Engine: 848cc L-Twin, Desmodromic, 4-valves
Bore x Stroke: 94mm x 61.2mm
Horsepower: 118.3 hp @ 10,200 rpm
Torque: 63.6 lb.ft @ 8100 rpm
Weight: 417.5 lbs w/fuel – 393 lbs w/o fuel
Power to Weight Ratio: 0.28 hp per lbs
Wheelbase: 56.3-in. Rake: 24.5° Trail: 97mm
Seat Height: 32.6-in.
Measured MPG: 34.1 mpg
Exhaust dB at 5000 rpm: 92
2008 Ducati 848
After riding the 2008 Ducati 848 at the press introduction in Spain the question on our minds was, how would it stack up against the supersport competition? Ducati has its sights trained directly on this popular market segment and has taken a similar approach with it as it has with the 1098 in the open class by building a bike that incorporates the latest innovations learned from racing and applies it to these new models. In the case of the 848, the bike is essentially a smaller displacement version of the 1098, so it retains the look, feel and handling characteristics that make the flagship so formidable on the track.
The bike felt good circulating the Almeria circuit and has the pedigree to be a contender, but only a head-to-head showdown would allow it to prove its potential. The Big Four didn’t exactly welcome the 848 into the fight with open arms though. We had to agree not to include it in the final rankings, because they don’t share Ducati’s sentiments that its 849cc motor is a fair fight for the 599cc bikes. Concern about the performance of this little Desmo-driven Twin is warranted once you see how the performance numbers stack up but the fact of the matter is the supersport class is where the 848 belongs. Fortunately for the other five bikes in this test there is more to a good motorcycle than just brute horsepower or the Ducati would be the winner going away.
The fear in the eyes of the In-Lines turned to disbelief after the 848 spun-up our Dynojet 200i to damn near 120 horsepower and 64 lb-ft of torque. Its 90-degree L-Twin is the highest revving and powerful baby Ducati superbike we’ve ever tested, with an extra 12 hp more than the 749 helping to swing the balance of power in favor of Ducati these days. By the time the 848 reaches its 11,000 rpm redline, the rest of the bikes are barely breaking 90 hp and have another four to five grand to go before getting into the meat of their power and they still don’t even come close once they do.
Compared to the stratospheric peak for the R6, which eventually spools-up to almost 110 hp at 14,300 rpm, the 848 accelerates with much more authority right off the bat. There’s no waiting around for it to spool up but you pay for it on the other side because it revs so quick. While the In-Lines take time to build steam they eventually get there and have some overrev to work with up top. In contrast, the 848 launches really hard but runs out of revs much quicker, so it’s a matter of always grabbing fast up-shifts on the way out and keeping the motor in its wide sweet spot between seven and nine grand. Unlike the In-Lines, it’s rare to be caught a gear low.
“The Ducati’s engine is really in a different league compared to the other middleweight machines. The powerband is super wide and there is plenty of bottom-end power that transitions right into a torque-filled mid-range, which makes the 848 easy to ride. It gets out of a corner really well…probably the best. With its close-ratio transmission, it’s pretty much impossible to get a poor drive on it. however, like the 1098, over-rev is nil,” corroborates Waheed.
The two-cylinder Ducati is in a different league when it comes to torque production, able to brag a 20 lb-ft advantage over some of its rivals.
On the track, the 848 earns rave reviews for its stability and handling, consistently ranking high in both categories and sweeping mid-corner stability scores with perfect 10s across the board. Among our fastest riders, the 848 gets high praise for its brilliant chassis and decent feedback from the front end despite that neither the fork nor shock individually received much love from the test riders. It does take a bit more effort to turn-in, but once on its side it’s capable of carrying more-aggressive lean angles and some serious corner-speeds. If you’re looking for a chink in the armor, the weak point is the braking system. Although it features radial-mount calipers and braided brake lines, the set-up is rated as the least powerful of the group and lacks the deft feel at the lever like either the Honda or the Suzuki. In order to keep costs down, the components that feel the sting are suspension and brakes. Keep in mind, however, that they are by no means poor just not quite as good as the equipment on the multi-cylinder machines.
The 848 is difficult for some riders to get comfortable with initially because it takes a different approach to go fast on it. Opposed to the high-revving In-Lines, the Twin requires more shifting and studious attention to the tach. It also simply feels larger than the other bikes thanks to its longish 56.3-inch wheelbase and second-heaviest weight at 393 lbs without fuel. The rider is much more stretched out and the clip-on bars feel the lowest of the group. The instrument cluster is the same as the 1098, with a flat screen LCD offering all the data necessary to get around plus provisions to install the Ducati data Analyzer for folks who plan on spending time fine tuning their skills.
