Ducati had us seeing red in Portugal, with Motorcycle USA tesing the Italian marque's latest superbike at the new Autodroma Internacional Algarve circuit in Portimao.
Dozens of red Ducati flags whip in the wind along the front straight of the Autodromo Internacional Algarve circuit as a row of pristine 2009 Ducati 1198S superbikes glisten in the morning light below them. This is Portimao, a region near the southern edge of Portugal, and this is a big day for Ducati. It’s the international press launch for the new 1198, the latest in an ever-growing line of Italian superbikes that has taken the world by storm. Only two years removed from the arrival of the brilliant 1098, the 1198 is thoroughly redesigned and this is the first opportunity for the press to sample the goods. In brief, the new 1198 feels like its predecessor with a confident front-end and serious stability, but this bike is more powerful, faster and gnarlier than ever before.
At the heart of this new motorcycle is a stroked version of the Testastretta Evoluzione engine. It revs quicker, makes ten-more horsepower and is lighter and more durable than its predecessor. The S-version we will be testing is equipped with top-shelf suspension and wheels, as well as the latest Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and Ducati Data Acquisition (DDA) systems. This Ducati Corse racing technology has again spilled-over and sprinkled us with its scientific splendor.
Feeding fuel to the L-Twin are a pair of 63.9mm elliptical throttle bodies, now with one injector per cylinder, that are the same size as those on the 1098R. No swapping ECU and exhausts to get the full benefit on the 1198S is required, with the DTC system refined for the street right out of the box. The engine is lighter, stronger and more powerful. Like the 1098R, this engine is closer to the power output of the Inline-Four mills it is inevitably compared with. The question is whether the added displacement and slightly reduced weight of the base Ducati 1198
will close the gap enough on the competition in our annual Superbike Smackdown.
The Ducati 1198S cranks out 170 horsepower, ten more than its 1098 predecessor and it's a tad bit lighter as well.
We’ve long been fans of the way Ducati L-Twins accelerate and as their traits have evolved over the years, so too has our taste for Italian power. This year the 1198 connects corners even faster and with less effort than before. It revs quicker, so the 10,500 rpm redline arrives sooner. Fortunately, the 6-speed transmission is slick and precise because keeping this baby in the right gear to take full advantage of the heaps of torque it churns out is a recipe for success. Internally, gears three through six are physically thicker than the 1098 to counter stresses from the extra hp and torque. Gear ratios are now identical to the 1098R. The dry clutch proved durable and effort at the lever is still quite light. There is no slipper clutch to be found.
Row through a few gears on Algarve’s smooth surface and you’re hauling serious ass when the brake markers arrive (They start at 100 meters here, so there’s not much warning). The bike howls proudly under acceleration, it pulls linearly, always building power quickly until the mandatory cut-off after 10 grand. The 1198S and 1198 feature 1198.4cc of displacement, up 99cc over last year, and the same 106mm bore and 67.9mm stroke dimensions as the R model. Weight savings start with the use of a vacural-casting process, first seen on the Ducati 848, which shaves 4 lbs (2kg) off the crank cases alone. The 1198S/1198 engines are essentially 1098R engines without the expensive top-shelf internals. There are no Titanium connecting rods or valves on the 1198 models, among other R-specific internal mods that push it to the 180-hp range.
Did we mention the brakes are awesome?
The Brembo brakes are superb, offering loads of power without a bunch of initial bite, which can make the front end dive abruptly under hard braking. The brakes and suspension combination invite the rider to trail-in deeper than they maybe should but don’t give any reason not to either. These brakes are insane and one of the high points of the 1198.
Grab too-much throttle on the exit and the DTC keeps you in check, another highlight for this racing thoroughbred. Three small indicator lights on the top right corner of the information-laden dash board tell the rider the first of three DTC levels is in effect, as well as a larger red light that informs you that maximum DTC, fuel-injection cut-out, has been employed. Yes, friends, the traction control works incredibly well.
