The 2011 Ducati Streetfighter returns to defend its Shootout title. This bike has impressed MotoUSA test riders ever since the international press launch two years ago and continues to do so even today. This is effectively a Ducati 1098 Superbike shorn of its fairing and with the chassis stretched out for comfort. The Streetfighter parlayed that Superbike pedigree into a shootout win and this year it returns unaltered. This title defense will likely be the last with the 1098 powerplant, as it’s expected to get the 1198 treatment in 2012 (it also is joined by the 848 Streetfighter in the 2012 lineup).
The Ducati Streetfighter’s Superbike heredity is apparent right off idle. The only thing altered in the Streetfighters 1099cc L-Twin is the air intake tract and cooling system, otherwise it’s pure track-oriented power. The Ducati turned our dyno up to the tune of 136.43 horsepower, dead even with the Diavel as tops in this test. It gets to that lofty number by revving higher than its sibling, as peak torque production (74.3 lb-ft) well below the Diavel – but right on par with the Kawasaki and Triumph.
From an intoxicating exhaust note to its gnarly engine character, there’s no doubting the Duc’s class-leading design.
“This bike is insane,” declares JC. “It’s way too much for the street and the engine rips and snarls the way a race-bred powerplant should. The front end comes up constantly with or without the clutch, and the transmission is geared long enough to let this thing reach scary speeds. None of the other engines feel this gnarly.”
“The Streetfighter is fast, fun to ride and makes gobs of low-end to mid-range power that in turn makes it a blast on the street,” confirms Hutch. “That is if you don’t mind getting a ticket or two for exhibition of speed. It begs you to ride like a hooligan. It feels best when it is whipped and throttled – it’s a sadistic Italian play toy and its best if I stay off it whenever possible.”
The Ducati Twin distinguishes itself with its torquey bottom, but it also sports the longest-revving top end. That top-end hit verifies its racing pedigree every time you twist that throttle to the stop and have the chutzpah to hold it there for a while. The Twin’s rattle and rich tones was favored by our test riding troupe. Only the distinctive Triumph Triple was rated higher in engine character, with the Streetfighter’s growling pipes deemed the best tones at idle.
“Dry clutch crackle, V-Twin pulsing exhaust gas out… the Inline Fours never even chose to do battle in this department,” claims Steeves on the Ducati’s engine character.
(Top): The dash was praised for its info-rich system and high-tech appearance. (Center): At the heart is a tried & true Ducati L-Twin Superbike powerplant. (Bottom): Dual-shotgun style exhaust not only looks sharp but sounds bad-ass, too.
At the drag strip the Streetfighter outclasses all save its fellow Italian with a 10.817 (129.7 mph) quarter-mile and 3.08-second 0-60. And as impressive as those stats are, if it wasn’t so wheelie prone it would no doubt improve, according to our drag strip Stig, Brian: “The Streetfighter is faster than the Diavel but that may not be evident in the hard numbers due to the Fighter’s wheelie happiness. But hey, if this kid likes to wheelie, let it wheelie, screw the quarter-mile time slip.”
The Ducati isn’t the easiest to launch, with its tall gearing, part of the reason it didn’t nip the Diavel. Overall the Ducati drivetrain doesn’t impress our testers when compared to the slick-shifting Japanese bikes – especially since we are forced to split hairs and this is one area where the Ducati doesn’t ‘feel’ as great as the other bikes. Sure, the dry clutch clatter delivers some personality, but the six-speed transmission was the notchiest and with a firm lever pull to boot. The tall first gear makes for stumbling launches even when not trying to run the quarter mile. We also don’t care much for the tedious starting procedure, which requires finding neutral to fire it up.
It’s not the only thing that causes consternation behind the controls. There’s no getting around the fact that the Ducati lags behind its competitors in rider comfort and ergonomics. The riding position is easily the most aggressive, the rider feeling as if they’re leaning over the front of the bike. The seat is firm and at 33 inches tall it’s a perch from which the rider leans forward. The handlebar marks a definite improvement over typical sportbike clip-ons, but it necessitates the forward lean too.
“Whoaaa nelly! The bad boy has you high in the saddle and feeling like you’re hung-out in the elements,” exclaims Steeves. “Stiffest seat in the bunch and least likely to road trip to Vegas on, though once you get there the Duc’s sex appeal will make up for the sore ass and knees.”
