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Ducati 999: The Cilantro of Superbikes

Apr 29, 13 • by Lindsay Shaw • Featured, Motorcycles1 CommentRead More »

Ducati 999(Ed. Note: We like bikes as much as we like cars, and whenever possible, we’re going to feature a motorcycle that’s past its prime. My friend Lindsay Shaw wrote this piece on the Ducati 999 and as soon as I can get the author name to show up in the post, you’ll see her name here writing about motorcycles.)

I was poking through motorcycle classifieds the other day when I ran across an ad for a Ducati 1098. It was listed as a 2007, and, although I admit I’ve not kept up well with sportbikes in recent years, it caused me to do a double take. 2007? Could that be right?

That was six years ago, an eternity in the world of motorcycle design. (As an aside, please note that this general rule of turnover does not apply to the Kawasaki KLR650, which experiences design revisions on the same schedule as the Checker Marathon.) However, a quick Google revealed that the seller did, in fact, know what the hell he was talking about. The Ducati 1098 was introduced as the 999’s successor in 2007. Six years ago, indeed.

I still think of the Ducati 999 as the newest, hottest, next-big-thing in Italian sportbike design. If not that, then it was certainly the most controversial. Succeeding the iconic 916/996/998 body style, it caused simultaneous cheers and retches among the Ducati faithful.

Ducati 916

Hard to believe that the 999 replaced this icon. The only thing that dates this design is the 1980s-style wheel.

It was the cilantro of superbikes. You loved it or you hated it. The line was clear, and there was no middle ground. The 999’s designer, Pierre Terblanche, took his share of praise and punishment. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a few death threats arrived with the morning paper. As someone who adored the simplistic beauty of the 916, the 999 assaulted my senses as a travesty of design and heritage. The angularity in its structure. The reversion to the ancient double-sided swingarm. The strange, integrated ass-toaster of an exhaust. The turn signals in the mirrors. And, for the love of all that is good and holy, what was going on with those over/under headlights? I couldn’t process it. I was firmly rooted in the “hate it” camp, and there wasn’t any room for budging.

Ducati 1098 Action

The 1098 righted some of the wrongs of the 999′s design, but never recaptured the imagination of the Ducati faithful

In 2002, I was fortunate enough to travel to Italy for World Ducati Week and tour Ducati’s factory and museum in Bologna. In particular interest to this discussion was a timeline of its superbikes, a perfectly lit and polished example of each individual model standing in succession along a blank white wall. With the benefit of that long view, the flow from one to the other is nearly flawless, the tweaks and primps more beautiful and fitting from one to the next. And, then there’s the 999…

Ducati MH900e

…and what in God’s holy name happened here? The Ducati MH900e proved that Terblanche could be wrong twice.

A decade removed from its unveiling, the 999’s mark seems more like a pothole than the looming brick wall it appeared to be in 2002, but love it or hate it, Terblanche’s splash got attention. By the time the last 999 rolled out in 2006, I was on my way to having my first child and was no longer so entrenched in each and every shiny new model on the showroom floor. The 1098 was a blip on the periphery of my motorcycle consciousness. Now, in 2013, Ducati is three superbike models beyond the infamous 999, eleven years past its unveiling, and a whopping nineteen years out from the introduction of the beloved 916. As a young motorcyclist, the 916/996/998 was, for me, love at first sight. But, it’s impossible to deny the impact of the 999, as well.

…even if it was the most god-awful abortion in the history of Ducati design.

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One Response to Ducati 999: The Cilantro of Superbikes

  1. Wendy Moore says:

    Oh, yeah, I owned briefly, a ’05 Multistrada. Either of those bikes you write about, compared to the MS is like Michangelo descended from heaven to kiss the design full on the lips.