Exiles from the supersport and superbike classes, the Ducati 848 and Suzuki GSX-R750 represent two different middleweight takes on the high-performance sportbike.
Every year life for us sportbike folk gets better and better. Not only do manufacturers continue to crank out lighter, faster, and easier to ride machines; they also persist on refining their lineup to offer the consumer a model tailored to their skill level. Two bikes that embody this mantra are Suzuki’s GSX-R750 and Ducati’s 848.
This year marks the Gixxer 750’s 23rd birthday and Suzuki engineers celebrated by gifting it with a number of updates that have sharpened an already unchallenged platform. Earlier this spring we conducted our First Ride and despite the list of modest-sounding modifications, the finished product was much improved. Specifically, we came away impressed with the updated suspension, especially the fork, which was massaged to work in unison with the stellar OE Bridgestone rubber. Chassis balance was also enhanced, as was the quantity of feel delivered to the pilot. The front brakes also received attention and we’re happy to report that they’re now on par with the best 600 and 1000cc offerings. In fact, after that first outing we couldn’t help but think that Suzuki may have concocted the perfect blend with its 750.
For the majority of the last ten years Suzuki’s 750 has enjoyed complete dominance within its class. That is until this year when Ducati unleashed its all-new 848. Before swinging a leg over the middleweight Ducati, I was puzzled why anyone would fancy a milder version of the 1098. At the time, I thought the 1098 represented everything pure in the world of sportbiking. 1099cc L-Twin engine, 80-plus lb-ft of torque, Brembo Monoblocs – c’mon what else does a rider need? But after we spent some time aboard the 848 during our 2008 Supersport Shootout, I was convinced that it was much more than a dumbed-down version of its flagship superbike. Its smaller L-Twin engine pumps out a wonderful yet less-intimidating spread of power and its two-piece Brembo front brakes are much less sensitive and easier to use. And for many riders, myself included, the 848 is far easier to ride near the limit, which makes it that more entertaining to flog at maximum speed.
In terms of current American roadracing rules these two bikes don’t directly compete against each other, although on the spec charts, streets and sales floor they do, with only $2896 separating their respective MSRP’s. To find out how they matched up against each other we tested them at three trackdays. Our first stop was two day’s at Buttonwillow Raceway thanks to Track Club. We followed our doubleheader with a single-day stint at Reno-Fernley Raceway with Pacific Track Time . Afterward we spun a couple hundred miles on the streets to get a better idea how these bikes perform day-to-day.
We started off our first day at B-Willow on the standard OE tires as fitted off the showroom floor. Just like the Suzuki 600, the Gixxer 750 comes with Bridgestone Battlax BT-016 tires, while the Duc uses Pirelli’s previous generation DOT-labeled roadracing tire, the Dragon Supercorsa Pro.
Although the OE Bridgestone’s are some of the finest street tires we’ve ever ridden on, the Pirelli’s on the Ducati are better suited to the racetrack. While the ‘Stones would quickly become greasy and show signs of overheating, the Pirelli’s remained composed during the entire duration of the 20-minute session. The following day, we leveled the playing field by fitting up sets of Pirelli’s versatile Diablo Corsa III high-performance street tire.
As usual, swapping out the tires on the GSX-R was quick and painless; however on the Ducati it was far more intensive. True, in theory the Ducati should be easier courtesy of its single-sided swingarm, however there’s two things working against the 848. First, the rear stand pin-input size is smaller than the 1098 which means that you can’t use your neighbor’s 1098 stand. Second, the rear wheel nut (46mm) doesn’t match up either. Go figure? Ducati claims the reason for the change is that the 848 uses a 5.5-inch rear wheel instead of the 1098’s 6-incher. The good news is that the 848 setup is backwards compatible with S4Rs, 916/996/998s, so finding a stand shouldn’t be impossible.
Since the 848 is so new, no one had a rear stand for it on this afternoon, however the always helpful Pirelli vendor, Super Bike Tires, gave us a hand… And leg for that matter, physically suspending the rear of the bike so we could swap out the rubber. Now that’s service! With some new black shoes fitted we hit the track.