First Ride: Year 2000 Ducati 748


Not Just a 996 for Wimps
Los Angeles, March 27, 2000
Since its introduction in 1994, Ducati's 916 has been at the top of many sport bike nuts' list of must-have motorcycles.

The solid handling and readily-accessible power have long been the selling points of a motorcycle (now a 996) that has thrust Ducati to the forefront of race tracks and dealer show rooms. And let's not forget that scrumptious Italian styling that arguably has yet to be surpassed by any other sport motorcycle in production. The 748 was first introduced to the U.S. market in 1997, though not necessarily as the smaller sibling to the 996. Although it shares the same basic architecture, it was created as a distinct entity: a smaller capacity, freer revving twin with less reciprocating mass than the 996. It also exists to win World Supersport Championships against the Japanese in-line four-cylinder 600s.

Ducati intended for the 748 to be a middleweight twin that looks identical to the 996, revs to the moon and handles as solidly as the bigger-bore Ducati superbike yet costs $4,000 USD less. So what do you get for your $12,495 (MSRP) that will put a 748 "standard" in your garage? Let's find out...

Italian TinkeringThe motor is not just a de-stroked and sleeved-down motor pulled from the 996. The 748 gets its displacement from its 88 x 61.5 mm bore and stroke (compared to the 996's 99 x 66 mm bore and stroke) with the liquid-cooled cylinders set 90-degrees apart. The motor uses an 11.5:1 compression ratio to make 89.4 peak horsepower at the rear wheel.

Each cylinder has two camshafts driven by a toothed-belt and desmodromic valve actuation opens and closes each of the four valves per cylinder. The intake valve measures 33 mm while the exhaust valves measure 29 mm. The motor receives its lubrication from a force-fed gear pump that draws through an in-line oil cooler.

Cylinders fire by way of an electronic ignition that works in conjunction with an indirect-type Marelli electronic fuel injection system. This system uses 50 mm throttle bodies with each cylinder fed by one nozzle, and requires at least 92 octane fuel to ensure proper combustion. Inside the motor is a six-speed transmission that uses straight-cut gears and puts the power to the rear wheel through a 525 drive chain.

The 748's motor is still housed in the trellis steel frame that has become as much a part of Ducati's mystique as the desmodromic valve actuation. A round-tube frame holds the 43 mm front forks at a 24.5-degree angle with 97 mm of trail that sets the wheelbase at 1410 mm (55.5 in) between the axles. Fully-adjustable forks are courtesy of Showa while the rear shock is a Sachs/Boge unit. The front wheel has 127 mm (5.0 in) of travel while the progressive linkage allows 130 mm (5.1 in) of rear wheel travel through only 71 mm (2.8 in) of shock travel.

The brakes on the 748 are hydraulic, twin 320 mm floating discs squeezed by four-piston calipers up front with a single 220 mm disc and two-piston caliper residing out back. The discs are mounted to lightweight three-spoke alloy rims that do a good job of highlighting the beautiful single-sided swing arm that has become a Ducati 748 and 996 staple.

On the Road AgainDucati says the 748 is targeted at the enthusiast who "won't settle for less than the ability to own a piece of the modern Ducati racing legacy and unparalleled Ducati Superbike design." While we're sure we'll find the truth of this when we include the bike in our upcoming World Supersport shootout, for the time being we were more interested to find out how the bike behaved where most people ride them -- on the highways and back roads.

If you disliked the ergos on the 916 and 996, you'll hate the 748: This ain't no ST4 sport-tourer. Still, what the ergos lack in comfort (a lot) they make up for with a seating position that offers a connection to this bike's soul. This 748 was bred for racetrack domination and has only been slightly tamed for street use. If a track-ready motorcycle is not what you seek in a bike then you should look elsewhere. However, if you want a race-replica with a strong heritage and a penchant for winning races, read on ...

Not only is the ergonomic package on this bike uncompromising, the suspension settings are also tailor-made for a racetrack. Through the suspension you can feel every nugget of dirt and every bit of detritus thicker than a prophylactic wrapper that finds its way under the front 120/70-17 Pirelli tire. Still, there is something about the 748 that turns you into a rather masochistic semi-human as you begin to enjoy -- at least in short spurts -- the pounding the suspension dishes out.

This bike lives for the back roads where the suspension is in its element. One staffer commented on how he's never leaned a motorcycle farther and with more confidence than he did with the 748. This Ducati does this as well as any bike we've ever ridden. The bike is supremely stable (the longitudinally-mounted steering damper has something to do with this) but it does requires some muscle to start the bike steering into the corner. However, once the cornering process has been initiated, mid-corner line adjustments become almost viscous and the chassis feels like it would take a boulder the size of Rhode Island to knock it off line.

Even though the chassis feels almost the same as the 996, the motor is considerably down on power compared to its larger-lunged sibling. Where a rider has to be cautious with throttle application on a 996, a 748 rider is able to set the bike into a corner and, as soon as the chassis settles, open the throttle and ride it out of the corner without so much as a hiccup. The power noticeably rushes in at 7500 rpm, but not with the sudden punch of Supersport in-line fours with similar peak-power numbers. This twin revs slower than your average in-line motor, but not as slow as Ducati's 750 Supersport we tested a few months back. Then again the 750 SS is not meant to be a race bike. The 748 is.

Does Less Equal More?   The perfect world for the 748 is a place where cars are banned, all roads are race tracks and nothing larger than 600cc in-line fours and 750cc twins exist. Unfortunately, cars abound, not every road is as smooth as Misano and liter-class Supersports replace rider skill with brute force in order to attain high velocities on canyon roads.

What this Ducati 748 offers its rider that many current liter-class sportbikes can only dream of is the feeling of swinging a leg over a rolling piece of art. You might even acquiesce and give your wife the 748's parking spot in the garage because you want to park it in the den in front of the television, particularly when Ally McBeal is on. It's as good-looking as Ally but not as scrawny, and we're even willing to bet it's a better ride, although some people will have a tough time paying $12,500 in order to mount one rather than the $8,000 it takes to climb aboard a Japanese 600cc machine.

But if you have to worry about a little thing like money, then this bike is not for you. This bike is about riding and being a part of the entire Ducati experience, something that you can't really put a price tag on. For people who understand this, this 748 may be seen as a bargain, and they'll learn why this bike is one of our absolute favorites, even on the street. We cannot wait until our 600 shootout to see how this Italian twin stacks up against the Japanese fours in the element where it really belongs -- on a racetrack.

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