Ducati 999S (2002 - 2007) review

Unsurprisingly, the revised 999S doesn't disappoint. But is it worth nearly three grand over the standard model?

Ben Cope's picture
By Visordown on Tue, 1 Jan 2002 - 12:01

Details
Manufacturer:
Ducati
Category:
Sportsbikes
Price:
£ 13995
Overall
4
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The best 999 aside from the £25k R. If you like the look, buy it.
People will always call it ugly!

Ducati's 999 has had a tough start in life. Launched on the back of what many regarded as the most beautiful bike ever built, Ducati's replacement for the 916's style has been on a losing wicket ever since it first emerged into the world.

For a start there were the looks. How do you follow and, more specifically, better a bike as iconic as the 916? Something radically different was needed and, indeed, appeared. How do you compete with Japanese inline fours when 150bhp at the rear wheel is considered, at best, average? And how do you compete on price when £8799 will get you a GSX-R1000 with inverted forks, radial brakes, 163bhp, titanium here, there and everywhere, and just about every gizmo imaginable? To be truthful you can't. Not really anyway, which is why sales of Ducati's 999, and indeed 749, range haven't really set the world on fire. A source of many headaches around the Bologna factory, I'm sure. So what can be done? How about giving the customers real value for money? Which is the plan with the current 999 range. They still cost a premium, but you don't half get a lot of bike for your money. Take the new 999S. For a start there is the motor. The latest incarnation of the 998cc lump (not 999cc, only the R version has a true 999 capacity), it comes with a claimed 143bhp, which won't be far off the mark. Ducati tends to be fairly honest when it comes to power figures. That may be only 6bhp up on the stock 999 but that isn't the whole story. As well as different cams in the engine the 999S also has a lovely set of Ducati race pipes included in the price, for track use only of course, which will boost the power a few extra bhp. Then there are the …hlins forks, now with the 'must have' accessory for 2005, radial brakes, plus …hlins shock and …hlins steering damper. Also, like the standard 999, the S comes with a colour matched frame and new-look front end with only one air-scoop per side.

So what does all this extra value add up to? Well, in my opinion, the 999S is the best 999 yet. Unfortunately I haven't had the chance to ride the 999R yet - Niall managed to sneak that one off to Donington Park on his own - but if we are talking practicalities and reality, nearly £20,000 isn't really the sort of money many riders would consider spending on a bike. The S just about manages to push every single button when it comes to riding it and has a massive 'feel good' factor, which mainly comes from the engine. There has never been, and still isn't, anything wrong with the 999's chassis but the engine has always felt a little underpowered. A lot of this is simply down to the fact it is a twin. When you get off an in-line four and onto a twin the lazy power delivery feels slow in comparison, but with its new 143bhp the S feels fast. But it's smooth with it.

At a standstill the typical Ducati dry clutch rattle and general engine noise make pedestrians look at you in alarm, as does the simply ridiculous manual choke that ticks over at a screaming 5500rpm, but once it is moving the whole motor transforms into a thing of beauty. Everything about it is precise. The fuel injection is spot-on, the gearbox on a par with Suzuki when it comes to slickness and everything works together perfectly. Fair enough, the GSX-R1000's simply bonkers power plant is a real eye opener, but there's something hugely appealing about the latest V-twin from Ducati. Apart from the way the engine's heat fries the backs of your legs through town. Which is not so appealing. Although the S gets …hlins bouncy bits at each end the rest of the chassis is identical to the standard 999 and is, unsurprisingly, excellent. The …hlins units do make a difference to the handling, but in truth those differences are so subtle you would either have to be riding like a god on a day-to-day basis, or spend all your life on a track to really reap the benefits. And it's the same for the radial brakes, which are simply stunning to look at and hiss aggressively when in use, but in truth perform only marginally better than the stock bike's non-radial items.

Which is where the problems with the 999S lie. Does it really do enough to justify its £13,995 price tag when the stock 999 costs £11,250? Are …hlins suspension, radial brakes, an extra 6bhp and a set of race pipes worth £2749? This is the dilemma facing potential buyers. I absolutely loved the 999S. It is a stunning machine with a fantastic engine and near-perfect handling. But the standard 999 isn't that much removed from it. Spending an extra £2000 over a Japanese litre bike can be justified because while the re-sale value of a Japanese machine drops faster than an Italian striker in the penalty area, the Ducati tends to hold its own fairly well. But an extra £2749 on top of that? I'd struggle to argue that one away. But if you can, and I wish you every luck, the 999S will not disappoint. I guess I'm just a bit jealous it'll be going home with you and not me.

