2009 Ducati 1198 Comparison Track

Steve Atlas | May 18, 2009
2009 Ducati 1198 Smackdown Track Test
Ducati 1198
MSRP: $16,495
Curb Weight: 448 lbs.
Horsepower: 150.36 @ 9700 rpm
Torque: 86.73 lb-ft @ 8100
Quarter Mile: 10.09 @ 139.9 mph
Outright Top Speed: 178 mph
Racetrack Top Speed: 152.87 mph
Superpole Best Time: 1:58.12
Overall Ranking: 4th Place

If any motorcycle in this group doesn’t need an introduction, it’s the Ducati 1198. The pure-bred Italian Twin is known far and wide as the Ferrari of the Superbike world, both inside our industry and out. Ask any stranger on the street to name the coolest sportbike, or “crotch rocket” as most so horridly refer to them, and many will say Ducati. There is a reason for this.

Gorgeous styling, the Italian way, has always been a trademark of Ducati (sans the ahead-of-its-time 999) and it extends well beyond our niche of a two-wheeled kingdom. Every famous actor who says they ‘ride’ simply has to have one, as well as all the rich motorsport enthusiasts I know. I live in Orange County, California – trust me, I know. Without question there are more 0-mile Ducatis in this world than any other brand of bike ever mass-produced. But the real beauty for us who actually ride, and ride hard, is that Ducati backs-up this style with loads of performance. Like Ferrari, it is a company rooted in racing.

It’s one of their flagship models, the 1198, which we have for this test. For ’09 the base 1198 gets an added 100cc and a black frame and swingarm, which essentially rounds out the changes. The more expensive ‘S’ model does get the impressively-good DTC traction control system, but for our test that just plain wouldn’t be fair, so we opted for the base edition. And while an added 100cc may not seem like much, just have a quick glance at our dyno graphs. It went from the lowest horsepower last year to the third-highest this time around, while also producing more torque than any of the other machines by a healthy margin. Enter four very worried Japanese manufacturers.

Having spent a good deal of time on the previous 1098, hopping onto the 1198 instantly feels very familiar. The stretched out riding position, stiff chassis and thumping engine note are all exactly as they have been the past few years. But where things start to feel different is once the chattering dry clutch engages and your right wrist begins to twist on the throttle.

Noticeably more low- and mid-range greets the rider as you attempt to turn the right grip to the stop as quickly as possible. I say attempt because in the first three gears this is easier said than done. The early-onset torque lofts the front tire with haste in first, then again in second, though a bit later and much more controllable, with third bringing on just the slightest of power wheelies.

“This thing has so much torque. Just when I though they couldn’t make a bike with more low-end grunt than the 1098 they went and did it with this bike,” exclaims Waheed. “Just anywhere you are in the revs twist the throttle and the bike jumps forward and goes, then grab another gear and hammer the throttle and it keeps pulling. It’s got such an easy-to-use engine with quite a bit more power than last year. I didn’t really expect 100cc to do that much.”

“The power and torque of the Duc has always been one of my favorites, it doesn’t have the warp speed rush on the top end like some of the other

2009 Ducati 1198 Smackdown Track Test
How do you not love that rear end?

bikes, but if you look down at the speedometer you will be going a similar speed as the other bikes, you just don’t notice it,” reveals Sorenson. “The Duc is meant to be ridden like a tractor, shifting early using the torque to your advantage. The 1198 motor does seem to have more grunt down low now, but to me the big difference over the 1098 seems to be in over-rev, it pulls cleanly past 10,000 rpm now whereas the old bike would fall on its face around 9500 rpm.”

And while we all know Waheed and Sorensen are somewhat Ducatiphiles, performance testing backed up these sentiments. The rear wheel twisted the dyno drum to the tune of a whopping 150.36 hp and 86.73 lb-ft of torque,

2009 Ducati 1198 Smackdown Track Test
Changing direction was where the Ducati struggled in this group, costing it valuable time in Superpole.

some 11 hp up on our bike from last year and the highest we’ve ever seen from a production V-Twin to date. At HPCC it recorded a top speed of 178 mph, which could easily have been much higher had it not run out of gearing and hit the rev-limiter. At the racetrack it was at the low end as well, with a best top speed of 152.87 mph. Quarter-mile times were right in the mix, though, with the Ducati ticking off a 10.09 @ 139.9 mph, substantially faster than last year’s 1098 did (10.41 @ 130.99 mph).

As for backing it up with the data acquired at the racetrack, it’s easy to point out it had the lowest top speed as well as the lowest max acceleration exiting both Turn 6 and Turn 14. This baffled us at first glance, until we went back and replayed the laps, which revealed one of the Ducati’s weaknesses – gearing. The final drive ratio of the Ducati just plain didn’t mesh well with Thunderhill, causing the bike to be between gears in many places, especially coming onto the final corner. This hurt acceleration, top speed and lap times greatly, holding the Ducati toward the back of the pack in terms of performance numbers. But just because it’s not reflected in the numbers, Ducati’s 1198 has plenty to brag about.

