The 2003 Ducati 999: A Closer Look

The 2003 Ducati 999

During his years working as a motorcycle designer for Ducati Motor Holdings, S.p.A. Pierre Terblanche had many opportunities to design a number of memorable bikes, and he took advantage of those opportunities. From the Ducati 888 to the Sport Classic series, he managed to leave quite a mark for the company by the time he left and joined up with another company. But during that time he also designed and developed the Ducati 999, beginning in 2003.

The 999 ended up being a very successful motorcycle for Ducati, though it seemed there was quite a bit of disagreement over its general design. It was classed as a sport bike, and its high-performance capabilities and state-of-the-art equipment made it a shoe-in for being considered one of the easiest bikes to handle at the time. The 999 saw winning years in 2003, 2004, and 2006 at the Superbike World Championship races, allowing the model to solidify its own reputation in the motorcycle racing world.

But About That Design…

As mentioned, there was a bit of controversy of the design of the 2003 999. It was a bike that was either loved or hated for its look; there seemed to be no acceptable in-between. In fact, the 999 was considered the company’s very first failure at the time, putting Ducati in debt and therefore, in trouble. Terblanche had merged the 998c engine from the bike’s predecessor with a body that made it fit the ‘street bike’ bill better, and this wasn’t something that seemed to go over well with Ducati’s target audience.

First off, the peg on the bike was put in a place that would better compliment the new adjustable seat. See, people had complained that Ducati’s bikes were uncomfortable for street biking, and Terblanche wanted to rectify that. He also ditched the aesthetically-unattractive car-type exhaust and swing arm, replacing them with parts and positions that he thought would be found much more pleasing. On the contrary, however; this caused a stir like no other. Reportedly, Terblanche had styled the bike after a train from the 1920’s, and its appearance was nothing like what the public had come to love so much. It was actually referred to as ‘ugly’, by many, and the sales numbers seemed to back up that particular opinion, though the model was considered ‘good’ in its own way. According to Claudio Domenicali of Ducati, a Ducati motorcycle should basically take the owner’s breath away upon first sight of it each day. He stated that the company couldn’t afford to design poor-looking bikes just because other companies could. Even though Terblanche had designed some of Ducati’s most gorgeous motorcycles, the 999 ended up losing that title to the Yamaha R1 Sacrilege.

But in all truth, it seems now that the 999 may very well simply been ahead of its time. Now, the style of the bike has grown on Ducati fans, and they claim to have a love for it that their feelings for the newer-style bikes simply cannot touch. In reality, it appears that the passage of time has instilled a fondness for this particular motorcycle that wasn’t foreseen, but is solid and real, nonetheless.

2003 Ducati 999 Specs & Features

Here are both the mechanical and physical features of the Ducati 999:

  • Chain-driven, 6-speed transmission
  • Sport Class Motorcycle
  • Liquid cooled
  • 60.9 cubic inch engine (998 ccm)
  • Desmodromic valve controlled fuel system
  • V2, four-stroke engine
  • Fuel injection
  • Four valves per cylinder
  • 124 HP @ 9500 rpm (90.5 kW)
  • Bore & Stroke of 3.9 x 2.5 inches (100 x 63.5 mm)
  • Compression ratio at 11.4:1
  • 72.2 ft. lbs (10.4 kgf-m (102 Nm)) @ 8000 rpm
  • 4.1 gallon fuel capacity, with reserve capacity of .79 gallons (15.5 liters; 3.0 liters)
  • Dry weight of 438.7 lbs (199 kg)
  • Overall length of 82.5 inches (2,095 mm)
  • Overall height of 42.9 inches (1,090 mm)
  • 30.7 inch (780 mm) seat height at lowest setting (adjustable seat)
  • Power-to-weight ratio of .6231 hp/kg
  • Single-disc brakes at rear; Double-disc brakes at front

As for the supposed design ‘flaws’ that differentiated the 999 from its ‘acceptable’ predecessors, well, there were more differences than simply an adjustable seat, foot-pegs, and fuel tank, which were quite revolutionary, to be honest. It also featured a fuel tank that sat under the seat a little more, as well as sub-frame mounting tubes that were more narrow. These features lowered the rear end of the actual rider, which looked a heck of a lot better, in all truth.

Because of these changes, which may have given the bike the illusion of being imbalanced from the side, it was actually much more narrow and compact. In fact, according to Motorcycle News  if one was to stand over the bike and look down, the entire change in the aesthetic made much more, shall we say…sense. More sense than the designs of the bikes that came before it, according to many nowadays. That means, to put it bluntly, that there is a very good chance that all the shocked critics of yesteryear were…gasp!…wrong. Perhaps not for the times, but they were for the long run, and it’s the long run that counts, is it not?

Summing It Up…

So, there it is. The 2003 Ducati 999 was a great running, mechanically sound, awesome handling bike that everyone seemed to hate because of how it looked. Sounds like a bunch of people judging a book by its cover, to me. Doesn’t it to you? Especially when we consider the fact that today this bike seems to be garnering the attention it deserved so much from day one, and for all the right reasons. Suddenly, people are realizing that comfort on a sport bike makes sense. Adjustable parts seem to help make that happen, and it seems that riding it is nothing short of a perfect experience. Well, shame on all of them for not opening the book’s cover and beginning to read before tossing the blasted thing aside and moving on to the more traditional, and uncomfortable, in line.

It doesn’t matter anymore, though. Now, the 2003 Ducati 999 is getting the appreciation it always deserved, and the feelings that it never had were never hurt. It sits wherever it’s at and even its look seems to beg to be ridden, but it is begging no one. On the contrary, they are the ones begging for the bike. So, we all know who got the last laugh, don’t we, Mr. Terblanche? Laugh loud, laugh hearty, and laugh last, I say.
Have fun riding, and remember to stay safe.


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