Pierre Terblanche’s much-maligned design for the Ducati 999 is finally coming into its own.

Lately I’ve been thinking of adding another “uncomfortable supersport” motorcycle to my garage.

Every time I meet someone older than me complaining about his (or her, but usually his) back or wrists, I think I’m lucky to be in good shape at age 40. Sports motorbikes don’t seem to hurt me just yet. So shouldn’t I take advantage of this situation? Yes, yes I should.

There are many amazing sportbikes to choose from if I’m going to keep dalliances under the $10K range. There’s the R1, a bike which is as raucous as you could expect for an inline 4, with its crossplane crank engine (from 2009 onward). There’s the Aprilia RSV-4, which has a V-4 engine and looks that make me question reality.

But then something always pulls me back to Ducatis. It’s not that I’m a raving fanboy. It’s just that I have a lot of boyhood dreams I still want to live. Pick your dream, and follow that. Mine is a whole series of Italian beauties like the Ducati 999.

Ducati 999S Review - header image

I checked out a very nice Ducati 999S in the Sunshine Coast region a few weeks ago. Didn’t buy it (the add-ons, like a $5K-value clutch, put it out of my price range), but I did some research on it, and here it is.

Enter the Ducati Superbikes (pre-Panigale), a range of motorcycle I’ve always had a soft spot for, and particularly, the Ducati 999.

Ducati 999S at inspection
The Ducati 999 S I inspected. Not a great photo, but it wasn’t a photoshoot.

Are you obsessed with motorcycles?

Well, I am. That’s why I created this site — as an outlet. I love learning and sharing what others might find useful. If you like what you read here, and you’re a fraction as obsessed as I am, you might like to know when I’ve published more. (Check the latest for an idea of what you’ll see.)

A bit of history — How we got to the Ducati 999

The Ducati 999 was the latest in the line of motorcycles starting with the 916 in the early nineties.

I wrote a longer article on buying a used Ducati superbike, covering everything up to the 999.

But in a nutshell, the Ducati 916 was designed by Massimo Tamburini. He produced a line of motorcycles that ended in the 998 before moving on to other things with MV Agusta (at the time part of the same larger motorcycle holding company).

Ducati 916 Senna red with natural background
Ducati 916. The first in a line of Ducati superbikes.

Signor Tamburini’s timeless design made popular a few design features:

  • A single-sided swing-arm
  • Under-seat exhausts and the exposed rear wheel
  • Large twin headlights
  • Sporty lines

These design features were copied with only minor changes in the subsequent Ducati 996 and 998 and all their model variants.

The Ducati 996 and 998 also gave small improvements on top-end horsepower and large improvements in mid-range torque, making them much more usable around town. The end result is that the Ducati 998 range (especially those with Marchesini wheels and Öhlins shocks) have become fan collectors favourites.

The Ducati 998S with lightweight Marchesini wheels and gold Öhlins front forks, trees in background.
The Ducati 998S with lightweight Marchesini wheels and gold Öhlins front forks.

The Tamburini design range ended abruptly with the 999.

Pierre Terblanche totally revamped the design for the 999. He abandoned the single-sided swing-arm, and replaced the horizontal front lights with two vertically stacked lights.

Ducati 999, stock image, front right
The vertical stacked lights of the Ducati 999

The design of the 999 really caused consternation among the Ducati faithful. People at the time hated it compared to the standards-setting design of the 916. But on its own, it’s fine — if not great!

Something about the aesthetics of the 999 really grabs me. As much as any other Ducati, the 999 looks like a toy I’d keep on my shelf as a child. The contrast between the red plastics, black tyres and metallic functional pieces adds up to a visual temporary crescendo away from which Ducati backed with the subsequent 1098.

Aside from the shape of it, the 999 seems to be better built than its predecessors. It may just be the examples I’ve seen, but the paint and plastics have better stood the test of time. In fact, the ones I’ve seen have gleamed, leaping out at me just like these photos leap out of the screen.

I have a suspicion that one day Ducati will return to this same design language — even if just to appeal to the vintage crowd.

Riding the Ducati 999

Riding a Ducati 999 makes me feel like I’m alive: temporarily, but extremely.

The Ducati 999 feels, in spirit, like its predecessors; but more like its successors, like my much-loved Ducati 1098S.

That is to say — riding the Ducati 999 is a very visceral, raw experience. The v-twin through a raspy Termignoni exhaust (a must-get feature — look around until you find one), coupled with a dry clutch, means that the 999 is a much more mechanical-feeling machine than many of its smooth Japanese contemporaries.

Compared to the earlier models in the same series, the Ducati 999 feels firmer and more balanced. It’s still a small motorcycle. But you sit a little lower, a bit more “inside” it, rather than jockey-ing on top. (This tiny feeling was rectified in the 1098-on motorcycles — they were the first that feel like a “full-size” sports bike… still small, but adequate!)

At the same time, the position places you a little forward on the bike. You’re a bit more over the handlebars. This means it’s easier to maintain traction and to dive into corners. (Though this writer didn’t get close to losing traction on my test ride!)