“The bars are less aggressive than clip-ons but are still the lowest of the group and subsequently the mirrors are the most worthless of them all,” claims Ken. “The pegs are high and that combined with the lower bars and high seat equate to the sportiest riding position in the test. At least the levers are adjustable. Not much wind protection is offered by the minimalist fly screen either, yet still I like this bike a lot.”
The ergos are unapologetically slanted toward sporty riding, which by no coincidence, is where the Ducati shines. The Streetfighter feels athletic in curving roads. It wants to drop into corners and demands to be ridden hard.
“A successful bike in my eyes is a bike at which you can tell it your wishes ahead of time, and then they are carried out perfectly with no ‘talking back’ step-child attitude,” say Steeves. “So with this well-mannered Duc obeying at all times, it comfortingly earned the top spot in the handling/chassis/suspension department.”
The Streetfighter steering geometry has been relaxed, slightly, from the 1098 Superbike. In fact, its 25.6 degree rake and 4.48 inch trail are second only to the Diavel as the least aggressive of the comparison. The wheelbase is stretched from the 1098 too, and at 58.1 inches, again only the Diavel is longer. Otherwise the chassis is ripped straight off the 1098, including the rigid steel trellis frame and taut, fully-adjustable Showa suspension. The sticky Pirelli Diablo Corsa III rubber doesn’t hurt its handling performance either.
The 2011 Ducati Streetfighter features the best suspenion in this comparison, at least for track work and high-speed street riding.
“On the track there is no comparison here, the Streetfighter is the King,” declares Ken. “Its chassis is essentially a 1098 Superbike so you have to expect it to out-carve any of the four other purpose-built street bikes in this test. It gives the most feedback from the front end and handles the rigors of high-speed riding the best, especially on a smooth road surface. Its suspension is sprung tight and spot-on for track use but it can be unforgiving on the street.”
While its high-strung chassis excels on track work and pristine road conditions, it can feel too harsh at times, particularly on rough surfaces. This was double true for less aggressive street riders, who found the intense feedback of the rigid Ducati a little hairball.
“Everything about this bike’s handling is just too stiff,” says our OHV point man JC. “I’m sure it’s great for a high-level rider on the racetrack, but for me it just feels sketchy. Every bump is transferred to the rider. The fork in particular feels harsh, though it’s great at resisting diving during braking. I just don’t think I can ride this bike hard enough to make the chassis and suspension work properly.”
The radial mount Brembo monobloc braking package stands apart as top of their class even in the high-performance field. The immediate stopping power is there, but the precise feel and modulation at the lever is where they excel. These are one-finger brakes, requiring deft input from the rider. They mate up perfectly with the rest of the Ducati package and demand respect.
Despite its high price and lack of comfort the Ducati does too many things well to lose its status as best overall Streetfighter.
“This is such a high-performance bike and the brakes are wickedly strong, it’s easy to get into the binders too aggressively, especially on poor road conditions,” says JC. “I’m a big ABS fan so there’s no reason why such an advanced motorcycle doesn’t have this safety feature. That being said, the brakes are supremely powerful, and, like the rest of the Ducati, gives a ton of feedback to the rider.”
Instrumentation on the Ducati hints at its Superbike kin. The concise instrument cluster keeps things simple with a left to right digital tach above the digital speedo. It’s not as informative at a glance as some of the other clusters, but proves effective enough.
The Ducati definitely looks the part of a streetfighter. Its sleek Italian lines bowl our testing crew. In fact, if the red color way and bawdy styling doesn’t get your motor revving, consider seeking some professional help.
- 1098 derived Twin delivers pure performance and raucous personality
- Brembo monobloc calipers incredible stopping power and precise modulation
- Rigid chassis transmits incredible feel to rider, with most flickable and quick-turning handling
- Best looking bike, by a long shot
- 15K MSRP puts it out of reach for everyman rider
- Ergonomics most aggressive and least comfortable
- High-strung nature not for beginners
“The Ducati defines what a streetfighter should look like,” proclaims Italian lover Signor Hilderbrand. “It’s sexy, brawny and intimidating. This thing means business.”
Speaking of business, you might need to rob a couple to muster up a down payment. The Streetfighter’s premium performance comes with a premium price tag ($14,999), and we got the “cheap” base model version of the Streetfighter, the Ohlins suspension “S” model costs 20K.
Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s not as comfy. But the Ducati Streetfighter does too many things well to lose its position as top of its class: Raucous engine performance from its drubbing Twin. Fantastic high-performance handling from its Superbike spec chassis. Unquestionable good looks from its Italian roots. There’s a reason why this thing continues to be the ultimate Streetfighter.