Ducati Desmosedici RR

DesmosediciRR_10

By Kevin Ash


Pictures: Milagro




The hype, the doubts, the cynicism, all are blown away the moment you press the starter. If you thought the Ducati Desmosedici RR would be diluted, a race replica of the awesome GP6 990cc MotoGP weapon, the world’s fastest grand prix bike but with its teeth extracted, a profile copy only, then the furious, aggressive bark that makes a mockery of the word ‘idle’ as the V-four motor settles into its rhythmic, hunting growl, vaporises that idea in a moment.

 Ducatti_Desmo_20Click on image for galleryYou wonder: the bike costs £40,000 (60,000 euros), and what could you possibly get out of a superbike that’s worth four times what a Fireblade can offer? You can talk exclusivity, the badge, the exoticism all you like, but surely in the end these are terms used only to cover up for not much extra in the real, dynamic riding experience? If it’s little better than any other superbike in how it goes, stops and corners, then in the end, after paying all that extra, surely you’ve just been had?

Then the motor fires and the sound alone says no one’s pulled any wool over your eyes: the sharp, chattering ba-ba-ba-ba throb is pure MotoGP Ducati V-four with only the volume and not the quality reduced (and with the race pipe fitted that comes with every Desmosedici RR, it’s not much quieter either). That, in turn, tells you the insides of the motor are steeped in the race bike’s genes. The full specifications have been guarded for several years, it turns out because the RR’s numbers so closely match the MotoGP machines’ some important secrets could have been given away. Now MotoGP has switched to 800cc and we could be told. Ducati_Desmosedici_RR_06The bore and stroke are full-on, race bike oversquare, at 86mm x 42.6mm, the massive valves, controlled desmodromically rather than by springs, are set at the same angle as the race bikes’ and indeed the centres of the gear-driven camshafts, finger followers, crankshaft and so on are all identical to the GP6’s. The crankshaft itself has its crankpins staggered 70 degrees apart, giving firing intervals of 0-90-290-380 degrees, what Ducati calls a Twin Pulse firing order that offers the best balance between driveability, traction and transmission reliability. The pistons are so wide and so shallow they look like something to stand your glass of Chianti on, and differ in design from the GP6’s only in having two compression rings instead of one. It makes 197bhp (200PS), yet the motor is tiny, a mere 0.69in (17.4mm) wider than the 1098 Ducati V-twin, and it’s much shorter in height and length.

Ducati_Desmosedici_RR_07The chassis comprises a Ducati signature tubular steel trellis bolted to the engine, the swingarm is attached to the rear of the power unit and the carbon fibre tail unit doubles as the rear subframe – Ducati says this is the first bike to have a carbon monocoque tail section, although Bimota’s SB6 used a similar design. But no one’s ever had the exhaust exiting through the top of it like the Ducati! The chassis’ torsional stiffness is huge, almost double that of the 1098/1198, which is hardly made of spaghetti. The forks are by Öhlins and are the first gas-pressurised units to be fitted to a road bike, while the shock is from the same company with a bewildering array of adjustments: 20 low speed compression settings, 48 high speed ones, 25 rebound settings, spring preload, ride height, and the damping compensates for temperature changes too. The wheels are the first on a road bike to be of forged magnesium – all the surfaces are subsequently machined, and the attention to detail goes right down to the non-symmetric brake disc carriers, designed to take more force in one direction than the other to save vital ounces. As Ducati’s technical director Andrea Forni says, don’t brake hard when going backwards…

DesmosediciRR_12Even the tyres are unique to the bike. Partly that’s because the D16RR uses a 16 inch rear wheel and 17 inch front, a compromise Ducati had to make when American homologation authorities wouldn’t allow the 16.5 inch wheels the designers wanted. But partly it’s because these tyres are designed to mimic as closely as possible the Bridgestone slicks used on the factory MotoGP machines in profile, and because of the phenomenal amount of grip they offer. So, they’re not going to last very long, and when replacement time comes rushing up, Bridgestone says the rear will cost around 70 per cent more than a typical superbike equivalent, and the front will be around 50 per cent more expensive. But hey, you’ve just paid 40 grand for the bike, does this really matter?

The peripheral components are as lovingly created as the rest of the bike – I was running a finger over the silky, textured surface of a footrest hanger when a technician came up and told me proudly it takes 45 minutes to machine each one of these from solid. Then there’s the riding position, which merges rider and machine perfectly, the electronic dash is the same as a 1098/1198’s and indeed the MotoGP machines’, and on such a bike, the standard road bike switchgear looks incongruous. Yet you also get three years’ free servicing. Even the brake and clutch levers fold up to give them more of a survival chance in a crash, while a remote cable across the bars means race-style you can adjust the front brake lever span with your left hand, without having to remove your right one from the throttle.

