THE TEST - Ducati UpNorth

THE TEST - Ducati UpNorth



Affordable exotica

Why run with the crowd when you’ve worked hard

in life? Indulge yourself with one of these beauties




Motorway 154 miles

Urban 7 towns,

23 villages

A Roads 124 miles

B Roads 132 miles




The Bike Test Route

Welcome to the future of road testing

There has never been a test quite like this. Full-on science meets mile after mile of gritty, real-road

blasting.Whatever the bike, whatever the weather, the Bike Test will deliver the definitive verdict

on which one you should buy. Road testing will never be the same again. Part one is the revised,

tougher-than-ever Bike Test Route: 440 miles of hand-picked roads. From tyre-blisteringly fast A

roads and twisty back roads to soul-shrinking motorways and the trickiest of rush hour towns, the

route will highlight the best and worst of a bike’s behaviour. Part two is the test track. Pushing

machines to their limits around the notorious Bruntingthorpe test facility, we measure top speed,

acceleration and braking, then put in a dozen laps of the fast, bumpy circuit to pinpoint which bike

handles best and why.There’s more. Part three is the perfect weekend: we do track days,

touring… whatever’s necessary to see how each bike will cope on your dream weekend. Part

four is dyno testing, home servicing and living with it. Only then can we reach a verdict. Believe it.

Benelli Tornado Tre

£9999, 198kg, 110bhp, 139mph

Incredible to look at, the Tre is the

budget end of the Benelli range,

having just had a £2000 price cut.

Evocative to ride, but yet to prove

it can stay the course.

The old Tornado was a 650cc

twin sports tourer from way

back in 1969.

Ducati 999

£11,250, 199kg, 115bhp, 148mph

The successor to the beautiful

and dominant 998, the looks

of the 999 divide opinion

but there’s no arguing with

the performance.

The old 999 was the 998 – which

is still winning races on the World

Superbike stage.

Aprilia RSV-R

£8525, 189kg, 117bhp, 151mph

More successful as a road bike

than race bike, the RSV-R was

always the best V-twin for you

and me. Does the new bike follow

that trend?

The old RSV-R is now called the

Factory and the old RSV Mille is

now called the RSV-R. Simple. Eh?

Ducati 749S

£9795, 199kg, 103bhp, 141mph

Baby bro’ to the 999 and the choice

of many in-the-know riders. What

it gives away in power it claws back

in handling.

The old 749 was the 748. Object of

a thousand posters and one of the

sweetest packages in motorcycling.

When it was working.







‘By lunch my arse

and I weren’t

talking and by

supper I was filing

for divorce’

Benelli Tornado Tre £9999

When Aprilias are too ordinary and Ducatis too common, try one of these

BENELLI? WHO THE HELL are they? Unless you

were born in black and white, the association of

the Italian marque with superbikes could have

you scratching your lid. Way back when I was

half my height, I vaguely remember a Benelli Sei.

Sei for six. This was a seriously monstrous bike

with a six-cylinder 900cc engine and de rigueur

(for the Seventies) flexi frame and straw forks.

If you grew up on one of those, chances are

you didn’t grow up to be very old.

We might live in glorious colour now, but the

imagined evilness of the Benelli of yesteryear is

with me. Three miles into the Bike Test Route

and it’s nearly all over. First roundabout,

morning traffic, second gear, 35mph. I lean the

bike over and it tries to bury itself (and me) into

the tarmac. Fuel stop, check the tyres: black,

round and inflated. On closer inspection, I find

the fitted-as-standard steering damper has seized

and lost its oil. The bike’s done only 3000 miles

since Italy. A minute with the 5mm spanner, one

knackered damper in my bag and I’m off again.

There’s something about the Benelli’s design

that attracts. Yes, it’s red and Italian, but it has a

real-life stylishness too, even parked up. Forget

what you know about bike building – this one

hasn’t read the book. Its headlights are a mere

arrow slit, its screen is a low fly-catcher and its

back end houses most of the bits you’d normally

find at the front.

Start her up (but don’t touch the throttle

unless you want that ‘rich kid can’t start his toy’

embarrassment) and let the flavour flood out.

Sorry, that Arrow exhaust might have all the

stamps on it but if that noise is road-legal so is a

drunken octogenarian on a unicycle. Naked. The

bark from this puppy is as sharp as a cleaver.

Sei means six, Tre means three: learning

Italian the Benelli way. Triples have that unique

note halfway between Nirvana and complete

engine meltdown. If you’re the type who always

imagines your engine’s on the verge of suicide,

best go buy a four (or whatever it is in Italian).

With a wail from the pipe we’re off. The

triple’s performance is more akin to the feel of a

600cc, revvy in-line four than the punch-and-go

of a large twin. Overtakes the RSV-R could

perform without bothering the gearbox have the

Tornado chasing the cogs. The box is at its most

annoying when you’re trying to find neutral at

the lights. The clutch is heavy and I have to

dance from first to second, back to first before it

finally goes into neutral. The lights are normally

back on green by then.

Catch a flow on the Benelli and you’re in

heaven. The exhaust sings, engine vibrates, front

wheel seeks. You do feel part of this bike and it

clearly enjoys a good blast in the countryside.

This is the point where most sane people would

stop, turn round and go home. But for me, I’ve

got another 80 motorway miles ahead.

