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.
In the end, Femmoto '06 was an undeniable success. The participants appreciated the changed dynamic on the track, and Bonnie noticed it as well, saying, "Women seem to be more relaxed with all women on the track." She's planning on the same basic structure for '07, adding cruiser demos on the street and a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course for beginners who want to learn how to ride. So if you're a woman rider or a woman who wants to learn how to ride, mark October 6-7 on your calendar. There is no easier way to transition into the sport of motorcycling, and you might even meet some new friends while you're there. I met one of my best friends there. I'm just glad she gave me a second chance.
Zinging In The Rain
It's so painful a pun I'll apologize in advance, but if there's one thing that can dampen your spirits during a ride, it's rain. Not only does precipitation reduce traction, it hinders your vision and can hide potentially dangerous road hazards, too.
That said, being dressed for the conditions is no less important than having the right technique. First and foremost is a clear (as in un-tinted) face shield that doesn't fog when it's closed; if you have to crack it open to defog, water droplets will run down the inside. Water-shedding chemicals such as Rain-X on the outside of the shield and an antifog treatment on the inside work wonders, and now would be a good time to reinstall that breath deflector you tore out of your helmet because it rubbed on your nose.
Second to clear vision is a warm, dry torso. Water-resistant riding suits can help for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how hard the rain is falling, but any longer than that and you'll need a proper rainsuit. Being cold and wet makes you tense, which can damp out your bike's natural self-centering steering movements and cause instability. Waterproof boots and gloves are a good idea, too, but avoid rain mittens unless they're the lobster-claw type that separates your first and second fingers from your third and fourth; otherwise, you won't be able to brake and blip the throttle while downshifting. Spray-on chemicals such as Scotchgard can lend a degree of waterproofing to most textile garments. And whatever you do, be sure to wear proper protective gear under your rain togs. You'll need it if you'll fall down.
Now that you're outfitted for inclement weather, let's talk about riding in it. The golden rule is: Don't do anything sudden. Be smooth with your steering, throttle and brake inputs so you don't exceed available traction. Short-shift and ride a gear higher than normal to reduce wheelspin. Let the clutch out slowly when downshifting, or engine braking could cause the rear tire to skid or the front to wash out. Allow longer stopping distances. Squeeze the front brake lever lightly at first to transfer weight and then increase pressure. And use the rear brake: Conventional wisdom says up to 100 percent of braking is accomplished via the front brake, but that figure varies in accordance with the percentage of vehicle weight on each tire. In the wet, the rear brake could account for up to 40 percent of stopping power.
Modern streetbike tires work surprisingly well in the wet, but they're not magic. They still need heat in them to work, which takes longer in the wet, particularly if it's cold outside. Don't worry about the slick edges on your supersport tires, either; you'll never lean over that far on the street.
As for the road itself, avoid riding during the first hour after it begins to rain, and longer if it hasn't rained in a few weeks or months. This is the period when oil and gas are washed away, which makes the pavement that much more treacerous. Steer clear of slippery Bott's dots, manhole covers and paint stripes, and don't ride in the center of the lane, particularly at stoplights, because that's where poorly maintained cars and trucks drip oil. Try not to ride in the spray from other vehicles or through puddles, because you won't be able to see road hazards such as drainage grates, seams or potholes. And be mindful of the temperature; if the mercury drops below freezing, park the bike and take the car. There's no safe way to ride on ice.
Heed this advice, practice these techniques and the next time it rains, you won't be half as stressed out about it. You might even learn to like it.
Fortune favors me. First I got this cool job at Motorcyclist, and now I've got my very own long-term test bike. And what better bike for a girl who races a 2005 GSX-R750 than an '06 Gixxer? I'm in pony heaven with endless possibilities ahead. What will I do with my new 750? What won't I do?!
First order of business: Clean it up. For starters, I peeled off the warning labels, removed the side reflectors and mounted the license plate to the plastic rear fender instead of to the metal bracket. A fairing screw had mysteriously gone missing, so I ordered one from the local Suzuki dealer as well as two for the front fender to replace the unsightly reflector stalks. Much nicer.
So far, the bike has been limited to commuter miles, but that's going to change. My next plan of action is to make it track-day-ready: pipe, gearing, brake lines and pads, frame sliders, sticky tires, etc. Stay tuned.
Umbrellas Are Sooo Last Season - Pink Is The New Black At Femmoto 2006
Within the first few hours of meeting Bonnie Strawser, I made a bad impression. She'd invited me to be an instructor at Femmoto 2005, where I was to lead groups of women riders on demo bikes around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Classic Course. Given that the women didn't own these bikes, the pace wasn't as spirited as at a normal track day. The instructors owned theirs, however, and weren't afraid to push them. As the day progressed, some of the male instructors got antsy and started racing one another. Naturally, I wanted to join in the fun, and did so until I was called into the pits for a reprimand. Apparently, Bonnie was none too pleased with our shenanigans.
When Bonnie created Femmoto, her intent was to organize a track day for women to ride together in an environment where competitiveness, aggressiveness and Alpha-dog behavior didn't exist. It was all about girls improving their skills, networking with fellow female riders and having a good time-not getting strafed by racers on hot laps. Needless to say I screwed up, and for several weeks after the event Bonnie heard nothing but apologies from me. Fortunately, our peace talks ended with a simple and logical solution: Femmoto '06 would have all female instructors, and I'd coordinate the recruiting effort.
Rounding up enough women riders to serve as instructors was no small task. Femmoto began as a one-day event in '01 but has grown considerably, the '06 edition expanding to two days with no fewer than 330 participants. More manufacturers are attending as well, newcomers Ducati and Moto Guzzi joining perennial supporters Aprilia, Buell, Kawasaki and Kymco in acknowledging the rapidly growing female market. In addition to demo rides on the roadrace track, the '06 event also featured supermoto and motocross demos. This is arguably the most important event of the year for female riders, and I had to find competent instructors. Fortunately, between instructing at track days and club racing, I'd met several talented women who were eager to volunteer their time. Between my contacts and Bonnie's-plus two of Sportbike Track Time's East Coast instructors, Michelle Stone and Sallie Inch-we assembled a full team. It would be the first edition of Femmoto with a 100 percent female cast.
Preconceived notions were numerous. Some thought it would be a bloodbath of girl racers trying to prove they're the fastest. Others pictured gaggles of beginners in pink leathers wobbling around the racetrack. And a few imagined it was some sort of gay pride rally on wheels. Truth is, this track day was no different than any other. There were competitive riders, slow riders, know-it-alls who couldn't be taught a thing, riders who tried to drag their knee before they knew how to counter-steer and those who were confident and smooth. There was no gender distinction, especially for the instructors who saw everyone incognito-it was all helmets, leathers and bikes.
So, what made Femmoto '06 special? In a word, inspiration. What I saw through my helmet visor was unforgettable: I witnessed women being inspired by other women, learning from each other, riding new bikes, networking and laughing. I watched Jessica Zalusky, AMA Pro roadracer, rail through turns smoothly and effortlessly at a pace no other rider could match. I watched Michelle DiSalvo, AMA Pro supermoto racer, back it into a hairpin with smoke pouring off her rear tire, then accelerate off the corner into a near-vertical wheelie. I needed a Botox injection to smooth my smile lines! I never made it to the motocross track, but girl after girl returned from there delighted after taking lessons from AMA Pro motocross racer Tania Satchwell. This is what Femmoto is all about. If this year's participants weren't inspired by something or someone, they should check their pulse to see if they're still alive.