2005 Ducati 999R Motorcycle First Ride

Bologna's latest homologation special isn't just the horniest Ducati motorcycle in history, it just might be the best V-twin sportbike ever built.

You've probably heard the phrase, "Race on Sunday, sell on Monday." It's shorthand for racetrack-to-showroom trickledown, and the practice has helped fuel sportbike sales for decades.But nobody does the deed quite like Ducati.

The 2005-spec Ducati 999R I got a chance to ride at Laguna Seca for a whole day prior to the AMA/SBK weekend is a perfect example. The new R-model not only bristles with track-spec hardware, it's also highly exclusive. Ducati will build just 300 units to satisfy Superbike rules. At nearly 30 grand, it's a hugely expensive piece, but I don't feel shy telling you this is the fastest, best-performing, most grin-producing V-twin sportbike I've ever ridden.

Except for a new upper cowl (which removes some of the old 999's jack-o'-lantern look), the new R doesn't look much different from the 749R we featured in our July issue: blood-red body and frame, black wheels and swingarm, radial brakes and that sharp-edged look. What you don't see are the many engine and chassis upgrades that make this a better foundation for a factory Superbike—or one helluva serious streetbike.

On the track, the new-gen R is a nearly magical device, if a little softly sprung for riders on the high side of 200 pounds. With more preload and damping dialed in at both ends, the R charged around Laguna's roller-coaster-like asphalt as if it were on rails, the engine howling like a racer's, the radial Brembo brakes hauling the bike down from speed predictably (though with more lever effort than we'd like) and the hlins suspension sucking up the bumps, ripples and fore-and-aft pitching without complaint. Contact-patch feedback at the bars, pegs and seat was terrific—better than any street-legal sportbike I've ridden.

Ten years ago I got a chance to ride Scott Gray's factory Ducati Superbike at Laguna. That was a long time ago, but I'd bet this new R-model 999 is every bit as fast and composed at Big Speed as Gray's works racer. And all this from a streetbike. Amazing.

Look for more in an upcoming issue of Motorcyclist magazine.

2005 Ducati 999R

Price: $29,999
Engine type: l-c 90-deg. V-twin
Valve arrangement: dohc, 8v
Displacement: 999cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Weight: 399 lb. (claimed dry)
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal. (20L)
Wheelbase: 55.9 in. (1420mm)
Seat height: 30.7 in.