Without the juggling of gears and sing-song

exhaust, the Tornado becomes an uncomfortable

place to be. Weather doesn’t help. With

absolutely no protection, you end up wet and

windy at the first sign of rain. Add in the useless

mirrors and you have all the ingredients for a

tiring ride.

And I haven’t even mentioned the seat.

When you first climb aboard it feels like your

best friend: caring and supportive, but firm.

By breakfast I was having second thoughts,

by lunch my arse and I weren’t talking and by

supper I was filing for divorce. During the long

ride home I had to hang off the side as though

setting myself up for a sharp right on the

motorway… for about 40 miles.

During our studio stripdown process, it

became clear that the quality of the plastic and

paint on the Benelli has some catching up to do

if it’s to match the Aprilia. A plastic lug broke

off the side panel (using only moderate pressure

on the short end of an Allen key), lacquer was

peeling off the tank badges and sidestand recess,

and the carbon heel plates had folded and

rubbed against the chain. Ridden hard, it

would soon look tatty.

The Benelli’s saving grace was the emotion on

the track. By the end of our Cadwell Park trackday,

everyone who rode it agreed that it was the most

talkative, responsive, annoyingly brilliant bike

out there. But we’re not buying it. Are you? >



Weather Game of

two halves: sunny

and soaking

Traffic Grinding

slowly through

the spray

Time taken

7 hours 40 minutes

Average speed


Fuel used

60 litres

Average mpg 34




protective – sadly

none of the above.


Top-gear cruising

70mph = 4400rpm

100rpm = 6100rpm

Speedo accuracy

70mph = real 63

100rpm = real 90


Heavy clutch and

wrist ache: it’s no

urban warrior.

Fast A roads

At last, we like.

This is where it

all makes sense.

Flowing, revving,

singing, winning.

Thirsty blighter.


Twisty B roads

Bit too jiggly for

this bike – bounces

and becomes



LIVING WITH IT 14 days of real life with a Tornado

+ The mirrors don’t fold in, so expect

paint scrapes, and they don’t adjust much

either. So expect nowt from them!

+ Group 17 insurance is par for this

course.What were you expecting for

a ten-grand bike?

+ The fuel light seems to come on

anywhere between 80 and 110 miles.

Anyway, you’ll need a rest by then.

+ Pillions get a raw deal.The seat pad

hardly fits the hole, there’s only a strap

on the pad to hold onto and the pegs are

high. Looks like you’re on your own, then.

+ Both the rider and pillion seats

unlock with the key. Forward does one,

backwards the other. Expect to find no

storage space.

+ The dash’s functions are controlled by a

switch mounted under the clutch lever.

Nice touch.

+ Engine and exhaust noise turns you

into a boy-racer. Rev, rev, roar, roar.


It must be the

Tornado because...

It fits in with your

life less ordinary.

The wife’s more

into horses than


Finding the money

to keep it in tip-top

condition isn’t a



When it’s good it’s

great – but often

you’re wondering

if the money could

be better spent.

Away from A roads

it doesn’t make

sense.And there’s

a quality issue with

some of the


An emotional





Ducati 749S £9795

The small ones are more juicy.And this one’s higher spec, too



Weather Dry twice:

before I left and

after I got home

Traffic Spray it

again, Sam

Time taken

8 hours

Average speed


Fuel used 56 litres

Average mpg 36


Seems they don’t

have any in Italy.

Or they don’t test

bikes on them.


Top-gear cruising

70mph = 4300rpm

100mph = 6200rpm

Speedo accuracy

70mph = real 66

100mph = real 95


Revvy engine

means lots of noise

to go with the

pose. Nimble.

Fast A roads

Makes you work

the gearbox but

the result is pure.

Front end is a joy.


Twisty B roads

Easier than the

bigger bikes here

but still a hungry

kebab of wrists,

bum and neck.


MENTION TO THE world and his wife that you’ve

got two Ducatis on a test and the reply is always

the same: ‘In case one breaks down, eh?’ Let’s

face it, for all the world titles, coolness and

desirability of the motorcyclist’s Ferrari, the fact

is people are more likely to remember its failures

than its triumphs.

Unfair? I’ve done less than 10 miles on the

yellow dream before its ‘character’ chimes in

and I’m down to one cylinder. I’m not a happy

bunny. But how peeved would you be if this

was your £9795 bike, on a sunny bank holiday

and all your mates have said ‘See ya later’

and disappeared to enjoy one of those

talked-about-for-ages rides? Exactly.

‘It’s quite a common problem,’ sympathises

Mark from BSD Motorcycles. The electrode on

the spark plug has melted after the coil-in-thecap

plug has given up the spark. Something to

do with ‘noise’ between cap and snap connector.

But I prefer bikes to be a riding experience, not a

workshop lesson. Not at that price.

The Bike Test Route, at 440 miles, is quite

long by any standards. It takes a day of grabbed

food, a healthy disinterest in smoking and a bike

that can manage more than 10 miles between

fettling. This should be interesting. The starter

rumbles slowly, ‘749’ flashes up on the digital

display and the frown is wiped off my face as

the Ducati bursts into two-cylinder happiness.

The S model 749 has a higher-compression

engine boasting 5bhp more than the base model.

It also gets higher-grade suspension, with superslippy

TiN-coated forks that are adjustable for

rake. That’s why it has a £1000 higher price tag.

