We already got our ya-yas out on the high-end S model Streetfighter earlier this year when we hammered it around the marvelous Ascari Circuit in Spain at its press introduction. It certainly impressed us on the track, but what we didn't yet know is how well the new Duc works in the wide-ranging conditions on the street. We also needed to find out if the base Streetfighter is also worthy of our Italian bike rapture.
At $14,995, the standard Streetfighter retails for $4,000 less than the upmarket S version, and by doing so it goes without trick Ohlins suspension, Ducati Traction Control and some carbon fiber bits. Also, cast-aluminum wheels replace the lighter forged hoops on the S.
Regardless, the base Streetfighter will never be mistaken for anything ordinary. The 1099cc V-Twin engine is in an identical state of tune as the S, and both bikes share brick-wall Brembo radial-mount brakes and a single-sided aluminum swingarm. Lightweight (and spendy) magnesium is used for the clutch and cylinder-head covers and the headlight bracket.
The Streetfighter experience begins even before inserting its key. It looks downright menacing sitting cocked left on its sidestand, although it's a bit dense and cluttered, especially compared to the tidier air-cooled Monster lineup. It's not exactly what we'd describe as beautiful, but its stripped-down appearance of industrial art gives it a real sense of purpose and machinery-ness.
New, compact switchgear includes a fighter pilot's “trigger catch” that covers the starter button until you're good and ready to fire up this Italian missile. On the downside, the sharp-edged and plasticky controls feel cheap, especially the turn signal switch, which is unbecoming for an expensive toy such as this.
Once triggered into life, the liquid-cooled V-Twin emits a burly rumble through a pair of stacked muflers that portends near-Superbike power production. We brought our bike down to legendary tuner Carry Andrews' Hypercycle Speed Center where it spat out 133.2 roaring ponies at 9800 rpm. Combined with a pavement-rippling 72 ft-lbs of torque, this is a contender for the most powerful naked sportbike on the planet. MV Agusta's latest Brutale may come close, but we haven't been able to test one yet.
To get rolling, you'll have to endure a heavy clutch pull and a slightly grabby dry clutch, but from then on out, the Streetfighter offers an adrenaline-soaked yee-haa! ride. The engine feels as if it's always straining against its leash, ready to lunge. A slightly tall first gear in the not-as-light-as-other-brands gearbox keeps acceleration almost docile if you prefer, but the spunky V-Twin comes on especially hard at 7000 rpm and will easily and inexorably loft the front wheel even if you're not a wheelie guy. This bike is a traffic ticket waiting to happen.
Speaking of raised things, short people will dislike the 'Fighter's 33.1-inch seat height. The bike's lack of a fairing forced Ducati engineers to find space inside the tail section for electronics, a battery and exhaust valve servo motor, and all this stuff jacks up the height of the seat. At the other end of the equation is a handlebar set lower than other naked bikes. This aids front-end feel and stability at speed, but it also places pressure on a rider's wrists that impinges on comfort at normal street speeds.
However, the 'Fighter's ergonomics work surprisingly well on the highway for a naked. The low grips force a more aerodynamic torso position, and the oncoming air pressure alleviates the amount of weight carried by a rider's hands. A compact instrument cluster is just within eye's reach, with multiple displays for a variety of info. A handy low-fuel tripmeter counts up once the 4.4-gallon tank reaches its “reserve” level. The mirrors offer a decent view to check your Six for bogies, but their wide placement is an impediment to lane splitting.
We usually have good experiences with Showa suspension components, but the SF's shock initially confounded us with its stiffness. As delivered it had zero static sag, and it only had a slight amount even after dialing out almost all available spring preload, indicating the spring rate is too stiff for solo riders.
Making matters worse is that turning the preload rings is a bitch, even with a selection of spanners for doing such a job, because of the multitude of frame tubes and the passenger pegs hindering access. And with no collar between the spring coil and the ring, there is a large amount of friction that resists turning. It took about 30 minutes of hammer-and-punching and wrenching 4mm of rotation at a time to dial back the preload. We whine about this only because getting the proper amount of preload is critical to a bike's handling performance, and it really shouldn't be this laborious.
"...the SF's shock initially confounded us with its stiffness."
Once the PITA preload was lessened, we reduced rebound damping to match and also took out a few turns of the compression damping's 5.5-turn range to achieve a more compliant ride. The bloody knuckles were worth it, as the rear suspension was then well matched to the proper wheel control up front. It would be interesting to see how the S model's Ohlins suspenders would match up in a side-by-side comparison.
No complaints whatsoever from the insanely powerful Brembo radial-mount 4-piston monoblock calipers and monster 330mm rotors up front. Fluid flows from a radial master cylinder through braided-steel brake lines to deliver incredible feel, and the rear brake requires a firm foot to lock the tire, which suits us perfectly.
Although the Streetfighter is equipped with a non-adjustable steering damper, Ducati imbued the upright naked with added stability by kicking out the fork from the 1198's position – with a 26.5-degree rake and 114mm of trail, it's nearly a chopper in the sportbike world. A longer swingarm extends the wheelbase to a lengthy 58.1 inches, further adding stability. With more than 60 ft-lbs of torque available from 4000 to 10,000 rpm, ratcheting the throttle open at any speed will have you thanking the engineers for the bike's steering calmness as you're catapulted quickly into the next zip code and a more severe penal code.
On a twisty road, you'll find plenty of leverage from the wide bars to overcome the relaxed chassis geometry, and the narrow Duc can be twisted to follow the direction of even the most serpentine backroad. Tossability is aided by a svelte 373-lb (claimed) dry weight. With torque out the wazoo, the traction control on the pricier S model can seem like a bargain.
Ergonomically, we were bothered by the exhaust heat shield that intrudes on right-side boot space when up on the balls of your feet. Slippery footpegs don't help matters. But the butt up and hands down position encourages a marauding charge through the twisties, and there is always a deep well of power on tap to devour the next straightaway.
"With torque out the wazoo, the traction control on the pricier S model can seem like a bargain."
Let's be plain: This thoroughbred isn't suited for a casual or inexperienced pilot. A touchy throttle and a highly responsive engine give the SF an enthusiastic ready-to-romp feeling – perhaps harder than you are ready for. Truth be told, the humbler and cheaper Monster 1100 (our choice for Best Standard of 2009) makes for a better and easier street ride than the potent and uncompromising 'Fighter.
But Ducati has heard the clamor from power-hungry riders who have demanded a full-monty naked superbike, and the Streetfighter is exactly that.
2009 Ducati Streetfighter Review
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2009 Ducati 1198S Review
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Best of 2009 - Motorcycles of the Year