2008 Ducati 1098R Review
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There's a great opportunity coming to motorcycle riders, collectors or racers in the United States. Relative to the number of bikes landing on American shores each year, very few two-wheeled nuts will bask in the glory of what may be the best sportbike available today: The 2008 Ducati 1098R.
As my English ex-pat friends would say of those fortunate enough get their $39,995 checks written before anyone else, "Jammy gits!"
The 1098R isn't so much the next evolution in the 1098 line as it is a homologation obligation allowing a limited number of lucky souls to be the benefactors of WSBK rules. Perhaps I should say that the 1098R is revolutionary in that it's the first streetbike (streetbike, puh-leez!) with available traction control. Ducati makes no ifs, ands, or buts about it, DTC (Ducati Traction Control) is that something special that the Big Four keep toeing the line with but are too litigious-conscious to cross. It's also identical to the same system found on Ducati's factory superbike and MotoGP machines. Awesome!
Yamaha was first to start down the path toward a smarter motorcycle with YCC-T (Yamaha Chip Controlled-Throttle) on the 2006 R6, then later on the '07 R1. This throttle-by-wire system uses a variety of data fed to the ECU which controls a servo motor that does the actual dirty work of opening and closing the throttle. Not long after, Suzuki unveiled S-DMS (Suzuki-Drive Mode Selector) on the 2007 GSX-R1000. This system allows the rider to choose from three different engine maps: full steam ahead to heavily neutered, all at the push of a button. Not TC, but moving in the general vicinity.
Kawasaki's KIMS (Kawasaki Ignition Management System) found on the 2008 ZX-10R gets dangerously close to TC, but Kawi corporate sharks say never the twain shall meet. KIMS assists with "torque management" by monitoring throttle opening, gear position, rate of rpm change, and about 497 other factors through its ECU, then retards ignition timing to reduce torque when sudden unwanted rpm spikes are detected. And more recently we learned about Honda's use of IIC (Ignition Interrupt Control) on the company's 2008 CBR1000RR that compares the rate of deceleration to acceleration based on throttle position, crank speed and countershaft speed, then cuts ignition for a flash when engine speed exceeds countershaft speed, the intent being reduced driveline "shock." Sheesh, there must be an echo in here.
These two systems are close to TC, but they both lack a couple of key ingredients: constant application and wheel speed sensors front and rear. DTC has both areas covered.
Additionally, DTC consists of a separate control unit and is supposed to be operated only with the racing kit ECU and tasty Termignoni exhaust system meant solely for the U.S. – everyone else is left with slip-ons. The purpose of using a race exhaust system is to spare the catalytic converter in the standard system the violent combination of high heat and unburned fuel that may escape combustion when the ignition is cut by the DTC/ECU super brain. Other than comparing front and rear wheel speeds, many of the same parameters we suppose the Honda and Kawi systems analyze are considered by DTC in determining when to reduce torque. The final trait that really sets DTC apart are the eight levels of traction control "activation" that are rider selected. Level 1 is virtually non-existent while level 8 is loosely referred to as the rain setting.
World Superbike rules allow 1200cc Twins in '08, albeit with a 13 lbs weight penalty and air restrictor plates (like a washer that sits between the cylinder head and throttle bodies). The initial size, or opening, will be 50mm, and pending how a Twin performs in WSBK, restrictors will go up or down in size in 2mm increments: 46mm minimum opening to a maximum opening of 52mm. If the big twin starts dominating races, in goes the smaller plate(s); if it gets left eating dust, the larger plates go in. So with those technicalities out of the way, the first point of change from the regular ol' 1098 – other than DTC– was opening up the L-Twin's bore and stroke.
Though it's still called a 1098, the 106 x 67.9mm bore and stroke equate to nearly a 100cc bump in displacement over the 1098, and a slightly higher 12.8:1 compression ratio versus 12.5:1. The R is said to be good for 180 hp at 9750 rpm, with 99 ft-lbs of torque at 7750. The addition of the racing ECU and slip-ons bumps the numbers to 186 hp and 100 ft-lbs. That's a sizable jump from the 1098's claimed 160 hp at 9750 rpm and 90.4 ft-lbs at 8000 rpm. And if you're willing to swap out the OEM Ti exhaust cans (a full 3 lbs. lighter than on the 1098S) for that racing kit exclusive to the U.S., Ducati says to expect 189 hp and 101 ft-lbs. Shazam!