After the disappointment of the first outing,

the smaller Ducati is doing its best to worm its

way back into my affections. As soon as we’re

rolling, the precise nature of the 749S shows.

Perfectly weightless side-to-side, the first set of

bends flows like a fountain of brilliance. The

whole chassis feels so well-balanced it leaves the

rider little to do but point it in the right

direction. The ride quality on smooth roads is

unmatched and the bumps and undulations on

the first A roads cause not a shake from the bike.

As it has a smaller engine than the Ducati

999, you don’t get the same drone from the

exhaust, even though you end up working the

engine harder. If the big litre twins can leave

your right wrist feeling a little redundant,

on the 749S it gets back to work quicker than

an Iraqi arms dealer. This is a bike you ride.

From a standstill the 749S needs a fair

amount of revs for smart acceleration but you’re

rewarded with sharp motion without the ‘It’s

gonna flip’ feeling. This Duke isn’t big on

wheelies, so the traffic-light GP is within your

grasp. The silky gearbox ratios are spot-on (with

top acting as an overdrive) and the speed and

precision of the changes make for rapid progress.

Get lazy with the gears and the 749S struggles –

give it the berries at 70-ish in top gear and it

burps then gathers speed in a very sedate way.

Engine aside, the real strength and character

of this bike is its front end. It’s spot-on for both

road and track. During our trackday at Cadwell

the 749S more than held its own against the

more powerful bikes and its front Pirelli was

completely unmarked by the end of the day,

while all the others had been working theirs

to the point of ripping and sliding. And on a

front-end heavy circuit like Cadwell, confidence

is everything.

The brakes feel very balanced, too. Combined

with that sweet front end, the Brembos allow

you to brake well up to the apex without any

worries about the front tucking. And the rear

refuses to lock up unless you’re spam-footed.

One surprise is the amount of room offered to

the rider. Though the bum-to-peg distance isn’t

great, there’s sufficient room front to back to

move about when the saddle makes you sore.

Other practicalities are in the one-legged runner

league: the bike will carry two people but

absolutely nothing else; mirrors work well if you

spread your elbows so your arms don’t fill the

view; the screen helps keep flies off your navel.

You’d have to be passionate to buy a 749S.

Go in with your eyes open, be philosophical

and take it on the track at least once. It’s there

to be ridden and forgiven. >


Without the track

work the 749S can

be a bit misunderstood.


feel, keen engine

and decent brakes

have you talking

about the ride for

weeks after.


problems mean

these might be the

only stories you

have.Treasure the

good times.

LIVING WITH IT 14 days of real life with a 749S

+ Pillions are short-hop only, though

they are treated to an under-seat heating

system, thanks to the exhaust.

+ Mirrors are fixed and house the

indicators. Glass has good movement

but you’ll have to arc your elbows to

be able to see past your arms.

+ Fuel light regularly comes on before

100 miles and the tank only has a

15.5 litre capacity, which means it’s

all over by about 120 miles.

+ Expect trouble.Aside from the onecylinder

gag, it would occasionally stall

at the lights (honest), the dash went on

the blink and the starter would continue

to turn on its own. More character than

an Equity shop-stewards meeting.

+ Insurance group is 16 which indicates

that you’re playing with the big-boys here.

+ There’s nowhere to put anything.

Even the battery lives under the left-hand

side fairing.


It must be the

749S because...

You fell in love with

the colour.

You know the

Japanese bikes

are better.

Character and

frustration are

all part of the rich

tapestry of biking.

‘Perfectly weightless

side-to-side, the first

bends flow like a

fountain of brilliance’




Hall Bends,

Cadwell Park,

May 13

Track record

Born on the track, so take them

back. Here, everything makes sense


likely routes into owning bikes like these. Either

you empty the bank account that is ‘doing

nothing much’ or you scrape together every

last penny and add an extra chunk onto your

mortgage. But whichever way you pay for it,

the attraction is the same. These bikes offer style,

grace and a fantasy world in which the top racers

play. Whether you can afford it or not, this

quartet needs a run on the track – those voices

in your head just won’t go away.

If it all goes well, a trackday will open a door

to the crazy, adrenaline-fuelled life of a racing

god. If it all goes wrong? Well, a small two-bed

semi is so much easier to keep clean.

With all the hoo-hah surrounding the takeover

of many of the UK’s circuits, there’s never

been a better time to book yourself a trackday.

Why wait when you can ring anytime and see if

you can pay on the door, on the day? This will

remove any worries about the weather.

Of all Britain’s tracks, Cadwell Park brings a

glint to even the most steely-grey racer’s eye. The

mist has yet to lift completely and it’s follow-theleader

for a couple of laps and an introduction to

the new chicane. At last the tyres are warm, my

head is clear and it’s time to put on some speed.

I slingshot past the rider in front, hold it on

the brakes, early on the gas, feel the tyre squirm

and gun it down the straight. Within half a lap

I’m feeling more alive than after 100 miles on

the road. Welcome to the beauty of trackdays.

No sneaky police, no hidden speed cameras. Fast

as you like as often as you dare. Feel the bike

working like never before. Brake pads bite discs

and levers flex under the increased pressure,

while tyres relish the chance to work as they

were designed. Suddenly your exotic bike has

come alive and wants to play.

