Ducati 1098S – Italian Rocket Revival

When talking about Ducati’s sportiest of machines, they’re generally seen in three different ways. 1) Lusty Italian art you can’t afford. 2) Overpriced and unreliable poser material that can’t 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 Ducati’s 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-9’s adventurous but blocky design failed to ignite the passion usually reserved for red Italian machines with wheels. 

Ducati’s new 1098 has reset the bar when it comes to twin-cylinder performance, and it’s 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 – I like to imagine – 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. (It’s 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 weren’t that many sold anyway…) 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 couldn’t refuse, especially because we don’t have to pay for ’em (usually…).

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 don’t 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 don’t let things like a bike’s appearance influence our entirely objective opinions. (And we’re also not interested in the incredibly hot photos of the barely clothed tight bodies you keep sending us, but we look anyway.) So, uh, yeah… We, as professionals, aren’t easily distracted. But if you water-boarded us long enough, we’d probably admit to being subjectively aroused by the Duc’s 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 – it’s 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 you’d expect from federal standards. You won’t 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 it’s 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 engine’s 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 we’ve tested. It’s 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, that’s 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, Honda’s CBR1000RR

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

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