OK, you've just bought a Ducati, or you're considering buying one so where do you start? What do you need to know? What do you need to do?
Well, first you'll need to know where to find accurate and complete information, sources of in-depth experience, and even sources of informed opinion. This may, or may not, include the personnel at your local Ducati dealer.
Then you need to fully grasp the bike's maintenance requirements and the nasty consequences of ignoring them. And so, you'll also need to be aware of common problems and their solutions.
Third, you'll need to understand how to balance the benefits of modifying your bike against any reduction in reliability and rideability. That is, learn the reasons why Ducati engineers made certain performance trade-offs and understand why adding racebike components is not always the best solution for a streetbike. In particular, keep good records. They'll help you backtrack when you get lost, be of help in resolving warranty disputes, and be valuable to you when you sell your bike.
Finally, you'll probably need to adjust your suspension to suit your weight and riding style.
Ducati's official web site contains product information, technical articles, parts lists, and manuals.
You need to read the Ducati Owner's Manual for your bike. The Owner's Manuals for the 2000 to 2003 model year bikes are available for download at:
Buy a Haynes Service & Repair Manual, even if you don't plan on making repairs yourself. I guarantee that you'll refer to it regularly and it'll save its price many times over. Ducati dealers also sell a shop manual containing similar information at a premium price. The one below isnít specific to a 998 but will be useful 95% of the time
Haynes Ducati 748, 916 & 996 V-Twins 1994-2001
Service, Repair & Maintenance Manual # 3756
You can download Superbike Workshop Manuals here:
Diving into a complex, expensive motorcycle with a screwdriver, a wrench, a snippet of impressive-sounding advice off the internet or from your neighborhood garage mechanic, and no manual, is a very risky business, especially if you want to avoid warranty issues.
Your local Ducati dealer has to make money to stay in business, so if you don't support them they won't be around when you need them. Most dealers sell and install the line of Ducati Performance and other vendor's aftermarket parts and accessories. They're not deceptive, but try to understand where they're coming from when they offer advice.
Bike owners are fortunate when they live near a Ducati specialist's shop since some owners ship their bikes cross-country to take advantage of their expertise. Accessories can be bolt-on affairs but proper balanced engine performance modifications require years of first-hand product development, testing and tuning experience. In particular, suspension component selection and tuning is both an art and science. If you have special needs for the track or street, these people can help.
229 Messer Street
Laconia, NH, 03246
World Class Tuning
601 B White Street SE
Watertown, MN 55388
eMail: [email protected]
11550 E. Fm 917
Alvarado, Texas 76009
Internet Forums and Email Lists
As you become familiar with your bike and you spend some time on the internet you'll see many instances where someone asks for help and gets incomplete and somewhat inaccurate advice. You really don't know whether the response to your question is from a real expert with technical training, an experienced rider with suspension savvy, a hands-on guy who's done it all, or just a well-meaning guy just repeating something he's heard.
If it's opinion you're after, internet forums speak volumes. It's great fun to watch or join the banter over the best tires, spark plugs, motor oil, suspension settings, air filters, and more. It's the only way to sort out complex issues and share your experiences. But, it's hard to sort-out opinion from fact when your looking at a two or three sentence answer.
There are de facto experts on these forums who spend a great deal of time helping others in need but they don't answer every posted question. They offer-up their knowledge and experience freely, but like most people, they're disinclined to offer extensive explanations to someone who doesnít read the Ownerís Manual, or hesitates to spend the money on a shop manual, but want to pick everyone's brain with how-to do-it type queries. Something about helping those who are willing to help themselves is the logic behind that. It's pretty easy to tell when someone hasn't read the owners or shop manual by the nature of the question.
The following forums and mail list are Ducati-specific. Don't forget to use the search function.
Ducati Sporting Club
Ducati Message Boards
Here's three books I recommend:
Cameron, Kevin, Sportbike Performance Handbook, 1998
Foale, Tony, Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design, The Art and Science, 2002
Heywood, John B., Internal Combustion Engine Fundamentals, 1988
The Heywood textbook is essential reading to understanding engine design and performance modifications.
