Road Test: Tornado RS V Ducati 999S V MV F4 1000

Once the preserve of the mega rich, these first-generation Italian superbikes can now be snapped up for less than the cost of a new sports 600. Here’s the deal.

True Italian exotica normally lives way outside of what most riders, myself included, could ever afford. With a new price tag that would easily secure you a decent family car or even the deposit on a house, it’s virtually impossible for most of us to justify the expense on what is simply a weekend toy.

But four years is a long time in the fast-moving world of motorbikes, and depreciation has hammered huge chunks out of the starting price of each one of these three bikes. Dripping in deep Italian paint, all with different engines, incredible exhaust notes and the ability to turn heads at 100 yards, these bikes are suddenly, tantalisingly close to the reach of normal riders. For the same money, you could buy either an MV F4 1000 or a Suzuki GSX-R600. A Ducati 999S or a BMW F800. Or how about a Benelli Tornado RS for the price of a Yamaha Fazer 600? Believe it or not, the bikes you see here can be had for as little as £6,000 today.

These are highly-strung machines and buying one second-hand will never be risk-free. But do your sums, get it right and you’ll be the owner of one of the sexiest bikes ever built.


What is there to say about the 999’s style that hasn’t already been said? If you like Pierre Terblanche’s quirky, futuristic and slightly visually challenged design then great, the door to owning one of the best bikes built in recent time has opened to you. If not then you won’t even consider owning a 999S and the door is locked, bolted and nailed shut.
So, presuming you like, or at least can live with the looks, what is so special about the 999S? Just about everything, it’s a fantastic machine.

There was no way that Ducati wouldn’t make its flagship sportsbike handle well. It simply couldn’t. A company with the experience to win six World Superbike titles on what is essentially a modified road bike wouldn’t mess up in such a catastrophic fashion when it came to a key model. And they didn’t.

To ride the 999s is sublime. The bike is incredible slender to sit on, so much so that it feels like your knees are going to touch together through the waisted fuel tank. The bike is extraordinarily long due to the nose fairing jutting out way beyond the front wheel spindle, and along with the bizarre side-spoilers helps give the 999 it’s unique silhouette.
The first surprise comes from the starter button. Ducati added a weird mechanism whereby you only touch the starter once, rather than holding it down, and the starter automatically turns until the bike fires up. This confuses most first time 999 riders as the bike merrily churns away below them while they panic and assume something electrical has jammed on. It hasn’t and soon you will be rewarded with that wonderful Ducati sound.

There is something very mechanical about a Ducati’s engine. The rattle from the dry clutch, the whirr of the motor, it all sounds how an engine should, unsanitised, natural and engineered by human hand. Female hand if the mystical rumours about the factory are to be believed. All the more lovely, then.

If you are looking at a first generation 999 (more cut outs in the nose fairing, grey frame and swingarm) get the ‘S’ version here as it has by far the best engine of the early bikes. When Ducati updated the 999 in 2004 it used this engine in the base model 999 and it was only at this point their power really justified the inflated price tag over the Japanese. Ride it and you’ll know why: it’s a truly special motor.

Like most V-twin engines the Ducati’s acceleration is best described as lazy. It doesn’t feel fast, doesn’t have a real kick of power and doesn’t really even sound like it is breaking into a sweat, but it is going like stink. Change gear early using the precise gearbox, use the midrange and the 999S absolutely flies. This machine has a genuine 160mph top end, and at these speeds the motor makes a glorious mechanical howling through the airbox. But there’s none of the savage aggression or vicious kick that an inline four has when you ride it. Pick a gear, stay in it and on a flowing, smooth, road nothing comes close. And it’s even fairly comfortable.

You should avoid crowded city streets like the plague on the Ducati, it’s absolutely horrible in town. The engine overheats and cooks your legs, the clutch is heavy and the mirrors’ uselessness are only matched by the steering lock’s 15-point turns, but get on the open road and it’s a jewel.

The riding position is sporty and slightly hard on the wrists, but only when you aren’t moving. When you are in motion this all evaporates away as the ÷hlins suspension lets you know exactly what the tyres are doing through the near-perfect chassis while the Brembo brakes offer a level of feel and power that few of the current sportsbikes can match. Hopping directly from a Japanese bike to the Ducati the 999 feels long and low and does take more effort when it comes to the initial turn in, but the rewards for this are a mid-corner poise and balance that is second to none. It’s this feature that Ducati built its considerable WSB success around, and if ever there was a bike that made you feel like a racer on the road, this is it.

So what are the pitfalls of 999S owership? Apart from your friends making spiteful comments about the looks, a few chunky service bills and the fact that town riding is akin to torture, not much. The 999S is incredible value. A genuine Italian superbike with racing heritage, top notch chassis components and a wonderful motor for £6,000. Bloody hell.


