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2011 Ducati 1198SP First Ride

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 Ducati 1198SP
Motorcycle USA sampled the fiesty 2011 Ducati 1198SP around the bends of the Imola cricuit while trying to keep up with World Superbike's Carlos Checa.
Hard on the gas and descending downhill, the rear end is stepped out and spinning. A fat black line of Pirelli rubber paints the pavement while a faint mist of tire smoke follows. The snaking section of decades-old Italian pavement bends slightly left as it drops multiple stories in a very short space; throttle open as far as bravado will dare. Promptly rolling out of the throttle, one aggressively switches direction into a two-part right-hander – a quick dab of the front Brembos to settle the chassis. Weight transfers forward with haste, putting heavy stress on the bike’s front end initially, then both ends as the suspension G’s-out at the base of the hill for the second, tighter right-hander. All this mere moments before shooting back uphill just as quickly, throttle pinned to the stop, feathering the rear brake to keep the front wheel from getting too skyward – when executed perfectly the front tire will dance gracefully a few inches above the asphalt as you speedshift wide-open through multiple gears while accelerating.

One of the most demanding, and satisfying, sections of racing circuit in the world. To truly tackle Imola’s famous Acque Minerali section with race-like gusto one must have complete confidence in both man and machine. Man being me. Machine being the new 2011 Ducati 1198SP.

After following World Superbike star and all-around good ol’ chap Carlos Checa through this daunting section of racetrack for several laps, it was then I truly realized the speed at which riders could attack the famously demanding series of corners. To do such a feat on most of today’s stock liter-class sportbike would be next to impossible (much of this due to their far less grippy street-based OE tires). Not so with the newly updated Ducati. The feisty Italian devoured this section, as well as the rest of the highly technical track with absolute precision and near World Superbike-levels of
2011 Ducati 1198SP
The 2011 Ducati 1198SP may appear as a replica of the 2010 1198S, but closer inspection reveals numerous racing updates including Ducati's race-bred slipper clutch and a lighter aluminum tank.
The factory team-style aluminum fuel tank weighs in at 2.2 pounds and actually increases the bikes fuel capacity to 4.75 gallons.
speed, while continually displaying its amazing handling abilities and extremely potent toque-laden engine.

It also must be added that there really is something magical about riding a Ducati around such a famous Italian circuit. The Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari sits a mere stone’s throw from the Borgo Panigale-based manufacturer’s backyard, the utterly amazing, historic racetrack snaking directly through the center of a quaint Italian village. Many of the town’s homes, public roadways and apartments literally overhang or cross directly over the racing surface, giving Imola a real-road-course vibe in places, an almost Isle of Man TT-like feel. It’s the stuff of legends. Italian passion and racing heritage at its finest.

From The Inside Out

While very similar to the 2010 1198S, especially to the untrained eye, the SP now gets a host of go-fast goodies from last year’s 1198R. It’s for this reason an R edition will not be offered in 2011, Ducati deciding to condense its Superbike model range down to three for this coming year: The base 1198, 1198SP, and 848EVO (be sure to checkout our recent 2011 Ducati 848 EVO First Ride review for more information on the Italian middleweight).

The new SP’s chassis and engine remain almost exactly the same as last year’s S model, though Ducati Performance’s race-bred slipper clutch from the R finds its way onto the new model, as does the R’s lighter aluminum tank, saving nearly three pounds in the process. Suspension-wise, it retains the S-model’s current Ohlins Road & Track fork up front, while getting an updated Ohlins TTX rear shock, the latest and greatest from the Swedish suspension giant.

Rounding out the updates is the Ducati Quick-Shifter (DQS), which uses engine rpm, vehicle speed and throttle position to cut out the engine in the quickest and most efficient way possible for clutch-less up-shifting without needing to lift off the throttle. The unit is housed within the new shift-linkage and is always on unless deactivated by the rider through the control menu on the instrument cluster. Note it only works in the standard one-down, five-up shift pattern. For a reverse-pattern race-shift set-up a Ducati Performance accessory kit is needed.

Available in dealers in the coming month, here’s the best part of the new and updated 1198SP: It costs not a penny more than the previous, less-equipped S model, retailing for $21,995.

Replacing the 1198 S  the 2011 Ducati 1198 SP includes upgrades such as a slipper clutch and a quick shifter.
The Ducati has superior fuel injection and Superbike sound courtesy its underseat exhausts.  
From The Outside In

Turn the key, thumb the red, right-hand starter button and the SP barks to life with a Superbike-like growl; the dual, underseat exhausts serenade with an intoxicating rumble. If you don’t like the way this Ducati sounds you may need to get your ears checked, as it’s not only a sweetly melodic tune, but also a quite loud one at that (the good kind of loud though).

