Off the Record
Height: 5 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 160 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.
How close is a $15K Honda RC51 (with mods) to a $30K Ducati 999R? Clearly the 999R is the best Ducati I've ever ridden and quite possibly the best production sportbike around. It's small, light, handles great and is fast, fast, fast. The 999R explodes out of corners thanks to its stock 139 hp and 427 pounds. Watch out on those exits, though, or the 999R will spin the rear wheel, lift the front, or both. Its engine revs fast and free with huge torque everywhere. Torque like a twin and fast-revving like a four, what's not to like? The front brakes bite hard and take a little getting used to; I wanted them to be a bit more linear. Marchesini wheels shed a lot of spinning mass, which makes directional changes quick and effortless. Ducatis aren't known for comfort, and my wrists and neck hurt, but in this case, who cares? Just make sure you spend the time to set up the suspension properly. On the 999R it makes a big difference.
The RC51 was more comfortable. It's noticeably heavier, harder to turn, not as quick and it makes power in a smaller rev band. The RC51 wasn't bad, though. Because of its heft, it was more forgiving of rider movements while at speed. It also had more engine braking, which I tend to like for both street and track riding. It's wider, therefore easier to lock your body into while cornering. Any shortcomings the RC51 had were only apparent when we swapped bikes on the test, but the gap was large.
Height: 6 ft.
Weight: 220 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.
With track days having become such a big part of the sportbike experience, it makes sense to cover these two bikes in that context. Both are obviously excellent at the racetrack game, though they do their best business in different ways. The Honda's talents lie primarily in its battleship stability. Get this thing set up correctly and even the most brutally jerky or ham-fisted rider will have trouble upsetting the RC's chassis. The bike's weight and longish wheelbase help keep it settled over rough pavement even at big speeds, and with its broad spread of less-than-startling power, you're never worried about overcooking things at the exit of corners. Even though our hopped-up test bike is both lighter and faster than a stocker, the RC retains its reassuring, stable posture. Which says a lot about the goodness of the bike's chassis.
As I wrote a couple of months back, the 999R feels more like a genuine racebike. In fact, with 139 horsepower at the rear wheel, this R model produces about what Scott Gray's factory Ducati 955 made back in '94 when I rode it during practice at the Laguna Seca AMA National. Narrow, light-feeling, brutally fast and feedback-intensive in a way only a racer can be, the Duck is all business, and is easily the most entertaining stock motorcycle I've ever ridden at the track. The feel, the sound, the way it makes power, the way it brakes and corners...just amazing. Expensive, yeah, but probably worth every penny.