Ducati reliability is no longer the wallet-emptying headache it used to be. A regularly-used, properly serviced 999S should be nearly as dependable as a Japanese sportsbike. Old problems like cam followers wearing (which dogged the 916/748 family and saw some hefty bills) seem to have been solved. There’s still the odd case of the alternator retaining nut coming loose, but it’s only on bikes that’ve seen hard track use. There’s the occasional electrical gremlin such as the FI light coming on for no reason. One thing to watch out for is malfunctioning clocks; moisture getting inside can wreck them – and if you replace them you have to change the ECU and all the locks/keys too, which is mega pricey.

In general they’re reliable but they still need the right care from someone who knows what they’re doing, and that’s not cheap. Buying a bike without full service history is a massive gamble. There are plenty of official Ducati dealers about and there’s even some very well informed independents (such as well respected Leeds based ‘Ducati John’ (0113 2880921). Servicing at a main agent can be extremely pricey – a good independent should be cheaper and may well be as competent or better than some official dealers. Cam belts should be changed every two years or 12,000 miles and that whole service means a big bill, £400 at an independent, £700 at a main dealer.

With any non-base model Ducati it’s crucial to make sure it’s not the cheaper model masquerading as the flashier one; in this case make sure it is a 999S and not the basic 999 with some carefully-placed stickers. The ‘S’ has a single seat unit with no pillion pegs and a white ‘race plate’ on the back. Genuine bikes come with ÷hlins suspension front and rear as well as an ÷hlins steering damper which is easy to identify. The engine’s in a higher state of tune with an extra 12 claimed bhp. It’s possible an unscrupulous seller could graft the chassis parts onto a crashed 999 so check the logbook or phone Ducati UK on (0845) 1222996 with the registration, chassis and frame number and they can let you know.


Okay, hard talk time. A 2002 999 should cost around £5,300 in a dealer, £4,000 private, with the ‘S’ costing £6,500 in a dealer or £5,500 private. Deals can be had, but pay more or less dependent on condition. The next generation (2004) costs around £2,000 more both private and from a dealer.


Looking at the Benelli is a deeply moving experience. The angular styling, sharp looks and funky underseat fans still look as cool and fresh today as when it was first unveiled as a concept bike eight years ago. Yes, can you believe it, the Tornado Tre was first designed in 1999. And by a Brit. And you know what? Adrian Morton’s design has stood the test of time, especially the RS with its uprated suspension, lightweight wheels, tweaked motor and luscious red paint.

Unfortunately as good as it is to look at, sitting on the Benelli is less pleasurable. The sculptured tank has a bulge at its back that digs you right in the pubic bone when you slip into the deeply sculpted seat compartment. I use the term compartment because you don’t really sit on a Benelli, you more slot right into it. Initially it feels odd and uncomfortable, but this isn’t a bike designed for long-distance riding, it was designed to win on the track. Like all good Italian sportsbikes the Benelli was designed to enter an ill-fated World Superbike attempt. By the time it actually hit the roads the WSB effort had long ran out of money and been canned (the word ‘homologation’ doesn’t really translate into Italian) but nobody cared. The bike still looked great and went well.

Hit the starter and the Benelli still sounds fantastic today. Triples have a lovely raw rasping sound about them and the RS is the best of the bunch. Blip the throttle and it sounds rough and lumpy, pull away and the engine refuses to run properly until it gets some heat in it, but when it does, it bloody rips.

The sound of a triple engine being thrashed is stunning. Hell, I could spend all day simply revving the RS through its range in a straight line simply for the aural pleasure it gives. It’s indescribable, sends shivers down your spine every time and makes anyone within earshot turn and stare. The performance at the end of all this noise isn’t that stunning, it only makes a genuine 123bhp, which isn’t a hell of a lot more than A modern 600, and the bike is much heavier, but that’s not the point. Riding an Italian sportsbike like this is about emotions, feeling and personal satisfaction, and the RS gives off plenty of all of them.

And it is a satisfying bike to ride. The awkward seating position soon starts to feel more natural when the pace ups and you have to move around on the bike. The angular tank transforms from a jagged rock face to a perfectly positioned gripping point to hook your leg into when hanging off. Although slightly heavy, the handling on the Benelli is very good, especially on the road. It’s natural, balanced and the brakes still feel sharp and responsive when compared to modern tackle. Italians have always done brakes very well and the Benelli is no exception to this rule.

And as it sounds so good it’s no massive hardship that you have to rev the engine to make it work. It isn’t until 6,000rpm that the power starts to make an entrance and by about 10,000rpm it’s all over, which is a bit short and sweet in comparison to modern triples. It doesn’t really feel very fast, either. Well not fast in a ‘rip your arms off’ way like the MV. Although not as slow as twins, triples always feel slightly ponderous when compared to inline fours. In a lot of ways this is part of their charm, but on a sportsbike such as the Tornado you are often left feeling like there should be more of a rush.

