While not every rider needs or can get the most out of the Panigale V4, Ducati’s latest superbike does benefit the motorcycling world as a whole. For one, the Panigale’s design helped improve the latest Monster. And, as with luxury car marques, new high-end Ducatis make used ones more attainable. But sometimes, a motorcycle isn’t necessarily appreciated even when it’s new. Such was, and in many ways still is, with the Ducati 999.
Overlooked for, well, its looks, the Ducati 999 is a genuine hand-built superbike
When the Ducati 999 launched in 2003, it faced a rather unenviable task, Cycle World reports. Namely, it had to follow up on the styling established by the Ducati 916, which is often considered one of the most beautiful bikes ever made. So, when the 999 debuted with a drastically different design, fans were a bit upset, Cycle World reports.
Admittedly, a vehicle’s visual appeal is always a matter of personal taste. But on a technical level, the Ducati 999 addressed several of its predecessor’s flaws, Cycle World reports. It’s also the last truly hand-built Ducatis, Road & Track reports. And, more to the point, at the time, the 999 was a real superbike.
The Ducati 999, like the modern-day Panigale V2, has a 90° V-twin (‘L-twin’) engine. It’s a 998cc liquid-cooled fuel-injected V-twin that, in 2003 and 2004, made 124 hp and 75 lb-ft, Motorcyclist reports. Together with a six-speed transmission, it’s enough to let the 438-lb 999 go 0-62 mph in less than three seconds.
While the Ducati 999 doesn’t have ABS, it does have Brembo disc brakes and fully-adjustable Showa suspension. It also packs an analog tachometer, shift lights, and a digital display with a built-in lap timer. And all of this is just on the base 999.
The Ducati 999 is a fast ride—and the 999S and 999R are even better
One year after Ducati launched the 2003 999, it released the 999S and 999R trims. While the 999S also uses a 998cc V-twin, it makes 136 hp and 78 lb-ft, Motorcyclist reports. And instead of the Showa suspension, it has fully-adjustable Ohlins suspension.
Even without the Ohlins inverted fork and rear shocks, though, the Ducati 999 is actually faster and handles better than its predecessor, Bennetts reports. Admittedly, the ride is on the harsher side, and the engine can be a handful, MCN reports. But the 999’s riding position and compact dimensions make “you feel like you’re basically on top of the front wheel,” Motofomo reports.
It grips the road well, delivering fun handling along with strong braking, Motorcyclist reports. Little wonder the Ducati 999 won the World Superbike Championship in 2003, 2004, and 2006, RideApart reports. Plus, it has a fully-adjustable seat, footpegs, and levers.
But for maximum thrills, the Ducati 999R is where it’s at. This was a genuine racing homologation special, DriveTribe reports, with the specs and features to match. The 999R has a 999cc version of the liquid-cooled V-twin, which in 2004 made 139 hp and 80 lb-ft. It’s also lighter than the base 999. That’s thanks to forged aluminum wheels, magnesium headlight and mirror mounts, as well as a carbon-fiber chain guard and bodywork, Motorcyclist reports. Plus, a lighter rear swingarm, Ultimate Motorcycling reports.
In 2005 Ducati upgraded the entire 999 range. The base model got a power boost to 140 hp and 80 lb-ft, and the 999S to 143 hp and 82 lb-ft, Motorcyclist reports. So did the Ducati 999R; 2005 and 2006 models make 150 hp and 86 lb-ft. The upgrades were enough for Motorcyclist to say the 999R “might be the best V-twin sportbike ever built.” And Ultimate Motorcycling mused that “the 999R is far too good to waste on the street.”
Prices are rather low but keep a close eye on the maintenance
Ducati officially ended 999 production in 2006. However, for 2007 the Italian company released a handful of limited-edition 999s exclusively for the North American market. These 150 Team USA bikes visually ape their Superbike counterparts and are based on the 999S, Road Racing World reports. And as a result of their rarity, some owners have turned their 999S models into Team USA replicas, Bike-urious reports.
While these Team USA bikes command a premium, as a whole the Ducati 999 is somewhat undervalued. Prices on Bring a Trailer hover around $8000-$10,000. And it’s not unusual to see 916s with higher listed prices than 999s on Cycle Trader.
If you’re interested in getting a Ducati 999, there are a few things to keep in mind. Like many used Ducatis, regular maintenance is key, especially with the V-twin’s desmodromic valvetrain, Bennetts reports. It’s worth seeking out a 2005-or-later example, MCN reports, due to the extra horsepower, improved cam belt design, and generally better build quality.
However, even the later bikes need to have their fluids and belts regularly inspected. That includes the fork seals on the Ohlins suspension, Motorcyclist and MCN report. And if you want to fit an aftermarket Termignioni exhaust—which sounds incredible—it requires reflashing the ECU, MCN reports.
But if you’re looking for an affordable used superbike, the Ducati 999 looks like a winner.
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