Click the regular-pattern shift lever into gear and chug your way out of the pits, the only possible flaw to the Ducati’s engine being its slow-speed lurch, which requires 2500-3000 rpm on the dash before it begins to smooth out. But once up to speed the fuel injection is spot on, providing a constant push of uninterrupted acceleration through every gear of its six-speed transmission. The SP pulls hard through the mid-range via its claimed 97 lb-ft or torque, while still providing the over-rev needed to not wear out one’s left foot with constant shifting to be in the perfect gear. One can roll certain sections of the track a gear higher than normal as the loads of torque it produces is always a mere twist of the grip away. The SP also still has surprisingly high levels of top-end power at revs above 10,000 rpm – high for such a large-displacement Twin.

Further adding to the engine’s abilities is the addition of a slipper clutch, which has been handed down from its former big brother, the now-obsolete R model. Whereas before the lower end 1198 models required some serious finessing of the clutch lever to obtain proper corner-entry at high speeds, the slipper clutch allows for much easier corner entry due to the precision of its back-torque limiting abilities, keeping the thumper’s rear wheel in line no matter the rpm.

2011 Ducati 1198SP
The 2011 1198SP has the addition of an Ohlins TTX rear shock which came in handy at the racetrack. 
Another addition to the SP for 2011 is an OE speed-shifter, something I personally believe all sportbikes will have off the showroom floor in the coming years – at least I hope so... This came in quite handy when bending downhill at speed through Turns 17 and 18 into the Curva Rivazza area. It’s here where riders are wide-open on the throttle, first leaning left and then back to the right, houses and apartments literally lining either side. This is where the quick-shifter’s advantage quickly became apparent, allowing the rider to shift up through the gearbox without needing to chop the throttle and potentially upsetting the chassis in what is a very high-speed and dangerous section of track.

Since the inception of the 1098 in 2007, the Italian Superbike’s basic chassis architecture has remained the same across the entire model lineup, the only real differences being upgraded Ohlins suspension on the higher-end S and R models. This trends stays with the new model as well, though for 2011 Ducati goes one small step further and gives the SP Ohlins’ latest TTX rear shock, which features added adjustability as well as improved racetrack performance.

Once acclimated to the Italian Raceway’s technical layout, with a very helpful tow from one Mr. Checa, I was able to really push the 1198SP hard through a variety of different situations. The Imola circuit has everything from smooth, third-gear-pinned off-camber corners, to bumpy first-gear chicanes, to twisting uphill rises – this varying combination of challenges quickly show any machine’s flaws and capabilities. And Ducati’s latest flagship Superbike displays far more capabilities than flaws, that’s for sure…

2011 Ducati 1198SP
Ducati's solid chassis design gives the 1198SP stability under extreme braking and acceleration.
The aforementioned chassis and Ohlins suspension setup makes for a very stable and planted machine though mid-corner onto corner-exit, especially in the high-speed turns. The new SP also flicks from side-to-side in low-speed chicanes with relative ease. While it may not change direction as quickly as some of its Japanese counterparts, the Ducati more than makes up the difference in the faster sections of track, as there are few bikes in the world which rival the confidence-inspiring prowess of this Italian machine’s abilities when one’s knee is one the deck. In fact, words like “confidence inspiring” hardly do it justice.

Big power and high speed can be both a blessing and a curse. What goes up must come down and what goes fast must also be able to stop – and quickly. Thankfully Ducati has left its tried and true Brembo monobloc calipers and 330mm disc set-up on the front of the SP, a combination that won our hearts from the day the original 1098 was launched back in ‘07. Not only one of the most outright powerful combinations on the market today, they also provide loads of feel and feedback, allowing the rider worry-free trail braking.

While all of this technology equates to one amazing motorcycle, without the proper tires to keep the Ducati glued to the track. Ducati has remedied this by equipping its full line of Superbikes with Pirelli’s latest Diablo Supercorsa SP rubber, one of our highest-ranking tires in the latest MotoUSA Street/Trackday Tire Comparison. So it came as little surprise they performed almost flawlessly throughout our day of testing at Imola, providing loads of grip when new, lasting relatively well and sliding predictably as wear levels increased. They may not be the best for getting stuck out in the rain (very limited tread pattern), but otherwise these are some of the best all-round trackday and high-performance street tires on the market today.