But the compactness only adds to the feeling of the earlier 916 series in that you feel like you’re basically on top of the front wheel, depending a little on your torso height. That’s not all bad. It just doesn’t give you a feeling of security — it’s more akin to flinging a go-kart around a track as you bend time and space to your will.

The take-home feature of riding any Ducati superbike for me is that I feel more present than on any other motorcycle. Put me on a screaming Kawasaki or Honda four and I’ll have the time of my life, sending the engine soaring to 8,000 rpm and above in everyday traffic, twisting the throttle and waiting for the turbo-like rush of the sudden 30% leap in torque.

On a Japanese four-cylinder sportbike, I quickly get into the zone. Nothing really is very hard. On Honda FireBlades in particular, even low-speed commuting is easy. Once I get used to it, I turn the music on in my headphones and can wile away an hour of commuting or travelling without breaking a sweat.

But on a Ducati superbike, I’m 100% present. Cornering got progressively easier as the Ducati superbikes progressed, but it always requires my attention. The engine and clutch are always singing to me (or yelling at me), trying to tell me something with varying levels of enthusiasm or desperation.

The roads aren’t designed for these Ducati motorcycles (I refuse to change that sentence’s order around), and they constantly remind me, often jarring my backside and occasionally my prospects as a father. There’s no way I’d play music while riding a Ducati 999 or any other Ducati superbike. Riding a Ducati 999 makes me feel like I’m alive: temporarily, but extremely.

Other writers tend to agree about the Ducati 999. Bennets puts it best: “But there is a dirty secret that even Ducati fans don’t like to talk about – unpopular as its styling was at the time, the 999 is actually a far superior machine. Sorry, it is.” (The apologetic tone is probably because most people want to disagree.)

It’s not the best Ducati ever, though. They kept improving. The 1098 was an improvement again — but that’s a story for later.

Apart from other big-bore V-twins — which really means just Ducati (particularly the latter ones), Aprilia, MV Augusta and… anyone else? — nothing else modern rides like a Ducati 999. Especially now that nearly every motorcycle (including nearly all Ducati motorcycles other than the V4R) has a wet clutch.

How the Ducati 999 Stacks Up today

In terms of design, the Ducati 999 was an odd-ball back in the early 2000s — mostly compared to other Ducati motorcycles.

But today, the 999’s design is not so unusual. Even though Ducati abandoned vertical stacked lights, other manufacturers have had them from time to time, including on their class-leading motorcycles. Well, Suzuki has, anyway.

Suzuki GSX-R 1000 with front-stacked headlights like the Ducati 999
The 2018 Suzuki GSX-R 1000 with vertical-stacked front headlights.

Double-sided swing-arms are still used by nearly all major motorcycle manufacturers. The reason, they say, is that it lets you use less metal overall (lower weight) to provide the same rigidity. It also is easier to balance the motorcycle. Compelling. But double-sided swing-arms definitely don’t look as good!

The slightly square design of the 999’s plastics isn’t so much in use today. Most modern motorcycles are a lot more round. The only boxy example is another Suzuki, the Katana, which itself is another throwback machine.

Variants of the Ducati 999

Like other Ducati superbikes, the Ducati 999 comes in a few distinct variants. The TLDR of this is buy the Ducati 999S if you can. It was a lot more expensive back in the day, but time has whittled away the price difference between a 999S and a standard 999, so it represents much better value.

Ducati 999S

The Ducati 999S is actually slightly more powerful than the base model 999. This isn’t always the case with “S” versions. Usually, it’s just the base model + Öhlins + lighter wheels.

Differences between the Ducati 999S and base model Ducati 999:

  • Slightly (~2%) more power — 105.2kW (141 hp) @ 9,750 rpm, vs the base model’s 103 kW (138 hp) at the same.
  • Slightly (~2.5%) more torque — 111.8 Nm (82.5 lb-ft) @ 8,000 rpm, vs the base model’s 108.9 (80.3 lb-ft)
  • Öhlins 43mm forks, vs the base model’s Showa 43mm forks. These are gold in appearance, that’s how you can tell it’s a real “S” (not just fairings!)
  • Comes in single-seat (monoposto) as well as dual seat. The original only has a dual seat config.
  • Termignoni exhausts — These were standard on the Ducati 999S, not an option.

Ducati 999R

The Ducati 999R is the racing variant of the Ducati 999. It’s much more expensive, and unless you’re a collector with many millions in your pocket, I wouldn’t recommend it.

The differences with the Ducati 999R over the base model are:

  • More (~5%) power — 108kW (145 hp) @ 9,750 rpm, vs the base model’s 103 kW (138 hp) at the same.
  • More (~7%) torque — 116.7 Nm (86.1 lb-ft) @ 8,000 rpm, vs the base model’s 108.9 (80.3 lb-ft)
  • Öhlins 43mm forks, vs the base model’s Showa 43mm forks. This is same as on the S.
  • Comes in single-seat (monoposto) only. You don’t take a passenger racing…
  • Lighter weight components — dry weight of 181 kg vs 186kg for the base model
  • Termignoni full exhaust — The 999R gets a full race system (with the rae ECU to fit).

