Ducati 1098S Ė Italian Rocket Revival

story by Kevin Duke, Photograph by Fonzie, Created Jun. 19, 2007
When talking about Ducatiís sportiest of machines, theyíre generally seen in three different ways. 1) Lusty Italian art you canít afford. 2) Overpriced and unreliable poser material that canít keep up with your 50%-cheaper Gixxer Thou. 3) An inspiring amalgam of race-winning performance, high-end prestige and exotic shapes.

The truth of the matter is that each perspective has its own validity to some degree. However, the most recent iteration of Ducatiís range-topping Superbike series, the 999 model that debuted in 2003, probably had most people thinking in line with option #2, judged by its underwhelming sales numbers. While it was a better performer in every way over the previous generation 998 and its successful forebears, the Triple-9ís adventurous but blocky design failed to ignite the passion usually reserved for red Italian machines with wheels. 

Ducatiís new 1098 has reset the bar when it comes to twin-cylinder performance, and itís even got a few of the Big Four manufacturers nervous.The 999 was upgraded in 2005 but could never shake its frumpy image. The 999R, especially in its 2005 and later iterations, had the cojones to run with nearly anything. But its $30k price tag meant that it was as likely to be found in the garage of regular Joes as finding Gisele Bündchen in your bed. (If the person who shares a bed with Ms. Bündchen is reading this, I hate you. Most every other man on earth and Ė I like to imagine Ė quite a few ladies do, too.) For the regular 999, at $18k, you needed to be a dyed-in-the-wool Ducatisti to believe it was reasonably priced in the face of $11,000 CBR1000s with 25 extra horses.

And so we have the new 1098, which has the notable distinctions of being faster, lighter, sexier and less expensive than 999. (Itís enough to make us sad for those who bought a 999 last year, but then again, they could probably afford the dump in resale value and there werenít that many sold anywayÖ) Incredibly, the standard 1098 is a whopping $2000 cheaper than the 999. 

But why have a run-of-the-mill 1098 when Ducati is offering a 1098S, the higher-spec version than includes tasty moto jewelry like Ohlins suspension, forged-aluminum wheels, a carbon fiber front fender and a data acquisition port for the extra $5000 of MSRP?

Yeah, it was an offer we couldnít refuse, especially because we donít have to pay for íem (usuallyÖ).

Pity the fools who bought a 999 before seeing what the new 1098 looks like! Even before we thumbed the starter of this Duc, we fell into lust with its sensual yet menacing curves. Few will mistake this for any Ninja or Gixxer, and if they do, you donít want to hang with them anyway. With a snout that looks eager to tear into high-speed air up front and a slender, upturned tail with twin exhausts out back, the shape of the 1098 far exceeds the frumpier silhouette of the Pierre Terblanche-designed 999. It even, dare we say, approaches the transcendent appearance of the seminal 916-998 series designed by the legendary Massimo Tamburini.

But respectable motojournalists donít let things like a bikeís appearance influence our entirely objective opinions. (And weíre also not interested in the incredibly hot photos of the barely clothed tight bodies you keep sending us, but we look anyway.) So, uh, yeahÖ We, as professionals, arenít easily distracted. But if you water-boarded us long enough, weíd probably admit to being subjectively aroused by the Ducís generous visual charms. 

As Pete prepares himself for a lap of Willow on the 1098S, he wonders how many years working at $8 an hour it will take to pay it off if he crashes it.The positive impression continues once you throw a leg over this thoroughbred and cozy up to its lithe midsection that seems impossibly skinny Ė itís probably somewhat like sitting on Lindsay Lohan, with a similar amount of seat padding. Thankfully, the stretched out riding position of the 999 has been abbreviated, both in the forward reach and handgrip height, or, rather, depth. Ducati claims a 32.2-inch height for its seat, but its narrow and sloping forward end makes it low enough that even short, hairy men like ex-Ed. Gabe could ride one without his platform shoes. Footpegs are surprisingly low, which is good for comfort, but their narrow placement also results in plenty of ground clearance.

Thumb the starter and two sounds make an impression. First is the healthy bark from the twin underseat stainless steel mufflers. The 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust supposedly meets EPA specs, but it sounds more vigorous than youíd expect from federal standards. You wonít catch us complaining about the bass-heavy growl, but we did whine a bit when that same exhaust system put our buns on slow roast during warm-weather rides. The other notable sound is the suppressed jingle-jangle of clutch plates. The 1098 still uses a dry-clutch design, but itís now quieter and easier to modulate than ever.