Back in the pits the din is fantastic as riders,

ear plugged with their helmets still on, can’t wait

to exaggerate passes and slides and moments of

brilliance. With these bikes we are all GP stars.

Five minutes later a mangled Aprilia is

dragged back out into the daylight. Test rider

Andrew Mook, keen as mustard, has bounced

better than his departing bike. The RSV-R looks

sorry for itself, but more importantly, Mooky will

heal. The constant piss-taking is bound to help.

The dangers of the track are ever-present but in

truth it’s the first test bike down for ages and the

medics were on the scene immediately. The bike

will get repaired and Mooky will be back out

there before you know it. >


Let the games

begin.Wailing like a

banshee, scratching

like a leper, the

Tornado is superbly

manic on track and

you’ll soon forget

the self-destructive

sound of the engine

and the brittleness

of the plastics.


Smallest bike

here but that

means nothing as

it’s inch-perfect

around the track.

Lack of straightline

punch is

compensated for

in the bends and

on the brakes.


Meaty motor means

you don’t have to

scrabble about for

gears midcorner.

Brakes offer the best

feedback but notchy

head bearings made

this test bike run

wide. Normally they

track beautifully.

Requires more input

than the 749S but

the rewards are just

as high.


This would be the

natural choice.That’s

what you’d think,

though the extra

effort it takes to lap

at a similar speed to

the smaller Duke

really isn’t worth it.

Doesn’t hold the line

of the smaller bike

and the brakes grab

when they get hot.

Get it all flowing

and you’ll enjoy it,

but you’ll always

be envious of the

guy on the smaller

bike by the end of

the day.




‘The RSV-R has

morphed into a

more useful bike

at the cost of

some flair’

Aprilia RSV-R £8572

New bike, new name but the aims remain. Does it still cut it?


soap that gave us a bevy of beauties who would

evolve from bratty-child actors into glamorous

young Kylies after a two-week summer trip?

Truth is, they switched the actresses (sorry to

spoil it) and now I’m at the end of my own

two-week trip and feeling just as confused.

I’ve ridden into the office on my 2001 Aprilia

Mille RSV-R, to ride the new 2004 Aprilia RSV-R.

But it’s not the same bike at all. It’s been

completely revamped – and now the ‘R’ version

isn’t the special OZ-wheeled, Öhlins-sprung,

carbon-clad beauty. It’s the new basic-level bike.

Give it a few years and you won’t have a clue

what you’re buying second-hand. So ‘R’ means

entry-level, and ‘Factory’ means ‘R’. Got it? Let’s

see what all those changes really mean.

Change the bodywork, switch the name,

but that 60° V-twin engine can’t be mistaken.

The sound is as distinctive as a Harley and easily

distinguished from the Ducati and Benelli bikes

on test. It sounds and feels more Japanese than

Italian – and that’s no bad thing. Starts first time,

has a cool burble from the twin exhausts and

gives you that confident feeling.

The trademark punch of the earlier Milles

has gone, the power now following a more-linear

curve with a kick at about 7000rpm. Top-end

power is the greatest here at 117bhp and it

feels the quickest on the road. The gearbox is

a master stroke, all the ratios being well-spaced

for either road or track and there are no missed

gears or false neutrals. Combined with the

torque of the V-twin, this makes riding relaxing

and overtaking a cinch.

With all that go, you need good brakes and

the RSV-R delivers the most feel back to the rider.

The levers are adjustable for span, with a small

plastic wheel that can be fiddly with a gloved

hand but allows you to set it just right. The

master cylinders are beautiful in their

compactness and long lever-blades. Apply, and

the stopping force is immense. Not as grabby as

the Ducatis when they get hot or as un-hungry

as the Benelli. If you want instant, controllable

deceleration, the Aprilia’s your man.

LIVING WITH IT 14 days of real life with an RSV-R

+ Pillions get the least comfort of the

bikes on test here. Come on, would you

want to go for miles on that with no rail,

high pegs and a seat that’ll disappear

with the slightest hint of flatulance?

+ Insurance takes the whole group

17 biscuit. It should be clear by now

that exotic bikes don’t come cheap

to buy or run.

+ The new clocks finally get rid of the

Eighties-style Vauxhall Astra dash of the

Stability is on a par with the Ducatis – the

Aprilia feels long and roomy. Fast A-roads are

where this bike belongs and that engine means

fewer gear changes, leaving you time to

concentrate more on braking points and apexes.

It’s almost untouchable in these conditions.

On the tighter, bumpier Bs, the RSV-R can

have a tendency to run wide on the exit. This

wasn’t helped by the stiff and notchy headstock

on our test bike. This showed up during our

eventful day at Bruntingthorpe. Standing water

and a headwind made for horrible conditions

and the Aprilia was easily spanked by the 999 –

not just in lap times. The Ducati felt more

friendly in this time of need, offering more

confidence on the long corners and better

manoeuvrability in the chicane.

At Cadwell, the Aprilia was ace on the brakes

and supersonic on the straights but, again, get

on the gas too early and the back digs in and

pushes the front to the edge of the track. Once

you know it’s going to run wide you can square

the corner and get the bike slightly more upright

before you feed in the gas. That’s the way to

tame this bike and get lap times down.

While the old model stands out for looking

slightly tall and awkward, with its huge tail and

comic-book rear lights, the new one falls more

into the ‘norm’ of race-inspired twins. It could

be Japanese in styling and execution. Panels are

large and smooth, wiring’s tucked away and the

pose is more practicality than pomp.

