MotorcycleUSA Staff | March 31, 2008

Ducati 1098 Review

It’s not often that a motorcycle comes along and changes the fate of an entire company, but that’s exactly what happened after the Ducati 1098 materialized on designer Giandrea Fabbro’s monitor. The bike was an instant success, destined to be the latest motorcycling icon from Borgo Paginale. Thin dual head-lamps, dual underseat exhaust, single-sided swingarm and sumptuous bodywork evoke visions of the legendary 916, which is exactly what Ducati was aiming for. Key technologies derived from the company’s recent MotoGP racing success have allowed the 1098 to narrow the gap between the Japanese bikes so much that it actually takes top billing in a few areas normally dominated by the Big Four.

Engine: 1099cc L-Twin, Desmodromic, 8-valves

Bore x Stroke: 104mm x 64.7mm

Horsepower: 139 hp @ 9600 rpm

Torque: 82.60 lb.ft @ 7800 rpm

Weight: 435 lbs w/fuel – 410.5 lbs w/o fuel

Power to Weight Ratio: 0.32 hp per lbs

Wheelbase: 56.3-in.

Seat Height: 32.2-in.

Measured MPG: 34 mpg

MSRP: $15,995

On the track, the 1098 takes full advantage of its proven chassis design along with an infusion of muscle to its 1099cc Testastretta Evoluzione L-Twin. The result is the first legitimate revelation of this test. While it may not have the hellacious top end hit of the Inline Fours, the Ducati Twin offers an abundance of torque and midrange grunt which makes it a thrilling ride with a distinct Italian flavor. Last year the 1098 wasn’t available, so this is our first chance to match it head-to-head with the Japanese-built superbikes in the Smackdown. What we discovered is that this motorcycle not only gives the Fours a run for their money, it’s remarkably easy to ride.

The Ducati 1098 is all about hauling ass on the racetrack, as well it should be. With a company catch phrase like ‘Racing is in our DNA’ this Italian stallion makes no excuses for being an uncompromising superbike. It rates high in braking, cornering and stability and low in terms of outright comfort over the long haul by the majority of our test riders. It’s the lightest bike of the bunch mated to a hot-rod Twin that dishes out class-leading torque numbers as well. This is a rider’s bike, pure and simple. It has all the necessary tools , the trick is knowing how to use them.

At the heart of the 1098 is the Desmodromic 8-valve L-Twin, which makes more torque and more horsepower than the $30,000 999R we tested for Smackdown II in ’05. To compete in this class it’s necessary to dish out serious horsepower, but we knew it wouldn’t challenge for top dog in this category, so the question was how close would it get to the opposition? Even though the 1098 makes an impressive 139 horsepower at 9600 rpm on the Area P dyno, it’s only good enough to land it at the bottom of the horsepower heap, 11 hp shy of the fourth-best R1.

On the up side, the 1098 posts a class leading 82.6 lb-ft of torque at 7800 rpm with a bulbous curve that takes off at six-grand and remains at 80 lb-ft or higher until it taps out at ten-five. This is the highest torque figures of any Smackdown competitor to date and the crux of the 1098 success. This bike makes stonkin’ power, and that makes it a thrilling ride on the street or the track. Our seat-of-the-pants dyno anoints the 1098 and the CBR as the acceleration leaders and from 0-60 we were right, with the CBR and 1098 going 1-2 respectively. In the quarter mile the Ducati is fourth-fastest, besting only the R1, but just 3-tenths off the speed king CBR.

Similar to the R1, the 1098 gearing is on the tall side, but in the case of the Ducati the big torque pulls the dogs-n-cogs a bit better. This makes it feel like it’s always in the meat of the power but comes back to haunt when it falls abruptly on its face at 10,500 rpm.

On the shorter Pahrump course, the 1098 performs well thanks to its quick acceleration, powerful brakes and light weight. There are not too many straightaways on a 1.5- or 2.2-mile long track, so it put a premium on bikes capable of getting on the gas early at the exit and willing to trail brake deep into turns. With its Brembo Monobloc calipers and massive 330mm rotors, the 1098 has got the goods and the score sheets reflect it. The bike takes top honors among the hard chargers of our crew, especially late-brakers Roberti and Sid who rated it best. Both praised the Ducati’s power, feel and consistency as the créme de la créme.