To make the most powerful production V-Twin engine, Ducati did a lot more than just hog out the cylinders and extend the stroke to yield the 1099cc displacement (yes, we said  1099, despite what the badge on the fairing states). The biggest change is seen in the all-new cylinder heads that are said to alone knock off a massive 6.5 lbs from the engineís weight, which is down a total of 11 lbs from the 999 lump. A flatter combustion chamber is fed and exhausted by bigger valves to make the 104.0mm x 64.7mm mill breathe easier. MotoGP-derived elliptical Marelli throttle bodies are claimed to offer a 30% flow increase.

Add it all up and you have one of the most amazing street engines weíve tested. Itís making more than 60 lb-ft of torque from just off idle, peaking at 7900 rpm with a wheelie-pulling 80.8 lb-ft. For those keeping track, thatís about 6 lb-ft extra twist over any of the four-cylinder literbikes. At the top end, this devilish Desmo is pumping out 141.8 horsepower, only about 5 ponies short of the winner of our Literbike Shootout, Hondaís CBR1000RR

That big dip around 5000 rpm in the Ducatiís torque curve (black line) looks way worse than it feels. The scale of this graph magnifies the valley, because itís barely felt from the saddle, but the generous torque advantage from 7000-9500 rpm is most assuredly obvious.

Page2A dyno chart is one thing, but the incredibly direct action of the 1098ís throttle and its translation into seamless acceleration has to be felt to be believed. It takes only the slightest twist of the grip and a gradual release of the cooperative clutch to have this new Duc scampering across an intersection ahead of any car without a wheelie bar.

Donít believe me? Well, Cycle World just published acceleration times of a 1098S with a pipe, air filter and upgraded chip, blazing through the quarter-mile in a corrected time of just 9.84 seconds at almost 146 mph! Thatís quicker than any literbike theyíve tested.

The two most important factors in acceleration are power and mass, and Ducati has addressed both areas. Helping the mass side of things is a new variation on the traditional steel-tube trellis chassis, as the boys from Bologna got some help from their buddies down the hall at Ducati Corse, the companyís race department. Key to the improvement in the frame is the use of a larger-diameter main tube (28mm to 32mm) that remains light because of its thinner wall thickness (2mm to 1.5mm). Together with a simpler tubing arrangement, Ducati says this new birdcage is 3.3 lbs lighter while being 14% stiffer. It all adds up to a tank-empty weight of just 410 lbs, which is several pounds lighter than any four-cylinder literbike.

What hasnít changed much is the 1098ís chassis geometry. It retains its 24.5 degrees of rake and has 98mm of trail. Like usual, an eccentric in the steering head can be rotated to yield a 23.5-degree rake. Like usual, we didnít bother to try it out.

A lightly trafficked twisty road, a sunny day and a new 1098S. No, we wonít be quitting our day jobs. And you wouldnít either if you had taken the controls of our test unit. We received our bike with the fork tubes raised about an inch in the triple clamps, which we were told was the factory setup. It wasnít until we returned the bike that we found out otherwise. But, no matter, because our bike steered with the kind of alacrity heretofore unknown by any Ducati with clip-ons. And this despite a wheelbase about 0.5 inch longer, 56.3 inches. Some of the credit must go to the forged-aluminum Marchesini wheels, part of the S package, that save about 4 lbs of unsprung mass over the standard versionís cast-aluminum rims (the red pinstripe around their circumference tips them off as the good stuff). An Ohlins adjustable steering damper, another part of what makes the S special, thwarts any tankslappers.

Since weíre on the topic of Ohlins, letís take a look at the 1098Sís suspension. While the standard 1098 gets new and perfectly adequate Showa components, the S gets the high-end Swedish dampers, a 43mm FG511 fork and 46PRC shock absorber. Both ends are, of course, fully adjustable, and the rear also features ride-height provisions.

How many men does it take to adjust a Ducatiís suspension? Well, just one, really. Race Techís Paul Thede, the guy with Paul Teutulís favorite tool, is all anyone needs.  As delivered, our 1098S delivered a stiff ride. First stop was the rear compression damping, reducing it by 4 clicks to 13 clicks out, which was a noticeable improvement. Later, when we took the delightful new Duc to Willow Springs, we had (http://www.race-tech.com/) Race Techís suspension guru Paul Thede on hand to help spin wrenches. There was a lot going on that day, so I donít have all his changes logged, but I do remember him taking out all 21 clicks of rear compression damping before we started messing with the preload.