Mirrors house the front indicators and that

extra weight might account for the vibration

at most speeds. They’re wide enough to allow

a look at this blurry image and fold in for easy

parking in tight spaces. The speedo is all-youneed

beautiful, the seat better than average

(though that’s no real boast) and the underhump

storage has shrunk with the smaller back

end. Faired-in rear indicators are a stylish touch.

Like the Ducati 999, the RSV-R has morphed

into a more focused bike at the cost of some of

the original’s flare. Whether this represents

progress or not comes down to personal feeling.

But I’m not swapping… >

old model.You still get all the range of

info (lap timer, max speed, trip, clock etc).

+ The Factory model, which offers

fancy wheels, suspension, brakes and

bodywork, costs £2200 more. How much

do you want?

+ You still get adjustment on both

footbrake and gear levers.

+ The mirrors fold in for easy van

transportation for, say, getting home after

a trackday spill at Cadwell.


It must be the RSV-R


You want it to go


You like the

flexibility of that

torquey engine

and gearbox.

The black looks

bad, man.



Weather At least

it’s constant.

Constantly wet

Traffic Wipered

cars everywhere

Time taken

7 hours 45 minutes

Average speed


Fuel used 52 litres

Average mpg 39


Seemed a tad


but then I rode

the others. Now

it’s near luxury.


Top-gear cruising

70mph = 4000rpm

100mph = 5800rpm

Speedo accuracy

70mph = real 66

100mph = real 93


Less taxing than

the Dukes, though

still not the place

to be.

Fast A roads

The Aprilia flies

over this section

of the route. Hardly

need to trouble the



Twisty B roads

Stiff suspension

means air over

some of the bumps

and it’s a handful

if you use all

that power.



Feels the most

relaxed thanks

to spread of power,

ease of gear

changes, ace

brakes and general

flowing nature of

the bike. Known

reliability helps

keep you sane

on longer journeys.





Groundhog day,

part four

Traffic No caravans,

thank God

Time taken

7 hours 45 minutes

Average speed


Fuel used 55 litres

Average mpg 37


Not much to do but

try to tuck in and

play ‘Guess what

the blurred image

behind is’.


Top-gear cruising

70mph = 3750rpm

100mph = 5500rpm

Speedo accuracy

70mph = real 65

100mph = real 92


Narrow bars,

steering damper,


seating all see

you yearning for

the open road.

Fast A roads

Loves ’em. Doesn’t

feel as fast as the

others but it is.Top

feels like an



Twisty B roads

Bumpy but not

twitchy. No better

or worse than the

others and torque

means you’re

not constantly

changing gear.



A very good road

bike if you get used

to the discomfort

and don’t leave it

in top. Precise on

the flowing roads

but jarry on the

bumpy stuff.Avoid


Ducati 999 £11,250

The 998 had it all: the looks, the power, the glory.What’s the 999 inherited?

TAKING THE DUCATI 999 to Cadwell Park was

like the first day of school for the youngest in a

family that has always excelled there. I’ve ridden

all the Nines round this beautiful track: 916, 996,

998. All good. Good at rewarding you with an

apparent lack of effort. The way these bikes

carried their speed, kept their manners when

braking and their composure when overtaking

sticks in my mind. But that means nothing if the

young kid can’t cut it.

There’s less of a buzz surrounding the 999 (see

page 81). Rolling up on one of the earlier bikes

would have had you levering admirers out of the

way when your group was called. Not so today at

the track. Or yesterday on the Bike Test Route.

Despite the yellow paintwork being louder than

your granddad’s telly, the interest in this Ducati

is quite a few levels below fever pitch. More like

cricket pitch. Buy a 999 to impress people and

you might end up on your own. Or hanging out

with some very weird mates.

It’s not that it’s not cool. It’s just not as

achingly beautiful as the previous bikes. Being

yellow won’t help Mr Average to recognise it.

But then, who really wants to be gawped at by

scruffy passers-by? Truth is, the first one I saw

looked like two different bikes stitched together.

The front half was all colour and plastic while

the back looked like a half-finished Mechano toy.

That’s all I’m saying. And no, I didn’t have to

circle it three times before jumping aboard.

It turns over like a diesel desperate for a

250,000-mile service, but then purrs into that

slightly metallic desmodromic melody. Digga,

digga, braaaapp, brrraaaaappp, digga, digga.

Two days earlier, the 999 had offered the best

ride at the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in

the rain (well, best of three, as the 749S is a

fair-weather bike). So even though Cadwell

was dry, the 999 was still my steed of choice.

Looping round the track, it was clear the bike

had a front that wanted to run wide as standard.

This didn’t really show itself on the road but on

the track I had to knock the power off on the

apex to keep the front tight. Maybe that was a

result of all the extra low-down torque? I knew it

LIVING WITH IT 14 days of real life with a 999

+ Pillions suffer exactly the same

fate as those on the 749S.There

are no differences.

+ There’s no underseat space, either.

+ It must be no surprise that your group

NU17 insurance premium is equal to the

GDP of a small African country.

+ The two-year warranty could come in

really useful if you get a bad ‘un.

+ There are three different levels of

999 ownership.This basic model costs

would have made more sense to be on the 749S.

