First test and video action of the new 998

Published: 07 October 2001

The new 998 has a new frame and a new 123bhp Testastretta engine based around the new narrow head Testastretta motor. Here you’ll read our first full test and get the chance to see and hear the bike in action in our exclusive video clip

Until now the Testastretta engine was only available in the limited run homologation special 996R, but this is the mass produced version of the new engine. Ducati will build as many 998s as they can and admit the new engine replacing the Desmoquattro liquid-cooled engine is their future.

And if first impressions are anything to go by after riding the standard 998 in Italy, home of Ducati and home of the Vallelunga race circuit 20 miles outside Rome, this bike has all the right flavour.

Eight years on, the 998 evolution of the original 916 looks absolutely stunning. Sat in the pitlane leaning away from me on its sidestand it looks like a race bike as much as a road bike. The new bigger bore 45mm silencers tucked under the seat and the now ventless fairing giving it a slightly porkier look from the front but making the tail unit look even more dramatic. Those two square tail lights are still faired in to the seat unit and the distinctive dopey-eye headlights stay exactly the same.

To look at the only real differences are the new 998 logo on the side of the fairing, a decal with the words Ducati Superbike on the tailpiece and a tank sticker with the number 1 encircled in a laurel wreath on top of the tank. Wheels are still Marchesini five-spokes and like the frame come in metallic dark grey. The Showa front suspension is the same as the 996 as is the Ohlins rear shock.

But that’s enough about how it looks, you can judge that for yourself, it’s what it rides like with its new engine, fuel-injection and updated brakes that will make the real difference.

I use the first session to scrub in the new Pirelli Dragon Evo Corsa tyres. With the lines of the track just about clear I take the bike for its second more eventful run.

The motor pops in to life and the familiar sound of the Ducati motor…hang on a minute. It’s not that familiar. The standard cans are a bit disappointing, that’s why Ducati offers a set of Termignoni cans which give more noise and an extra five per cent power, and the noise of the engine is much quieter and less rattly than the Desmoquattro lump this bike replaces.LISTEN TO IT FOR YOURSELF BY FOLLOWING THE VIDEO LINK, RIGHT.

You can feel the bike’s got a lot more guts instantly. Below 3000rpm it doesn’t do an awful lot, the fuel injection is clean and there’s no shakes or rattles from the chain so it should be much easier to ride round town. But at 3000rpm the bike is making tons more power and torque and it takes me by surprise.

I wind it up through the gears in to third gear then snick down one gear and brake for the blindest chicane I’ve ever come across. The braking markers are there but the track isn’t so I scrub off speed and finally turn in to the blind downhill chicane. Even though Ducati has chosen to put this bike on road-biased Pirelli Dragon Evo Corsa tyres they’ve been specially made with a slightly stiffer front carcass and increased elasticity of the rear tyre for improved grip and control when on the power out of bumpy corners.

This is the road 998 after all. The real track Ducati is the 998R. Not that anyone’s bothered to mention it to this 998.

Plenty of other bikes turn quicker from side-to-side but not many turn more accurately than this one. Flicking left to right beautifully it’s only a split second before you’re winding it up through a right-hand corner letting the bike drift out to the middle of the track before hooking fourth gear and holding it left momentarily before the next bend.

The next corner is a long sweeper with the camber in your favour. Entering it in fourth gear its down to third or second if you prefer and then turn the two apexes in to one long corner. Through this bend the bike’s totally settled and the road-based tyres are the only thing stopping you from pitching the bike over on its side any harder.

The bike really lets you increase power gently through the bend and the fuel-injection is bang on. There’s no snatchiness, no hesitation, just brilliantly accurate fuelling that could teach the Japanese a thing or two.

If this bike isn’t one of the fastest twins to ride point-to-point with the least hassle I’ll swallow my Arai.

It’s easy to compare the power to the 996S but not its character. It punches out of corners hard and it’s very easy to hit the rev-limiter if you’re not concentrating.

Some of that may be down to the lack of noise once you’re at a certain speed when all you get is wind noise rather than the Ducati boom, but most of it is because the bike revs so much faster than the old 996 or 996S.

The bike settles wll on the brakes and although they’re basically the same as on the old 996 except with lighter front discs, the power seems a bit stronger, perhaps it was just on the bike I rode but there was a definite slight improvement.

The suspension will feel hard on the road and perhaps a little soft on the track. Okay so you could maybe increase a bit of ride height to make it turn a bit faster in the chicanes and add a bit of pre-load in the front-end to make it feel slightly more planted. But what you’ve got is a road bike that feels more suited to going ballistic than it ever did before.

The suspension’s exactly the same as on the 996. But the whole bike feels better balanced thanks to the smoothness of the engine’s power delivery and the excellent fuel-injection.

The bike’s utterly stable reaching speeds of 220kph without a hint of the bike moving around. And even under braking from fourth gear to a second gear flick-flack the gearbox engages every time and it’s mega stable.

Plenty of bikes make more power and four-cylinders are much easier to ride for most people, but this is a very accomplished bike that takes a massive leap from the 996, even if the sticker’s don’t show it, and with a price that’s only likely to be a couple of hundred pounds more than the 996.

MORE ON THIS IN MCN, ON SALE WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 10, 2001