Belt service and tires for the 999R

Before the bike could be ridden it needed a service and a once over. Take a look, and realize that these bikes are nothing at all to fear.

6w ago

The internet is full of nonsense and bad information. We all know this, but for some reason we still allow it to effect our decisions and sway our judgment. In the same way some brands of cars suffer from a bad reliability reputation, some motorcycle makers have been branded with the same label. While sometimes there is a morsel of truth to the stories, more often then not it seems the reputation is unfairly assigned. What makes it worse is the eco chamber of the internet constantly repeats this false narrative without any rebuttal.

I personally try to focus on advice and reviews from people that have owned, or at least experienced first hand what they are talking about.

My main passion in motorcycling revolves around finding value in the market place. This value manifests into fun and interesting experiences. My goal is to maximize how far my dollar goes. Recently I migrated away from 70s British and Japanese bikes and gravitated to 90s and 00s Italian sport bikes. In my opinion this era offers modern levels of performance, real world usability and decent reliability. I also feel there are some rare gems, such as the Ducati 999R that can be sought out to have a very unique and exotic motorcycle in the garage for not that much more invested than a run of the mill production bike.

When ever you mention Italian motorcycles the first thing most people rightfully think of is Ducati. They have been the largest and most successful for decades. They produce beautiful looking motorcycles with amazing sounding engines. For many it is the stuff dreams are made of. But back to the internet propagating an unjust narrative, many will have you believe that these machines will be ruinously expensive to maintain, and wildly unreliable. Follow along here as I hopefully shed some light on the subject and show how these bikes are absolutely nothing to be afraid of and probably deserve to be higher on your personal shopping list of bikes to own.

Decided to work by the pool. It was a nice afternoon, and the garage is too packed with bikes to really work at this point.

Decided to work by the pool. It was a nice afternoon, and the garage is too packed with bikes to really work at this point.

In the past I shared the process of servicing and working on a Ducati 1000SS. I showed that it was not really that much more expensive or complicated when compared to other bikes in the category. Some feedback was that the SS line of Ducati was not really a true sports bike. Well this time things will be different. What we have here is a 2003 Ducati 999R. The 999 was the top of the line sport bike from Ducati at the time, and the R version was the top tier specification. If this does not put things to bed about service costs, nothing will.

To set the stage, I will be mainly talking about DIY type work. At this point the bikes are at an age almost no one would be utilizing an OEM dealer for service. There are plenty of local independent options that could perform the tasks, if you so wanted.

Step one was to pull the body work off to expose all the mechanical components. On this bike that took about 20 min. The side fairings pop off in seconds due to the use of DZUS fittings. The carbon panels were set aside. Next the tail and seat unbolt, and finally the tank slides out. Nothing any different then any other sport bike.

I spooned on a new set of tires. Nothing at all magical here. The rear is a 190/50 in place of the more common 180/55 so there was not as much choice in tires. But the pricing was inline with everything else.

This bike had just had new brake pads installed so nothing to do there. Again, those parts are the same price as for any other bike. The elephant in the room when speaking about Ducati is the belt service.

With the number of different colors, it is clear that the belts have been changed a few times over the years.

With the number of different colors, it is clear that the belts have been changed a few times over the years.

To me the miss information and outlandish comments around Ducati belt service rival those of the 996 911 IMS bearings. A real mountain out of a mole hill type of thing. Is it something to know about? Sure. It is something to fear? Nope

First issue to tackle here is price. OEM belts right from the deal are about $250 for the pair. Not bad really. As with anything in the automotive sphere, there are aftermarket options. The most widely know is the "Exact Fit" belt, thus named for the fitment but know for the $100 price point. See, the first BS rumor was that the belts that Ducati used were somehow different or special when compared to any other timing belt. Not to bust a bubble, but they are not. Just a standard offering from the nice people at Gates. So the big bad scary and costly service is just a $100 in parts. That's it.

But William, I hear it is super complicated to install so the labor charges are insane. Again, not really. While I have done this task a few times I very much feel this is job any decent wrench can tackle. Access to the belts is easy and there are plenty of marks to assure that you are keeping everything lined up. I do not utilize any of the fancy OEM tools while doing the swap. If you are so inclined there are a few aftermarket options that are affordable.

Can see the simple tension system on the lower left roller.

Can see the simple tension system on the lower left roller.

With the bodywork already off, the whole job takes about an hour. Tails of hundreds if not thousands of dollars spent on shop labor to accomplish this task are exaggerated to say the least.

Setting the belt tension is the funniest thing to me. It is not a force setting, or even one of those "twist" tests. Ducati has decided that the best way to set the correct tension is with an acoustic reading. The manual calls out a frequency in Hz. You pluck the belt with your fingers and record the number on a guitar tuner. We will just gloss over how crazy that sounds.

All sealed back up.

All sealed back up.

Another thing that has been a source of much debate is how often this job needs to be performed. Some claim every two years, regardless of miles. Even Ducati has walked away from this and all but admitted it was the service interval to keep people going to the dealer. At this point most owners are changing the belts in the 3-5 year range. Still more often then on a car.

And that ladies and gentleman is the major service on a Ducati. Nothing to make a big deal out of. Just get the right parts, find the time to sit down and work and knock it out. To me it is well worth the little bit of extra effort and small cost in order to enjoy wonderful machines like this.

Now off to the comments to get lambasted about valve shimming and be regaled with stories about how someone's uncle used to work with this guy who lived next to a guy that went broke working on keep a Ducati on the road.

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Comments (2)

  • Ducati _does_ have the distinct advantage of having the Volkswagen Group in their corner, with all that Germanic quality control. Belt service doesn’t look as insurmountable as the dealers all say (probably because they want that money—my local M-G dealer tries to get me to spend lots of money with them, too).

    Aprilia and Moto Guzzi, however, are owned by Piaggio, and seem to be left on their own as far as QC…

      29 days ago
    • I agree that quality has gotten better over time, and the VAG funding is not going to hurt anything. But the design, and even the part numbers for parts pre dates the merger.

      For me it is just dealers over exerting their value.

      Honestly if...

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        29 days ago