Ducati 749S / Suzuki GSX-R750

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

I have to be honest with you, folks. My boy-racer days are well behind me. Though I still covet a brisk pace across endless stretches of tasty twisties, there are usually packed saddlebags and often the world's greatest copilot along for the ride. Yep, these days I'm content to be absorbed by the lure of the open road and actually strive to stop occasionally and smell the proverbial roses.

By that I simply mean I've almost come to terms with my, ahem, maturity. Nobody said anything about growing up. So when asked if I wanted to compare and contrast two smokin' 750cc supersports from Suzuki and Ducati while exploring some of California's finest back roads, I stroked my thumb and forefinger alongside my chin and furrowed my brow in a gallant attempt to replicate a model of sage contemplation. Right about then, that skinny kid with a goofy 80's haircut and a seeming fondness for dragging his 550 Seca out of ditches came out of nowhere and said, "Uhhh, OK."

I'll have to admit, even now, it's nice to lose the luggage and the maps and just go get lost in the country. If that's a prime mover for you too, then there are few bikes on the market more capable of that breezy assignment than the Suzuki GSX-R750 and the Ducati 749S. There's no arguing that this dynamic duo is track ready. The question is, how will they perform in the hands of an everyday Joe on everyday roads?

4 versus 2
The most obvious differences in these two machines are the motors. The venerable inline four powering the Suzuki has been the hallmark of Japanese performance motorcycles since the early 1970s, The technological advances this particular engine configuration has produced over the years of racing, tweaking, and more racing have been astounding. One of the most obvious advances in this evolutionary process is the fuel-injected, 16-valve, GSX-R750.

A quick glance at the spec sheets reveals that the 750 weighs a scant five pounds more than its smaller stable-mate, the GSX-R600, yet carries an extra 150cc displacement. That's not too shabby. On the street the extra punch of the slightly bigger Gixxer is truly awe-inspiring. No matter the road or situation the 750 seems perfectly at home. Once you're used to the hair-trigger throttle, commutes acquire a whole new meaning. An explosive yet controllable burst of go is always at your fingertips - never a bad thing if your preference in lanes instantly changes. However, the countryside is where the Suzuki's sterling competence really shines. Gliding through twists, ample power is always at the ready and it never becomes unmanageable unless your throttle hand surpasses your capabilities. The smooth and precise six-speed gearbox handles up and down shifts with ease and keeps the power to the rear wheel in a predictable yet mischievous fashion.

Certainly not about to be usurped in the fun-per-liter department, the Ducati 749S checks in sporting an electronically fuel-injected, eight-valve, V-twin featuring Testastretta Desmodromic technology. In a word, Attitude, Italian style. Thumb the starter and a beautiful blend of "music" creates a harmony best described as seductive. Gioachino Rossini would approve. While the Gixxer sounds off with Singer-sewing precision, the Duc snorts and growls its basso profundo.

Once underway, the pleasures of the V-twin quickly emerge. The stout twist of the throttle that elicits a rocket response from the Suzuki begets a measured, almost imperceptible thrust from the Duc. Imperceptible that is until surrounding traffic suddenly disappears and the speedo needle is stabbing the ton. In traffic the Duc is a blast to ride simply because the gear you're in doesn't really matter: the power's everywhere. The same goes for back roads - all that's required is a twist of the wrist. Shifting gears was practically optional, especially in the tight stuff, and I found the six-speed gearbox to be smooth and exact; and although the dry clutch works fine, it does feel a little odd at first. It's one of those things that takes a little getting used to, but I got used to it real quick.

Sparring With the Trellis
These bikes don't possess many chassis similarities either. The Suzuki sports a stout aluminum frame with an extruded main spar design. Needless to say, stiffness and stability are not factors here. The Ducati envelops the motor in a tubular-steel trellis configuration. Riders used to looking at most of the modern Japanese sportbikes might assume the Ducati's frame is rather archaic. But as the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. The fact is, I've never ridden a bike that feels more stable and planted to any road surface than the Ducati 749S does. Assuredly, under any circumstances, that's a very bold statement to make in comparison to the GSX-R750. Yet while the Gixxer does hit every corner with a crisp tightness that leaves you wondering why you even eased up on the throttle, the Duc blatantly informs you that you never did. Late braking into corners can bring just a tad of upset to the Suzuki whereas the 749S almost taunts you into driving it in deeply.