More power is good, but getting the power with less effort is even better. The R's hot-rod mill is just a hair under 5 pounds lighter than 1098, and over 12 pounds lighter than the powerplant in the 999R. Ducati trimmed and shaved the ounces using titanium valves (44.3mm int., 36.2mm exh.; up from 42mm, 34mm on the 1098), Ti con rods, lightened crankshaft, carbon fiber belt covers and sand-cast crankcases and cylinder heads. Sand casting isn't just something you do on the beach, it's also a method that allows the use of thin-walled structures for weight savings, and extra internal ribbing gives additional strength.
Other hop-ups include the use of slicker and stronger rocker arms snatched directly from factory SBK and MotoGP Ducatis and a pair of GP-derived twin-injector 63.9mm oval throttle bodies (every thing's a twin with these guys, eh?) that use one injector primarily until the ECU determines the second is needed. Down in the basement we find a shot-peened tranny with taller 3rd, 4th and 6th gears that connects to a slipper clutch. The tranny/clutch combo worked as well as any I've tested.
More weight savings come in the form of an aluminum-alloy single-seat subframe that's 3.3 lbs lighter than the subframe on the 1098S; a carbon seat/tail piece, belly pan, front fender, air manifold covers and a couple other bits clip another 3 lbs. All the Ti and carbon replacements result in a claimed dry weight of 364 lbs dry, a full 13 pounds less than the S.
Suspension didn't miss the boat when the R's ship sailed, as the Öhlins setup is simply some of the best springy parts available. The especially trick TTX36 shock was selected for duty. This bit of Swedish kit is unique in that it uses a concentric twin-tube design that creates positive gas pressure on both the compression and rebound stroke to result in better damping, less cavitation, and the ability to use lower gas pressures. Central to the rider's interest is the ease with which compression and rebound damping adjustments can be made. A pair of dials with 20 clicks of adjustment are parallel to one another at the top of the shock and peek out cleanly from the subframe. The inner workings are far more detailed than what I've chronicled, but just know that it worked so well that even though I shared a bike with a mid-pack AMA racer, I never required any adjustments. The same holds true for the typically superior Öhlins front end.
And what might we expect for brakes on such a bike? How 'bout a pair of monoblock Brembos mercilessly pinching 330mm rotors. It should go without saying, but they gave nothing less than precision feel with easily modulated linear power. Initial bite was subtle which is just what you need from a set of clamps that can have you cart-wheeling in half a heartbeat if shown even the slightest bit of ineptitude in their application. 'Nuff said.
Those premium binders are teamed up with a pair of equally premium forged and machined aluminum Marchesini wheels with the wonderfully-sticky Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa spooned on. Our time at the track saw us riding the slightly racier SC2 version of the Supercorsas; the SC4 will be fitted to bikes purchased by the public.
Day In The Sun
Ducati North America chose Barber Motorsports Park as a great venue to sample a great bike. With one of the best tracks in the country, and the greatest collection of bikes and other motorsport machines ever assembled for display, is there a place better than Barber for motorcycle enthusiasts? If there is, I haven't found it.
On the morning of the trackday we were met by the remnants of a lingering storm, with steely gray skies and temps in the low 40s. Overcast conditions disintegrated and sunny skies prevailed by midmorning, but some corners were suffering seepage. With that lofty MSRP still ringing in our ears, we set off on a cautious first session.
Regaining mental focus after being enraptured by the throaty racebike exhaust note emanating from the carbon slip-ons isn't easy, but once you're under power you realize focus is what this bike is all about. Please don't presume, though, that the 1098R is so focused as to only be enjoyable in one of two positions: full race tuck or standing beside it. The rider triangle is surprisingly roomy, and unlike many other sportbikes that coyly but deceivingly tout street-ability above track prowess, the R is genuinely comfortable. Will you be fresh as a mountain daisy in June after crossing state lines? Probably not, but many of those other sportbikes won't serve you substantially better.
Focus should really be replaced with the word precision when discussing the 1098R's attributes.
A couple of reports from the bike's Jerez, Spain, unveiling a month or so earlier spoke of the necessity to man-handle the bike into a turn then power through and out. For the life of me I couldn't figure out what my Euro counterparts were talking about. Nothing about the 1098R's steering caused me to think that I had to wrestle this Italian stallion into the turn. Initial turn-in is quick, and once the bike is leant over, handling is exposed for what it really is: very responsive. The slightest input to the clip-ons makes the bike move, like, now!