2011 Ducati 1198SP
Improvements on the 2011 1198SP are impressive but the unchanged pricepoint is the big surprise. 
But the question remains: Does a slightly updated shock, slipper clutch and quick-shifter really equate to that much better of an overall motorcycle? Yes and no. Because the previous Ohlins suspension set-up was already one of the best on the market, the addition of the TTX shock is only a fractional improvement. And while both the back-torque-limiting clutch and speed shifter are noticeable improvements, in the grand scheme of things they are relatively minor. But when considering the new machine retails for not a penny more than last year’s S at $21,995, any improvement, small as it may be, is still a bargain. Turns out sometimes there is a such thing as a free lunch. But we all know they don’t come around often, just like the 1198SP won’t sit on dealership floors for long with a deal like this.

We’ve loved Ducati’s 1098/1198 lines of motorcycles for nearly five years ago now, especially some of the higher-end S and R models, the only downside being price-point. But this all changes with the new SP, combining R-level goodies at S-level prices. This is why riding the latest and greatest Ducati 1198SP Superbike around Imola’s majestic hillside raceway really was the stuff of legends. An epic bike for an epic track. Couldn’t have been more fitting…
2011 Ducati 1198SP First Ride Gallery
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2011 Ducati 1198SP Photo Gallery
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Technical Specifications
2011 Ducati 1198SP
2011 Ducati 1198SP
Engine: Liquid-cooled 1198.4cc L-Twin; 8-valves
Bore and Stroke: 106 x 67.9mm
Compression Ratio: 12.7:1
Fuel Delivery: Marelli electronic fuel-injection 
Clutch: Dry multi-plate with Hydraulic slipper clutch 
Six-speed; chain final drive
Final Drive: Chain 15F/38R
Frame: Steel-Trellis
Front Suspension: Ohlins 43mm adjustable fork with  4.7-in. travel
Rear Suspension: Ohlins TTX monoshock with top-out spring and aluminum single-sided swingarm with 5-in. travel 
Front Brakes:  2 x 330mm semi-floating discs with four-piston caliper
Rear Brake: 245mm disc with two-piston caliper
Tires: Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP; 120/70 ZR17, 190/55 ZR17
Claimed Dry Weight: 370.3 lbs.
Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Rake: 24 deg.
Seat Height: 32.2 in.
Fuel Capacity: 4.75 gallons
MSRP: $21,995
Colors: Ducati Red; Diamond Black
Warranty: Two years unlimited mileage

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SUnderwood   August 24, 2011 07:19 AM
I've recently purchased this bike and at this point in time have just over 2000 miles on it. Previously I was riding a 1996 Ducati 900 SS/SP at about 80 miles per day on a 5 day work week. Putting up with the maintenance is easy when you experience the thrill of the ride. This thing has got soul. I can confidently hammer the turns on this bike with ease. The Quick Shift is great…just make sure to fully pop the shift lever or it might slip out. I ride it every chance I get. Learn to do the maintenance yourself and you will save a lot of money. The dealers will try to make it sound like rocket science but it really is simple to perform with the right tools if you have any mechanical aptitude. If available, run the ethanol free gas….your engine will be happier and so will you.
1198freak -1198SP  January 31, 2011 02:47 PM
This bike, and most Ducati's in general, will not make sense to many riders, they are super expensive, finicky, and not practical at all. Big Ducati superbikes are about the worst machines ever to ride in traffic, they are hot, they vibrate, and are uncomfortable. They also have useless rearview mirrors, get poor fuel mileage, and unlike Japanese bikes they don't do everything well. But you know what, WHO CARES... none of those things matter. If you want a sensible, practical, comfortable bike for touring or pleasure riding, buy a BMW. I sold my 1198 base edition and am picking up my 1198SP next weekend. Its about how these bikes make you feel, and I can tell you when you ride an 1198 in its element (on track or in canyons) there is no better feeling...all the shortcomings pale in comparison to the positive attributes of this bike. This is just simply the most badass, sexiest bike on the market today, and it is worth every penny... To those that understand these types of bikes, no explanation is necessary. To those that don't understand, no explanation will do. Enough said.
The Brain -Narrow field of vision  January 19, 2011 05:53 AM
fz6todd... One can only assume that you ride an fz6 and it's a good motorcycle in its own right. But I have to say mate, your comments could not be anymore bland, boring (uninspired), and talk about lowered expectations. Do you even know proper sport-bike riding body positioning? You are missing the point of this motorcycle (and others in its class) and purely focusing on price tag. It is very possible that you may see no value in such an incredible machine but it does not mean others(more than you may think) share your opinion. I don't own a 1198SP, nor do I own a 458 Italia (and probably never will) but I do not find disgust in their existence. I don't curse the fortunate owners of such thoroughbreds; I say good for him (/her)! I can not enjoy it (for now) but someone else might as well. Machines like these are stuff of dreams, excitement, and inspiration.
Jonathan S -Bendability  January 18, 2011 01:41 PM
How is it that at 67 I have no issues on my 1198S? The bike is quite comfortable because I am not stretched out to the max, as I tend to be on the BMW S1000RR. The bike is a dream to ride and no chiropractor is required.
Oliver -Hi Adrian  January 10, 2011 07:54 PM
Thank you for the info. Things are moving so fast with Superbike innovations that I blinked and missed the standardization of traction control across the Ducati 1198 line. Well, that confirms and enhances my earlier comment: I definitely want one.
Superlight -Ducati 1198 SP  January 10, 2011 05:35 PM
kb24, even if you added another $8-10k of Aftermarket accessories to any of the Japanese superbikes, you'd still have a generic, bland motorcycle, albeit a fast one. Its like comparing a Corvette ZR-1 to a Ferrari 458 Italia. The Vette may be fast, but it doesn't embody the total package like the Ferrari.
Rick -Test Ride  January 10, 2011 03:21 PM

