2011 Ducati 1198 SP Review - Motorcycle.com

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

Ducati’s superbike series has been impressing over several generations, a concoction made even more desirable since the debut of the 1098/1198 series launched in 2007, later enlarged to 1198 potent cubic centimeters in 2009. Gorgeous, soulful and devilishly brutal, Ducati’s 1198 is a very special motorcycle.

But for enthusiasts with deep pockets, especially aficionados of Italian bikes, the base 1198 might not be special enough.

Enter the new-for-2011 premium Ducati Superbike, the 1198 SP.

SP stands for Sport Production, which is nomenclature Ducati has used for decades to designate some of the high-end models in its superbike series. This lineage stretches back to the 851 SP which debuted in 1989.

The new 1198 SP elevates the Ducati experience with a slipper clutch, better suspension and a trick aluminum fuel tank.

Added to the potent 1198’s equipment, the SP adds all the bits from the former 1198 S (Ohlins suspension and forged Marchesini wheels), plus a slipper clutch, Ducati Quick Shifter, Ohlins TTX shock (formerly T36PR), and an aluminum fuel tank. It retails for $21,795, just $200 more than the old S version.

Ducati 1198 Gets Notable Upgrades for 2011
The most cost-effective way into the Ducati superbike lineup is the hotted-up new 848 EVO reviewed late last year.

In terms of Italian sportbikes, the word value rarely crops up. But for the base Ducati 1198 model, the MY2011 version is a value-added proposition.

For the same $16,495 price charged in 2010, the basic 1198 now comes with Ducati Traction Control, Ducati Quick Shifter and Ducati Data Analyzer as standard equipment.

The former 1198 S is replaced this year by the new SP reviewed here. The $39,995 1198 R Corse is deleted from the 2011 lineup. Anyone who does have an 1198 R will want to hang on to the Superbike homologation special, as production numbers were miniscule, according to Ducati.

Also within the Ducati Superbike lineup is the new 848 EVO, which we sampled recently at the famed Imola circuit in Italy. The revitalized 848 has more power and better brakes, which you can read about here.

Italian Dream Date

So there we were at the historic Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, fresh from a couple of sessions aboard the 848 EVO. With much more power than a 600cc supersport machine and a superb chassis similar to the 1198 SP’s, the 848 hauls considerable butt around a racetrack.

Although 140 crankshaft horsepower is more than adequate, the 1198 SP brings an extra 30 horses to the party – the SP retains the same engine tuning as in 2010, so the SP should duplicate the 147 hp we saw at the rear wheel of the 1198 S we tested last year.

But it’s the mountains of torque that got our attention while pulling out of Imola’s pit lane, as the front wheel is regularly yanked off the deck with some 87 ft-lb of torque thumping to the rear wheel. The 1198’s extra 350cc of grunt over the 848 is impossible to ignore, catapulting viciously from every corner exit and making the 848 seem like a weakling in comparison.

Wheelies happen without trying on the potent 1198 SP.

And while accelerating, you’ll appreciate the new Ducati Quick Shifter. It uses a micro-switch on the shifter that provides a brief interruption in spark/fuel to bang off upshifts at full throttle without dipping the clutch. This is not only convenient for a rider, it also reduces shift time from 230ms to just 80ms, a 65% reduction in duration.

DQS worked flawlessly under my toe, even if a racer at the event said it’s not quite as good as a Dynojet quick-shifter unit. The shift quality of Ducati gearboxes is one of the few less-than-excellent areas of its motorcycles, which the DQS handily alleviates. The base 1198 also receives this upgrade.

Corner entries are made easier on the SP thanks to a slipper clutch that minimizes rear-wheel hop while downshifting.

Also making a welcome debut on the SP is a back-torque-limiting slipper clutch sourced from the previous R version. Banging downshift entering Imola’s many chicanes, the slipper proves to work terrifically. It’s a huge benefit when riding a big Twin like this on a racetrack, as the two big jugs produce a sometimes overwhelming amount of compression braking that can cause the rear tire to hop during downshifts. No such drama on the SP.

Another SP-specific upgrade is the addition of an aluminum tank – a rarity among motorcycles – sourced from the 1198 R. It not only trims more than 2.5 lbs, it also boasts a greater capacity – up from a small 4.1 gallons to a more useful 4.75 gals. At a purported dry weight of just 370 lbs, the SP undercuts the base 1198 by 7 lbs and is 2 lbs lighter than the previous 1198 S.

The SP’s handling dynamics are aided by its lightweight forged-aluminum wheels, something not available on the base 1198 or the 848. Forged wheels weigh less than the typical cast-aluminum wheels, and this aids steering quickness and suspension compliance – both valuable enhancements on a sportbike.

The 1198’s braking system carries over unchanged, but the Brembo monobloc calipers and 330mm discs decelerate the Duc as ferociously as any two-wheeled contrivance, and especially so at the high speeds generated on a racetrack. Nothing short of stellar.

The 1198 SP is a regal and raucous red ride.


Ducati’s traction-control system aids security on corner exits.

The 20-minute session I got aboard the 1198 SP was a wonderful tease. The standard 1198 is easily enough to satisfy most anyone’s penchant for Italian sportbikes, and the SP simply makes the experience more special.

There is so much power on tap its front end is continually and satisfyingly pawing at the air, even accelerating in third gear, and its slipper clutch tremendously eases high-rpm downshifts. All the while, it’s blessed with Ducati’s typically stout racetrack-bred chassis and exceptional brakes.

The 1198 SP is a machine both beastly and suave, able to induce grins unlike anything else out there. And for those who can afford singular experiences, the SP will not disappoint.

Related Reading
2011 Ducati 848 EVO Review
2010 Literbike Shootout: Aprilia RSV4 Factory vs. Ducati 1198S vs. KTM RC8R
2009 Ducati 1198S Review
2009 Ducati 1198 and 1198S Preview
2008 Oddball Literbikes Comparison: Benelli Tornado Tre 1130 vs. Buell 1125R vs. Ducati 1098S
2008 Ducati 1098R Review
Ducati 1098S – Italian Rocket Revival
All things Ducati on Motorcycle.com

Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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