With 24.5 degrees of rake, 3.8 inches (97mm) of trail and a 56-inch (1430mm) wheelbase, there's nothing radical about those figures carried over from the 1098. For comparison, consider an '08 CBR1000RR with 23.3 degrees, identical trail and a wheelbase shorter by over half an inch. Don't even talk to me about the schizophrenic 21-degrees, measly 3.3" of trail and a wheelbase that can be measured in matchsticks (52 inches) on a Buell XB12R. The 1098R provides stellar handling in a chassis you can live with.
All the effort to reduce reciprocating weight in the engine was worth it. The L-Twin spins up quickly while the front tire skims across the tarmac, the electronic tach racing toward the 10,500-rpm redline. When you've had a millisecond to gather your thoughts, peeping at the tach will confirm that the perceptible boost you've been noting comes on around 7-7500 revs. Keep the engine pumping between here and redline for maximum fun and efficiency.
Third-gear power wheelies are almost expected, and after you bring the front back to earth, an Öhlins steering damper keeps headshake in control, meaning any wag you do get is pure entertainment. Fueling was flawless, instantaneous, and never abrupt from any point in the rev range. Even the rev limiter is subtle, which hasn’t always been the case with Ducatis.
"Yeah, yeah. We all know it'll scream like a banshee, turn faster than loyalties between Democratic Presidential nominee hopefuls, and stop like a jetliner. But what about that traction control, man?"
Recalling earlier that I said water continued to weep on the track at certain points I had a good, nay, great opportunity to test DTC. Ducati techs started everyone off on Level 4, as this setting proved a good starting point based on their experience from the world intro. The system isn't intrusive at this setting; the rear stepped out on me at least twice on one lap. Never once did I feel any stumble or sputter from the engine. The truth is at forty grand per each and only three units yet in the country, I wasn't about to see just where, exactly, Level 4 arrived on the scene like Rosie the Robot chiding me for overzealous throttle use.
A couple of the true racers of the group found going all the way down to Level 2 suited their style of letting the bike wiggle, drift and glide. The consensus on that setting was that once the system came on board, it allowed those riders to keep the throttle pinned, sliding the bike until traction was found. Thanks, but no thanks.
I was inclined to the other extreme and used the last session of the day to see what traction control was like, albeit on an exaggerated level. Level 8 in many ways nearly makes the bike un-ridable unless you're perfectly perpendicular to the pavement. I couldn't help but think that DTC employs lean angle sensors as the bike almost seemed to anticipate rear wheelspin. I felt the results of minor adjustments to the ignition when merely initiating a turn and, to a greater degree, mid-turn, yet the whole time I held a steady throttle.
By the time I was knee down, exiting the turn and twisting the grip to the stops, it was all over but the cryin'. DTC would have none of my futile attempts to overpower rear grip and it started chopping the ignition continually, creating the sensation that the bike was running out of fuel or running on one cylinder. It sounded kinda neat, though, and since it was designed for this, I did lap after lap on Level 8.
Put simply, it works, but don't expect DTC to be a get-out-of-a-crash-free card. If the road or track surface is too slick or your tire selection is less than glue-like, the bike can still move. And it will never take the place of prudence. A Ducati staffer whom I'll keep unidentified secretly wishes that the home office hadn't been so eager to label this piece of wizardry Traction Control. This person thinks that Kawasaki's attorneys were probably right to seal Kawi's pocketbook from litigious-happy bike riders. As the Duc staffer pointed out, some people can't even handle the incredible braking power on today's superbikes without blaming some type of mechanical failure for their untimely saddle departure.
Is the 1098R worth all the cash, especially when you can find bikes with similar horsepower and torque and ample braking power, all for little more than one-fourth the cost of a 1098R? In that context probably not, but someone who's considering this bike is buying a whole lot of character, status (unfortunately) and amazing technology in a turn-key superbike.
By the time you read this, the first two races of WSBK will be days old and Ducati will have struck the first blow. The factory 1098R F08, only marginally different than the 1098R that you can purchase, carried Troy Bayliss to first place and Max Biaggi to second in Race 1. Race 2 saw a GSX-R1000 on top, but spots two through six looked like a computer error – all five were the Ducati 1098R.
If this opening round is an indication of things to come, perhaps Ducati will consider being more generous with homologation production next time around. Look for the bike in dealers by late March.
|The Perfect Bike For…|
|Any and all Ducati aficionados, pure sportbike lovers or anyone with the enough coin and an appreciation for the finer things in life.|