If you're over 25, have gear, and look even vaguely responsible, most of the Euro dealers are really good about test rides. For some reason I've test ridden most of the high end bikes I can't afford, but have been denied test rides for all of the middleweight bikes (except the Daytona 675) that I'm actually in the market for.
fast eddie -1198sp  January 10, 2011 03:16 PM
Yes sir i own the 2010 1198s.Only has 400 k on it.All i have to say is that duck performs like no other.If there is a way to own one do it,its like nothing else i have ridden.I have owned cbr 1000s ,954s,also rode the rest of the big bore bikes.It is what they say it is,Vtwin at its best.
kb24 -Shootout  January 10, 2011 02:56 PM
Would love to see a comparo sometime among the exotic European literbike contenders (Ducati 1198SP, MV Agusta F4, and Aprilia RSV4 APRC SE) versus any of the Japanese literbikes that have been upgraded with 8-10K worth of performance accessories.
Adrian Spiteri -Info  January 10, 2011 01:17 PM
Hi Oliver - TC?, The 1198Sp has traction control and even the base 1198 model has now traction control. i think Steve did not mention it because maybe he taught that everybody new that the traction control is still available. The 1198SP is same as last year but they added and aluminum thank which is lighter and it holds more fuel. it has a Ducati quick shifter and a rear Ohlins TTX shock. More or less they will cost around 6000dollars or more if i am not mistaken. i am European so i did not use the currency converter to change from euro to dollars etc.
Oliver -TC?  January 10, 2011 10:51 AM
With no mention of traction control, I have to assume it did not get the R's TC system. I wonder if that will challenge Ducati's sale of this bike, especially in comparing it to the similarly priced MV Augusta which has TC, as well as the much cheaper BMW and now ZX-10R, which both have it as well. Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE to have this bike. Instead of fitting the bike with a TTX shock with Steve said was only a marginal improvement from the already awesome suspension, might it have been better to give the bike the R's TC system? Then again, that might cut into the R model because what would be the point of paying the extra dough for the R?
Jason -Beautiful  January 10, 2011 10:48 AM
I wonder how hard it would be to demo this bike at my local Ducati dealership. It would be my only chance to ride something this expensive.
jason -in awe  January 10, 2011 10:38 AM
steve you are a very gifted writer. that first paragraph had me right there. the advancement of motorcycles is amazing. you could win on this bike in any race just a few years ago. keep up the good work. waheed could learn how to write from you.
fz6todd -Chiropractors on speed dail  January 10, 2011 09:45 AM
very nice bike, Man you guys have a tough job! 21k is alot of money to be somebodys garage queen, yes its fast , yes its beautiful, Its funny I remember back in the day everybody complained about how uncomfortable these bikes were, not a word now, what gives? fine bike if I was 18 again and was as bendable as Gumby, kinda like a supermodel, great to look at, scary to own, I'll stick with my 600 , 85 hp and comfortable, I can't believe these bikes are selling with the Economy the way it is??
Orange Sunshine -ok, great bike but, where is the..  January 10, 2011 08:29 AM
MCUSA -Regarding Spam  January 10, 2011 07:02 AM
Nathan - we pull down the spammers' comments as fast as we possibly can. Remember that your browser will cache the page content that you originally loaded. So if you refresh the page, most likely the spam will be gone. Thanks for the support.
nathan -vermin  January 10, 2011 06:50 AM
Do these scum bags really think that anybody would buy something from them after they spam a message board like this? Where is the editor of this page?