So is the Benelli worth a punt? If you currently own a sports 600 and fancy something that looks amazing, turns heads and sounds unbelievable then yes. Just don’t expect to be stunned by the engine’s performance, it won’t feel that much faster to ride than a good 600. But like we say around here, it’s not what you ride, it’s how you ride it. And ridden properly, a Benelli RS is fast, seriously stylish fun that will definitely set you apart from the crowd. The only real problem with ownership is the spare parts backup. Like, is there any? Benelli will say yes and dealers agree it is all sorted out, but remember this is a company that managed to convince the WSB bosses that it had produced 200 road bikes when it hadn’t!


A few years ago Benelli had a bad name. They introduced the stunning looking, £12,000 Tornado Tre Novocentro but it had problems. Owners faced a broad spectrum of grief from paint falling off to water leaks to clocks failing. There were recalls. It wasn’t that long before the brand’s image was tarnished and dealers were selling new Tres for about £6,000. Recently Benelli have a new importer (KJM) and they’ve introduced updates which they say make the Tre and the Tre RS much better bikes. There’s lots of these updates ranging from making sure bikes have the latest re-map to getting sensor positioning spot-on. A fully updated RS is a comparatively reliable machine. Mitch Mosely from Benelli dealers Red Dog Motorcycles (who loaned us the bike for the shoot) raced one for two years with no reliability problems, even though he lobbed it into the gravel more than once. If you’re buying a bike that’s more than 18 months old, call KJM on (0870) 8506525 and they can let you know if it’s had the updates; if it hasn’t a Benelli dealer can carry them out. If the bike’s less than 18 months old the updates should have been done at the PDi stage.

Like the 999S, make sure you’re getting a genuine RS, not a Tre masquerading as one. A genuine RS has radial front brake callipers, forged OZ aluminium wheels, a race can (Arrow or Termignoni) which should have a removable baffle, adjustable steering damper and carbon mudguard. The RS was only available in yellow or red with a black belly pan. As well as none of the reliability problems of the standard Tre it’s got an extra 15bhp as well, so you really don’t want to get fobbed off with the wrong bike. As with the F4 1000, it’s a bike that needs the right care and buying one without the correct service history is nothing short of Russian Roulette: you may get lucky or it might blow your head off. You should also check where your nearest official dealer is as it’s not a bike to trust to anyone with a bike lift and a set of spanners. Servicing costs are not cheap. Every 4,000 miles the labour charge is five hours and every 8,000 it’s valve check time and eight hours’ labour needed in total. Expect big bills and check when any used bike was last serviced. As with all these bikes, the RS is in the highest insurance group so get a quote before you buy. Some brokers may require an approved alarm or a brick garage before they’ll cover you.


Hard talk time again, although with a Benelli the blow is softened somewhat because the overall prices are relatively low. A 2002 Tre should cost £4,000 from a dealer, £3,300 private. The RS was introduced in 2004 and shouldn’t be much more than £5,500 from a dealer, or just under £5,000 private.

MV F4 1000

Make no mistake about it, the F4 1000 is fast. Proper fast. Suzuki GSX-R1000 fast. After the limp-wristed sorry excuse for a bike that was the F4 750 the 1000 version took us all by surprise in 2004. This wasn’t some big-bore 750, oh no, this was a totally new engine (well 70% new) with more than a touch of Latin temperament built in.

Nail the throttle in first and the front wheel kicks up in the air. Not a gentle, civilised, almost apologetic rise like a Japanese 1000, the MV rips the tyre from its contact with the ground and catapults it upwards. It’s intimidating, raucous and definitely not for the inexperienced. And it does it all while looking drop-dead gorgeous and as if butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth. What a bike.

When I first rode the F4 back in late 2004 it was both stunning and a crushing disappointment. At last the Italians had created a bike to truly rival the Japanese in the performance stakes while still trumping them when it came to style and sophistication. But, like all too many Italian bikes, the first ones in the UK weren’t really finished. The fuel injection was horrific, and with a bike churning out a genuine 153bhp this was less than ideal. Mid-corner I remember the MV pausing when I opened the throttle a little bit, waiting about half a second, then delivering a thud of power. Bearing in mind it was doing this while I was on a wet Alpine pass, this lead to less than pleasurable motoring. Then it broke. Double bollocks.

Fast forwarding to the present day and I’m glad to report the fuelling on this F4 1000 is considerably improved. The key to it is getting a properly set up machine. Once it’s set up properly it stays set-up and while the F4’s fuelling still isn’t up to the smoothness of manufacturers such as Suzuki or Ducati it’s certainly passable, if still a little jerky. Once spinning you have to keep your wits about you on the MV. Like the rest of the 1000s things happen fast, and if you aren’t on the ball its sheer speed can easily surprise. It’s all too easy to let the bike run away from your control, and there isn’t the ultra-forgiving edge that many Japanese 1,000s have. But that’s all part of the fun of riding a proper sportsbike, which the MV most certainly is.