Extra power only ever hinders if you can’t lay it

down. The difference in lap times would only be

slight but there was a much wider gulf in

confidence levels. It would sometimes feel as

though the 999 was in charge – and that’s never

a good situation.

Whether it was the extra power and speed

or something else is unclear, but my extra use

of the brakes started to show early. The whizz

and hissing pads started to grab on the discs

and ruled out any really hard braking while

banked over – there was too much chance of

them locking the front and having me off.

You’d have to try extremely hard to pass a

749S on this bike.

So the smaller yellow bike beats the bigger

yellow bike round the track (hell the 999 can’t

consistently beat the 998 in World Superbikes).

But come back into the real world and the tables

are turned. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a

better bike. Just faster over distance.

There are no headshakes from the 999, but

show it a bumpy back road and you’ll regret it.

With everything going well it flows, but

misjudge a bump at speed and it’ll have you

working-out harder than a bodybuilder with a

bruised ego. And don’t expect any more comfort

than you find on the 749S.

Just when I was thinking that the 999 was

going to perform the whole of this 1000-mile test

without a hiccup, the digital dash display failed

and I was left with no speedo or warning lights.

The exact same thing happened last time out

(May 2003) so the fault must go under the

‘Common problems’ section.

The bike also lost a spring from the exhaust

pipe, making it sound just like a race system but

without the £1500 bill. Result.

And the awkward-looking sidelight mounted

in the screen went out. But that was more of a

blessing as it can shine into your eyes at night.

It’s easy to be cynical about Ducatis after

experiences like this and the breakdown on the

749S. For such an expensive machine, surely

better reliability isn’t too much to ask? >

£11,250; the 999S (with more power

and Öhlins suspension) is £13,950;

the 999R comes in at £19K.That’s as

close to a factory ride as we’re ever

gonna get.

+ Best get an alarm and carry a lock to

keep your obviously expensive Ducati out

of the reach of thieving scum. Or just ride

it and lock it up back at home.

+ Expect everybody to want a piece of

you at every trackday: ‘I’ll show him...’


It must be the

999 because...

Ducati’s win


It’s one of the

coolest brands


You like the yellow

of this bike.And

AA patrol vans.

‘Misjudge a bump

at speed and it’ll

have you workingout

harder than a

bodybuilder with

a bruised ego’









There was only

one way to travel

in this year. The

Gottlieb Daimler

Einspur ripped up

a storm. There was

only one, so that

has to make it the

rarest of exotica.


Ducati build their

first V-twin by

sticking two

pushrod singles

together. The 750

Sport gave birth to

the trademark 90°

V-twin engine.


Benelli create a stir

with the 750Sei

and the later

900Sei. Six-piped,


madness with a

120mph top end.


Ducati give us the

851 superbike and

an era of Italian

exotica starts.


Aprilia join the fray

with the RSV Mille.

It makes its WSB

debut in 1999.



Bore x stroke


Fuel system



Front suspension


Rear suspension


Brakes front; rear

Tyres front; rear



Dry weight (claimed)

Seat height

Fuel capacity

Fuel consumption (average)


Service intervals

NU insurance group

Price (otr)

State of the art: Exotica

Buy with your heart.And a large credit-card


Normally Italian exotica

is bathed in Öhlins or

suspension of that level.

But, except for the 749S,

these ‘base’ models

make do with suspension

that’s more road biased

than track proven. For

the flashier kit, you have

to spend your way up the

model ranges.



898cc, 12v, dohc, in-line triple

88 x 49.2mm


fuel injection

6-speed, chain

tubular steel perimeter

43mm usd telescopic forks

preload, compression, rebound

rising-rate monoshock

preload, compression, rebound

2 x 320mm discs/4-piston caliper;

240mm disc/2-piston caliper

Dunlop D207RR

120/70 ZR17; 190/50 ZR17





19 litres


two years/unlimited mileage

5000km/12 months




Think Italian.Think

sportsbikes.Think twins.

Think again. Benelli use

a 900cc triple to gain

more flexibility over a

twin. But it’s down on

power, so the 1000cc

twins stomp through.



748cc, 8v, dohc, 90º V-twin

90 x 58.8mm


fuel injection

6-speed, chain

steel trellis

43mm usd telescopic forks

preload, compression, rebound

rising-rate monoshock

preload, compression, rebound

2 x 320mm discs/4-piston caliper;

240mm disc/2-piston caliper

Pirellia Diablo

120/70 ZR17; 180/55 ZR17





15.5 litres


two years/unlimited mileage

6000 miles/12 months




998cc, 8v, dohc, 60º V-twin

97 x 67.5mm


fuel injection

6-speed, chain

aluminium twin-spar

43mm usd telescopic forks

preload, compression, rebound

rising-rate monoshock

preload, compression, rebound

2 x 320mm discs/4-piston caliper;

220mm disc/2-piston caliper

Michelin Pilot Sport

120/70 ZR17; 190/50 ZR17





18 litres


two years/unlimited mileage

6000 miles/12 months




Aprilia have the most

familiar approach, using

an alloy beam frame.

Ducati use steel trellis

(just like all the race

bikes) for both models.

Benelli are entirely off

the beaten track with

this screwed-and-glued

number. Steel headstock

and side rails are bolted

and stuck into the cast

swingarm pivots.



You pay for exotica

so expect something

different beneath the

clothes.The Benelli is

the most radical here.

