Million-dollar performance for $72,500This time I'll do it, I really will. Each time the Desmosedici RR thunders down the long pit straight, I'm muttering to myself inside my helmet, willing myself to hold the throttle open for just a bit longer before braking for the following corner. On a bike with stoppers as powerful as the Ducati's I'm sure I can do it-but I can't quite find the courage. Instead, I find myself sitting up and squeezing the lever, shedding speed with stunning ferocity as I tread down through the gearbox, once again knowing I could have braked later.
That's the one drawback of life aboard the majestic Desmosedici RR: the inevitable feeling that your riding isn't living up to the bike's near-MotoGP level of performance. Then again, it's probably best not to be too brave when you've been allocated just five laps of a half-remembered circuit aboard a bike that costs a cool $72,500. Especially given that the Ducati was already doing over 185 mph and still accelerating hard when you hit the anchors.
Of course you don't have to ride the D16RR blindingly fast all the time, let alone with the skill of a Casey Stoner or Loris Capirossi, but the pressure is definitely on. Especially here: The opportunity to ride this uniquely faithful race replica, the street-legal version of Ducati's mighty, 990cc MotoGP weapon, was always going to be a huge thrill. But doing so at Mugello made it extra-special.
The picturesque Tuscan circuit is the spiritual home of the "Desmo Sixteen." Not just because the track is a short ride over the Apennine Mountains from Ducati's home base in Bologna, but because the brutally powerful V4 racebike has always excelled on that long straight. One of the most memorable sights of Ducati's debut 2003 MotoGP season was Capirossi's Desmosedici motoring past the Hondas of Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi, clocking an all-time record of 206.7 mph en route to a podium finish.
During its four-year life the 990cc Desmosedici won seven races, signing off with Troy Bayliss's win at Valencia in the final round last season. Meanwhile, Ducati had announced a street-legal Race Replica version and unveiled a near-production-ready version. Worldwide orders for the street-legal machine have now topped 1000-300 of which are bound for America-despite the fact that it costs roughly three times as much as the 1098S it deposes as Ducati's flagship.
As the D16RR sat malevolently in a Mugello pit garage in its tire-warmers, it was easy to see what all the fuss has been about: This supposed streetbike looked utterly at home here. Its road-going necessities such as the narrow headlights and mirrors/turn signals barely detract from the race-ready image generated by its sleek red-and-white bodywork, multi-adjustable hlins fork and racer-style digital instrument panel complete with incongruous flashing immobilizer light.
Ducati had brought only two D16RRs to this most exclusive of bike launches. Each took turns sitting in a pit garage while the other was ridden. With my ride scheduled for early afternoon, that left plenty of time to examine the host of impossibly classy details that help elevate this bike from exotic to truly exceptional. That hlins FG353P fork, for example, is unique for a streetbike in that it features reservoirs that allow pressurized damping for improved performance. The tube running across from the front brake master cylinder is a remote adjuster that can be used while riding-another MotoGP touch. So, too, is the self-supporting tailpiece, made from carbon fiber apart from its black ceramic top section, which is designed to resist the intense heat of the high-level single muffler. Equally authentic but less high-tech is the thin piece of black foam that provides the only cushioning for a rider not expected to be sitting still for long.
The shape of the carbon-fiber fairing is pure Desmosedici racer, and so is the layout of the 90-degree, DOHC V4 behind it. In standard form, with a catalyzer and Euro3-compliant exhaust that curves up and down through the hefty black-aluminum swingarm, the Ducati produces a claimed 188 horsepower at 13,800 rpm. Both testbikes were fitted with the included non-street-legal accessory muffler which, in combination with a new ECU, lifts peak output to 200 bhp.
That figure is almost identical to the output-in the lower gears, at least-of Bayliss's Valencia-winning Desmosedici racebike I rode at the end of last season, detuned by 20 percent for the press. One significant difference became obvious when the mechanics removed the tire warmers and started the D16RR: Instead of the motor requiring tire rollers to turn it over, it fired instantly with a simple press of the starter button on the right clip-on. It came to life with a gloriously loud, raw V4 bark, albeit slightly less deafening than the MotoGP bike's.
Handling is even better than that of the racer, thanks to settings befitting a real-world
From the fairly low seat the feeling was very much of being on a racebike, though the riding position seemed typical of a hypersport Ducati. The LCD rev bar flicked across the dial with startling speed as I blipped the light-action throttle. After pulling in the light-action clutch and treading into first gear with a slight clonk, I accelerated up pit lane, the bike pulling sweetly from low revs but feeling firmer and racier than a normal supersport.
It was a surreal feeling to exit the pit lane and find myself alone on the Mugello circuit, and a delight to find the bike so supremely taut and controllable that I could tip it into the San Donato hairpin for the first time with total confidence. At a claimed 376 pounds dry, the RR is light but not dramatically so by modern superbike standards, having only a few pounds' advantage over the 1098. But it has a wonderfully precise, scalpel-sharp steering response-and its response to the throttle being wound open was equally immediate and even more breathtaking.
