I was busting for a pee and on spying a rest area I came in a little, shall we say, molto veloce* and had a boat load of trouble steering this bike around my "first" corner into the rest area, very nearly not making it. Mama Mia*. First impressions count, I really didn\'t like the way it steered or rather didn\'t. With Ohlin\'s suspension fore and aft (I sense a nautical tangent?) there were really no excuses to be had, so some serious setting up was in order. I really felt it had the potential to flick port or starboard, whoops, I mean left or right much faster than it actually did. More on this later.
So what is a Mille R? Well it\'s special. It\'s a race replica produced by the Italian factory with a big heart, with the view of transporting its owner/rider closer to WSB than Speedvision could ever take them. It\'s not even an homologation model so plenty are available to go around. If it wasn\'t for those upstart\'s Bayliss and Bostrom, you might have been staring at the new WSB champ. Damn those sanguinante* 996\'s.
Suitable upgrades to the common or garden Mille include a rather large helping of the previously mentioned Ohlins goodies. Starting with the front forks and the stuff legends are made from, we have the de rigueur Titanium Nitride lowers with the traditional 3-way adjustability for our riding pleasure. The rear too, has a piggyback Ohlins again offering 3-way knob fiddling potential. The wheels? Snazzy show with added go, super lightweight OZ alloy wheels that continue to look better and better the more you look at them. Steering has been improved (sic) too from last years bike by increasing rake to compliment a revised engine position.
Rake aside there are a further 170-odd changes to this years dish from last years, everything from weight savings to aerodynamics. Us sporties love our carbon fiber so it\'s no shock to see some luvverly pieces attached to the R to help satisfy our craving. Amongst other bits scattered here and there, this Mille R boasts front and rear fenders made of the tricky stuff so you won\'t need to be spending more of your hard earned.
The engine has not been ignored either. From knowledge garnered at WSB level, it\'s been raised 5mm to aid handling. The rear swingarm too, has been modified (raised 3mm) to aid traction. Things haven\'t been ignored in the beans department either with the airbox receiving some slicing and dicing to further help with... err, slicing and dicing? Our R had a nice titanium end can that let out some tunes rivaling Andrea Bocelli. I\'m not sure if my neighbors appreciated the operatic tunes on a Sunday morning pre-ride warm up but hey, what are homeowners association dues for anyway?
The seat is flat and fairly comfortable and the ergo\'s are pretty good too. It\'s a healthy reach to the wide-ish bars and if you\'re a little short in the walking and running department, a somewhat unhealthy reach to the floor. One particularly nice feature about the seat though, is the fact that your twig and berries don\'t get mashed into the new lower and reshaped tank. You can sit back a little, still have control and not be sliding back into the tank. One astonishing thing I noticed with this bike is that if my balls are cool calm and collected, so am I. (Snigger.)
Clutch feel is good, albeit with a funky pulsating feeling every then and now from the vacuum assist slipper clutch. Another nice feature too, is the adjustable gearshift and rear brake levers. Both hand levers too are adjustable for span and the switchgear is Japanese good, except for one strange thing. The horn button is where the turn signal switch normally is and vice verse. You don\'t want to know how may times I tooted when I wanted to turn and looked like I was turning when I wanted to toot, oh how we laughed. No biggie, I suppose.
Ok, so it\'s time to stop talking about balls, boats, beans and other bits and go ride this steed. Got to do some adjustments first though (on the bike not me.)
On taking the bike to the lavishly equipped 2WF.com service area, my first intention was suspension tweaking. I decided to raise the forks up one line, which was about 5mm. There seemed to be no problems with ground clearance and I had the oh-so-sexy Ohlins steering damper set on minimum, so a couple of clicks there, would stop any gatecrashing to the tea party that I was planning. I also backed off the compression a tad on the overly (seemingly) hard front suspension. After adding proper amounts of air into the tires, I went off in search of some curvaceous roads with two victims in mind, namely a 2001 RC51 and a 2001 Ducati 996. More tea Vicar?*
My immediate impression of this "new" set-up was what a wonderful transformation. The bike now steers a little closer to the way I wanted. It\'s clipping apexes instead of missing them and is now running a little plusher to boot, giving the tires an easier time too. I thoroughly recommend raising the forks to any future or present owners of this bike, actually... I insist you do it immediately. There seems to be no downside and If I\'d had more time I\'d like to have moved it a tad more just to see if I can further better the steering without upsetting the stability.