Getting on the gas hard out of the corners is much more manageable for mere mortals thanks to the DTC.
Accelerating out of a turn is one of the easier ways to drop lap times, or get high-sided, depending on how it plays out. The 8-way adjustable DTC system cuts ignition at the first three levels of retardation before cutting fuel as a last resort (restricting fuel supply is how the previous generation 1098R DTC system worked and the reason why it could not be used on the street without the upgraded exhaust and ECU). For those who ride smooth or slow the DTC will not seem to interfere much because there will not be significant wheel spin to set it off. When you push hard, however, trying to get good drives and pick-up the throttle while leaned over, then the DTC becomes an ally - a safety net of sorts. It is not highside control though, so don’t think you can just hold the throttle pinned and hope for the best – that only works for dudes like Casey Stoner. DTC is a tool - a technological, race-bred instrument of speed intended to make riding the 1198S a more enjoyable event.
During early sessions getting acquainted with the track, the DTC came on occasionally. After the break, while we were really trying to push harder, get good drives and attempting to tap into what the 1198 can really do, then it was working quite a bit. Setting 4 of 8 is not too intrusive, allowing for largely uninterrupted throttle application. The final four settings are intended for racers. As with any new toy it takes some getting used to. It does kill your drive sometimes, but is losing a tenth-of a second during a trackday better than replacing the bodywork, side cover or a bar? We think so.
The Ducati 1198S handles great, is quite stable through the corners and the feel from the front brake helps the rider feel confident to trail brake deeper and deeper every lap.
Make no mistake the engine is the soul of the 1198. Power is simply fantastic and the combination of this and the DTC seems to increase confidence, allowing the rider to focus more on entry speed and lines to dial in lap times. Add into the mix the really trick Ducati Data Acquisition (DDA) and you learn exactly where the DTC comes into play, how fast you are in each turn, where the throttle is, what rpm you are at – it’s a technophile’s wet dream. You can mine data until you are sick of looking at it but beware – there’s no bullshitting the computer and everyone who sees the data will know exactly how fast you were going and how you got there.
Chassis remains a constant of the Ducati Superbike family. No significant changes to the geometry ensure the 1198S is as stable as the 1098. Toss this bike into a corner and the first thing you notice is that it seems to turn-in with less effort. Having recently ridden an 848 to bone-up on my Ducati turning traits it seems the Ducati 1198
, with its forged 7-spoke GP-replica wheels, 43mm Ohlins fork, Ohlins shock and four-lb weight reduction, reacts quicker to rider input than the sum of its parts would suggest. Imagine a 1098 that turns-in ‘better’.
Stability, a trademark of this brand over the years, is not noticeably affected by these changes. In fact, the 1198S begs to be ridden harder than any insignificant specs on Bayliss’ ass will ever be able to do. Check this interesting fact: Bayliss, who was riding with us at the intro, lapped the Algarve track on the same 1198S with the Pirelli Supercorsa SP
Hutch sizing up Bayliss for an inside pass! No, this is Troy Bayliss letting us play with the big kids - proving what the racing paddock already knows - that the three-time SBK champ is one of the nicest guys to ever turn competitive laps.
tires we had at our disposal to within a mere 5-seconds of the pace he set while winning both races a few weeks earlier. Talk about the untapped potential of a stock motorcycle on full display. The easy-to-ride nature of the 1198 is backed up by the fact that over 20 journalists had their way with these machines over the course of a week, with a grand total of zero crashes.
In true Ducati fashion the 1198S does not disappoint. The additional power is very noticeable and after riding the Ducati Traction Control equipped 1198S it is clear the superbike ante has been upped. While we can’t say where it will stand in the competitive 2009 Superbike Smackdown rankings, we are sure it will be a hit with racers, fans and consumers alike. It retains the widely accepted appearance of the 1098 and features increased performance across the spectrum in terms of outright power, torque, lighter weight and track-bred electronics from the DDA to the DTC. The 2009 Ducati 1198S is truly a Superbike for the masses.