Top-secret test rider Sid, the fastest rider in our crew, along with yours truly, turned quicker laps on the Duc than either the defending class champion GSX-R or R1 at the curvaceous 2.2-mile Pahrump track, and resident Ducophilliac Adam Waheed posted his fastest time on the 1.5-mile track aboard the 1098. The riders who didn’t have a lot of experience riding Twins struggled to get the Ducati off the bottom of their timesheets, although a closer lap analysis reveals that we’re talking about mere tenths of a second in most cases.

“The engine was a bit weak in the horsepower department compared to the others, though the torque was great, driving forcefully off the corners. The problem is, right when the bike started to really make power, the heavy hitting rev limiter would kick in. All it needed was another 1500 rpm,” says FIM racer Mike E.

At the longer, faster circuits, the 1098 exhibits the stability and composure necessary to carry serious speed through the fastest of turns, similar to the way the R1 gets along with the fast tracks only better. Prodigious midrange power is best suited to run in what seems like a gear too high when jumping from an Inline to the Twin, but it’s necessary to keep the revs in the meat of the wide powerband and critical to avoid hitting the burly rev limiter which will immediately ruin any chance of posting a fast lap.

“The Ducati 1098 is an excellent handling motorcycle, it’s very stable, has a great set of brakes and has good torque through the revs. It just doesn’t have the top end that the In-line Fours do,” is Moto-ST racer Justin Filice’s take on the Ducati after riding the reverse layout at Buttonwillow.

A smooth throttle dials in the juice from a pair of massive elliptical throttle bodies without any disruptions or abrupt response. This FI system, along with the dash and Ducati’s Data Analyzer (DDA) are a product of Ducati’s MotoGP program. The DDA is a $300 Ducati Performance accessory which is supposed to provide some detailed analysis of your track time, but we didn’t use it for anything beyond a lap-timer. When combined with the tractable Twin power and silky throttle, it allows the rider to carry insane speeds and lean angles into the turns. This bike can really make you feel like a hero, but these extreme attitudes really only look impressive in photos, since it didn’t really equate to anything better than mid-pack lap times. Across the board, the Ducati is regularly the third-fastest bike among our field of test riders. This is impressive considering that the top three bikes include the defending champ GSX-R and the purpose-built Suzuki killers from Honda and Kawasaki.

“This bike is so easy to ride,” maintains the fleet-footed Earnest. “It feels confident during cornering, is easy to transition from side to side and seemed to offer extremely aggressive lean angles. The brakes were really good too, though I had difficulty with my feet coming off the pegs during heavy braking. I attribute it to the foot pegs being somewhat slippery but…it didn’t happen on any other bike.”

On the street the Ducati is something of an enigma. While it is exciting to ride and always seems to attract the most attention, on the flipside it’s just not very comfortable, has a potentially fragile dry clutch which you have to drag in first gear and makes city riding a chore. Then there’s the matter of the aggressive bars-low/ass-high riding position. At first it feels fine, but as the miles pile on, it starts to lose its allure quickly. Not everyone agrees with this, including the masochistic Waheed who reports it suits him fine.

“I really like the way the Ducati’s cockpit is laid out,” says the six-foot-tall Waheed. “It’s the slimmest bike and has the thinnest seat. In the saddle, the bike feels the raciest and most track oriented, yet the cockpit isn’t cramped and there is still plenty of room for the rider to maneuver their body. Instrumentation looks the most high-tech and is still really functional.”

The counter to his praises comes into play when you’re stuck in commuter traffic because the heat from the exhaust is damn near unbearable. So, if you are like Adam and can avoid traffic, don’t mind dragging the clutch, having sore wrists from the aggressive riding position and you don’t bother using mirrors, then the 1098 is one of the more entertaining bikes here. Otherwise, it is important to understand what you are getting into when you pony up the cash for a motorcycle like the 1098.

The Ducati 1098 is a motorcycle that does not suffer fools but is as rewarding as anything we’ve ever ridden. It’s capable of running with bikes that have a nearly 20-horespower advantage on the racetrack and in our opinion is easier to ride than the Japanese machines because of the power characteristics of the Twin cylinder motor and its uncanny brakes. It looks like a million bucks, but only runs about 16 Grand and only the most anti-European knuckleheads will have anything bad to say about it. Off the track, it will draw attention like flies to honey but to normal folks it isn’t the most comfortable of bikes on the market. If practicality is farther down the list than the joy of riding, then take a spin on the 1098. You’ll be glad you did.