VERDICT

Stirs the emotions like no Jap superbike can, but the price tag is hefty. Is the S that much better than the stock 999?

Ducati's 999 has had a tough start in life. Launched on the back of what many regarded as the most beautiful bike ever built, Ducati's replacement for the 916's style has been on a losing wicket ever since it first emerged into the world.

For a start there were the looks. How do you follow and, more specifically, better a bike as iconic as the 916? Something radically different was needed and, indeed, appeared. How do you compete with Japanese inline fours when 150bhp at the rear wheel is considered, at best, average? And how do you compete on price when £8799 will get you a GSX-R1000 with inverted forks, radial brakes, 163bhp, titanium here, there and everywhere, and just about every gizmo imaginable? To be truthful you can't. Not really anyway, which is why sales of Ducati's 999, and indeed 749, range haven't really set the world on fire. A source of many headaches around the Bologna factory, I'm sure. So what can be done? How about giving the customers real value for money? Which is the plan with the current 999 range. They still cost a premium, but you don't half get a lot of bike for your money. Take the new 999S. For a start there is the motor. The latest incarnation of the 998cc lump (not 999cc, only the R version has a true 999 capacity), it comes with a claimed 143bhp, which won't be far off the mark. Ducati tends to be fairly honest when it comes to power figures. That may be only 6bhp up on the stock 999 but that isn't the whole story. As well as different cams in the engine the 999S also has a lovely set of Ducati race pipes included in the price, for track use only of course, which will boost the power a few extra bhp. Then there are the …hlins forks, now with the 'must have' accessory for 2005, radial brakes, plus …hlins shock and …hlins steering damper. Also, like the standard 999, the S comes with a colour matched frame and new-look front end with only one air-scoop per side.

So what does all this extra value add up to? Well, in my opinion, the 999S is the best 999 yet. Unfortunately I haven't had the chance to ride the 999R yet - Niall managed to sneak that one off to Donington Park on his own - but if we are talking practicalities and reality, nearly £20,000 isn't really the sort of money many riders would consider spending on a bike. The S just about manages to push every single button when it comes to riding it and has a massive 'feel good' factor, which mainly comes from the engine. There has never been, and still isn't, anything wrong with the 999's chassis but the engine has always felt a little underpowered. A lot of this is simply down to the fact it is a twin. When you get off an in-line four and onto a twin the lazy power delivery feels slow in comparison, but with its new 143bhp the S feels fast. But it's smooth with it.

At a standstill the typical Ducati dry clutch rattle and general engine noise make pedestrians look at you in alarm, as does the simply ridiculous manual choke that ticks over at a screaming 5500rpm, but once it is moving the whole motor transforms into a thing of beauty. Everything about it is precise. The fuel injection is spot-on, the gearbox on a par with Suzuki when it comes to slickness and everything works together perfectly. Fair enough, the GSX-R1000's simply bonkers power plant is a real eye opener, but there's something hugely appealing about the latest V-twin from Ducati. Apart from the way the engine's heat fries the backs of your legs through town. Which is not so appealing. Although the S gets …hlins bouncy bits at each end the rest of the chassis is identical to the standard 999 and is, unsurprisingly, excellent. The …hlins units do make a difference to the handling, but in truth those differences are so subtle you would either have to be riding like a god on a day-to-day basis, or spend all your life on a track to really reap the benefits. And it's the same for the radial brakes, which are simply stunning to look at and hiss aggressively when in use, but in truth perform only marginally better than the stock bike's non-radial items.

Which is where the problems with the 999S lie. Does it really do enough to justify its £13,995 price tag when the stock 999 costs £11,250? Are …hlins suspension, radial brakes, an extra 6bhp and a set of race pipes worth £2749? This is the dilemma facing potential buyers. I absolutely loved the 999S. It is a stunning machine with a fantastic engine and near-perfect handling. But the standard 999 isn't that much removed from it. Spending an extra £2000 over a Japanese litre bike can be justified because while the re-sale value of a Japanese machine drops faster than an Italian striker in the penalty area, the Ducati tends to hold its own fairly well. But an extra £2749 on top of that? I'd struggle to argue that one away. But if you can, and I wish you every luck, the 999S will not disappoint. I guess I'm just a bit jealous it'll be going home with you and not me.

