Jim Lindsay joins CMM with his big Bologna twin.
My first encounter with a Ducati twin was 36 years ago. I’d just arrived at Bike Magazine as staff writer and the editor had a bevel drive Hailwood Replica on test – a 900SS in fancy clothing really. I managed to nab it for the weekend. I rode it from Peterborough to London, picked up my mate Hugh, rode two-up to Leicester to go to a party at the squat we used to live in, took Hugh back to London, had a night out and arrived back in Peterborough in the small hours of Monday morning with a slipping clutch and a worn-out body. It was one of those bikes that you wanted to ride forever. Finance and the need for reliable transport kept me away from the Italian marque after that. I loved them from afar but I lost interest with the arrival of the belt-drive cam, air-cooled variants. I tried a 750SS but thought it was gutless. Like so many others, the arrival of the 916 in 1994 woke me up. It was the most beautiful-looking motorcycle ever made. I lusted at a distance, watching with envy the arrival of the 996, the 998 and, with horror, at the 999 – actually it was a better motorcycle but ugly. Like many ageing men, my desire was theoretical. I did not ride one until 2011. At my disposal for a glorious week to make a magazine story were new and old versions of Fireblades, Kawasaki 600s, GSX-R750S and a pair of Ducatis, a 1098 and a yellow 916. Of all those bikes it was the 916, borrowed from a trusting reader, that I chose to spend the most time with. Less than a year later, my sober finger clicked a last 10sec bid on ebay and I bought a yellow 1999 996 Biposto for £3500. Ahh bliss. Contrary to my usual practice, I did not even go to look at it beforehand. I figured if it were rubbish, I’d keep the cash in my pocket and say goodbye. As it happened, it was more or
less what I expected. It had 30,000 miles up. It was scruffy round the edges with patches of rust breaking out on the frame. It had been dropped, but not too badly. There was no chain-guard fitted, which meant the rear brake pipe was excitingly close to the chain (which was worn). The rear tyre had a couple of hundred miles left in it at best. The price reflected the condition. I coughed up and took it home. I was working to a tight budget, which is why I opted for a 996. It is not as desirable in buyers’ eyes as the original 916, which has the weight of history behind it. Nor is it as sought after as the better developed, end of the line 998. By many, the 996 is seen as what it was – a stop-off en-route to better V-twin places, even if it won WSBK championships in 1999 and 2001 in the hands of Carl Fogarty and Troy Bayliss respectively. In practical terms, there’s bugger all difference on the road. Depending on whose figures you believe, you get about 100bhp at the rear wheel. That’s plenty for serious enjoyment, especially when it’s coupled with a lovely flat power curve and impeccable fuelling. If you are used to Japanese fours, it will come as a bit of a shock. Even with a fully charged battery, it sounds like it’s not going to start, as the volts and amps struggle against 98mm diameter pistons and an 11.5:1 compression ratio. Once it is running, it sounds like two giants playing football with an oil drum full of shrapnel. On the move it feels lumpy, stiff and altogether agricultural. The suspension is harsh. The brakes are enormously powerful but violent at low speed. At high speed, everything makes sense. The brakes are strong but not scary, the suspension smooths out and the motor, which hits peak power at 9000rpm but has plenty of pull lower down, drives you from bend to bend in an easy-to-control flow of power. V-twins are so good at this. It’s all good and lazy, encouraging and rewards precise, thoughtful riding. Stepping off the Suzuki GSX-R750 K8, which was my daily transport at the time (yes, way too new for you lot to be interested) the riding position was more extreme but nothing like as bad as some people claim. As long as you are fit, you can ride this bike all day. What the body complains about, the adrenalin will mask. It’s a wonderfully engaging motorcycle but it only works properly when you’re going fast, which is fine by me. The handling is good. The steering is slow but stable. It gets lively on bumpy B roads, which are not its natural habitat. The smooth power delivery makes it easy to ride in the wet. The bike came with Bridgestone BT014 tyres, which I have
stuck with. They give more than enough grip for the road. However illegally you ride, you do not need supersport rubber. I racked up a lot of miles riding for fun rather than work until the foot of fate stamped on my choc-ice. I was tired, the car driver wasn’t looking behind him when he changed lane mid-roundabout. His rear wing hit the Ducati’s front wheel, standing the bike up and chucking me over the high-side. I landed on my right shoulder. The car driver stopped, looked, then drove off. I was too dazed to get his number. The broken collarbone kept me out of action for three months. The 996 had plenty of bodywork damage – every right-hand fairing panel trashed and the nose cone scraped, a punctured battery weeping acid, bust mirror, broken rear brake lever, all the usual stuff. When I was better, I happened across a bargain load of genuine Ducati bodywork on ebay and set about repairs. The colours didn’t match but the bike was back on the road. I took the opportunity of removing the Termignoni end cans and replacing them with a set of standard cans. Sacrilege, some might say, but beautiful though the noise was, the Termis were obscenely loud; bad for my neighbours, bad for stealth and bad for my concentration on a long journey. Unusually for me, I came out ahead on the deal. I flogged the Termis for £120 and picked up a pair of hardly used standard pipes for £60. The idea with the 996 was always to rebuild it. The engine is fine mechanically but almost everything else needs looking at cosmetically. The rear shock is just beginning to show slight oil mist where the piston enters the damper body. Life has got in the way for a few years
but I now have a plan. I have decided to change the cam-belts, which are now two-and-a-half years old. Then I’m going to enjoy some summer miles. Come the autumn, I’m going to start the rebuild, which will be featured in future editions of your favourite old bike magazine. I plan to make it prettier than Mark Forsyth’s 888. Yes MF, now that is a challenge.
Typical crash damage.
Still prettier than any modern set of clocks.
Still the prettiest thing to come from Italy since Sophia Loren.
That needs work!
May as well go single-seat.
Dirt and rust is in evidence.
As svelte as Sophia too!
The colour match is poor on the panels.