ROADTEST: 2000 DUCATI 996 BIPOSTO
by bill heald
images by heald and friend
After six years of watching the
svelte, familiar form of Ducati 916/955/996s storming to victory in races
around the world, I finally got the opportunity to live with one for a
couple of weeks.
|Well, it was about damn time.
Of course, I rode a mere street bike
instead of race bike. I think. I'd swear there were lights on the thing,
along with a license plate, and the exhaust was reasonable subdued. Also,
I don't recall seeing a numberplate on either the front or the side, and
it was equipped with a sidestand (that thankfully didn't retract on its
own when weight comes off it like previous Ducati moto-props).
But with the possible exception of
Suzuki's incredible GSX-R750, there aren't a lot of bikes out there that
are as close to being a full-on Superbike right out of the crate as the
996. The version I experienced, a 2000 996 Biposto, is what one would consider
the "base" model in that it had a Showa suspension front and back as opposed
to an Ohlins-shock-equipped "S" model (which also has lighter wheels) or
an "SPS" edition which is tricked out even more and ain't street-legal.
But this standard version is still one high-performance Italian starlet
that is built for business, and let's you know from the moment you climb
I've been reading for years about how
small the 916/996/748 feels when you sit on it and I to be honest it didn't
seem that way to me at all. I think people think this because the 996's
riding position is so extreme and forward-biased that you really don't
have much motorcycle in front of you; it's all out back. It's almost as
if you're on a ocean liner where the wheelhouse was moved to the front
of the bow (where you're king of the world) as opposed to the usual position
I'm exaggerating a bit (a first),
but there is no question that the ergonomics of this bike are a tool to
help get some of the machine's weight bias up front where it belongs. Your
wrists bear the burden of this forward cant, and the pegs and seat are
quite high which let's you know this is a take-no-prisoners competition
of this, the Biposto is a bike that will make you curse straight stretches
of highway (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). The tall first gear and
limited steering lock also drives home the point that this ain't no city
bike. Paradoxically, the Biposto's glorious 996cc liquid-cooled 90-degree
V-twin is the model of civility in the flat, stop and go world of urban
warfare. It makes smooth, tractable power from as low as 3,000 RPM to just
shy of its 10,000 RPM (unindicated) redline.
But enough of this congested roadway
crap. Few race tracks resemble your average turnpike, and therefore the
996 will discipline you physically if you spend to much time away from
the tasty, curvaceous pavement it likes to call home. Once into the bendy
bits, this gorgeous Ducati reveals its mission in life, although not without
showing you a different way of doing things. The extreme riding position
combines with surprisingly slow steering to make the bike feel awkward
at first, but this impression quickly passes once you start learning how
to make these components work for you instead of against you. The fully
adjustable Showa suspension delivers a stiff ride until you get going fast
enough to make things work, and then all is control and composure as you
rocket around bumpy corners and transitions. The top-drawer Brembos do
the business on the stopping front, and while the front four-piston stoppers
offer great feel and power the rear is a trifle woody and tricky to modulate.
too, enough of this slowing-down stuff; let's talk motor. As much as I
was impressed with the 996's chassis, it's those big, angry pistons that
make this legendary motorcycle such a moving experience. The two injectors
per cylinder meter out fuel in such a wonderfully controlled way that even
though you have tons of torque and horsepower on tap it's always up to
you when (and how) it gets to the massive 190-series Pirelli Dragon behind
you. No wild hits or on/off nastiness takes place when you roll on the
throttle coming out of a corner, and the complex shock linkage helps keep
things stable out back when the power comes on. Even with all that weight
up front it's easy to loft the front tire on corner exit, and if you land
off-center a steering damper is there for you. Gearing is spot-on with
shifting that is smooth and precise, although gear selection is not as
critical as some high-performance machines thanks to the broad spread of
good 'ol Italian grunt.
Overall, it's easy to see how years
of development on the track has refined this beast into such a user-friendly
mount on so many levels, and a joyous backroad companion that reinforces
what sporting motorcycles are really all about. Even the aural part of
the equation is exquisite fun; a splendid blend of the desmo valve train,
dry clutch and booming exhaust that gets under your skin in the best way.
Then, there's the whole aesthetics/serviceability/build quality thing.
Even after all these years the 996 is still a striking piece of work, and
unique in the Superbike world with its trellis frame, single-sided swingarm
and desmodromic valve actuation. Getting to things to tweak and service
as a snap, as the bodywork comes off quickly and easily and the seat/tail
assembly hinges at the base of the tank for easy access to things.
Fit and finish is top-notch, right
down to the color-matched pillion seat that is a tad too cramped to really
promote taxi duty.
After spending quality time on Ducati's
world-beater in stock form, it's not hard to see what these things have
been so successful and have a legendary following. This is a very special
machine that rewards the rider with joyous motion every time you assume
the position. Uncomfortable? Yes. Very. Worth it? absolutely. If I had
the money, I think I'd have to own one. In fact, if there's any rich industrialist
out there who wants to make sure Ducati's latest (and possibly final version)
of the 916 pedigree gets a good home where it will be truly appreciated
and looked after, I'm here for you.
Which brings us to an interesting
question: when will Ducati grace us with a new platform for their Superbike,
anyway? The rumor mill has been churning over this issue forever, it seems.
It's really hard to say. The bike is still doing the business on the racing
front, as long as there's a rider in the saddle who can deal with its behavior
at the limit. For 2001, the 996 tested here gets a sealed-for-life battery,
silver engine and cam-belt covers, and an Ohlins rear shock for the Biposto
(only the Monoposto had one this year). The price will increase by $300,
which, I'm told, is the first real price increase in quite some time.
And for 2002? As we say around here
with nauseating regularity, watch this space.
BASE PRICE: $16,495 (2000), $16,795
TYPE: Liquid-cooled, longitudinal
BORE AND STROKE: 98 x 66mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 11.5:1
VALVE TRAIN: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
VALVE ADJUSTMENT INTERVAL: Every
FUEL DELIVERY: EFI, 2 injectors per
LUBRICATION SYSTEM: Wet Sump, 3.5
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed, hydraulically
activated dry clutch
FINAL DRIVE: O-ring chain
CHARGING OUTPUT: 520 watts max
BATTERY: 12V, 16AH
FRAME: Steel, trellis-type
WHEELBASE: 55.5 in.
RAKE/TRAIL 24 degrees/97mm, adjustable
to 23 degrees/91mm
SEAT HEIGHT: 31.1 in.
SUSPENSION FRONT Showa male slider
fork w/43mm stanchions; adj. for preload, compression and rebound damping,
REAR Single Showa shock, adj. for
compression and rebound damping, 5.1-in travel
BRAKES, FRONT: Dual discs w/4-piston
calipers REAR: Single disc w/2 piston caliper
WHEELS, FRONT: alloy, 3.50 X 17 in.
REAR: alloy, 5.50 X 17 in.
TIRES, FRONT: 120/70 ZR17 REAR: 190/50
DRY WEIGHT: 436.5 lbs.
FUEL CAPACITY: 4.5 gallons
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