The maintenance schedule is thoroughly covered in the Owner's and Service manuals so I'll only highlight a couple of important ones here.
Fluids and Filter Changes
A motorcycle that uses the same oil to lubricate the engine and gearbox loses viscosity more quickly and therefore needs oil changes more frequently than an automobile. Use a synthetic oil and change it at 2,000 mile intervals.
The fuel injected Ducati's use a high pressure fuel pump so it's imperative that you change the fuel filter every 6,000 miles. A partially clogged fuel filter will disrupt fuel flow, cause bad throttle response, and can lean out the motor on the fuel injected models. In particular, it will present excessive back pressure to the fuel pump which increases electrical current demands thereby making the charging system work harder which commonly leads to a regulator/rectifier failure. The fuel lines are subject to high pressure so take the opportunity to inspect them when you replace the fuel filter.
Cam Timing Belt Replacement
It's critical that the cam belts be replaced every 12,000 miles. Space limitations on Ducati's require the use of smaller diameter pulleys that cause the belt to flex more than large pulleys used in automobile engines. Further, Ducati uses a small diameter back-side belt-tensioning idler pulley arrangement that causes the belt to flex in the opposite direction on each revolution. This design approach results in an even greater angle of belt flexing, requiring the use of a stronger reinforcement fiber to prevent fatigue failure. The original drive belt design often failed before the first 12,000 mile replacement interval so Ducati switched to a Kevlar fiber reinforced belt. These are interference engines, which means that a belt failure results in a catastrophic collision between the piston and valves.
The biggest performance boost to a Ducati comes from rider improvement. Handling is truly awesome in stock trim, so a riding school and track time will pay huge dividends here.
A sure way to improve handling performance is to reduce weight. Ducatis are not as lightweight as current Japanese machines but weight reduction is easy albeit expensive. After you remove any extraneous equipment (tool kit, reflectors, etc.) and have switched to a lightweight battery, it then requires an expensive diet of magnesium wheels and swingarm, carbon fairings, fuel tank, and titanium nuts & bolts etc. (the sky's the limit here.) But take care not to reduce weight at the sacrifice of safety, reliability, and normal maintenance and inspection requirements. For example, too much flywheel and clutch weight reduction and you give up drivability and traction exiting corners in order to gain acceleration.
For increased acceleration it's much cheaper to increase horsepower than it is to reduce weight. Every seven pounds of weight reduction is about equal to one horsepower from a physics point-of view.
Higher compression pistons, increased displacement, fuel system changes, port work, cams, valves, crank work, rods, and full exhaust systems all are effective ways to increase horsepower, but pushed to the limit, engine life and service costs suffer.
The idea is to try to build a balanced package based on how you'll really ride the bike - a hard thing to do for many of us, myself included. Start off by making sure that the stock machine is properly tuned and adjusted. This often can make a stock Ducati much faster for very little money.
Let me say it up front. The factory recommended suspension settings will give you the best OVERALL handling. Period.
The factory settings won't provide the most comfortable ride nor will they always result in the fastest track times because any set of suspension settings is a compromise and the stock setup is no exception. The suspension settings were developed by Ducati's test riders to give them the best handling characteristics over the widest possible range of riding conditions, so they are not necessarily the optimum settings for your favorite road or your personal riding technique.
Nevertheless there are some initial adjustments you may need to make. Also, one point bears mentioning up front. It is important in any suspension work, to keep a record of the starting point settings and all changes to avoid later confusion regarding the effects of each change.
Ducati often makes two versions of their bikes. Monoposto (single seat) Ducatis have a softer rear spring in them as standard because they are not capable of carrying two people. Biposto (two seat) models have a stiffer spring installed to allow the bike to occasionally carry a passenger, when you temporarily increase the spring preload.