The chassis, which is virtually unchanged from the 750, is very good. The MV feels narrower than other inline fours and more compact. Like the Benelli it’s a little bit cramped when you aren’t hopping all over the machine but unlike the Tornado you don’t have a lump of metal digging into your nether regions.

In the corners the MV impresses. Factory suspension settings are somewhat on the firm side, but this isn’t a huge issue and is fairly easy to alter to suit the UK’s crumbling road surfaces. The enormous 50mm forks are stiffer than iron girders and when it comes to the racetrack the MV is right up there with the top performers in terms of feedback.

Where the Benelli is cheap due to the Tornado not selling well and the 1098 has kicked the arse out of 999’s resale value, the MV is still holding its price due to the fact it was, and still is, a very good bike. But spend that extra grand and you get a superbike that will easily hold Japan’s best bikes at bay – should the need arise.


The good news is that these are reliable bikes with no major gremlins to fear. We’ve heard of some MVs clocking up 60,000-70,000 miles with no problems at all, not what you might expect from such gorgeous looking exotica. The 1000 hasn’t even had any recalls. But if you do buy one, you’ll need an experienced dealer and relatively deep pockets at service time. There’s plenty of bikes that any spanner monkey can service but an MV needs the attention from someone who knows the marque. For example if the bike’s not set-up properly on the correct diagnostic machine with the throttle position sensor and injection all spot-on, the result can be a horrendously choppy power delivery. So before you splash out, check where your nearest MV dealer is with importer 3X Motorcycles on (01202) 823344.

Servicing itself is quite involved. Every 4,000 miles it needs five hours of skilled labour and every 8,000 it’s a valve service and you’re looking at eight hours labour. MV dealers tend to be top-end places and £50-plus an hour labour charges aren’t unheard of – so that main service could be at least £400 plus parts, plus vat, plus sundries, plus swamp insurance or whatever else always appears on the bill.

Like the 999S, the F4 1000 is a track-capable machine so you should make all the checks you would with any bike that may have spent much of its life on a circuit. Be suspicious if anyone’s got the pegs down – it needs serious lean angle. It is a slightly awkward machine for low speed manoeuvres so check for damage from a low speed drop as well.


You pay for what you get. An early 2003 F4 1000 still fetches £7,000, and not much less private.


Italian bikes are all about emotion. If you want the fastest, sharpest, trickest bike on the market at the lowest price then buy Japanese and follow the crowd. But if you want a bike to stir you deep inside every time you open the garage door, a bike that you will spend hours cleaning just for the sake of it, a bike that will make you shudder every time you hit the starter and grin like a fool behind your dark visor on the open road, then there is none better.

Each one of these machines had an initial asking price of around £14,000, but someone else has taken that hit for you and you shouldn’t lose much on them now. Buy a new GSX-R600 for £7,000 and in two years time it will be worth around £4,000 if you are lucky. Buy the MV for the same amount and in two years it will still demand close to £6000. Now you can almost justify ownership as an investment.

But which one? The Benelli is the cheapest for a reason. Although the factory has sorted itself out now the Tornado isn’t a very successful bike and will always be on the edges of the market. It doesn’t really have the performance to justify much of a price tag, which is why even the RS is less than £6,000. It’s visually stunning, extremely rare, but don’t expect a performance thrill.
Which is where the MV delivers. The F4 1000 is the most expensive bike here, but it offers the most. A hell of an engine, excellent chassis and stunning looks. In a few years time the MV will still be considered fast, 153bhp doesn’t go out of fashion, and neither does Massimo Tamburini’s design. A modern masterpiece.

Which leaves the 999S. A modern classic? In many ways, yes. This Ducati won two WSB titles and was talked about for most of its life. A proper track-developed superbike, its angular looks are actually improving with age. But just feel the heritage – what a bike.



Price: £6,500

Engine: 998cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valve V-twin

Power: 133.3bhp@10,000rpm

Torque: 75.9lb.ft@8,000rpm

Weight: 213kg

Seat height: 780mm

Colours: red


Price: £5,500

Engine: 898cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 12-valve inline triple

Power: 123.3bhp@9,100rpm

Torque: 75.2lb.ft@7,200rpm

Weight: 220kg

Seat height: 810mm

Colours: red, yellow

MV F4 1000

Price: £7,000

Engine: 998c, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve inline four

Power: 153.4bhp@10,700rpm

Torque: 75.9lb.ft@9,700rpm

Weight: 223kg

Seat height: 810mm

Colours: red/silver