THE sight of the bike in front of me stopped me in my tracks and caused a sharp intake of breath inside my helmet. I had been waiting for this moment for a long time.
Almost trembling with anticipation, I took the keys to a brand new Ducati 996 Biposto from the salesman. Or, more accurately, the keys to my brand new Ducati 996.
The Ducati logos on the tank leapt out at me as I took a minute to look over the bike, with a rare day of sunshine making that famous red paint seem deeper and even more lustrous than usual.
I don’t know why I even bothered checking it out, as I had spent so much time in the showroom over the past few months building up to this that I could picture every detail of the 996 in my head. But I had to make sure my brain was aware of what was about to happen.
The details flashed through my brain. Ohlins rear shock, Showa front forks, trellis frame, Marchesini wheels,
single-sided swingarm, underseat pipes and that
V-twin 996cc engine.
The dream actually started much earlier than the past few months, when I first clapped eyes on a Ducati 916 back in 1994 as an optimistic 21-year-old.
Years of watching Carl Fogarty do his stuff on race tracks around the world only heightened the anticipation as I built my way up through the biking world. " It won’t be long before I have one of those for myself, " I thought.
Well, it’s taken me seven long years to make that unrealistic youthful dream a reality. And that was helped by Ducati’s new offer of £400 cashback on the cost of insurance – as long as your licence isn’t sullied by anything other than minor speeding convictions. That meant £443 fully comp for the year, rather than the £843 I would have had to fork out.
I knew the wait was worth it as I slung my leg over the bike, flipped up the sidestand and pushed the key into the slot, twisted it to the right and heard the whirring of the fuel injection system.
There are special moments in everyone’s life – your first snog, the first time you got served in a pub – and this was just as significant. I found the
red starter switch and pushed it home. More whirring, a judder through the bike and the big V-twin erupted into life.
The revs stabilised as I got my gloves on and let the motor warm up. I had already been warned by the salesman that Ducati had changed the infamous
flip-up sidestand set-up to a system where the bike will not run at all with it down – not even in neutral.
That left me sat astride the 996 with my feet on the ground, watching the rev needle jumping slightly at idle and preparing to put the fantasy to the test.
It may have been sunny, but the roads were still wet after an April downpour just minutes ago. The result was a dry mouth as I looked down at the distinctly shiny Michelin Pilot Sport rubber.
I’ve never been a massive fan of riding in the wet anyway, but the thought of making the 35-mile trip home on a bike I had saved so long for and had for such a short time was not exactly appealing.
But in the absence of a van to transport my new acquisition home, I had no choice. After pulling the clutch lever in, I lifted my left foot and tapped down on the gear lever to knock it into first. A tiny squirt of revs and I was off.
I was nervous and it showed as I over-revved it before getting used to the bite of the clutch as I headed across the car park and out to the junction with the main road. A gap in the traffic and I was off, scanning the Tarmac ahead for anything that might cause a problem on my maiden voyage. Then my eyes widened with fear as I approached the first roundabout.
All the advice I had ever been given about relaxing in the wet and not getting all tense went out of the window as soon as I saw the telltale rainbow effect of a diesel slick on the road.
My mind was racing, but there was just one image in there – me weeping over a scraped-up 996 with seven miles on the clock.
I made it round, but I went so slowly I could have put my feet down and paddled. But anyone who has picked up a new bike in less than ideal conditions will know what I mean.
Once out of town and on roads I knew well, I started to relax. The sportiest bike I had owned until now was a Triumph TT600, so I felt like my head was lower than my bum. But it was nothing I wasn’t expecting, as I have sat on enough Ducatis in dealers over the years, doing that " brmm-brmm " , head-down-on-the-tank thing that seems a must for blokes.
Bearing in mind the strict warning from the salesman not to rev over 5000rpm and not to let the motor labour, I kept it sedate. Even so, the power and agility waiting to be unleashed in more favourable times was apparent. I loved it from the start and it was such a relief the reality matched the dream. Thank God it wasn’t like the time a mate let me have a quick blast on his Honda VTR SP-1 last year. It didn’t fire me up like the 996 already had and the less said about that fuel injection system the better. Even experienced riders struggled with the savage on-off fuelling which left them looking like they were moshing at a heavy metal gig.
I had no complaints about the 996, though. The suspension felt hard, but not harsh. The riding position was sporting, but not ridiculous, and the look of the bike is still one of the finest of all time. As for the handling, I have no idea yet as my granny could have ridden it harder than I did in the wet conditions. I’ll have to wait until I can get on a track day soon.
The Ducati is obviously going to take some time to get used to, but already I have more affinity with this bike than any other machine I’ve owned.
As I slotted it into neutral, turned the key to the off position and the thrum of the engine ceased, I realised I had made it. I climbed off and took a few steps back as I pulled my gloves off and removed my lid.
The result of the 35-mile trip home (apart from a cost-per-mile price of £73 until I get out more) was a liberal covering of grime from the wet roads. Proof that this bike already has a special place in my soul came in the form of a bucket and chamois that were rescued from the back of the garage and put to good use over the next hour-and-a-half to bring the red bodywork back to showroom condition.
I’ve never really been into cleaning bikes, but buffing up the 996 was a pleasure and gave me a chance to look at everything in a bit more detail. It’s a real work of art and it makes my tip of a garage look even shoddier in comparison. I’m not sure such a bike should be kept in such conditions.
I wonder if my girlfriend would frown at me keeping it in the house?