The radiators sit under

the seat, fed by fans

that cool from the back.

The frame (see above) is

a mixture of steel, glue

and alloy and the

panels are wafer thin.

998cc, 8v, dohc, 90º V-twin

100 x 63.5mm


fuel injection

6-speed, chain

steel trellis

43mm usd telescopic forks

preload, compression, rebound

rising-rate monoshock

preload, compression, rebound

2 x 320mm discs/4-piston caliper;

240mm disc/2-piston caliper

Michelin Pilot Sport

120/70 ZR17; 190/50 ZR17





15.5 litres


two year/unlimited mileage

6000 miles/12 months




When your mirrors are as usless as the

ones on these bikes, an easy-to-read

clock is essential. Luckily, all of these

bikes have large, clear LCD readouts

of speed and distance. The Aprilia’s is

neatest (about time) and the easiest to


Benelli’s ‘nose’ of light throws a tall, narrow beam

onto the road ahead. Works well, leant over. The

749’s projector headlights tunnel into the night sky

Tank range

All fuelled-up with nowhere to go? Taking you the

shortest distance is the 749S. All that revving gets

you down to an average of 36mpg and the small,


Full Tank




use with a gloved digit. The Ducatis’

are informative until they go blank

while the Benelli goes all colourful on

us and, most usefully of all, has a

remote switch beneath the clutch to

change the display.

though the small screen-mounted side light gave up

the ghost on the route. Aprilia breaks with tradition

and has both sides of the headlights on all the time.

15.5 litre tank sucks dry by 122 miles. Worst

economy is the noisy Benelli that returns 34mpg.

However, its 18 litre tank means 134 is possible

RSVR 154






Left (l-r):Tall and thin slit for

the lights gives the Benelli the

face of a grasshopper;

Staked circle beams for the

Duke keeps the frontal aspect

slim.This one is the… 999.We

think.Almost certainly;

More foxy than a 1994 Blade,

the cool-fronted RSV-R throws

most light on the subject

Right You again? Oh, no.This

time it’s the 749. Same lights



Left Ducati clock in

still-working shock

Middle Neat and well

laid-out RSV-R clock

Right Another working

Ducati display and

analogue rev counter

Main image Designed in

a McDonalds? Red and

yellow lighten up the

dash on the Tornado

Very effective at night. The blue glare of the 999’s

lights mean that even the dopeyest of car drivers

thinks you’re the rozzers and moves over. Great.

between pumps. Best economy (and breaking the

150 mile barrier) is the Aprilia which does 39mpg

with an 18 litre tank. The 999’s good for 126 miles.

Theoretical tank range

Tornado 134 miles


122 miles


154 miles

999 126 miles

Figures based on motorway

mpg on the Test Route.




To keep the bike’s

frontal area slim, the

radiator and fans get

moved to the back

and fresh air is

ducted along the

length of the bike in

plastic tubes (not

shown). Didn’t stop

our bike continually

running hot, though.

Benelli Tornado Tre

As unusual to look at when the

fairing’s off as it is when it’s on

Right Italian right to

the core. Brembos are

fitted to all these

bikes, uniformly bolted

to upside-downies

Far right Two of the

Benelli’s biggest fans.

I thank you



With the feedback

from their WSB and

MotoGP campaigns,

the power of the new

RSV-R is not only

greater than the old

bike but also not so

sharp at the bottom

for a more controllable

delivery out of corners.

Aprilia RSV-R

The only bike here with a twin-spar

frame. Pretty fancy swingarm too

Right The latest radial

Brembos adorn the

RSV-R Factory.This

model makes do with

plain four-potters

Far right Sexy swinger

seeks rider for country

trips and fun times



The 749S features

Showa shocks and

titanium nitride (TiN)

coated forks for

reduced friction drag.

Only the £13,500 749R

gets Öhlins kit.

Ducati 749S

Underseat exhaust and clever

electronics meet traditional trellis frame

Right Not as sexy as

the 748’s underseat

cans. Still swallow

storage space

Far right Lovely

headstock detailing.


damper, adjustable



What you see here is

the result of about an

hour’s labour with

allen keys and a

socket set.The Dukes

retain the title of

quickest to strip with

half-turn screws and

quick-release fuel

connectors. Just as

well, eh?

Ducati 999

One world title already.This is what’s

behind Ducati’s latest sporting dream

Right Double-armed

swinger takes over

from the 998’s singlesided

swingarm for a

stiffer rear

Far right Do you know

which Ducati is most

popular in Germany?

No, No, No





The boys were

fascinated by

the new Beetle.

‘It’s not as big

as I’d expected’







You need to love the

gearbox and ignore

the rattles.Then it all

makes sense.


Fun and responsive but

requires nifty footwork

to keep with the biggerengined



Best here for so many

reasons. Overtakes are

so easy and the gearbox

is supreme.


Outgrunts them all but

ratios don’t work as well

as the Aprilia’s. 749 unit

is sweeter.


Talkative and precise.

Handles the power well.


As precise as a jeweller’s



Steady, sure and



Not quite in the

749 league.



are the latest

fad for trackday



Gives no cause for concern.

Worked the tyres on the

track, though.


Lacked a bit of feel

when first applied but

performed well.


Excellent most of the time.

Foxed mostly on the

rougher B roads.


Well matched to the

power and attitude

of this race-bred bike.


