similarly helps the engine to produce its claimed 150 hp with 80 ft/lbs of torque.
When experiencing the Testastretta’s potential, its engine fills the air with a mix of mechanical music. The roaring induction, whirring valve-train, clattering clutch and free-flowing exhaust note all engulf the rider. It’s just incredible, and not unlike being aboard a 185 mph soundstage. The robust powerplant responds to the slightest input and produces instantaneous revs and immediate power. Starting at 3,000 rpm, an on-demand power delivery comes with a seriously entertaining surge. The awesome mid-range of the L-twin powerplant rewards smooth riding with jet-like corner exits and minimal gear changes.Typically, strong twins start their acceleration with a torque-rich thrust which progressively tapers down as the engine reaches its redline. With the 999R, the taper seemingly never occurs; the rider senses that the bike is accelerating at an ever-increasing rate—right up to 10,000 rpm, where the rev-limiter signs off the power. When exploring the upper powerband of the R-model, one thing is absolutely clear: The rider becomes the tested subject, not the machine.Ducati continues to refine its traditional, and very effective, tubular steel trellis frame. Structurally, this layout allows the frame to encompass the slender engine very tightly while still affording accessibility. Compared to all its competitors, the 999R has by far the narrowest frame cross-section between the rider’s legs. This dimension, combined with the comfortably low seat height and a straight leg path to the ground, permits even those with short inseams to plant both feet while seated.The riding position, though committed, is far from prone, and in this respect the Ducati seems more approachable and accessible than other high-performance sportbikes. A rider’s reach to the bar spans the low fuel tank and places the pilot in an aggressive, yet somewhat flat attitude. Therefore, the rider fits more “in” the 999R than atop it, and this positioning results in a lower combined center of gravity between man and machine, helping both to work as one.This Ducati has full carbon-fiber bodywork and trim, and the bike carries fully adjustable production-grade Öhlins suspension, both front and rear, with the rear shock attached to a new lighter-yet-stronger swingarm that has been optimized from Ducati’s considerable experience in World Superbike racing. Up front, an Öhlins steering damper is mounted horizontally just above the front of the tank, and the full set of radially mounted cast Brembo brakes are reassuringly powerful.The calipers work on 320mm stainless rotors; this combination provides a tremendous amount of initial stopping bite that requires only a two-fingertip pull at the brake lever. The 999R runs on an exquisite set of Marchesini forged aluminum wheels that save nearly 7 pounds over the ones found on the standard 999 models. Beauty is more than skin-deep, as—although undoubtedly beautiful to look at—these lightweight wheels prove their worth when charging into and around corners, clearly contributing to the light and wonderfully neutral handling characteristics of the Ducati twin.For instrumentation, the R-model has a complete array of programmable electronic displays, housed together with an analog tachometer and digital dashboard. Like the other 999 bikes, the R has an encoded ignition key and switch for anti-theft protection. Lose the key and you’ll have a long and expensive walk back to your dealer.The 999R has enough adjustable features to entertain and challenge its owner for some time. The seat and tank position, fore and aft, can be adjusted and tailored to individual riders, and so can the footpeg and pedal placement. Furthermore, steering rake, rear ride height and wheelbase are all adjustable. Finally, the frame is designed to vary the positioning of the swing-arm pivot. The street-going geometry selected by the factory actually represents a solid starting point and has the 999R ready to ride with minimal compromise, although the Ducati did respond well to an increase in front spring and damping rates, as well as a reduction in rear spring preload and compression damping.Riding the tremendously capable Ducati 999R can open new realms for its willing participant to exploit, and the Bologna twin does this like few other highly tuned production motorcycles. This bike comes to its new owner by way of the racetrack and Ducati’s own racing past. The intent of Ducati Corse for this race-bred machine is to excel on the track—the venue for which this motorcycle was principally designed and purposely built.In a world of perfect justice, the 999R is far too good to waste on the street. It belongs on the track. But wherever the lucky 300 owners elect to use their R-models, they will soon know a simple truth: The 999R is a motorcycle that can better take the measure of its rider than the rider can take the measure of the machine.At Laguna Seca, the quicker-revving 999R delivered not only genre-typical V-twin low-end torque on corner exit, but also the seemingly endless power surge of an inline four at the top of the rev-band. A disciplined throttle hand is needed, but the 999R’s deceptive power became most apparent as I found corners rushing up much faster than I had anticipated. The front brakes were touchy at first, though once accustomed to the minimal finger pressure necessary, braking power and feel were truly excellent.The 999R is the slimmest sportbike I’ve ever ridden, translating into less knee fatigue and therefore less pain. After a hard day at the track, that alone is very alluring for those of us in the older set.The Ducati 999R’s astonishing power and handling demanded respect yet also allow a new level of confidence to be explored. The roads where most owners will ride can only tease with hints of the bike’s potential. Take it to the track.Photography by Kevin Wing
Ducati 999R courtesy of Kaming Ko