2008 Ducatis: First Look
New Middleweight Marauder, An Entry-level roadster and a Superbike Contender
With a smashing MotoGP world championship in their pocket, there's no wonder that the key mantra at Ducati's Milan press conference was: "like in the D16." That's the winning Desmosedici for you, the non-Ducatisti.
Whether it's been while talking about the new 1098R's traction-control system or the new 696 Monster's amalgam of trellis frame with alloy sub-frame, Claudio Domenicali, Ducati's current mastermind, just couldn't resist reminding us all that the lessons learnt while crafting the world's fastest road racer (which squarely beat Japan's best) were put to good use in Ducati's 2008 street lineup.
With the SBK rules accepting 1200cc Twins for 2008, the release of an SBK homologation version of the 1098 was imminent. The 1098R is going to be the base of next year's factory bikes as well as its privateer efforts. With a claimed 186 crankshaft horsepower out of the box, getting a good 200-plus horses in race trim shouldn't be much of a problem – and this time, without having to mortgage your condo in Malibu in order to play at world level. The streetbike has a retail price of $39,995.
In order to compete with the 1000cc inline-Fours, Ducati had to invest absurd development and maintenance costs in the 999's 1000cc Twin motor. The new 1200 homologation version of the 1098 is supposed to be much easier to tune into WSBK levels, and Ducati hopes to fill the grids again with their "cheap" racers thanks to regulations that enforce many stock internal parts.
Next star of the evening at Ducati's conference was the new 848, the 850cc successor to the former 750cc Twin. Ducati sees the smaller Testastreta Twins as "entry level" superbike Ducs, bikes aimed at sporting dudes who are pretty hard riders, just slightly less hardcore and don't want to live with the constant intimidation of the bigger 1098.
With a claimed 134 hp (a huge 30% jump in power over the old 749), the 848 is aimed straight at current 600 inline-Four supersports, even if it's hard to believe that its $12,995 U.S. MSRP will be competitive in the minds of many. It’s claimed to weigh just 369 pounds and is said to have a healthier power-to-weight ratio than the old 999 Superbike. A new vacuum-assisted die-casting method has lopped off an incredible 7.1 pounds from the engine’s weight.
Darling of the evening was the new Monster. More than a decade after its birth, the model that brought Ducati out of the doldrums gets a real makeover. The core DNA of the trellis frame and air cooled L-motor is there intact, but shapes have gone much softer now and the whole bike has been compacted visually speaking. A reinvigorated motor produces a claimed 80 horsepower for a 9% boost and an 11% jump in torque.
The main point of debate between us journos was the new cast alloy subframe that is married to the steel-tube main frame. Yes, "like in the D16," yet many a journo, (me included) wasn't that sure that this wedding was made in heaven. The big casting simply looks a bit alien on a Duc. Exhaust pipes now pass next to the engine rather than underneath, while the high silencers give the new Monster a light flat-track look. Guess it couldn't have been easy deciding which direction to take the new Monster's design. Regardless of inspiration, the resulting 696 will take some getting used to. At the moment it looks almost too fashionable to be a timeless classic like the old model. Time will tell.