The 999 didn't win so many hearts, but it won a lot of races. The 1098 has us weak at the knees but can it perform? Dukes go head-to-head in Spain.
The last few years have been tough for Ducati. Sales of the 999 have been disappointing, and being a high-end marque in a declining bike market is a never a good place to be. Add to this the ever-developing Japanese fours, which are producing more power with even higher specification chassis at lower prices, and you can see why the success of the 1098 is so important to Ducati.
But it seems the hard work has paid off. So far the 1098 looks like heralding a new wave of success for the Bologna factory. In the UK demand has been so high it has sold out until July and still orders are being taken, which proves the point: give us what we want and we will buy it. But is the new Ducati as big a step forward when it comes to riding as it is visually? Only one way to find out. Niall tests the 1098s against the 999s under the Spanish sun at Almeria Circuit.
Ducati has made no secret of it: the 1098 was built to take on the GSX-Rs and R1s of this world, straight out of the box. The 999 had great success in superbike championships, but only when it was in megabucks factory trim and with a team of technicians to tend to its every whim and desire. Line one up in a superstock race however and the opposition would have died laughing at your missing 30bhp, before lapping you by half race distance.
With the 1098 this is no longer the case, but to get the best out of this bike the engine, suspension and chassis need to be pushed, and hard, to achieve their true potential.
The 999 has a very soft, user friendly throttle connection when you're trying to increase mid-corner speed at maximum lean. The 1098 is different, and like the instant feel of the brakes the motor has a razor sharp response as soon you touch the throttle. So the rider needs comparable reactions to benefit when it comes to lap times. But the bike is by no means unrideable, however if fast laps are what you're after staying sharp is crucial. I found using a higher gear in the slower corners helped and I didn't really lose out on the exit as there's a huge increase in torque over the 999.
At 5000rpm the motor begins to drive hard so to benefit you have to quickly find a bigger rear tyre contact patch by picking the bike up. On slower corners I found standing the bike up while still hanging off was quicker and safer. Once you're out of the corner and accelerating then you can climb back on top. The easy bit is next and that's watching for the three red shift lights on the dash. With a genuine 140bhp at the rear wheel these come quickly so you're changing up just after 10,000rpm.
On the 999 this whole process is much less physical as everything happens at a slower pace, especially on corner exits. As always this affects top speed, which was confirmed as the best speed I saw on the 1098 down Almeria's fastest straight was 167mph, compared to 158mph on the 999. A slipper clutch would have been nice to complete this impressive package as I like to use the engine for rear braking. Over a lap of Almeria there were two sections where I struggled to keep the rear in line due to excessive engine braking, especially when I got some miles on the tyre. The 2008 race bikes will have slipper clutches fitted, but having one as standard, like Aprilia's RSV, would be a definite benefit to the serious track day hoodlum.
The 1098 is the first ever road bike to be fitted with monobloc calipers but I actually don't care about their stopping performance as I'd have them on my bike for looks alone!
I haven't got a clue how the caliper pistons get in to that hewn-from-solid lump of aluminium, but I don't care as they look like they've been ripped straight from Capirossi's 990 Desmosedici after its very last race in Valencia.
Needless to say they do have impressive performance, with the most prominent improvement from the 999's regular Brembos being the instantaneous reaction when you touch the lever.
It's only after you've ridden with them you realise braking for street bikes has just moved to a new level here. Although there is an instant connection this doesn't mean you'll lock the front and be spat over the bars onto the tarmac at the slightest stroke. That's because the quick response is followed by progressive feel combined with as much stopping power as you can cope with.
All of this comes from the combination of lightweight, 330mm directional discs and two-piston calipers with two large surface pads. For race track efficiency every aspect of riding has to happen that bit quicker, so the 10 or so times you hit the brakes on a lap of a circuit like Almeria means fractions of a second can be saved.
In some ways it makes advanced braking techniques, like trail braking into corners, easier. Instead of getting two or three fingers to the lever mid corner, one finger is enough to instantly but safely scrub off speed. It's only when you jump back on the 999 you realise what advances have been made and what seemed like awesome brakes last year are suddenly a bit average.
Swing your leg over the 1098 and you'll immediately discover a completely different riding position to the 999. A higher seat height angled towards the tank puts more weight on the front end, giving more leverage when it comes to turning in and changing direction, but thankfully without added wrist ache. Although roomy, the 999's seat position is more 'in' than 'on', and while you can adjust the foot pegs this only raises your knees closer to your ears.
We've yet to see if the 1098 is uncomfortable on long road rides but for the track it feels spot-on, hitting apexes right on cue - unlike the 999, which you had to mail in advance should you want to enter a corner.
Okay, it's not that bad but I find you really have to be one step ahead of the 999 making sure you turn-in early in order to hit the spot mid-corner. The overall feeling is generally heavier and lazier than the 1098 no matter what tweaks I made to the suspension. Even if you get the riding position right on the 999 you will eventually run out of suspension adjustment, especially at the front.
After just two sessions I found myself maxxed out on front preload and compression damping while still suffering occasional bottoming and underdamped forks during hard braking and on corner entry. With the 1098, standard suspension settings front and rear are much stiffer so you have a greater range to play with and less likely to get anywhere near max adjustment. The chassis also has a more rigid, taut feel but is constantly asking to be worked hard whether braking, cornering or changing direction.
Continue the Ducati 999s vs. 1098s Test - 2/2
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