Given that 200-bhp peak output, I'd expected the Desmosedici to feel fast, but even so it was a shock to twist the loud handle and feel the bike storm up the hill toward the left/right Luco chicane, the controlled violence of its acceleration memorably matched by the harsh, barely silenced shriek of its motor. Above the tach was a trio of warning lights that flashed red as the revs approached the 14,200-rpm limit. The Ducati ripped through its close-set gears so rapidly I rarely had time to glance down, hitting the rev limiter a couple times before I learned to shift mainly by sound-and to keep my left boot almost permanently poised under the lever in readiness.
For such a highly tuned near-racebike, the Desmosedici has an impressively wide spread of torque. In conjunction with the superbly crisp throttle response from the Magneti Marelli fuel-injection system, this made it happy to grunt out of turns at a ferocious pace even when I found myself exiting a gear too high. I'm sure it has all the midrange stomp anyone would require for effortlessly overtaking dawdling traffic on the road, though with such limited time on the bike there was no way I was slowing down to evaluate its top-gear roll-ons. I forgot to check the view in the mirrors, too, though I doubt they're any more useful than the 1098's.
The Desmosedici RR felt thrillingly fast everywhere around Mugello, but most of all on that long straight. It was a fantastic feeling to tuck in tight, snick up through the gears and feel the V4 stretch its legs as it stormed to a speed that the onboard Ducati Data Analyzer later showed as 188 mph. That's faster than I managed aboard the factory racer on Valencia's much shorter straight-and there was more to come, to a top speed that would be very close to 200 mph.
Slowing from warp speed for the first-gear San Donato right-hander was an ideal test of the brakes, and the RR's 1098-style Brembo Monoblocs did the job with power, finesse and fade-free reliability. Equally outstanding was the feel as I tipped the bike into the turn: This is a motorcycle that works better the harder it's ridden, thanks largely to the frame's rigidity (torsional stiffness of the steel trellis, which uses four different sizes of tubing, is almost double that of the 1098) and the quality of the suspension, set up to the latest MotoGP standards.
Ironically, I found the D16RR handled even better than the factory racebike, largely due to the streetbike being set up for a typical customer rather than a lightweight MotoGP jockey. Its steering was notable more for its wonderfully neutral feel than for being ultra-quick, thanks to relatively conventional rake and trail figures of 23.5 degrees (in the steeper of its two options) and 3.9 inches, and a 56.3-inch wheelbase that is identical to that of the 1098. The RR needed a definite flick of the handlebars to get it through Mugello's four chicanes, but it was so taut and responsive, backed up by massive grip from the special, super-sticky Bridgestone BT-01 tires, that I can't imagine any streetbike being faster.
The only drawback, if you could call it that, was that the Desmosedici RR doesn't suffer fools. If I made a slightly imprecise move into a chicane, the bike was off-line in an instant-though equally quick to recover. When I shut off and braked too early for the blind Scarperia chicane on my second lap, the Ducati almost stopped in its tracks, its engine spluttering a rude reprimand on the over-run before I hastily accelerated through the right-hander.
It makes you raise your game to do it justice, this most rapid, radical and demanding of race replicas-and the reward when you get it right is a unique and memorable riding experience. The RR's speed, sound and feel are all remarkably close to those of the genuine works racer, so much so that no other production bike can match it, either for excitement or performance. Yet an owner can ride it to work, to the shops or even on holiday, preferably accompanied by a very strong lock. Ducati set out to put its MotoGP missile on the street, and it's done just that.
MotoGP performance for the real world
The V4 engine is a stressed member of the chassis, which is based on a steel-trellis frame in best Ducati tradition. Rake can be altered between 23.5 and 24.5 degrees using the eccentric steering head, as on the 916, while wheelbase measures 56.3 inches (identical to that of the 1098, but longer than the GP6) to aid stability under acceleration. The rear subframe is a self-supporting carbon-fiber structure that Ducati claims is a first for a production streetbike, though Bimota's SB6 featured a similar construction 15 years ago. What is not in any doubt is the RR frame's extraordinary rigidity: Weighing less than 16 pounds, it's 20 percent lighter and 80 percent stiffer torsionally than its 1098 equivalent. The D16RR's aluminum swingarm is also hugely rigid, weighing 10 percent more than its twin-sided equivalent from the 999 but providing 35 percent more torsional stiffness. Overall the RR frame is much closer to that of the MotoGP bike than to any other roadster.
Wheels are ultra-light forged-magnesium six-spokers from Marchesini, the rear an enormous, MotoGP-spec 6.25-incher. At less than 6 pounds front and 9 pounds rear, they're significantly lighter than the 999R's forged-aluminum hoops. Bridgestone developed special BT-01 rubber for the D16RR, featuring a super-soft compound and taller sidewalls. The Japanese firm intended to follow MotoGP fashion with 16.5-inch tires, but was prevented from doing so by U.S. tire-industry regulations, so settled on a conventional 17-inch front and a 200mm-wide, 16-inch rear-both livened up by a tricolore stripe of red, white and green in the center of the minimalist tread.
