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MD First Ride: 2007 Ducati 1098

Text: Antonio Regidor, from Kyalami, Republic of South Africa
Pictures: Milagro

Ducati has been trying to follow a very hard act since the introduction of the beautiful, iconic 916 superbike many years ago. That bike and chassis, with larger engine displacements in ensuing years, was responsible for many race track and sales successes. With the 999, Ducati tried a new direction in styling, and it was less successful with journalists and the public – the beautiful 916 had not been surpassed. The public expected more. Ducati, quite literally, went “back to the drawing board”. The result is the 1098. With much more power and far less weight, on paper, the 1098 looks like it could be another landmark machine for Ducati. The styling is there for everyone to see . . . beautiful by almost all accounts. See my thoughts here upon seeing the bike in the flesh in Southern California.

Courtesy of Solo Moto in Spain, we have the following report from the introduction of the bike at Kyalami in South Africa, a famous circuit at sufficient altitude to affect engine performance (diminishing it by as much as 20% according to some analysts). We thank Antonio Regidor for the following report.

The beautiful new 1098 can become a gold mine for the Bolognese brand, and inscribe in gold a new era. With curvy lines, minuscule tailpiece, double exhaust in the tailpiece, double headlights ripped with big inlets for Ram Air underneath, and an impressive single-sided swingarm it is a beauty to the eyes … with the performance to match (see below).

In South Africa, a country where gold and diamond mines are their greatest source of wealth, and more concretely on the South African circuit of Kyalami, we tested Ducati’s white hope, the 1098, which Ducati intends to convert masses of sportbike enthusiasts to the Italian way. The mythical two-cylinder in L, taken to extreme. No wonder, next year there are plans to triple the sales currently generated by the 999…

Nevertheless, getting to the main point, as all Ducati’s fans are waiting for an answer to the “million dollar” question: is the 1098 better than the 999? The answer is … an emphatic yes!

New Engine
Totally new, the 1,098 cc Testastretta Evoluzione is 5 kilos (12 pounds) lighter than the engine powering the 999. It revs quicker and higher; with a new sound that is more metallic, a sound that “sparks.” Of more compact dimensions, because of its new heads and redesigned valves – similar to those of the Desmosedici — it is truly better than the 999. In addition, its oval fuel injection nozzles – once again inspired by the Desmosedici – have allowed improved fueling, and that means more horsepower. By the way, since the Kyalami circuit is located at 1,800 meters (nearly 6,000 feet) above sea level, the declared 160 horsepower stayed at 140 due to the low atmospheric pressure… We will have to wait to be able to enjoy the full 160 horsepower.

The transmission is smooth and sure, and the clutch easier to use. Their mechanical noise level is also lower, therefore the 999 has been surpassed in all mechanical aspects.

DDA can be downloaded to your PC

Traction Control
Under a hot sun and above 32 C degrees of temperature – in the southern hemisphere it is summer now – we got ready to test the mythologized 1098. Just by turning the key, we would enjoy its 100 % digital rectangular dashboard, with ten selectable functions from a double switch in the left handle – among those is a lap timer, lap time display screen, USB starter key of the Ducati Data Analyzer (DDA), battery and system error detection… By the way, on some of the screens on the 1098 – a few – appeared a ghost function called DTC and no one from Ducati dared to explain it. Nevertheless, we determined it is about the future traction control system that Ducati is testing. The Ducati Traction Control will soon be available in future versions of the 1098 – including the R version, and it will be able to be adjusted to each rider’s pleasure from the digital dashboard and button control on the left handle.

Enough with the chatter. Let’s ride. Hit the starter switch — an exciting sound. Select first gear and take to the track. We had to learn Kyalami’s layout, which is an unruly circuit, with ascents, slopes, a very sharp chicane, heavy braking zones, and all kinds of curves. An old school circuit that reminded me of the one at Eastern Creek in Australia, but much more beautiful, better cared for, although with some runoff areas not too appropriate for motorbikes. Luckily, the new SBK champion of the world, Troy Bayliss, came to show us the track, and took three laps with each group in the first session.

The 1098 surprised us from the first curve; it is much more manageable than the 999, it feels lighter, and the motor has enviable features. As soon as we begin to run hard, we can appreciate that the front brake system is just perfect, powerful and proportional. The new Monoblock radial Brembo calipers, with the 330 mm discs, are magnificent, without adding a gram to the brakes found on the 999. We will see if on the street they are not too abrupt, but on the track they were fantastic.

When turning, the motorcycle feels better, thanks to the lower weight of the Marchesini wheels, with lower gyroscopic effect. Nevertheless, if you have to flop the bike from one side to the other quickly, it is still necessary to work a little – with a distance of 1,430 mm between the axles, it has a wheelbase 10 mm longer than the 999.

Comfortable
The riding position is now more natural, with the handlebars slightly higher and seat slightly lower. In this, it is much better than the 999. The gas tank is also slightly wider at knee level, but it is still narrower than a conventional motorcycle (an inline 4). This helps go through curves very smoothly, intuitively, aided by its powerful and smooth engine, which vibrates very little. It is the best twin-cylinder Ducati superbike ever, no doubt.

Other ergonomic details are that the windshield is low, and it is necessary to stoop to get protection, the riding position does not tire the wrists, the seat is well padded (for a Ducati superbike) and the footrests are well positioned. The digital tachometer is difficult to read at speed, so you end up relying on the four luminous warning lights of over rev in order to change gears – three warnings and the last when cutting ignition. The rider’s working area is roomy and he can move slightly back even if he is more than 6 foot in height to be under the windshield, or to move from side to side.

The Pirelli Supercorsa Pro tires also performed well. With plenty of grip, they endured the abuse of the journalists without complaint. The rear tire is an unusual 190/55, 50 profile tires are normal.

Adjustments
First, the fork settings were troublesome. The bike would dive excessively under braking, and even lift the rear wheel in some of the heavier braking zones. With more spring preload dialed in, together with three additional clicks of compression damping in the fork, the bike was perfect. The bike was balanced whether accelerating hard or braking hard (very hard with these brakes). The bike was on rails in the corners absorbing bumps while on its side without any drama.

We also had a chance to test an S version, which had 10 additional horsepower. The stock Ohlins suspension swallowed everything. We ran even quicker laps on this model, as we played with the motorcycle’s lap timer device, a device that allowed us to download information to our PC and analyze later.

Both models feature stock steering dampers — an Ohlins model for the S version. These dampers never really made themselves known while testing . . . apparently doing their job perfectly.

The truth is that the 1098 has everything. It is beautiful, recaptures the essence of the 916 with its design and its single-sided swingarm, and it is much more effective than the 999. The engine is much more powerful and smoother. The motorcycle has more features, and the brakes are the best.

The 1098 should be available in the U.S. early next year at a base price of $14,995, while the 1098S will be priced at $19,995. Visit Ducati’s web site for additional details and specifications.

What we liked –
Its stability, powerful and smooth engine, its powerful brakes, its aesthetics and finish are top quality. DDA is an extra toy.

What we didn’t like -
The digital tachometer is hard to read. The windshield is very low. The brakes on the road may be too powerful.