Following its launch at a soggy Valencia, we try Ducati's beautiful 749R in the dry at Donington.
There are some lessons in life that you learn the hard way. Accidentally urinating on an electric fence is one of them, drinking too much cheap cider is another and trying to out-brake Niall Mackenzie is one that I learnt while riding Ducati's 749R.
It was during a Donington Park track day and I was just about to tip into Coppice when a BMW BoxerCup Replika came steaming up the inside, piloted by Mackenzie on a mission. Out of the corner and on to the Dunlop straight, the Ducati easily made up the gap between the two bikes, which is where I faced a decision. Try and brake at the same time as former GP God and three-times BSB champ Niall, or bottle it. I decided to be brave.
When the black line started appearing from the BMW's rear tyre and Niall went sideways into the corner I started to think that this could possibly have been an error of judgement. But all credit to the stunning Brembo radial calipers and Öhlins front forks on the 749R; they scrubbed off enough speed and kept the bike perfectly in line and I went in deeper and around Fogarty's Esses faster than I ever have before with complete confidence.
This little episode shows what is so good about the 749R. It makes you feel invincible on track, and allows you to push harder than ever before. So what makes it so good? For a start, the chassis is simply brilliant. The Öhlins front and rear on the R combine with the traditionally superb Ducati chassis to make the bike perfectly balanced in a corner. Through the fast left-hander of Craner, the R allowed me to carry so much corner speed in total confidence I was overtaking other riders round the outside at one of the scariest corners on the track.
The motor, which is a true 749cc rather than 748cc like the other models in the 749 range, feels really punchy and strong low down. It doesn't have the lumpiness of a 999 and revs cleanly from low in the range, picking up strongly in the mid-range while still having a decent kick at the top near the 12,500rpm redline, or when the yellow shift warning light starts to flash.
But there is a slight problem. During the wet launch of the 749R at Valencia, the slipper clutch didn't seem to be working quite right and the bike felt like it was selecting false neutrals on downshifts. This problem became even more apparent in the dry. Both Niall and myself found that the Ducati often slipped into a false neutral when downshifting more than one gear at a time - not good when you're going fast on track.
Speaking to Ducati, they say no one else has reported this as a problem, but for me it ruined a nearly perfect bike. If anyone out there has bought one, let us know if yours does it.
I've ridden every new 2004 bike and the 749R is the one I really want to ride again. I'd love to own one; it looks ace, handles great, has a mint motor and is good off track, too. I'd take a 749R over any 999 anytime. If I had £13,595!
1995: The 748 Biposto is launched. Visually identical to the 916 it comes with usd forks and a single sided swingarm. A higher spec version, the 748SP, is also launched with more power and a single seat unit2000: The 748 family gets slight updates with Titanium-Nitride-coated forks and five-spoke wheels. The SP is replaced with the 748R, which again gets more power, a single seat and race pipes2003: The 749 range is launched. Like the 748 they are replicas of the 999 machine
Honda CBR600RR: £7149. What can we say that hasn't already been said? Simply brilliant bike that shares class honours with the Suzuki GSX-R600.Suzuki GSX-R600: £6849. New for 2004 the GSX-R has hit the mark. Great engine, top handling, physically bigger than the Honda.Aprilia RSV-R: £8525 gets you the brand new RSV-R. Funkier than a roller disco, the Aprilia handles like a good one and comes with a cracking motor.Ducati 999S: £13,950. Bigger, but not as trick.
TYPE - SUPERSPORTS PRODUCTION DATE - 2004 PRICE NEW - £13,595 ENGINE CAPACITY - 749cc POWER - 118bhp@10,250rpm TORQUE - 60lb.ft@8250rpm WEIGHT - 192kg SEAT HEIGHT - 810mm FUEL CAPACITY - 18L TOP SPEED - 155mph 0-60 - n/a TANK RANGE - N/A
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