Happily I didn’t get to test the crashproofness of the levers. The rest though I could vouch for even by the end of the pitlane, first time out at the breathtaking Mugello grand prix circuit, a sinuous jet black bitumen ribbon draped across the Tuscan hills to the north of Florence: I snicked the bike into gear, heard the dry clutch rattle mute and felt the bike fire me out onto the track with its ferocious aural goading. This was the real thing, no more doubt.

DesmosediciRR_15The engine is magnificent, and amplified by having just 377lb (171kg) dry weight to drive, a nominal power-to-weight ratio of 1,150bhp per ton. Ultra-short stroke it might be, but it pulls cleanly, evenly and strongly from as low you like, the horsepower building on a vast but even rush that kicks hard at 7000rpm and keeps on cascading like a bursting dam right to the 14,200rpm rev limiter. There’s no tailing off, no let up, and the exhaust note is deep so at first you keep hitting the limiter. How you’re supposed to watch the rev counter with the twistgrip turned I don’t know, this bike is so projectile-fast it’s all you can do to process what’s outside the cockpit, let alone in it. A helpful red light winks as the red line approaches, and even looking out for that is hard work – at the end of Mugello’s straight this bike was nudging 186mph (300kph) and you can’t even see the final turn until you’ve almost hit your braking marker.

And it’s right here, where you have to lose 140mph (225kph) or so and heel the bike right to drive uphill in the other direction, that the Desmosedici difference really shows. Yes, it’s fast in a straight line, faster than any other road bike, I’m sure, and not so very far off Ducati’s first MotoGP bike, the V-four 990cc GP3 of 2003 – I’ve ridden that too and I can assure you, the RR is not a lot slower. But it’s in the corners that the RR really feels like a race bike, rather than a super-sporting road bike. For all its stupendous power the engine is forgiving, thanks to its unexpectedly wide spread of torque. DesmosediciRR_16Get in the wrong gear through a turn (because you’re gibbering into your helmet) and that mighty motor will pull you through. But the chassis takes no prisoners. In terms of feedback, this is like the first time you switched to broadband from dial-up – so much more information than you’re used to, so fast, and while you’re trying to cope, every response of the bike to your now clumsy, inexpert inputs is magnified five times over. Now you realise how you row a Fireblade through turns, how an R1 mushes round the bends, how a GSX-R is woolly and soft. Pull the Desmosedici RR’s bars in the usual way and it flicks like a switch and heads for the inside kerb. Correct yourself and now it runs wide, so pull it back, and you zigzag through the turn like a race track novice.

You must recalibrate all your inputs, make them delicate and accurate, positive and confident, or quite frankly you’ll look like a bit of an idiot. Then it starts to come together, the bike scribes millimetre-perfect arcs and drives the specially made Bridgestone rubber – the stickiest road tyres the company has ever made – with arm-wrenching force and your whole riding world shifts onto a different plane. And when you do get it right, the Desmosedici turns into a glorious, beautiful extension of your senses that justifies every last penny it costs.

£40,000, is that all?

Price: £40,000

Available: A handful still available, though most of the 1500 production is sold

Contact: Ducati UK, 0845 1222996, www.ducatiuk.com


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shuggiemac
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Joined: 23/11/2008

You must hate your job! Jealous does not even come close to what I feel right now and I have never actually met you !!! The owner of the local Ducati importer here in Prague has a Desmosedici but I suspect I will have to spend a whole lot more money in his emporium than I already have before he will even let me look at it! It's not fair I tell you.

kevash
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Joined: 05/10/2008

Well yeah, even the bad bits are pretty good, and every now and then all the planets align and you get something like this, a Desmosedici RR, Mugello, perfect weather, and Italian food of course. Nearly didn't happen though, we were scheduled to ride it two weeks before at Misano (which suddenly I didn't know any more as they go the other way around now...), the day after the MotoGP there, and the weather was appalling, a major storm came over and it was so windy they had to park the transporter trucks around the hospitality tent to stop it blowing away! For a bit it looked like the Desmosedici test was off altogether (they'd sold them all anyway) but then they found a slot at Mugello at the same time as the MotoGP team was testing there.

JT Rider
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Joined: 23/05/2010

My neighbour's just got one of these. I just stare and stare.

kevash
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Joined: 05/10/2008

Well you must live in a nice house too....