The main concern now with the Mille R, was the way it ran wide on faster sweepers. If I upped the speed, I upped the potential to run wide. What gives? I say to nobody in particular. I am a true and loyal lover of Ohlins and I knew the faults could be cured, so a need to fiddle more represented itself. After consulting a couple of racer buddies I ended up winding the rear preload up one complete turn, of which equates to about 3 millimeters. I also gave it a couple more clicks of rear compression damping to cater for my pasta filled 200lb arse and finally I also gave it a "whiff" less rebound to prevent that said rear "packing" down on bumpy roads.
là lo avete*, instant perfection. The bike now holds a line, changes its line and tracks a line absolutely perfectly. I can now chuck the bike around with considerable verve and it exhibits no bad habits whatsoever. Job done. It just goes to show you, that great suspension can turn on its owner and be a pain when not set up right. Look out for my next reality TV special: "When good suspension goes bad." Best I give this thing back before I break something.
I wanted to mention the gearbox ratios, as they seem shorter than I remembered the Mille having (but aren\'t). They are perfect at speed or when riding angry as it always seems to be in the right gear at the right time taking advantage of its depth of torque. Both the RC51 and 996 needed a stirring of the pot to keep up, whereas the Mille R always effed off in a hurry regardless of gear. A great aid to that get up and go must be attributed to the fuel injection. Spot on fueling gives instant results dependant on throttle input. Even low speed on/off throttle applications produced no stumbles or hesitation, molto buono*.
As far as performance is concerned the stock Mille will eat a stock Ducati, period. Start playing around with both bikes and the differences become negligible. The Honda RC51 beats the R on the Dyno, but lags behind in roll-ons and is easily beaten up to 150+... go figure.
All this speed talk requires juicy brakes to help keep you out of trouble. The brembos deliver with astounding feel and modulationability (Hey! I think I just made a word up)
These particular Brembos are the new "Gold Series", that\'s gold in color not chemical composition, but golden they are too. Four pots, good pads, great stoppies, no probs\'.
So, is it worth the money? Yes and no. (oh, oh) Drop the R parts and the stock Mille is a very capable handler too. It\'s not exactly lacking in either engine or suspension and handily undercuts the Ducati on pricing. So, can you justify the extra dosh on the R version with its Ohlins suspenders, steering damper, carbon and lighter wheels? Well, there\'s a loaded question. 99% of these bikes will live on the street, a place where the stocker has all things well covered. The Ohlins difference will only come into play at racetrack speeds for the other 1%. For mere mortals, the stocker will more than suffice but for those who can or think they can appreciate the difference, it\'s money well spent.
I appreciate this is not a three way comparison, but I can\'t ignore the other WSB race rep V-twins that enjoyed the company of this test Mille R, and will indeed, share its V-Twin segment of the market... so here goes nothing.
The Honda RC51 is a no fuss dependable bike that can be ridden hard and put away wet. It\'s a great bike, but it doesn\'t stir your soul like one of the Italian jobbies.
With the 996 it\'s lust at first sight. You want to love and cuddle the damn thing, buy it flowers and get it into your bed (or garage). This is an extremely high maintenance, cantankerous and somewhat temperamental old bird, but when the duck is finally yours though, your eyes will not stray.
Now, with the Mille, and because it\'s a little umm… chunkier, I get mixed feelings and hear mixed comments about her. I\'m really not sure. It has all the nice bits, but not in the same graceful proportion as the Duck. It offers the RC51\'s great gas and go traits and you will fall in love with this bike, but I do honestly feel at some point in its ownership, you\'ll be looking over your shoulder at the skinny 996S and wondering, what if?