There's no denying the all-new 2008 Ducati 848 is a looker, but there's more to a bike than looks. We kick the new Duc's tires around Spain's 2.6-mile Almeria circuit.
A middleweight Ducati
Superbike is not exactly a new concept, so why is there so much buzz about the release of the 2008 Ducati 848
Superbike? At first glance the 848 appears to be a de-tuned and rebadged 1098. In fact, the new bike shares the majority of its basic architecture with the 1098, but at its heart is a purpose built L-Twin Evoluzione powerplant that purportedly puts out an impressive 134 hp and 70 lb-ft of torque. To put that into perspective, it's 11 hp more than the Testastretta-powered 998.
Surely you're eager to find out just how good the 848 is, so climb on because we're headed to Spain for the World Press Intro of the 2008 Ducati 848
Superbike. The 2.6-mile Almeria Circuit in southern Spain was the destination for a day of scraping pegs and destroying toe-sliders while getting a feel for what this machine is all about.
First of all, it feels exactly like a 1098. It's aggressive, hard-edged, and two dozen of them warming up in the garage simply sounds bad-ass - even though the rattling dry-clutch is noticeably absent from the 848 experience. The reach to the clip-on bars is low and the harsh angles of the tank give clues to the middleweight 848's racing heritage. The information system is the familiar flatscreen Digitek LCD that provides all the necessary data to keep a rider in tune with the bike's state of being. With a tug on the light clutch lever and dap on the shifter, the 848 is primed for a lap of the fabled Almeria test track.
Our lap begins at the end of a very long straightaway, which has the 848 pegged in fourth gear. The brake markers are a blur at the end of a steep downhill stretch, which dumps into the entrance of the ultra-fast right-hand Turn 1. Diving in hard on the brakes puts them through the wringer lap after lap and is an excellent test of this new set-up. Unlike the Monobloc-equipped 1098, a pair of less expensive two-piece radial-mount four-piston Brembo calipers and 320mm rotors adorn the 848, and they do an outstanding job of hauling the new Ducati down from speed. Braided lines and a Brembo master cylinder provide consistent, powerful stopping power lap after lap. Though this system is an excellent overall package it doesn't have that sharp initial bite of the 1098 brakes, which actually makes the process less intense.
After the apex of Turn 1 the track begins to climb up and over a blind rise with the intimidating Turn 2 lurking on the other side. Carrying speed over the crest takes a steady throttle hand, but the 848's chassis remains composed despite the dramatic change in attitude as the bike settles in on the backside. The smooth, linear power delivery takes the fear out of getting on the gas earlier lap after lap. Despite not being equipped with a steering damper, the 848 never wavers under conditions most likely to unsettle it while riding aggressively. Everything gets light over the T2 hill as the bike accelerates at the end of second gear, un-weighting the front just before it returns to the ground as the G-forces suck the suspension down. Ducati World Superbike racer Ruben Xaus came up with the settings prior to our arrival, so it came as no surprise the bikes felt great right out of the gate. After surviving the downhill bend there's a short straight that leads to the long, fast and flat Turn 3 - one of the few corners that will make you look and feel like a hero, even if you're not.
Essentially a lighter, not as powerful 1098, the 848 is a formidable track weapon, near indistinguishable from its larger sibling but available for three grand less.
With the front tire loaded through T3 for what feels like an eternity, it's nice to know that the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa rubber is up to task. This is one of those spots where the rider is compelled to get on the gas early after burning a knee puck for such a long time. At the end you pick the bike up and snap it to the right side and here, during the transition from left to right leading into Turn 4, you really feel all the surfaces of the tank, frame and bodywork against the inside of your legs and arms. That raw-edgy assault on all your senses is just one of the allures of the Ducati superbikes and the 848 is simply another example of that experience.
Suspension action offered by the fully adjustable Showa units is very slick. Despite abrupt changes in motion facilitated by the technical track layout and on/off throttle input working against the fork and shock, the 848 remains composed and is very easy to ride fast. Combining high-speed stability with low-speed agility is a something that Ducati has managed to do well with this latest generation of superbikes and nowhere is this more evident than through these three turns. The Turn 5-6 combination looks like two distinct turns on the track map but the most rewarding way to tackle them is as a combination by keeping the bike on its side in one long, sweeping arc while the track straightens out and then turns back in at the start of T6. The T5 entrance taxes the brakes and the 848's ability to cope with trail braking while cranked over. Accelerating and braking at these angles showcases the bikes stability and ability to hold a line while totally under duress. Generally, trail-braking this much at these angles is not exactly my cup of Bellini but when in Spain...