Prices for these are too high — I’d only buy one as a collector. If you want the power and don’t care about a model/design, opt for a Ducati 1098 instead.

And you can race any of them.

What to look for in a Ducati 999

Black ducati 999, part of my Ducati 999 Review
A black Ducati 999. This was the first Ducati motorcycle I found I liked in black as much as red

Firstly, I’d suggest finding a Ducati 999 S. The additions make it worthwhile. There are many for sale — they’re not a rare bird.

Buying a Ducati 999 means you need to read two of my buyer’s guides. Two of them!

Some things I usually find is that Ducati superbike owners don’t do their own maintenance. They’re a fancier crowd. So they might be aware of valve service intervals, but usually don’t know things like

  • Belts have to be replaced every two years even if you didn’t do the distance. Don’t listen to them saying “it’s fine”. Knock $500 off the price. If they don’t want to — walk away (I did)
  • Tires with enough tread that are 5 years old aren’t OK. Actually they may be if the thing was stored in someone’s living room. But still, knock some money off that thing.

The guy trying to sell me his 999S, as nice as he was, tried to tell me incorrect things about single-sided swing-arms being inferior. There is always merit in comparisons, but I trust an engineering team more than the opinion of someone trying to sell me something.

Because the 999 is a sports bike, it will have been treated like one. That means that it’s likely to have been wheelied and maybe even crashed. So check the fork seals and steering head bearing — any play in that steering head means an expensive repair. Fork seals are cheaper, but still annoying to replace.

You can also find evidence of a drop in replaced clip-on handlebars, bar-end mirrors, or controls. A drop isn’t bad. But an owner who lies about a drop is much worse than a drop itself. If an owner lies about a drop, it means maybe there are gremlins under the plastic that you don’t know about!

And finally, if you really like the 999, but would rather have handlebars and no fairings, then maybe what you’re looking for is a Ducati Monster S4Rs. See my guide to the Ducati Monster S4 range for more.

Similar Posts


  1. hi Dana.I agree bought a 2005 base in feb last year 2020,she,s a 2005 model, in owners book she was ordered as a monoposto,fsh and 12000 km.At 60 I made a 15 year old dream come true.I am in south africa paid R75 000 (4500 usd)got ducati leather jacket,gloves,paddock stand,bike cover and arai rx7 in the deal and full service nov19 (R18000).Thanks Kevin

    1. Wow, what a steal! That’s really nice! Share a pic if you can (if you get this message). There’s something magical about making an old dream come alive, especially when it becomes easier as prices drop, isn’t there?

  2. Reading your artical is like reliving my experience with DUCATI. I was always a Japanese 4’S only fan and owner of motorcycles for the last 34 years but my love for bikes started when I was a very young boy, my uncle had all his custom Suzuki GSX1100’s etc and was a wheelie king.
    I bought a 999s about a year ago from a one owner with about 26k on the clock full Tremigoni system I think was stock all the books Red Key DUCATI skin’s cover etc. I first rode a Ducati 1098 of a friend in South Africa about 2008 and loved it but did not want to buy one. Then about 1.5 years ago now living in Australia for about 18 years.

    I bought my 1st Duc 2007 1098 with about 19k on the clock dirty as mud and rear tyre down to canvas. I took a gamble after a test ride the torque and sound SOLD me after about 30 seconds. Once I washed her down and did a good clean and polish she was almost in perfect condition . I’m hooked Ducati now and I have also just bought a 998 MATRIX no 74 from America. I’m trying vto add a few PHOTO’S but cant seem to attach them.

  3. Bought my 3rd Ducati, a red 2004 999 last fall, with the (must have) Termignoni exhaust it looks and sounds wonderful, not that loud but a lot of character. Has that hand-crafted charisma and the milled billet aluminum top triple clamp is a stunner. More comfortable and better commuter / easier to ride than my 851 with noticeably more power, actually overkill in my road rider opinion. Fabulous bike, rare enough that you feel special going down road, highly recommend.

  4. I don’t think one ever gets too old to ride sport bikes if you’re healthy and stay in shape. Of course, we don’t always have control over health issues. However, I recently turned 70 and own a black 05 999s. It’s still a thrill to ride and loads of fun and looks great in black and white too. It’s actually more comfortable than some of the sports bikes I’ve owned in the past.

    1. That’s awesome. What do you do to stay in sport bike riding shape? Teach us!

      I do exercise of all kinds and keep flexible. Ironically, one limiting factor for me is a pinched nerve in my right arm which I get from weightlifting. I have to massage it aggressively with a yoga ball (or an expensive physiotherapist), or my right hand goes numb.

      1. For me it’s just staying in shape with moderate but regular exercise, jogging, biking and some weight training for the upper body. I’ve done that all my life. I’m not pushing limits with any of that. It’s more about staying active. I’ve been lucky too. I haven’t been plagued by any of the chronic ailments that many older folks get regardless of how fit they are. And I do love riding my 999s. My grin factor easily overwhelms any minor discomforts the riding position might create.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.