Ducati monopostos, as delivered, are set-up for a rider in the weight range of 65-75 kg (143-165 lbs.) If your weight (including gear) is significantly outside this range, you'll want to replace your springs with a more (or less) stiff unit to allow you to adjust the suspension correctly to suit your own weight. If you're heavy and you ride a biposto you'll probably still be OK but a lightweight on a biposto will definitely need a softer spring.
If your weight with gear on the bike is 200 lbs. or more, even if you've set your static preload properly, the stock spring probably isn't stiff enough to keep the rear end from bottoming out unless you crank up the compression damping.
To preload the stock spring for this heavier weight you'll need to compress it so much that you've reduced its effective range of motion. The higher preload needed for a heavier rider's weight will also cause the rear to top-out more readily requiring you to increase rebound damping to slow it down.
Too much rear spring preload will also cause your bike to ride higher in the rear. A higher rear end (or lower front) will give the front forks a steeper angle. This then results in a tendency of the bike to oversteer, where the rear wheel looses traction first so the rear end breaks loose.
The idea here is that you need to let the spring (not the dampers) control the range of motion of the suspension. Too-stiff damping causes handling problems over bumpy road surfaces. Handling is enhanced when the dampers are set soft enough to control the wheel movement, allowing the tyres to track the bumps rather than skip over them. Track surfaces are smoother so higher preloads and damping of a taut suspension are less of a problem.
It's important that in beginning any suspension setup that the spring preloads should be adjusted first (including correct determination of required spring rates.) It's also important to note that all of this should be done before any adjustment of damping rates, or steering head angle.
You need to set the front and rear spring sag amount for your own weight plus gear and a half tank of gas. The way this is done is by measuring the suspension change with you on the bike sitting in the riding position, leaning forward with enough weight from your hands on the handlebars to mimic your riding at speed. See your bike's service manual for the procedure for setting the bike's spring preload and measuring sag. Again, buy a Haynes or Ducati manual, you'll need it.
After setting the preload on the correct springs, you can then go on to adjust the suspension's rebound and compression damping.
Also, if you make any sprocket changes, then make sure you've reset the ride height by changing the length of the tie-rod adjuster. On superbike models any size changes to the final drive sprockets or chain length will usually require an adjustment of the rear axle eccentric hub that, in turn, affects your rear ride height and wheelbase - and your handling.
Finally, you should probably avoid using suspension settings developed by other riders, specifically motorcycle magazine test riders who commonly tweak each new bike's suspension settings in an attempt to improve on factory settings, and then publish the results. These settings may actually be an improvement for one particular rider on one particular track but the factory settings are still the best overall comfort-performance trade-off for the average rider on an average road.
For example, a review of a dozen magazine tests of Ducati superbike compression and rebound damper settings showed that even though there is a wide variation between riders, their settings average out to the factory recommended settings. So it looks like Ducati knows its business.
A world-class motorcycle rider will ride countless hours fine-tuning a bike's suspension to get the last tenth of a second in lap time. Even so, the optimum suspension setup for the same model factory race bike ends up significantly different for different factory riders. Further, if you took one of these bikes out for a ride yourself, you would most likely consider it to be almost completely unrideable.
So, it's clear that the best suspension set-up is the one that THE RIDER DECIDES is the optimum combination of suspension settings for that particular rider's technique. Sometimes the riding technique need to be changed a little to suit the bike, sometimes the bike need to be changed a little to suit the rider. But it's always a little of each.
If you're riding a racetrack where you'll repeatedly experience the same suspension behavior because you reproduce the loading conditions on each lap, thatís one thing. But if you're riding the street it's MUCH harder to make sense of what the suspension is doing. In fact, YOU are the biggest variable. Riding the same road on two different days will often give you different impressions of suspension behavior.
It gets even more complicated when you leave the track and ride the street. Instead of having a repeating, smooth and consistent road surface you now have a highly irregular and changing road condition. This means your suspension settings have to accommodate a wider range and magnitude of loadings and that you'll need to develop a riding technique that can complement a suspension set-up that works well for street riding.