Between Turn 7 and 8 is a little straightaway that is taken at the upper end of the revs in second gear. Here, the 848 wheelies easily, quickly even. Snap release the clutch and you too can evoke the essence of Xaus, who would occasionally pass by in a blur on one wheel while gnawing a biscotti, which encourages me to try to ride harder, faster. There's plenty of torque on tap, making the riding experience enjoyable even though it doesn't make that power quickly until the revs climb above seven-grand. After that it comes into its own and starts to feel like a proper little superbike.
With Turn 8 rapidly approaching it again requires seriously-heavy braking followed by a downshift or two with the motor spinning over ten grand. This is prime territory for a slipper clutch and the absence of it was as notable here as it was in the garage. By abandoning the trademark rattle of the dry clutch for a lighter and more durable wet unit, Ducati tips its hand. By admitting that this style clutch is more appropriate for a street bike, with durability and a slight weight savings cited as the reason for going this route, this is the one piece of the cost-cutting puzzle that will polarize opinions regarding the 848 among Ducati traditionalists. If you're willing to pay a bit extra for it, there will be a Ducati Performance accessory slipper clutch kit available soon. Whether or not it will be a wet or dry version has not been divulged at this time.
The brand-spanking new 2008 Ducati 848 Superbike is proof that despite the proven Italian philosophy of excess, in some cases, less is more.
The majority of the technical elements of Almeria have been dispatched, only the faster pieces remain. Nothing really enlightening occurs while connecting T8 and T9 but the revs do drop pretty low at the apex of T9, so the fast uphill double left that follows presents an opportunity to feel how well the 848 accelerates through second and third gears. Since the track sweeps left, the bike is leaned over pretty far while rowing through the six-speed tranny as the speedometer becomes a blur of numbers that reaches about 140 mph before it all comes to a grinding halt a few moments later at the chicane. Toss it through here, crack open the massive elliptical throttle bodies and enjoy the Twin's growl before tipping into a pair of sweeping right-handers. These bends lead to the first of two long straights. The 848 is usually at the top end of second gear at the exit, which is where the Evoluzione mill is in its element. It tractors onto the straight and builds a good head of steam after clicking through three more gears using the shift lights to ensure every one is precisely timed to keep it in the meat of the power.
While watching the digital speedo on the Desmosedici-inspired dash build past 150 mph, the most pressing question that comes to mind is whether or not the 848 has the motor to hang with the four-cylinder supersports. Certainly the Evoluzione mill will keep it in the ballpark. It doesn't have the top-end rush of the In-Lines but it does have enough power to make it a thrill ride. However, if you're looking for arm-stretching torque, this isn't where it's at. The 849.4cc motor doesn't accelerate as rapidly as the 1098, but no one thought it would. Keep it in that top three thousand rpm and the bike feels really fast but it has a narrow powerband in racing terms. When considered from the point of view that this is first and foremost a street bike with its broad spread of L-Twin power and suddenly the 848 starts to make a lot of sense.
One of the most popular middleweight motorcycles that Ducati never made was known by bench racing wunderkinds as the 853. Based on the 748, the 853 was brought to life by stuffing bigger slugs into the Three-Quarter Liter mill and suddenly the lifeless bottom end had some balls. The top end didn't fall on its face and the absence of torque was no longer an issue, but the bike was still easy to insure and was an absolute blast to ride fast. Many felt it was the perfect bike. Ducati has taken that concept in reverse much to the same effect.
The Ducati 848 blends the rider-friendly, usable L-Twin torque and power delivery with an excellent chassis wrapped in the 1098's sexy Superbike skin. The most important element which the 848 shares with the 1098 is the confidence-inspiring feel and feedback at speed: The 848 needs to be ridden. During my time with the 848 a couple things became clear. The only things to complain about: The motor is as vanilla as the pearl white color scheme. Anyone interested in an 848 is not going to miss the extra couple hundred cubes and it's hard to find someone who doesn't like vanilla. Anyone who does have an issue with it can always buy the red version and pour some Ducati Performance love into the 848 to up the ante a bit but overall, they are going to love its all-around goodness. It's easy to ride fast on the track, should be equally fun on the street and while it's sitting on the sidestand outside the cafe or in the garage it will look like a million bucks, for $12,995. That is why we should be excited about the middleweight 848.
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