Ducati 1198S

Ducati returns to this year’s Superbike Smackdown with something exclusive and expensive. Despite requesting its base $15,999 1198 Superbike, because it wasn’t available it “forced” them to provide this up-spec 1198S Corse Special Edition machine. Priced at a whopping $25,000 the Corse SE features Ohlins suspension, forged Marchesini wheels (like the KTM), an aluminum fuel tank, a stunning red/white/silver color scheme, traction control, and a Race Kit consisting of a new ECU, slip-on Termignoni mufflers, and a rear stand. Oh yeah, did we mention it costs 25-grand?


The heart of the 1198 is its gigantic bore and liquid-cooled L-Twin engine. The two cylinders are angled at 90-degress compared to the narrower 75-degree format the RC8R employs. The Duc sports the largest pistons in the group with a bore/stroke factor of 106.0 x 67.9mm, which equals 1198cc of displacement. That’s a 4cc advantage over the KTM, giving it the bragging rights of having the biggest engine in this test. Fuel and air are mixed via single fuel injectors and shot into both 4-valve cylinder heads. The pistons then compress it to a ratio of 12.7:1 (same as the R1) which is down 0.7 compared to the RC8R.

Right off idle the Duc gets the jump on everything in terms of torque output. Although the KTM eclipses it from 4000 to 6000 revs it certainly doesn’t feel like it. The engine spools up quickly but not quite as fast as the RC8R. The curves then converge before the Italian Twin takes control 1000 revs later. By then the 1198 is already cranking out more torque than the rest of the bikes enroute to its 90.14 lb-ft peak at 8300 rpm.

“Unbelievable,” says an impressed Atlas. “I can’t believe how much torque this thing has. From idle all the way to redline there is an absurd amount of juice on tap. As far as accessible real world power for the street it doesn’t get much better than the 1198—though at time it can almost be too much.”

With the throttle pinned in the lower three gears you actually have to stand on the rear brake to keep the front end from floating toward the sky. Throttle response is excellent and there isn’t any of the lean-fueling condition at low revs that we’ve experienced with previous base 1198’s (credit the updated ECU and less restrictive Termignoni pipes). Engine vibration isn’t that excessive and nowhere near as intolerable as the KTM.

Peak horsepower is reached at 9800 rpm with 157.19 hp available before immediately dropping until the rev limiter shuts it down at 10,500 revs. This ranks the Ducati in fifth place in peak horsepower numbers just ahead of the Austrian Twin and behind its Italian nemesis, Aprilia.

In our sound comparison test, even with the optional street-legal Termi kit pipes, the Duc was still no louder than the Aprilia. In fact the bikes were identical, registering 93 dB at idle and an eardrum-rattling 112 dB at 5250 rpm (half maximum engine speed). While the Ducati certainly sounds awesome—especially when it’s uncorked with some racing cans – it still is bested by the Aprilia’s V-Four melody…yes, the RSV4R sounds that good!

All that low-end torque put a serious dent in fuel mileage with the 1198 netting an average of 28.1 mpg which was lower than even the gas-guzzling Aprilia. And considering that it has the smallest-capacity fuel tank (4.1-gallons), it leaves one with a range of only 115 miles. This is the exact reason I opted for the smaller, more fuel efficient 848 Superbike during the Ducati 848 Italian Renaissance Ride.


Motioning through its 6-speed transmission proves that the Duc offers the least refined gearbox action of the group. There is substantial lever play between each cog and many riders complained of missed shifts. Typically this is a trait of brand-new, low-mileage Ducatis, so it’s no surprise that our test machine only had 600-some miles on the odometer.

Of all the bikes the 1198 is the only one that employs a race-style dry clutch in which the clutch plates are not lubricated with the engine’s oil supply. This is said to decrease parasitic power loss from the engine. It also increases noise and reduces the durability of the clutch.

It employs hydraulic-assist like the KTM yet still the clutch lever pull is stiff and it delivers the lowest amount of feel, which makes the bike difficult to launch aggressively. Making it even more difficult is its absurdly tall first gear and ultra high 15/38 sprocket combo. Like the KTM it doesn’t come with a slipper clutch and since the clutch offers very little feel it’s next to impossible to fan the clutch and keep the rear wheel from skipping around during forceful deceleration.

The Italian Twin ran the quarter mile in a time of 10.01-seconds at a speed of 145.2 mph. This put it about mid-pack. A better time could no doubt have been achieved if the Ducati offered up more clutch feel and had shorter final drive gearing.


Swing a leg over the Ducati and it’s not hard to tell that the 1198 is the slimmest motorcycle of the lot. Although the seat height is identical to the Honda’s at 32.3-inches, it sure feels taller. Grasping the controls reveals that the Duc also has the raciest ergonomics of the group.