Harsh over the bumpy

B roads but well suited

to the track.


The power, feel and

all the glory. Never

a moment’s worry.


Not the same feedback of

the smaller bike but good

in the wet.


As grabby as a spoilt kid

when hot.Whizz loudly,

which is nice.


Nice styling but does

nothing to keep the

weather off you.


Really only there so they

can plaster it in stickers

for racing.


Slightly more protective

than the Ducatis’ with

a better screen.


Same as the 749, with

the same tiny screen and

very slim profile.


On a par with sanding

your flesh with 80-grade



Definitely not the Ritz.

Slightly better than the



Best here but not up for

long tours. Padding is fairly

thin on the seat.


If miles give you piles, then

this needs to be dropped

in a vat of Preparation H.


Sometimes I’d swap all this glamour of testing for a

badge with four-stars and a red-and-yellow clown for a

boss. Conditions for the performance test were grim.

The worst they get. Standing water, driving rain and an

evil headwind. It was more about survival than shaving

tenths and the figures suffered as a result. Sorry.

The four tests are:

Top speed measured on a two-mile runway.

Acceleration through the gears and rolling on from

60mph in fifth gear (fourth on a five-speed gearbox).

Braking from 100mph.

Lapping the Bruntingthorpe handling circuit.


Dyno graphs explained

First things first. If you’re expecting the initial explosion

that the old RSV-R had, you’ll be left wanting. In the

midrange stakes, the 999 is the new king, having a

huge dollop of the stuff on tap after about 4000rpm.

Battling for third place are the 749S and the

Tornado. It’s only when the coals get really hot that the

Benelli edges ahead and this isn’t until there’s more

than 9000rpm on the dial. Still, it gives the high revving

Benelli the edge as it goes on till nearly 12,000rpm.

The torque graph shows just how much midrange

grunt the 999 has. Unfortunately, it fails to capitalise

on this in acceleration terms unless you start talking

roll-ons in fifth gear.

Fastest lap



60-100 (fifth gear)

Top speed

Braking 100-0mph


Power (bhp)








1m 32.9s





5.14s (385ft)

Fairly comfortable despite

the conditions. Good feel

from the front Dunlop

and the lack of grabby

brakes help on this

smooth, if slow, lap.


0 2 4 6 8 10 12


109.7bhp @ 10,800rpm

57.9lb.ft @ 9400rpm

rpm (x1000)


103.4bhp @ 10,500rpm

56.0lb.ft @ 8400rpm


1m 32.3s





5.23s (379ft)

With just over a hundred

horses, the 749S was

spinning down the

straight due to the

standing water. It broke,

10 miles into the test.

Torque (lb-ft)









1m 30.6s





5.17s (386ft)

Felt slow but the clock

says different.Top brakes

give excellent feedback

and that engine powers

it faster. Expect it to top

160mph in the dry.


0 2 4 6 8 10 12


117.0bhp @ 9800rpm

67.2lb.ft @ 8100rpm

rpm (x1000)


1m 30.4s





5.60s (394ft)

Fastest and most

confident on these laps,

the 999 struggles slightly

due to wheelspin and the

brakes lack some bite.


115.1bhp @ 9600rpm

69.7lb.ft @ 7900rpm

For Sale:Aprilia

RSV-R, low

miles, tastefully

modifed by

top designer


Rumsfeld did

not approve

this treatment

of crashers


Twist the throttle and

it goes. But not best for

town trips.


Worst here.


Fun in very small doses.


Stay away from towns and

rain. No storage anywhere

under the seats.




Pleasure and pain.

The best bike

How do you view this class?

If you want performance,

reliability, build quality and

want something that’ll

withstand a winter, then the

Aprilia RSV-R can be the only one to recommend.

Sure, for brief moments in time the Ducati 749S

is the best fun you can have – but for most of us

the fear of mechincal gremlins is too great a risk

to live with.

The Benelli frustrated until we took it to the

track. Here the emotion of the bike flooded out

and the feeling was second to none. It felt better

than the 749S. But the quality doesn’t spell

exotica – it was far too brittle to look this good

after a season of riding. And it sounded like it

was just a rev away from mechanical munching

from the first to the last mile of this test. That’s

just too rich for our blood.

And the 999? It looked as though it’d fly

through our test without any problems – but


It’s a sportsbike with little

storage.Wins as it’s not

as bad as the others.


Japanese level.


It’s a reliable grower.


Nowhere to put a lock –

and stay away from towns

and U-turns.




Should be more special.

then they came. They were minor, but no

speedo and crap mirrors are your ticket to HMP

Nofreedom. It could easily leave you by the side

of the road. And our bikes are prepared especially

for these tests.

The best buy

This is a hell of a lot clearer. It’s the Aprilia RSV-R.

The most reliable, powerful, fastest bike here

costs the least (even the more expensive Factory

model wouldn’t look out of place here). If it was

our money, there’d be no other place for it.

The two Ducatis will fight among themselves

come resale time – and it gets confusing with all

the different models out there. Would you buy

either one when it’s out of warranty?

Which leaves the Benelli. Exclusivity never

comes cheap and the Tornado certainly keeps

that side up. Nearly ten big ones gets you

something a bit different, dubious quality and an

air of mystery. But you’ll still struggle to keep that

half-the-price Honda CBR600 behind you.


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