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The Best of the Best 2003: Sportbikes - Ducati 999

Fluto Shinzawa

For the Ducatisti, the appeal of the Ducati 999, with its flared seat and pinched waist, has as much to do with sex as with speed.

 

In this respect, the 999 is not novel among Ducatis. The Italian motorcycle builder first lent a feminine form to one of its machines nearly three decades ago, when in 1974 it released the 750 SS, which featured a strikingly similar curvaceous seat and thin waist.

This was a heady time in Italian motorcycle history. Ducati was as wealthy as its customers and had the means to build and the market to sell daring, shapely, and expensive bikes. “It’s starting to happen again,” says Charles Falco, cocurator of the Guggenheim Museum’s The Art of the Motorcycle. “Some of the newer motorcycles in the last two years, like the 999, are ones you wouldn’t have seen before. Designers at companies are taking chances and putting out designs that are beyond the limits of a few years ago, and it seems like customers are buying them.”

Customers are not only buying them, they are racing them as well. The 999 is equipped with a 19-lap counter that ticks off each blast around a circuit and a timer that tracks your best performance. The motorcycle is powered by a 124-hp Testastretta engine.

Its speed and power define the 999 as a capable racing bike, but the beauty of the new Ducati is its versatility. You might expect a highly tuned superbike to be an unwieldy machine capable of inflicting permanent kinks into tightly wound backs. However, the 437.8-pound bike was also built for comfortable, everyday cruising. For the first time, Ducati employed computer-generated design programs when creating the 999. This enabled the engineers to experiment with a variety of configurations while they attempted to build a user-friendly motorcycle.

Ultimately, the design for the 999 included a seat that was significantly lower than those of previous models. Ducati also built vents and conveyors into the side fairings to reduce drag and decrease turbulence. “We are able to fit the bike to the rider,” says Pierre Terblanche, Ducati’s chief designer. “We wanted to make it as good on the road as on the track. It’s easier to ride into town.”

 

It’s also easy on the eyes. Aesthetic appeal made its predecessors stand out from the competition, and the lean, sexy, and aggressive 999 promises to uphold its forerunners’ legacy.

Ducati, www.ducati.com

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