Our control riders didn’t have much trouble during the timed Superpole session, though it should be noted that the 848 didn’t top the timesheets of either pilot. To be fair, the 848 wasn’t going to be in the final rankings so it was selected as the first bike to be ridden in the rotation, and going first put it at a slight disadvantage. When the dust settled, Earnest put up his third-fastest time while Hutch turned his fourth-fastest lap on the pearl white Italian machine.
“The Ducati is one of my favorite bikes in this test,” Earnest explains. “It’s easy to ride fast, looks cool at the same time and has a really strong motor that’s noticeably stronger than any of the other bikes. It gets great drive off the corners but hits the rev limiter too soon needs another 1500 rpm on top.”
In contrast to Mike’s polite quote, our boy Jimmy Moore didn’t quite jive with the Ducati, citing the quick revving motor, shorter gearing, so-so brakes and aggressive ergos among the obstacles hindering him from coming to grips with the 848 at Infineon.
The Ducati 848 feels every bit the supersport class King of Beasts, but that doesn’t always ensure it’s at the top of the food chain.
“This bike was a bit of a let down for me,” jibes Jimmy, who actually rode a 749/999-hybrid (848 before this model was unveiled) in the AMA Formula Xtreme class in ’07. “Its possible that if I had more time with it, I could’ve grown to enjoy it more, but the feelings I came away with were less than stellar. For starters, the ergonomics are so far out of whack that initially it was all I could focus on. Once I grew accustomed to it and tried to pick up the pace I found myself struggling with the power delivery and the constant nagging of the bikes rev-limiter. If that wasn’t annoying enough the brakes seem weak by today’s standards. Fortunately though, most of this stuff can easily be fixed and if done, could turn this sexy thing into a proper little rocker.”
It may seem like we are harping on the motor, but that Ducati Twin garnered the most praise from the test riders. Sure, the chassis is stellar and the bike looks bad-ass but it hauls the mail, too. On the track the 848 shined bright, but on the street it took a special rider to embrace a riding position that one tester described as sadistic. We laugh in his general direction.
While the 848 gets blasted for being too uncomfortable on the street by the majority of the test riders, there are a few who didn’t mind trading off the aching back for usable torque and those oh, so sexy lines. The Ducati definitely receives the most attention during fuel stops or lunch breaks and every notepad seemed to mention how good it looks as a sort of consolation prize for being uncomfortable. One of the key components incorporated into the 848 that helps it to be a more roadworthy motorcycle is the wet clutch; a first for a Ducati superbike.
On the street the new clutch doesn’t moan while dragging it past the tall first gear and was universally praised by our core group of riders who have had experience with the frail set-up on the 749 predecessor. Check out the quarter-mile results for proof that the new set-up makes this a much better streetbike. Without frying the clutch in the process, it gets a best-of-the-test drive through the eighth-mile mark, just under seven seconds and carries that through to the best elapsed time of the test. A nifty 10.7 at 125 mph is a tenth of a second ahead of the CBR despite a 3 mph slower trap speed. This proves that the 848 is one quick middleweight motorcycle, making it formidable on the racetrack or the street.
There is still the standard list of obstacles to the 848 being a really good streetbike, including mirrors that don’t offer much view, an ass-high, rock hard and hot seat, too low clip-ons and not much wind protection. However, our argument is that if these things are that important to you, then the 848 never was really an option, so it’s a moot point. For pure sportbike riders, these qualms are a fair trade-off for the good stuff a bike like this has to offer.
Two-time AMA Superstock champion Jimmy Moore has some experience with the 848, sort of, as he rode a modified 749 which was bounced up to 848 displacement in last year’s AMA Formula Xtreme series.
“Looking at the 848 evokes the warm feeling you get when you see a beautiful woman of questionable moral standard, the sensation that radiates from the center of your pelvis,” surmises our cunning linguist and most avid street rider Kevin Scurlock. “You know it will cost you, but you want it anyway. It definitely feeds my superiority complex and I often felt compelled to taunt jealous onlookers with a taste of that glorious growl of an exhaust note.”
Way to sum it up Holmes. The 848 does embody the Ducati superbike spirit. There are no compromises for roadworthiness: This is a bike intended first and foremost to be an exotic track weapon that embraces the company’s racing heritage and we thank Ducati for that. At $12,995 (which is two-grand less than the 749) it is the highest priced bike in the test. The question we ask ourselves is whether or not a consumer considering any of the other supersport bikes would regard the 848 as an alternative. Obviously we believe the answer to this question to be yes and as the price difference between the Italian and Japanese motorcycles continues to ebb, bikes like the 848 will be attractive to consumers looking for something a little different away from the Big Four. And that is good for motorcycle enthusiasts everywhere.
Ducati 848 – Rider Notepads:
Noticeably stronger than other bikes.
Hard to reach the bars and feels big.
Very stable mid-corner – chassis feels long.
Initial turn-in is slow compared to the In-Lines.
The 848 brakes not as good as the 1098.
Ducati clutch a little grabby.