Ducati 1098S – Italian Rocket Revival

A dyno chart is one thing, but the incredibly direct action of the 1098’s 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.

Don’t 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! That’s quicker than any literbike they’ve 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 company’s 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 hasn’t changed much is the 1098’s 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 didn’t bother to try it out.

A lightly trafficked twisty road, a sunny day and a new 1098S. No, we won’t be quitting our day jobs. And you wouldn’t 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 wasn’t 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 version’s 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 we’re on the topic of Ohlins, let’s take a look at the 1098S’s 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 Ducati’s suspension? Well, just one, really. Race Tech’s Paul Thede, the guy with Paul Teutul’s 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 Tech’s suspension guru Paul Thede on hand to help spin wrenches. There was a lot going on that day, so I don’t 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 won’t find in the took kit. (Come to think of it, we didn’t 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 – 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 1098’s 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 they’re made from one solid chunk of metal) that are radially mounted. Four pistons in each clamp down on ginormous 330mm rotors. It’s a setup that doesn’t suffer fools gladly, offering an abrupt bite that might bite back the unwary. If you stay away from caffeine and get used to them, you’ll find the most impressive speed retardation devices we’ve ever sampled. Though a bit grabby on the street, they offered great control out on the track.

Although the 1098 works best at speed, it’s less compromising in normal use than you might thinkAnd, demonstrating a relentless quest for perfection, we were also impressed with the Ducati’s gearbox, something we don’t 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 what’s it like in the typical cut and thrust of everyday traffic and commuting? Well, that depends on how many concessions you’re 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 – tall riders fit quite well. The 1098’s 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 it’s noticeably smoother than the buzzier inline-Fours.

Still, this is no Gold Wing, and you’ll 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 you’re not Troy Bayliss.

The 1098’s new instrument panel looks like it came straight from the MotoGP paddock. The only problem is that a rider has to play “Where’s The Redline” during each shift. The bitchin’ 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 Honda’s RC51. Not only is information more difficult to assimilate, Ducati also continues its annoying predilection for not including a redline. It might’ve 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 it’s 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 Willow’s daunting Turn 8, it’s safer to ignore the tach and just watch for the small shift light.

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