Ducati is known for bending class rules and satisfying niches with its Italian bikes. It peeved Japanese rivals five years ago with its original twin cylinder-powered 848 and later followed with an EVO-spec model designed to better bridge the performance gap between it and four-cylinder sportbikes. Fast forward to today and the 2013 EVO Corse SE ($14,995) is the still platform Ducati competes with in the middleweight segment.
Once again the 848 has the distinction of being the heaviest machine in this contest weighing 433 pounds. That’s 18 more than the featherweight CBR and five pounds off the six-year-old R6. And it certainly feels that way the moment you hop into the seat. Physically it’s a much larger-feeling motorcycle, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering it has similar dimensions to the Italian brand’s previous 1098/1198-generation Superbike. It also has the most demanding riding position that just plain feels weird within this class.
“The bike is very narrow, which is nice,” says Zemke, who raced an 848 EVO in the AMA Daytona SportBike Championship last year. “But yet it feels really heavy. It feels top heavy, which in turn makes it hard to transition in the corners.”
) A long fuel tank increases the reach to the handlebar. If you’re shorter than average rider the 848’s ergonomics could make it tough to ride on track. (Center
) The Ducati’s rear suspension works well but it failed to elicit the type of praise it’s received in past years due to sluggish handling manners. (Bottom
) Once again the 848 was the heaviest on the scales. It felt that way on track, too and was the most heavy feeling bike in the test.
“I always come into these tests and I want to be super excited about the Ducati. You see everyone else riding them at the track having a great time—and it’s never that experience for me,” admits Dunstan, our most petite rider. “I think partly because it is a much bigger bike. The cockpit feels huge for me. The stretch to the handlebars just feels extra-long against the long tank. It’s a bike that’s hard to control.”
Hands down the Ducati demands the most from its rider at any speed. It’s steering is best described as sluggish and requires a fair degree of pressure on the front brake lever to get the steering angle sharper so it can be pointed in the right direction.
“It was high effort to ride that motorcycle—it took a lot,” shares Neuer. “There’s no doubt it’s a great motorcycle and people have proven they can go fast on it. But you know, box stock, showroom floor, it needs a little bit of help.”
“To get through corners I had to hold the brake lever so long, it gave up any reasonable corner speed,” adds Wooldridge, head of the AFM club. “Either I crept through the corner, or picked up the throttle early which sent the bike towards the dirt on the exit as if it was magnetized toward the dirt.”
Once turned, the 848 posted the lowest corner speeds in each of the three measuring points (Turn 4/5, Turn 13 and Turn 16). It also failed to deliver the type of mid-corner confidence we remember adoring from the steel-framed Ducati. It also recorded the least amount of lean angle through the bowl. It’s more bad news for Ducati fans through Turns 8/9/10 with it recording the slowest flick rate—a measure of how quickly the motorcycle moves from side-to-side. Despite awkward handling the suspension components proved more effective than the MV’s and were better able to maintain the chassis composure, especially on corner exit—one of the few areas that the 848 performed well in.
“I just couldn’t get it to turn,” said Pridmore. “There was a lot of times where I would get it on the edge of the tire and the bike would want to keep running straight. I think that’s a set-up issue. I think if we could come here [Chuckwalla] and make some more adjustments and do some things it would probably take a little more work to get that bike where I
Ducati 848 EVO Corse SE Settings:
Preload: 5 (Turns in)
Compression: 1.5 (Turns out)
The Ducati registered the third-best average acceleration force, showing how adept it is at putting the power down off turns. It also had the above average top speeds at the end of the straightaways, just behind the ZX-6R and GSX-R750.
On the dyno the 848 posted impressive power numbers—which shouldn’t be much of a surprise considering it has an additional 249cc on the three 599cc Japanese bikes, 212cc on the Ninja and 173cc on the two Triples. Aside from the GSX-R750 it posted the most horsepower with just over 121 ponies released at 10,500 rpm with another 600 revs remaining before the rev limiter chimes in. Another plus is that the rev-limiter comes in more softly—especially for a Twin – giving the rider greater leeway when it comes time to upshift.
) Top end power is strong but is simply too narrow, making it not as useable as some of the other bikes in this contest. (Center
) As usual the Ducati’s Brembo monoblocs offered more than enough stopping power. However, its awkward handling equaled slow lap times so it was challenging to get an accurate assessment. (Bottom
) The Ducati’s ergonomics are the most demanding of the group. They are so different to the rest of the bikes that it takes time to get acclimated to.
But all that extra ‘oomph up top comes with a price as the Duc’s powerband no longer offers its signature low-end tidal wave of torque that helps it leap off corners. True, the 848 continues to be the torque king, even ahead of the mighty 750-powered Suzuki with 62.67 lb-ft arriving at 9600 revs. But like the MV, peak torque arrives much too late in the rev range which compromises how hard it pulls initially off corners. Factor in its quirky final drive gearing and the Duc becomes even more difficult to ride.
“It seemed to be in-between gears in a lot of spots,” JZ recalls “Third gear would be too tall and second gear would be too short so it kind of upset the bike a little bit.”
“The Ducati pulls really hard up top—which I like,” says Colton. “Only problem is it doesn’t have any of that V-Twin bottom end so you really have to pay attention to what gear you’re in. On the old 848’s you could just short-shift and use the low end torque to pull you out of a turn. But since the powerband has shifted to the top you have to ride it like a four-cylinder and it just doesn’t work.”
The EVO continues to be one of three quickshifter-equipped bikes that decreases the time and effort it takes to upshift. Only problem is it didn’t’ perform gear exchanges as quickly as the set-up on the MV or Triumph. It’s also missing a slipper clutch which makes the chassis more prone to upset if you corner really fast while grabbing a downshift.
Ducati was an early adaptor of race-grade, monobloc-style Brembo calipers and while the set-up delivers good power and lever feel it proved more difficult to get a true read on it due to the handling woes we experienced. Still it posted respectable G-force braking numbers and also scored mid-pack in the subjective braking category.
“I was more disappointed in the Ducati than any of the bikes in the shootout,” Carruthers said. “Maybe I had my expectations set too high, but I’ve really enjoyed the 848 in the past. But it just didn’t compare well to the others this time around.”
The Ducati impresses with its punchy, rev happy V-Twin engine, quickshifter and capable Brembo braking hardware.
- Strong top-end, acceptable over-rev for a Twin
- Stout braking hardware
- Standard quickshifter and traction control
- Exceptionally top heavy
- Sluggish steering
- Where did the bottom-end go?
But extra heft paired with an unorthodox riding position make it demanding to ride at speed. Factor in its sluggish handling and corner speeds that were at or near the bottom of this highly competitive group and it’s no surprise that the Ducati registered the slowest Superpole times. The 848 delivers in some areas, however, it’s not enough to hide its age in this competitive middleweight class.