Battle of the 900s

 

    I've been asked by a few people how I like the Ducati 900ss, especially since I've had 17,000 miles of seat time in my Kawasaki ZX-9R. Well, here's my 2. First, the facts.

  1996 Ducati 900ss* 2000 Kawasaki ZX-9R*
Displacement 904cc 899cc
Horsepower 69.6 @ 7000 rpm 131.4 @ 10,500 rpm
Torque 54.6 @ 6500 rpm 71.7 @ 9000
Redline 9000 rpm  
Bore x Stroke 92 mm x 68 mm 75.0 mm x 50.9mm
Compression  9.2:1 12.2:1
Carb size 38 mm  
mile 11.94 s. @ 111.3 mph 10.26 s. @ 133.9
Top speed 136 mph 169 mph
Mileage 49 mpg 37 mpg
Wet weight 446 lbs 466 lbs
Wheelbase 56.4 in 55.7 in
Rake 25.0 24.0
Trail 4.0 in 3.8 in
Suspension, F 41 mm inverted cartridge 46 mm cartridge
Front travel   4.72 in
Suspension, R    
Rear travel   5.31 in
Front tire 120/70-17 Michelin Macadam 120/70-17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa
Rear tire 170/60-17 Michelin Macadam 190/55-17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa

* Source for Ducati - Sport Rider, February 1994, For Kawasaki - Sport Rider, July 2000

Other Trivia

  Ducati Kawasaki
Tank width 13" 17"
Bar width 25 28
Fairing width 18 22
Mirrors (edge to edge) 29 33
Frame width 11 19
Seat width 12 16
Seat front  to gauges 36 32
Footpeg to bar 23 24

OK, now for the beef;

    I've been asked for riding impressions, now that I have the Ducati I've lusted after for so long. As of this writing (August 2003) I've taken one spirited ride on the red machine. Next month I hope to take it with me to BeaveRun for a track day. I won't be running all the sessions on it, but at least a couple. I'll break this down by comparison/contrast on several topics.

First Impressions

Kawasaki: Relative to my last bike, an '86 Ninja 900, this thing was lower, wider, and lighter.

Ducati: Relative to the ZX-9, it is light, small, and narrow. Seems like the clocks are a looong way from the seat, though. This thing is also pretty cold-blooded. It takes a good 10 minutes to warm up. Until then, it spits, coughs, and quits. I guess those big, relatively inefficient combustion chambers are hard to light off. Once warm, it's a peach.

Comfort

Kawasaki: The Barcolounger. It fits me very well. All of the magazines rate it as the smoothest and most comfortable open-classer, which is why I bought it. The fact that it's 0.8 sec slower than the R1 around the Streets of Willow with an expert rider aboard means nothing to me.

Ducati: I had read that the bars were uncomfortable; this wasn't the case during our 7-hour ride. The seat on my bike sucks! Somebody replaced the stock one with a Corbin. I don't know why people rave about these things. It's too low, square-sided, and stepped. I will replace it as soon as I can.

This bike also vibrates a lot. It isn't a numbing type, but it never goes away. Some call it character. I haven't decided yet. The mirrors are useless, as they are too close together, and sometimes shake so bad that I can't focus on anything in them. I'm looking to replace these, too.

Engine Performance

Kawasaki: Initially, it had a really bad lurch coming off closed throttle. A Factory Pro Ti jet kit and some dyno tuning fixed that completely. the engine is now a peach. I've ridden a modified R1, and my Ninja is nowhere near as fast, but ain't no slouch, either.

Ducati: Supposedly, this bike has a Dynojet jet kit to go along with the Micron slip-ons. It doesn't seem to pull well from less than 3500 rpm. Power stops at about 8000. Pulls well in-between. Very easy to use powerband. I don't fear whacking the throttle open on this bike. Yet.

Brakes

Kawasaki: I've recently installed full-floating rotors, and am still breaking them in. I've also replaced the stock rubber front lines with braided steel ones. They don't fade on track days anymore. They also don't have the feel of the Brembo-shod Aprilia I rode at VIR. Not bad and getting better. Again, more to be discovered next month at BeaveRun.

Ducati: One of the previous owners replaced all the stock lines with Kevlar. (I guess steel is too pedestrian for a Ducati.) This bike came stock with cast-iron, full-floating 320mm disks, AND THIS WAS BACK IN 1996! They work really well, but with more lever effort than the Ninja. A master cylinder replacement is a common upgrade for these bikes. Ironically, the ZX-6E seems to be the best donor. I'll put Ferodo pads in this bike too, and see how they feel.

Handling

Kawasaki: I've raised the rear ride height, pulled the fork tubes up in the triple-clamps, had the forks Traxxionated, and replaced the stock shock with a Penske. OK, so it's still no R6, but I'm happy with it.  I have to dial in the new suspension, but I think I now have a very honest handler. It doesn't have a steering damper, and hasn't needed one.

Ducati: I haven't dialed in the suspension yet. In fact, I haven't even checked the tire pressure. After this last local ride, I think it's set up too stiffly. It also takes A LOT more effort to turn than the Ninja, which is funny, considering it's lighter. Part of the problem is the handlebars are narrower, and mounted at a weird angle. It also has more rake and trail. Three times on DC 14 I completely missed apexes because I was afraid to countersteer any harder. This was because I don't have confidence in the Michelin Macadams and that much steering effort applied to the Ninja would cause a crash. I think the 900ss is a great handling bike, too. I just have to get used to it, and get it used to me.

Conclusions

Kawasaki: A much better sportbike than the magazines would lead you to believe, and my modifications have made it even better.

Ducati: Worth lusting over all these years. It will require more modifications and more money to bring it to where I want it to be, but it is very special. I had no problem pulling distance on the group last ride, even though they ALL had more horsepower (from 20 to 90) than I did.

Future Upgrades

Kawasaki:

  •  None, really. It's there already

Ducati:

  •  Replace the seat with a stocker or stock-type solo
  •  New brake pads
  •  New headers and high-mount CF pipes
  •  Pirelli Diablo tires
  •  Lightweight wheels
  •  New carbs or at least rejetted stockers
  •  Traxxion-modified forks
  •  Replaced or re-valved shock
  •  Possible front brake master cylinder upgrade