While down in the depths of technical stuff about the boingers, Thede discovered a couple of unusual aspects of the Ohlins shock. First is the diabolical access to the rear rebound damping adjuster. It took a few minutes of searching before we realized that there is a small hole in the swingarm that leads to the hidden adjusting screw. Its angled entry requires a ball-end allen wrench, and it needs to be a long one, something you wonít find in the took kit. (Come to think of it, we didnít see a tool kit in our bike.) This is a pain in the ass for those who like to get on their knees and tune their suspension, though we expect most 1098S owners will instead enlist Gianni or Alessandro down at their local Ducati resort/dealer.

The other odd thing about the shock is that is uses a preload adjusting ring made from nylon (not steel), something Thede has never seen before. We were in agreement that it seems like skimping on quality for what is assuredly high-spec suspension. Anyway, by the time Thede had twiddled most adjustment points, the S delivered the kind of ride we expect from Ohlins Ė highly composed yet remarkably supple.

If brakes could stop the world on its axis, these would be the ones to do it. Calling them stellar is barely adequate.

Continuing the theme of top-shelf equipment, the 1098ís front brakes are nothing less than incredible, even in the midst of the typically stellar radial-mount stuff on virtually all contemporary sportbikes. It starts at a radial-pump master cylinder sending fluid down braided-steel hoses. Flex is further frustrated by monobloc calipers (meaning theyíre made from one solid chunk of metal) that are radially mounted. Four pistons in each clamp down on ginormous 330mm rotors. Itís a setup that doesnít suffer fools gladly, offering an abrupt bite that might bite back the unwary. If you stay away from caffeine and get used to them, youíll find the most impressive speed retardation devices weíve ever sampled. Though a bit grabby on the street, they offered great control out on the track.

Although the 1098 works best at speed, itís less compromising in normal use than you might thinkAnd, demonstrating a relentless quest for perfection, we were also impressed with the Ducatiís gearbox, something we donít say very often. The 1098 features lighter tranny gears, lighter primary-drive gears and a new gear-selector drum. The result is surprisingly short throws for a Duc, and shift effort approaches the ease of the four-cylinder literbikes. Clutchless upshifts can be accomplished smoothly with a brief relaxation on the throttle.

So, as you might expect, the 1098 has all the right moves when it comes to full attack mode, but whatís it like in the typical cut and thrust of everyday traffic and commuting? Well, that depends on how many concessions youíre willing to grant a piece of rolling Italian sculpture. 

On the plus side is better wind protection than we predicted from the squinty-eyed nose, and its seat, though thinly padded, is wide and supportive, especially when sitting on its broader rearward portion Ė tall riders fit quite well. The 1098ís larger pistons and longer stroke results in a skosh more vibration than the 999, resulting in a burlier feel than the silkier Triple-9, though itís noticeably smoother than the buzzier inline-Fours.

Still, this is no Gold Wing, and youíll be grateful for a stretch after about 120 miles when the smallish 4.1-gallon fuel tank runs dry, which is plenty enough time in the saddle to convince you that youíre not Troy Bayliss.

The 1098ís new instrument panel looks like it came straight from the MotoGP paddock. The only problem is that a rider has to play ďWhereís The RedlineĒ during each shift. The bitchiní machined triple clamp makes us wish we had paid attention in high school shop class.We also liked the comprehensiveness of the trick-looking Digitek instrument cluster that is said to be lifted from the 2007 Desmosedici MotoGP bike. It contains all the usual stuff and adds a clock, fuel gauge, average speed, average fuel consumption and a low-fuel countdown, all controlled by a nifty switch on the left handlebar.

Less appealing is the bar-graph tach similar to that on Hondaís RC51. Not only is information more difficult to assimilate, Ducati also continues its annoying predilection for not including a redline. It mightíve worked okay if the end of the bar sweep was 11,000 rpm, just a few hundred revs after the big Duc hits its abrupt rev limiter at 10,600 rpm, so itís obvious, but the gauge pointlessly reads all the way to 13,000 rpm. Instead of trying to decipher where 10,000 rpm is while barreling into Willowís daunting Turn 8, itís safer to ignore the tach and just watch for the small shift light.

Page3Weíd also like to tell you all about the Ducati Data Analyzer (DDA), a data-logging system that comes standard on the 1098S. A rider can download up to 3.5 hours of data from their ride to see their speed, throttle position, rpm, temperature and lap times via a USB port. Weíd like to tell you more about the DDA, but the Bologna Bulletís time with us was regrettably short, so we spent all our time with our butts in its saddle.