Going fast and cornering solidly are aspects desired in supersport machines, but bringing them to a stop is also at the top of the have-to-have list. Happily, both machines have the brakes to match the rest of their stellar packages sublimely. The GSX-R boasts Tokico four-piston calipers and a Nissen radial-piston front master cylinder, combining in near perfection to perform whatever a slow-down requires. The Ducati's binders respond equivalently, featuring four-piston, four-pad calipers up front and a twin-piston caliper out back. As for total chassis feel, the Ducati seems to have the edge here. The firm feel of control the Italian entry exhibits nudges it ahead of the Japanese counterpart. I'm a touring rider not a track guy, so I may be feeling or not feeling things that could set off gales of laughter in those guys with their names on their leathers. Regardless, I've never ridden another bike that so quickly and comfortably reassured me that I could push my limits.

Track Day's Over...
Now it's time to ride home and think about work on Monday. From a real-world perspective, I have to lean toward the Suzuki for several reasons. Although it's a hot-blooded track bike, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to engage it in some right fun tours, as long as the roads stay crooked and you're moving about the bike. Highways? Forget it. This bike will likely beat you to death in a few hours. The same holds true for the Duc, maybe worse even. The Gixxer seat is user-friendlier for the longer haul.

Another nod for the Suzuki is due to the fact that there are actually luggage hooks beneath the seat and on the passenger pegs. With some imagination, you could secure a tail pack to the pillion and disappear for a few days quite nicely. OK, so what if your favorite passenger wants to go along? Honestly, a few days on the second-seat accommodations could be the ultimate test of a relationship. It either ends there on the road or you'll know, indubitably, that you've found your life partner, a soul mate with an armadillo's tolerance for pain. But those who aren't really into test taking should consider another ride if there's a dedicated copilot on the premises. Fortunately, that's not an issue on the 749S - there are no passenger accommodations.

On the bottom line, the feel and handling of the Ducati 749S are the stuff of riders' dreams everywhere; but those moto-Utopian visions come at a price nearly $ 5100 higher than the Suzuki. Sure, if I happened to be dusting off the tank of an old Hodaka in a barn and a genie popped out to give me a choice, I'd choose the Ducati. In the here and now, however, I'm more likely to be asking for a loan from Jeanie down at the bank, and those extra four figures would certainly breed an uncomfortable silence and provoke much skeptical peering in my direction over the top of her reading glasses. Something else to keep in mind: Suzuki dealers are easy to find, parts are readily available, and, again, you're going to get those luggage hooks. And so, even though the Duc is all about dreams and pure amore, the Suzuki makes a much stronger argument for use in the day-to-day world.

TECHNICAL SPECS:
Suzuki GSX-R 750

Distributor American Suzuki Motor Corp. - www.suzukicycles.com
Engine inline four, DOHC, 16-valve
Displacement 749cc
Bore x Stroke 72 x 46mm
Carburetion fuel injection
Power n/a
Cooling liquid
Ignition digital / transistorized
Transmission six-speed
Frame twin spar aluminum
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork, fully adjustable
Rear Suspension Single shock link type, fully adjustable
Rake/Trail n/a
Brakes front/reartwin four piston calipers / two piston caliper
Tires front/rear 120/70 ZR 17 / 180/55 ZR 17
Dry Weight 359lb (163kg)
Wheelbase 55.1in (1400mm)
Seat height 32.5in (825mm)
Fuel Capacity 4.5gal (17l)
Fuel Consumption 38mpg
Colors Blue / White, Yellow / Black, Blue / Black
MSRP $ 9,699

TECHNICAL SPECS:
Ducati 749S

+ power, handling, brakes
- comfort, price

Distributor Ducati North America, Inc. - www.ducati.com
Engine v-twin, Testastretta Desmodromic, 8 valve
Displacement 748cc
Bore x Stroke 90 x 58.8mm
Carburetion fuel injection
Power 116hp
Cooling liquid
Ignition n/a
Transmission six-speed
Frame tubular steel trellis
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork, fully adjustable
Rear Suspension Single shock link type, fully adjustable
Rake/Trailadjustable 23.5¼ / 91mm-24.5¼ / 97mm
Brakes front/rear twin four piston calipers, 320mm disc /two piston caliper, 240mm disc
Tires front/rear 120/70 ZR 17 / 180/55 ZR 17
Dry Weight 410lb (186kg)
Wheelbase 55.9in (1420mm)
Seat height 30.7in (780mm)
Fuel Capacity 4.1gal (15.5l)
Fuel Consumption 41mpg
Colors Red
MSRP $ 14,795