Although the day when carbon-fiber brake discs will be used by high-end streetbikes is probably not far away, poor wet-weather performance currently prevents the composite material from being used. The RR does, however, use carbon fiber for its bodywork, including all fairing parts, the airbox and air ducts, the front fender and most of the tailpiece. Dry weight is 376 pounds-40 pounds up on the GP6 racer and 4 pounds lighter than the 1098.
The Desmosedici RR has by far the most sophisticated suspension yet seen on a Ducati, or any other streetbike for that matter. Its 43mm hlins fork is the world's first on a production streetbike to feature pressurized damping, courtesy of the remote reservoirs at the bottom of each leg. They are adjustable for high- and low-speed compression damping, as well as for spring preload and rebound damping, and standard settings reflect what is currently being used in MotoGP. The Swedish firm also provides the shock, which sits vertically below the swingarm, with its lower mount connected to the engine via a forged-aluminum plate. Riders in search of the perfect rear-end set-up can choose from 20 settings for low-speed compression damping, 48 for high-speed and 25 for rebound damping, as well as fine-tuning the preload and ride height. There's also an adjustable hlins steering damper, mounted below the left clip-on in traditional style.
The brake system is unique in that the D16RR is the first streetbike to feature a race-style remote adjuster for its radial master cylinder; a tube running to a knob near the left clip-on lets the rider adjust lever span on the fly. The front stoppers are the same Brembo blend of 330mm discs and radial Monobloc calipers used on the 1098. Both front brake and clutch controls incorporate "supple levers" that are designed to hinge under the force of a crash, increasing the likelihood of the bike remaining rideable.
Ducati's first production four-cylinder churns out a mind-boggling 188 bhp.
Like last season's GP6 racer, the Desmosedici RR is powered by a 90-degree V4 with bore and stroke figures of 86.0 x 42.6mm, yielding 990cc. Unlike the current 800cc GP7 racer, it shares the 990's twin-pulse firing order with crankshaft throws spaced 70 degrees apart, giving an irregular 0, 90, 290, 380-degree firing sequence. Although most components have been redesigned for street use, the general architecture, including the desmodromic valvetrain, is similar to that of the racebike. The cams are gear-driven, the rocker arms have a precision-ground finish to reduce friction and the crankshaft is machined from a single lump of forged steel, while the bottom end incorporates a six-speed cassette transmission and slipper clutch. Lightweight titanium is used for valves and connecting rods, the crankcase and cylinder heads are sand-cast aluminum and the engine covers are magnesium-a mixture of sand-cast for the structural cam-drive cover and alternator case, and pressure die-cast for the non-structural oil sump, cam and clutch covers. Fuel injection comes courtesy of four Magneti Marelli 50mm throttle bodies featuring 12-hole injectors, while the exhaust is a 4-2-1 system that sees a pipe run down through a large slot in the aluminum swingarm and then back up again before reaching the catalytic converter and under-seat muffler. Replacing the stock silencer with the race kit alternative saves 10 pounds and adds 12 horsepower, boosting peak output from 188 bhp at 13,800 rpm to 200.
Street-legal evolution of the 990cc Ducati Desmosedici MotoGP racer.
|Price: ||$72,500 |
|Engine type: ||l-c 90-degree V4 |
|Valve train: ||DOHC, 16v, desmodromic |
|Displacement: ||989cc |
|Bore x stroke: ||86.0 x 42.6mm |
|Compression: ||13.5:1 |
|Fuel system: ||EFI |
|Clutch: ||Dry, multi-plate slipper |
|Transmission: ||6-speed, close-ratio |
|Claimed horsepower: ||188 bhp @ 13,800 rpm |
|Claimed torque: ||86 lb.-ft. @ 10,500 rpm |
|Frame: ||Steel trellis with aluminum swingarm |
|Front suspension: ||43mm hlins inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping |
|Rear suspension: ||Single hlins shock with adjustable spring preload, high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping |
|Front brake: ||Dual four-piston Brembo radial calipers, 330mm discs |
|Rear brake: ||Single two-piston Brembo caliper, 240mm disc |
|Front tire: ||120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone BT-01 |
|Rear tire: ||200/55-ZR16 Bridgestone BT-01 |
|Rake/trail: ||23.5-24.5/3.9 in. |
|Seat height: ||na |
|Wheelbase: ||56.3 in. |
|Fuel capacity: ||5.7 gal. |
|Claimed dry weight: ||376 lbs. |
|Color: ||Red |
|Available: ||Now through December 2008 |
|Warranty: ||3 yrs., unlimited mi. |
Ducati North America
10443 Bandley Dr.
Cupertino, CA 95014