The handlebars are set low and aren’t as wide as the Aprilia’s. It’s certainly a stretch for the shorter riders though for folks with long arms or who stand over 5-foot 10-inches tall it really isn’t that bad. The footpegs are also high, keeping the rider locked into the fuel tank which is good for the track but uncomfortable on the street. They also lack adjustment. The mirrors are small, move around unexpectedly and vibrate with such intensity that they are useless just like the KTM’s.

The rear end of the Ducati feels likes tall like the Ninja which creates a slightly aggressive attitude. The seat is also the thinnest and offers the least amount of support even compared to the Aprilia. A large windscreen does a terrific job of deflecting wind away from the rider and the long seat allows the rider to scoot back and tuck underneath it well.


At slow speeds the 1198 feels top-heavy even with its lighter aluminum fuel tank. Combine this with its limited steering lock and low speed maneuvers become difficult. With speed the top-heaviness disappears and is replaced by an average level of agility.

Weighing in at just 441 lbs with a full tank of fuel, the Duc gets the award for carrying the least amount of weight. Yet despite its weight advantage it’s still not as nimble as the class-leading Honda or KTM, though it still turns-in faster than the sluggish Yamaha.

The chassis has favorable flex characteristics which lets you get comfortable and wick up the pace almost immediately. At lean it offers exceptional stability and delivers an astronomical level of road feel from the controls—the best of the group. As long as the road is smooth the bike comes off the corner predictably with very little effort, though bumpy surfaces tend to upset the chassis a bit more than the BMW, Honda, Suzuki, or Yamaha. Grip provided by the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP’s is superior to the Bridgestone and Dunlop tires used on the other bikes and more than adequate for even police-evading lean angles.

Front suspension action works well but the back does a horrible job of absorbing rough pavement just like the KTM. And when you consider how unsupportive the seat is the Ducati literally becomes painful to ride for more than an hour or so.

“Whoo, I love the way the Ducati handles but man is it uncomfortable,” remarked Atlas. “Turn-in is so-so—about average really—but when you have the thing cranked over on its side; man it just delivers so much feedback—it’s the closest thing to a full-on race bike here. But then the road straightens and you hit a couple bumps and you think to yourself ‘I’m over this’.”


Massive stopping performance has always been a trait of Ducati Superbikes and the 1198S continues to keep the dream alive. In the braking test the Duc earned the runner-up spot, halting in a distance of 121 feet from 60 mph. That’s just three feet behind the BMW without the advantage of an ABS-system.

Credit goes to its lack of sprung mass, chassis balance, and front brake system, highlighted by radial-mount monbloc Brembo calipers that grip down on 320mm diameter rotors and are actuated through steel-lined brake hoses and a radial-pump master cylinder.

Although initial bite feels like it has been reduced slightly compared to years past it still is at an elevated level compared to the competition and on par with the class-leading BMW. Power is equally as impressive with the brakes having a ramp-type effect in which brake force ramps up even with constant pressure on the lever. Rear brake consists of a 245mm disc and a Brembo twin-piston caliper but it proved to perform weakly compared to the other bikes.


Without question the Duc makes use of the slickest-looking dash. It’s made by Digitek and is identical to the one they use on their MotoGP and World Superbikes. It offers a variety of functions that can all be accessed via an up/down toggle switch on the left handlebar. The only thing it is missing is a gear position indicator.

As opposed to the engine map and throttle response settings offered by the Aprilia, Suzuki, and Yamaha, the ‘S’ model provides adjustable traction control. The system runs off of independent wheel speed sensors which compare front and rear wheel speeds to detect if the rear tire is spinning. Sensitivity to wheel spin can be adjusted in eight increments (eight being the highest, one being the lowest) and can also be turned off completely. Red lights within the dash relay when the system is activated.

While the system no doubt works, you have to be riding at such an insane pace on the street that its benefits are minimal. We’d rather see adjustable engine power mode selection and/or ABS (that you can still shut-off completely) incorporated as that’s more important for riding on the street, which the S1000RR offers.


We know what you’re thinking: ‘It costs $25,000, it’s uncomfortable as hell, has the worst range and still finishes fourth?!’ Truthfully we’re thinking the same thing. Even so all it takes is one ride and suddenly all those things become meaningless. The Ducati offers so much character and is so thrilling to ride that the few minutes of pleasure it gives you is worth all the headache—kind of like a super babe girlfriend. If you got some extra cash and want one of the most seductive, entertaining, and performance-oriented motorcycles you should highly consider the Ducati.