Best of the Best 2005: Sportbikes
Over the past decade, Best of the Best billing in the sportbike realm has passed from one manufacturer to the next as each company, in turn, has attained an incremental edge over its rivals in performance or styling. With the Ducati 999R, however, the Bologna, Italy–based manufacturer has brought to bear the full weight of its racing legacy to produce what is possibly the finest street-legal sport machine ever built.
In developing the 999R, Ducati’s designers and engineers married a provocative Italian aesthetic to the technical advances that have helped the manufacturer earn 10 of the last 14 World Superbike Championships. Their $30,000 creation is as seductive in physical appearance as it is enthralling to ride—and it is remarkably similar to the bikes that Ducati sends to the racetrack.
The 999R’s beauty extends beyond the veneer of its redesigned carbon fiber bodywork, Öhlins suspension components, Brembo radial-mounted brakes, and forged, machined wheels. Deep within, embraced by the trellis frame, is the motorcycle’s heart: a completely reengineered, liquid-cooled, Testastretta L-twin engine. Utilizing larger valves to draw more air into reshaped combustion chambers, the powerplant produces 150 hp at 9,750 rpm. Engineers shaved weight from internal engine parts, chassis, and components to get the 999R down to 423 pounds, and the resulting power-to-weight ratio helps push the Ducati to speeds just shy of the racing model’s top mark of 202 mph.
Whether accelerating to full speed or enduring positive g forces on heavy braking, the 999R is an exceptionally stable sportbike with the world-class handling expected of its Ducati DNA. The motorcycle envelops the rider, offering the sensation of being in the bike as opposed to on it. The transmission, clutch, brakes, and throttle work together in a balanced syncopation of mechanics that, when combined with the predictability of the 999R’s handling, renders a ride of deceptive ease.
Those who chase specification sheets undoubtedly will find a sportbike with more horsepower or fewer pounds than the 999R. But for sheer enjoyment, performance, quality of construction, and the thrill of riding a top-level, street-legal superbike, the Ducati delivers an unparalleled experience.
Named for legendary racer Giacomo Agostini, the MV Agusta F4-Ago 1000 is an aesthetically and kinetically uncompromising motorcycle with a fierce, 166 hp inline-4 concealed beneath a carbon fiber body and thermoplastic fairings. However, unless your name is Agostini (or Rossi or Biaggi), the $26,000 Ago’s astronomic performance capabilities can be overwhelming. Ferrari-designed radial valves provide explosive power instantaneously throughout the wide power band, and although handling is supremely communicative, the Ago’s inclinations toward extreme speed constantly challenge the rider’s desire for control.
An Alcantara seat, titanium detailing, and a No. 1 insignia (Agostini’s racing number) distinguish the Ago visually from the manufacturer’s already scarce F4-1000S. But for the 300 lucky owners of this limited edition bike, the thrill of the ride will be what sets their Agos apart.
MV Agusta, www.mvagustausa.com
Generating 152 hp from its high-winding 4-cylinder engine, the 365-pound Suzuki GSX-R1000 is the ideal mount for exuberant canyon-running. Everything wrapped inside the bike’s wind-cheating shell is derived from hardware tested in professional races, and Suzuki has done much to improve upon previous models of the four-time AMA Superbike champion GSX. The motorcycle’s aluminum frame, fairing, and instrument cluster have been redesigned, and a new 998 cc engine and other internal upgrades provide a more fuel-efficient ride. The $11,000 machine also features huge disc brakes and race-bred suspension, ensuring that the fun continues when the road begins to bend. —Ray Thursby
Aprilia ushered in a new era for upright sportbikes when it introduced the Tuono in 2003. By morphing its mighty 1,000 cc superbike, the RSV Mille, into an upright configuration, the Noale, Italy, manufacturer ensconced itself at the pinnacle of this emerging class. The Aprilia Tuono 1000 R Factory, the latest iteration of the upright model, refutes any notion of Aprilia resting on its laurels. Derived from its more serious racing sibling, the RSV Mille Factory, the $18,000 bike cranks out 130 hp at 9,500 rpm. The bulk of the Mille fairing has been stripped to warrant the “naked” moniker, and the Tuono 1000 R Factory, thanks to its upright handlebars, offers greater leverage and a more comfortable seating position than Aprilia’s racing version.