2003-2006 Ducati 999 | Smart Money

By Jerry Smith, Photography by Ducati

Ducatis often inspire two conflicting impulses: one to ride the wheels off them; the other to put them in glass cases to show them off. The 999 largely failed to inspire either riders or collectors. Some blame the Pierre Terblanche-penned styling, which looked oddly rounded and old-school alongside the visually arresting 916. Others point to the adjustable ergonomics as the reason the bike was spurned by hardcore sport riders, who preferred their bikes to dictate the riding position rather than vice-versa.

Whatever the reason, the 999 fell through the cracks when it was introduced. Now, however, it’s a great introduction to the Ducati legend; one that doesn’t ask for more than you’re willing to give, yet gives you more than you might have expected in return.

There were three versions of the 999: the base model; the 999S with upgraded suspension; and the limited-edition 999R, a homologation special built for racing in the U.S. In 2005, the 999 and 999S were given a World Superbike-style cast- and sheet-aluminum swingarm and a power bump up to a claimed 140 horsepower, thanks to cams with more lift and duration, a lighter crankshaft, and a deep, race-style oil sump.

Reliability is a sore issue with some exotics, but the 999 seems to have a better record than most. Electrical issues are typically minor––blown fuses, bad relays, and a few malfunctioning instrument panels. The oil seals on Öhlins suspension components bear frequent examination. If you ride in the rain be prepared to put in some extra garage time cleaning the fork legs and the low-hanging fasteners to prevent corrosion.

The 999 might not be the best-handling sportbike in the world, but it’s high up on the list. The front wheel sticks to the road like perfectly cooked pasta to a wall, and the four-pad Brembos are strong enough to slam your eyeballs against the inside of your faceshield.

Owning an enthusiast motorcycle doesn’t make you an enthusiast, so even more than most used sportbikes, older Ducatis in particular should be examined very carefully. Start with service records. Unless there’s a Ducati service school diploma on the wall of the seller’s garage, no records should equal no sale. Next, check for signs of excessive hoonage. Crash damage is a red flag, of course. Look closely at the oil cooler for leaks, and do whatever it takes to get a test ride so you can make sure the clutch doesn’t slip. The stock Brembo brake pads work well and last a long time, but drop to a knee to see if they’re near the end of their life. Same goes for the tires, which are typically pricey and short-lived if the bike is ridden as it’s meant to be. Check the brake rotors for corrosion and scoring while you’re down there.

The Biposto models have a removable cowl over the passenger section of the seat and a pair of insanely high-mounted pillion pegs. These are less desirable to certain Ducatisti, sometimes making for a bargain.

Forget the poor sales back in the day. A classy, classic, affordable buy today.

Guys on new Ducatis will sneer. Let ‘em. Then compare monthly payments. You win.

Watch For
Spotty or non-existent service records, signs of abuse, glitchy instrument panels.

Big bang for the buck. Can be finicky, but is definitely worth it.

2003 | $6080
2004 | $6695
2005 | $7345
2006 | $9393 (999S)

Buying Smart
Even if you’ve spent your entire riding life working on your own bikes, you could be shocked by the price of the parts and special tools it takes to work on an exotic like the 999. Special knowledge, too, since desmo valve adjustment can be less of a science and more of an art—a dark art, at that. If you’d rather not get your hands dirty, you’ll want to make sure there’s a qualified dealer nearby, or that the tires on your trailer are pumped up.

By Jerry Smith
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