RC51 vs. 999R

What's the price of true twin-cylinder happiness--$30,000 for Ducati's 999R or $16,000 for our hot-rodded Honda RC51?

Trading Honda's standard 15/40 final-drive sprockets for something more realistic--our 16/41 combination, for instance--is essential for anything but autobahn travel. After that, a Kyle Racing shock link adds ride height and suspension compliance to the Honda's rear end, making the single biggest improvement to the RC51's handling. An hlins shock and a Kyle-tweaked fork--both with stiffer springs--help as well. Brakes were plenty strong to begin with and stronger with HRC pads. Although not quite as powerful as the 999R's radial-mount four-pad Brembo front calipers, the RC's front stoppers are more linear and forgiving. The Honda's weight rides lower in the chassis, but there's still more of it. Wrestling those extra 18 pounds down Lockwood Valley Road while trying to keep the more agile Ducati in sight is a very sweaty proposition.

Unraveling tight pavement on the 999R is more of a mental workout. Some bikes reward finesse. This one demands it. Brakes, throttle and steering respond to every action with an instantaneous reaction. That's great if you've got game, but terrifying--or painfully expensive--if you don't. The Ducati's hlins suspension deals with sketchy pavement better than our Honda's current arrangement once you dial it in. New top-out springs in the fork aim to keep the chassis calm when 139 horses lift the front wheel. They also take any remaining slack out of the suspension setup. Proper chassis attitude is critical on both bikes, but more so on the 999R. Too much preload up front or too little in the rear and it runs wide exiting corners. The difference between nirvana and stained shorts is only a few clicks.

That, and the heft of American riders, explains the stiffer springs fitted for the 999R's coming-out party at Laguna Seca. Still, since American roads are quite often imperfectly paved, those springs serve up a rough ride for anyone under 180 pounds. No worries, though. What's a little suspension work when we're talking about a piece of twin-cylinder performance art that could upstage Paris Hilton on an RC51? Saddle it with 215 pounds of motojournalist and the 999R still pulls away, even with a 150-pound waif back there on the Honda.

Still, if you're dodging minivans on the way to work, paying for tuneups, insurance and imposing domestic cutbacks to finance another track day, there are more practical considerations. In that case, the Honda isn't heavy. It's...husky--yeah, that's it--and relatively cheap. Make that dirt-cheap if you buy used. We clicked up a clean '02 RC51 with 2300 miles for $8500 on eBay Motors in three minutes of surfing, and there are plenty of less stellar examples out there for less than that.

In the end, these two expressions of the same idea are as different as Bologna and Tokyo. Ducati's 999R is a fantasy few can afford and fewer have the skills to live up to. Still, for the well-heeled handful who will actually own one, a 999R is the sporting twin. The Honda doesn't look particularly sexy or even remotely Italian. There are plenty of sexy Italian twins out there if that's what you want. For those who prefer function to fashion and two big cylinders to three or four, a carefully sharpened RC51 proves you don't always have to choose between love and money. Sometimes, you get both.

Ducati 999R Honda RC51
PRICE MSRP$29,995$11,599
Typel-c 90-deg. V-twin dohc, 8vl-c 90-deg. V-twin Valve arrangement dohc, 8v
Bore x stroke104.0 x 58.8mm100.0 x 63.6mm
Compression ratio12.5:110.8:1
Final drive#525 chain#530 chain
Weight452 lb. (wet) 427 lb. (fuel tank empty)470 lb. (wet) 441 lb(fuel tank empty)
Fuel capacity4.1 gal. (16L)4.8 gal. (18L)
Rake/trail23.5-24.5 deg./3.82 in. (97mm)23.5 deg./3.7 in. (94mm)
Wheelbase55.9 in. (1420mm)55.9 in. (1420mm)
Seat height30.7 in. (780mm)32.3 in. (820mm)
Front43mm inverted cartridge fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping43mm inverted cartridge fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rearsingle shock adjustable for spring preload, ride height, compression and rebound dampingsingle shock adjustable for spring preload, ride height, compression and rebound damping
Tire, front120/70ZR17 Michelin Pilot Power120/70ZR17 Bridgestone BT014
Tire, rear190/50ZR17 Michelin Pilot Power190/50ZR17 Bridgestone BT014
Corrected 1/4-mile*10.34 sec. @ 134.37 mph10.55 sec. @ 131.6 mph
0-60 mph*3.17 sec.3.14 sec.
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph*2.94 sec.3.31 sec.
Fuel mileage (low/high/average)24/45/3719/45/35
Cruising range (exc. reserve)121 miles140 miles
*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)
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