Last October on The Tonight Show, Jay Leno asked comedian Katt Williams what he thought about the downturn in the U.S. economy. "We're going into a recession, America," Williams said. "Buy yourself something nice before it happens."
That may not be the best financial advice ever given, but there's wisdom in those words. If you're not going to buy the motorcycle of your dreams now, then when? Sure, your mortgage interest rate just doubled, your 401K is worth half what it was a year ago and there are rumblings of layoffs at work. So what? Gas is back down to $2 per gallon. Every cloud has its silver lining.
Or gold, or platinum, as in the two uber-Ducatis shown here. Neither the $39,995 1098R nor the $72,500 Desmosedici RR lays claim to being the most expensive sportbike on the market-that distinction goes to the $120,000 MV Agusta F4CC-but both represent their respective pinnacles of race-bred engineering. The former is the World Superbike homologation special that just propelled Troy Bayliss to his third world title, while the latter is patterned after the MotoGP-winning 990cc Desmosedici GP6 of 2006 vintage. No matter how much money you spend, you're not going to find a street-legal motorcycle with a purer racing pedigree.
But the question remains: Which is the one to have if you can only have one? To answer that question, we arranged for one example of each to be delivered to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where we hoped to test the day after the inaugural Red Bull Indy Grand Prix. Unfortunately, while speedway officials granted us access to pit lane for a static photo shoot, they ultimately denied our request to test there. Thankfully we had a backup plan: an all-Ducati track day presented by Ducati Indianapolis and Sportbike Track Time at nearby Putnam Park. No, it wasn't the world-famous Brickyard, but it was a racetrack, and a fine one at that.
Let the games begin...
Ducati Desmosedici RR
Even better than the real thing
Perhaps the most overused phrase in the sportbike lexicon is "race replica." Truth is, ever since the advent of production-based Superbike racing, most so-called "race replicas" have come before the racebikes they supposedly replicate.
In contrast, Ducati's Desmosedici RR is a bonafide replica of the GP6 MotoGP racer on which Troy Bayliss won the final race of 2006-the last year that series catered to 990cc machines. With more than 250 horsepower on tap and top speeds surpassing 215 mph, these were the hairiest-chested motorcycles ever to go around corners. No wonder series rules makers reduced the limit to 800cc for '07.
Leave it to Ducati to be the first manufacturer to produce a MotoGP replica for the street. Of course, it's offered in limited numbers-just 1500 worldwide-and at a high price: $72,500, or nearly twice the price of the $39,995 1098R. What does that money buy you? Literally the most high-tech, powerful and purposeful sportbike ever offered to the public.
Start with the engine: a 90-degree V-4 with gear-driven double overhead cams actuating 16 valves desmodromically, meaning mechanically, as in there are no valve springs. Each valve has both an opening and closing rocker, each of which has its lash set with a shim. That's 32 shims, so it's a good thing the bike comes with three years' free maintenance.
Twiddle the little fast-idle dial on the left bar cluster, thumb the starter button and the Desmo (which is what everyone calls it) settles into a lumpy, uneven idle. At the beginning of the MotoGP project, Ducati Corse sold the "Twin Pulse" concept to company brass by saying that the V-4 would sound like a twin because the cylinders would fire in pairs. Of course that idea was discarded almost immediately, and the engine now employs a conventional Big Bang firing order.