The Ducati 999 was just a stop-gap between the legendary 916 and the stunning new 1098. So for the first time ever, here are the two stablemates ridden head to head...
I have an ambition. I don't want to climb Everest, sleep with a supermodel or fly as a passenger in a Tornado. No, my ambition is fairly achievable. I just want to own a Ducati 916.
For me the 916 is the defining bike of my adolescence. I was 17 when it was launched in 1994 and from that moment onwards I've always lusted after one. In my opinion the 916's design is perfect. It's like Porsche's 911, beautiful and totally timeless. But unlike the Porsche, which is beautiful because of its track-focused aggression, the 916 design oozes sex appeal.
Legend has it that its creator, Massimo Tamburini, designed the 916 to mimic the sensual curves of the female body when viewed from above. Only an Italian would think of doing this. But in truth there isn't a bad angle on the 916, it's just right in every detail from every side.
So right in fact that throughout its 10 year life the 916 remained virtually unchanged visually. As the years passed the wheels grew a few extra spokes, the fairing lost then gained vents and the logo increased in numbers but the bike's silhouette remained identical.
Then in 2002 the development reached its peak with what is, for me at least, the ultimate road going 916: the 998R. Only 700 were made worldwide and of that the UK's allocation was only 80. This wasn't just a few bolt-on goodies, this was the homologation special that had by then won six World Superbike Championships, 150 races, and had nearly made a household name of Carl Fogarty. More's the pity.
The 998R's engine is completely different to the rest of the 998 range. Being an R-model each motor is individually hand built with a balanced crank, but unlike the rest of the 998 models the 998R is actually 999cc thanks to a short stroke motor. Confused? Ducati needed more power from its race bikes and more power means more revs, but twins don't like being revved, so Ducati's solution was the short-stroke motor. The larger bore allowed Ducati to use bigger valves, gaining bhp, while the shorter stroke put less strain on the crank, allowing the motor to rev higher. These changes didn't come cheap. A 998R cost £18,995 compared to the 998S's £13,000.
Which is why I had resigned myself to the fact I would never get the chance to ride one. For a start they are so rare that owners are unlikely to let them out of their garage, let alone allow someone like myself to throw a leg over it and give it the berries. But, having ridden the new 1098, I had to know if Ducati's successor to the 916 (we will brush over the 999's sad existence) was really that much better than the ultimate 916.
Having located an owner who was prepared to let both Niall and myself lose on his 998R (thanks a million to Ray Jude) we took both bikes to the Peak District on a quiet midweek day to explore the delights of the two Ducatis in the perfect surrounding. The bikes looked absolutely stunning together, acres of lush red paint everywhere. I felt genuinely excited and very priveleged.
Before we went riding I had a nagging fear that I might have been expecting too much from the 998R. I've only ridden a 998S before and that was only for a very brief run. Most of my riding has been on the 999 range and much of my opinion that the 998 is a great bike is based around the fact it looks amazing - so therefore must go well. This day's riding could so easily ruin over a decade of dreaming, a bit like seeing Sam Fox naked today.
But from the moment the carbon Termignoni race cans boom into life, to the time you take the key out and take a final glance at the plaque telling you exactly which of the 700 bikes you have just ridden, the 998R is special. It's not until you ride it back to back with the 1098 you realise just how special it actually is.
Continue Splitting Heirs: Ducati 998R v 1098 - 2/2
2007 1098Total refinement is the best way to describe a comparison between these two machines.
The 1098's engine has less vibration and a much smoother power delivery, giving the impression it may not be as fast as the 998R, which is not the case. Although the motor is less linear than the 998R it is faster and the rush of power that appears around 6,000rpm throws you back in the seat and picks up the front. You have to be ready to short shift or skim the rear brake if you are in a hurry in 1st or 2nd!
When it comes to suspension the big advantage the 1098 has over the 998R is it seems to cope with all the high speed movement over bumps and undulations, but is also very stable at higher speeds. The riding position is roomier and doesn't seem to lock you in the bike as much, and is more comfortable on a long ride. The braking performance is quite close between the bikes, and you never get fed-up looking at the 1098's beautifully machined monobloc calipers. And beauty is what this bike is all about, from the best dash ever all the way back to the MotoGP style tail unit. Mind you when I first saw the 916 in 1994 I felt exactly the same!
2002 998RMy last season on a 916-body Ducati was with GSE aboard a 'customer' factory 996R in 2001 and this ride out in Buxton brought all the memories flooding back! It wasn't my best season, but my team mate Neil Hodgson won the BSB championship and a WSB title.
The 998R has the same raw feel as the full-spec racer with its instant throttle response and massive mid-range torque. I expected it to be a wheelie monster on the road but that's not the case, as although the front lifts in the first three gears you never have to back off the throttle as it immediately settles as the revs increase. I found the rear suspension a bit harsh for the Derbyshire roads but for smoother surfaces and track days it would be perfect. The front was the opposite and if anything felt soft under braking.
The brakes felt as strong as the exotic items on the 1098 but lacked the instant reaction, which you could argue may not be a bad thing on dodgy roads. The dash is of course pretty old fashioned now being totally analogue with wobbly needles but all part of this great Ducati era. It's funny because the 916 family has never become dated; it went straight to looking like a modern classic. Very clever.
Posted: 19/01/2011 at 17:00
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