DU­CATI 996

Jim Lind­say joins CMM with his big Bologna twin.

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS -

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.

Panel dam­age.

Dirt and rust is in ev­i­dence.

As svelte as Sophia too!

The colour match is poor on the panels.

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