See and hear the Twin-powered Ducati superbike in action in the 2009 Ducati 1198 Video.

Like all Ducatis, one of their trademarks is an extremely stable chassis. The Ducati 1198 is no exception. Making the rest of the field feel spongy and soft, the trellis-framed Duc is planted and solid, rolling off the showroom floor as akin to a racebike as anything currently mass-produced. In our data this was shown with some of the highest grip levels in both Turn 6 and 14. A tradeoff of this stiff chassis is a machine which can be harder to get setup and tends to tear up tires at a quicker rate if everything isn’t perfectly dialed in, something we experienced in the morning sessions on softer tires. A few suspension adjustments plus a harder front tire and the wear issues quickly went away.

2009 Ducati 1198 Smackdown Track Test
Heading out for Superpole. 95-plus degree heat and an almost 2-minute long lap made it the most physically taxing session we’ve ever done.

“The Ducati has my favorite chassis of all the bikes,” says Sorensen. “As you warm up to the characteristics of this bike you find yourself pushing corner entrance speeds further than you have ever done before with confidence. This chassis hands down offers the most feedback to the rider as well as the most stability.”

Adds Hutchy: “The strong point of Ducati Superbikes has always been and still is the stability in the turns. I know this phrase is played out but that’s the best description I can come up with – the Ducati really does feel like it’s on rails.”

Another Ducati trademark is the adverse effects from the following qualities. With rock-solid stability sometimes comes the byproduct of high-effort directional changes and tough initial turn-in. Looking at the data you can see it has the slowest flick-rate, which comes as no surprise. This contributed in holding the Ducati back as fickability is at a premium around Thunderhill, a twisting, hill-laden track that sees the machine changing direction quite often. Sorensen’s best Superpole time was right in the middle of the pack (1:58.12), but on my end it brought up the rear (1:58.25) as I just couldn’t get the big Twin to flick from side-to-side as quickly as the rest of the competition.

“The 1198 for sure takes the most effort to turn in, though in the grand scheme of things it isn’t that difficult to turn,” comments Hutchison. “It just takes some effort to make it go where you want compared to an insanely flickable machine like the CBR.”

“Turn-in on the Duc is a little more difficult than some of the other bikes. Flicking this bike left-to-right takes more effort than any of the other bikes,” confirms Chuckie. “Again, I think this is a tradeoff for the bike’s mid-corner stability and front-end feedback.” 

Ducati continually exhibits some of, if not the best binders in the group, hence it was no surprise the Brembos on the 1198 proved to be very impressive. While they felt as though they had lost some initial bite compared to year’s past, outright power was still there in spades with feel and feedback by the truckload. But when it came time to tally up the scoring there was actually a four-way tie between the Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki for top spot, showing the Japanese have taken note and come out with some potent stoppers of their own. Maybe Ducati should have stuck with the previous super-power pads…

2009 Ducati 1198 Smackdown Track Test
One thing is for sure with the Ducati 1198: When leaned on its side, there’s nothing as stable and planted.

Even though the scores may not fully reflect it, it’s hard to argue with a machine as beautiful as the Ducati that also packs this kind of performance. This is no case of ‘all show, no go,’ but more a case of ‘all show, all go’ as the 1198 backs up the iconic styling with equally impressive performance. It may not have scored that well on paper – a lot of which due to the track we used – but it’s still an emotional favorite for many of our testers.

“The Duc has always been one of my favorites. This bike is bred from a true racing machine, making it a street bike was secondary. It makes you feel like a superstar no matter how slow or fast you really are,” summarized Sorensen.

I swear these decisions get tougher and tougher every year. And I must add, with the exception of the Yamaha, the Japanese bikes just don’t have the personality of the Ducati. That rumbling V-Twin and turn-your-head styling is worth a lot in the sportbike would. But when the numbers were crunched and the votes tallied, the big V-Twin just didn’t have the performance needed to top the three leading Inline-Fours. So, for our track-based test, the Ducati rightfully takes its place in fourth position. That said, what it really boils down to is, what do you want out of the machine? If you’re going racing we would suggest you look elsewhere, unless Bill Gates is your personal sponsor, but if it’s personality you want, the 1198 has that by the truckload. Just look at it!

Ducati 1198 Final Suspension Settings
Preload – Std.
Rebound – 10 Clicks out
Comp. – 1 ¼ Turns out
Ride Height – Std.

Preload – Std.
Rebound – 16 Clicks out
Comp. – 1 ½ Turn out
Ride Height –15mm Raised


Steve Atlas

Contributing Editor |Articles | Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.

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