VERDICT

Stirs the emotions like no Jap superbike can, but the price tag is hefty. Is the S that much better than the stock 999?

Ducati's 999 has had a tough start in life. Launched on the back of what many regarded as the most beautiful bike ever built, Ducati's replacement for the 916's style has been on a losing wicket ever since it first emerged into the world.

For a start there were the looks. How do you follow and, more specifically, better a bike as iconic as the 916? Something radically different was needed and, indeed, appeared. How do you compete with Japanese inline fours when 150bhp at the rear wheel is considered, at best, average? And how do you compete on price when £8799 will get you a GSX-R1000 with inverted forks, radial brakes, 163bhp, titanium here, there and everywhere, and just about every gizmo imaginable?
To be truthful you can't. Not really anyway, which is why sales of Ducati's 999, and indeed 749, range haven't really set the world on fire. A source of many headaches around the Bologna factory, I'm sure. So what can be done? How about giving the customers real value for money?
Which is the plan with the current 999 range. They still cost a premium, but you don't half get a lot of bike for your money. Take the new 999S. For a start there is the motor. The latest incarnation of the 998cc lump (not 999cc, only the R version has a true 999 capacity), it comes with a claimed 143bhp, which won't be far off the mark. Ducati tends to be fairly honest when it comes to power figures. That may be only 6bhp up on the stock 999 but that isn't the whole story. As well as different cams in the engine the 999S also has a lovely set of Ducati race pipes included in the price, for track use only of course, which will boost the power a few extra bhp. Then there are the …hlins forks, now with the 'must have' accessory for 2005, radial brakes, plus …hlins shock and …hlins steering damper. Also, like the standard 999, the S comes with a colour matched frame and new-look front end with only one air-scoop per side.

So what does all this extra value add up to? Well, in my opinion, the 999S is the best 999 yet. Unfortunately I haven't had the chance to ride the 999R yet - Niall managed to sneak that one off to Donington Park on his own - but if we are talking practicalities and reality, nearly £20,000 isn't really the sort of money many riders would consider spending on a bike.
The S just about manages to push every single button when it comes to riding it and has a massive 'feel good' factor, which mainly comes from the engine. There has never been, and still isn't, anything wrong with the 999's chassis but the engine has always felt a little underpowered. A lot of this is simply down to the fact it is a twin. When you get off an in-line four and onto a twin the lazy power delivery feels slow in comparison, but with its new 143bhp the
S feels fast. But it's smooth with it.

At a standstill the typical Ducati dry clutch rattle and general engine noise make pedestrians look at you in alarm, as does the simply ridiculous manual choke that ticks over at a screaming 5500rpm, but once it is moving the whole motor transforms into a thing of beauty. Everything about it is precise. The fuel injection is spot-on, the gearbox on a par with Suzuki when it comes to slickness and everything works together perfectly. Fair enough, the GSX-R1000's simply bonkers power plant is a real eye opener, but there's something hugely appealing about the latest V-twin from Ducati. Apart from the way the engine's heat fries the backs of your legs through town. Which is not so appealing.
Although the S gets …hlins bouncy bits at each end the rest of the chassis is identical to the standard 999 and is, unsurprisingly, excellent. The …hlins units do make a
difference to the handling, but in truth those differences are so subtle you would either have to be riding like a god on a day-to-day basis, or spend all your life on a track to really reap the benefits. And it's the same for the radial brakes, which are simply
stunning to look at and hiss aggressively when in use, but in truth perform only marginally better than the stock bike's
non-radial items.

Which is where the problems with the 999S lie. Does it really do enough to justify its £13,995 price tag when the stock 999 costs £11,250? Are …hlins suspension, radial brakes, an extra 6bhp and a set of race pipes worth £2749? This is the dilemma facing potential buyers.
I absolutely loved the 999S. It is a stunning machine with a fantastic engine and near-perfect handling. But the standard 999 isn't that much removed from it. Spending an extra £2000 over a Japanese litre bike can be justified because while the re-sale value of a Japanese machine drops faster than an Italian striker in the penalty area, the Ducati tends to hold its own fairly well. But an extra £2749 on top of that? I'd struggle to argue that one away. But if you can, and I wish you every luck, the 999S will not disappoint. I guess I'm just a bit jealous it'll be going home with you and not me.

VERDICT

Stirs the emotions like no Jap superbike can, but the price tag is hefty. Is the S that much better than the stock 999?

Score Breakdown
Overall
4
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