Ducatis are awesome!
I just bought a 2002 Ducati 998 after having a Triumph T595 and a 996. The newer Ducati's are just as reliable as anything else out there. In fact, if you compare the service intervals of the 998 to the RC-51 and the Aprillia, the Ducati beats them both. Plus if you buy your bike between now and the end of summer Ducati is offering free scheduled maintenance for two years. So I don't even have to pay for my scheduled maintenance...which is great. Parts on Aprillia's are a nightmare right now too (at least were I live they are)the wait time is horrible. And the RC-51 basically rides from gas station to gas station (a friend of mine has one) and my Duc gets around 56 MPG on the freeway. The parts on RC-51's really aren't all that cheaper either, it's tit for tat, some things on the Duc cost more, some things on the 51 cost more and for the most part, parts on the Aprillia beat them both. I hope you've ridden aggressive sport bikes before, because if you're going from a Harley straight to a 998, you're in for a shock. Although, people always bitch about how uncomfortable they are, I have less cramps and feel way less sore at the end of a ride than any other hyper-sport bike I've ridden. If you have long arms (6' 5" you probably do) you can probably sit pretty straight up, but if you get tired, proper race position is actually the most comfortable way to ride because the gas tank sits up pretty high and you can lean against it. I'll pre warn you too, the 998's run hot! very hot! They took away the side vents in the fairings and the only air outlet is two small grated vents at the top of the fairings right under your knees...great for winter. In stop and go traffic the temp gauge will scare the bejesus out of you. The temp gauge maxes out at 255 F. and the needle will climb to around 240 F before it settles. At first I thought something was wrong so I called my dealer and they had no clue (first one they sold). Thank god for forums! I found a guy on Ducati's forum that talked with the head of Ducati North America's service center and he told him that the 998's just run way hot in stop n go traffic and that because the cooling system is under around 14 psi of pressure that the actual over-heat point is somewhere around 300 F. and not to worry about it. So...if you get one...now you'll know and won't scare yourself like I did. These bikes corner great! All the rumors are true, they are confidence inspiring and feel planted to the ground, but you have to ride them text book proper and kind of aggressively to get the most out of them. They like to be ridden fast and they feel down right weird at slow speeds and in a slow city type environment. They come with a 190 size rear wheel, once that wears out replace it with a 180 and it will flick a lot easier at slow speeds and at fast, the only reason Ducati fits them with 190's is for looks. Aprillia was smarter in that regard, the Mille's come with 180's. Hope this helps. If any questions feel free to contact me here.