The 999's cardinal sin was its blatant divergence from Massimo Tamburini's sacrosanct 916. That was an offense hard-core Ducatisti could not forgive, making the bike a showroom underachiever. Then-Ducati design boss Pierre Terblanche is still seen as a heretic, but only among those who spent more time critiquing photos of the 999 than riding one. Italophiles obsessed with the uncomfortable, temperamental twins of yore won't like it either. At $17,695 it was pricey in '03, but if function is at least as important as form, the 999 is worth a long, hard look.
As opposed to the 916/996/998 lineage, Terblanche's work is more accommodating in every sense. Adjustable footpegs are a blessing, especially if you're tall. Bars are low but closer to the flatter seat, putting less weight on hands and wrists. Wind protection is a dramatic improvement. The 999 offers a balanced, rational package with more stability and agility than the 998. A longer, double-sided swingarm shifts weight forward, keeping the front tire planted when you're on the gas. Steering is relatively light. Brakes are excellent. Mirrors are useless, and the seat is hard. Stock Showa suspension is about perfect for the street, though firmer springs help at track days.
Peel back Terblanche's contentious skin and the 999 is unquestionably superior to its ancestors. Comprised of 230 fewer parts than the 998 (credit the CAN-line electronics), the 999 is a much more balanced, pragmatic approach to Italian exotica.
The engine isn't really a 999. These two 100.0 x 63.5mm cylinders-topped by narrow-angle Testastretta heads-add up to 998cc. The true 999cc twin uses 104.0 x 58.8mm jugs to make 139 rear-wheel horses and resides exclusively in the 999R. Still, the 468-pound (wet) standard 999 put out a respectable 119 rear-wheel horses on our dyno at 10,000 rpm-less than Honda's 124-horse RC51, but more than Aprilia's 113-pony Mille. And armed with serious thrust between 6000 and 10,000 rpm, the 999 is the easiest to ride quickly on the street.
As for reliability, Tom "TJ" Jackson at Southern California Ducati says the Testastretta twin is only as reliable as the mechanics ministering to it. The 999 is allergic to neglect, so look for one that's been maintained by a reputable wrench. Jackson says the regular 6000-mile service-a seven-to eight-hour job-usually costs about $750. Though affordability is relative at that rate, few bikes on the planet match this one on a twisty road or racetrack. And once the lower-priced, higher-horsepower 1098 arrives, expect a bear market for the 999. Since it has evolved visually and mechanically since 2003-the `05 model got a load of improvements and 16 more horsepower-go for the most recent vintage you can afford. If anyone asks, you're worth every nickel.
Sneaky-Fast On The Street, With Surprisingly Plush Showa Suspension, Adjustable Ergos And Great Brakes.
Gawky-Looking In Its Freshman Year, But So Was Heidi Klum. Exhaust Heat Roasts Various Extremities. Mirrors Are Pathetic.
Maintenance By Amateur Doctors Of Desmodromics, Bad Crankcase Breather.
True Beauty Is In The Way This One Reels In Twisty Pavement: Much Easier Than Massimo's Elder Magnum Opus.
2003 - $11,290
2004 - $12,100
2005 - $12,930
In our July 2006 issue, I slammed Yamaha's second-generation FZ1 pretty hard, calling it "a great overall design let down badly by Yamaha's testing folks." Commuting on it lately has confirmed that opinion. But despite my harsh tone, I finished on a more positive note: "Still, with some tweaks, the new Fizzer could be a great naked bike."
Well, the time has come. Pressured by El Jefe Catterson to give up my dream of a long-term Ducati Monster S4R (he's angling for a 1098 Superbike, and two Testastretta-powered long-termers is one too many), I've agreed to accept the challenge of transforming the harsh- riding, ratchety-responding, gotta-rev-it FZ1 into the polished, wild- eyed naked bike it should have been when it debuted nearly a year ago
I'll likely start with the suspension, fork internals and a shock being easier to nail on the first go-round than cam timing, fuel-injection, etc. Looks like I'll have to do a little investigation on the comprehensive FZ1 Owners' Association Web site (www.yamahafz1oa.com) to see what's what.