(And hereís a tip for any 1098S owner who loses control and crashes while tapped out in fifth gear on their local back road: Donít download your DDA to your laptop while the cops are investigating or youíll incriminate yourself into a ride in the back seat of a Crown Victoria.)

: How narrow is 1098? Consider that our fearless leader Duke Danger looks slightly buff even though he fits the same size Alpinestars as Paris Hilton.The 1098 continues the legacy of past Ducati Superbikes by fitting some of the most chic mirrors on a production sportbike Ė the 1098ís bat-wing design with integrated turnsignals looks wicked And, like the 916 and 999 before it, the 1098ís mirrors are virtually useless at relaying information about whatís going on behind you.

But when youíre riding a bike shining with as much charisma, performance and sex appeal as the 1098S, the annoyance of things like ineffectual mirrors or unavailing tachometers fall into the shadows.

Rather, the prevailing impression of the 1098 is one of greatness Ė sublimity, if you will. This Ducís off-corner grunt is amazing, hurtling the bike forward on a gigantic wave as opposed to the spiky tugs of a four-cylinder literbike. And remember, it was only a dozen years ago that Ducatiís hottest street motor was struggling to make just 105 horseponies, not the 140-plus of the 1098. And its flawless throttle reaction shows other OEMs that fuel-injection response doesnít have to be abrupt. 

Ducati traded a bit of its legendary on-rails stability for unprecedented nimbleness, although itís still rock-steady and offers terrific feedback. In the company of the baddest Japanese sportbikes at Willow Springs, the 1098 proved to be most dexterous. And the overall quality of liquid power on tap surpasses that of the four-cylinder challengers, offering immediate lunge without the intimidating hit of the Fours. Helmed by an un-Bayliss hack like myself, Iíd bet dollars to donuts that I could cut a quicker lap of Willow on the 1098 than on any of the Asian quartet.

This sensational 1098 couldnít have come soon enough for Ducati, as its robust initial demand is being backed up by effusive praise in moto books worldwide. The Desmo crew is back in the black.

Even in the face of highly evolved challengers from Japan, the 1098 plays second violin to no one. Also consider that the standard 1098 retails for $14,995, which is only about $3500 spendier than a Japanese literbike. That puts this exotic within the reach of those who dream in Italian.

All this and a two-year warrantee, too. Itís no wonder North American production of the 1098 has sold out, forcing Ducati to consider a second production run this summer. Itís about what weíd expect from what is undoubtedly a leading candidate for motorcycle of the year awards.

 Beware The PR Machine
Part of what made the Ducati 916-998 series so spectacular is the single-sided swingarm that exposes the right side of the rear wheel. But Ducati engineers said the single swinger was too flexy and heavy for the rigors of Superbike racing, requiring a traditional double-sided swingarm for the 999. Okay, form following function, so it must be a step forward, si?

To the Italians, even a swingarm can be artistic. Well, now weíve got the single-arm rear end back on the 1098 and 1098S, and youíd think this must be a concession to style brought upon by the fashion-nazis who warbled about the 999ís for years. But guess what? Ducati is trumpeting how this 10mm-longer component is not only 40% more rigid but also a bit lighter. The desmodromic PR machine has been running at redline.



Another Opinion

Lee Parks Ė Journalist, author and designer

When the 916 came out in 1994 I instantly fell in love. At $14,975, however, it would remain a dream as I couldnít see spending a 60% premium over a GSX-R1100. While it improved in its 996, 998 and 999 incarnations, it still was an exotic curiosity that I would relegate myself to enjoying from the sidelines (and the occasional magazine road test). The 1098, however, has my head spinning. Not only has it rediscovered the sexy lines lost in the 999, but for the first time in history it has horsepower that a few years ago a four-cylinder bike would have been proud to call its own.

Additionally, it handles like the proverbial dream. In fact, I would say the handling reminds me more of a TZ250 GP racer than any streetbike Iíve ever ridden. It turns quickly, is stable down the straights and has a mid-corner composure that is second to none. Surely, Ducatiís MotoGP efforts have trickled down to the everyman ó well every man with 20Gs in his bank account. While the Ohlins-equipped S model we tested is priced accordingly, the standard model comes in at $14,995. Thatís only 20 bucks more than the original 916. And considering weíre talking about 1995 dollars, the 1098 is actually much less expensive than its forebears. While I can be frugal at times, at $3400 more than an R1, even I would spend my own dough to get one of these thoroughbreds. Itís that much better than the rest, and spending the difference on one of the Japanese bikes would still not make them feel like or handle as well as this machine.

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