What a welcome change this is! Instead of complaining about yet another drool-worthy motorcycle reserved exclusively for the European market, Ducati's eye-catching Nicky Hayden Edition 848 Superbike is reserved for American buyers only. Take that, Euro-peons!
Inspired by the special race livery that adorned Hayden's Desmosedici racebike at the Red Bull United States Grand Prix at Laguna Seca on July 4th (and repeated eight weeks later at Indy), this special bodywork features an American-themed color scheme complete with the 2006 world champ's #69 on the nose and personal autograph reproduced on the tank. Ducati North America is producing just 150 examples-make that 149; the first one was gifted to Hayden-priced at $14,995.
Beyond bold graphics, the Hayden 848 is identical to the standard model. Revised aluminum cam-belt pulleys, LED-backlit gauges and taller rearview mirrors are the only updates for '09. The 849cc Testastretta Evoluzione engine benefits from the same technical improvements as the larger 1198cc V-twin, with a similar compact cylinder and head layout, identical valve angle and, of course, Ducati's signature desmodromic valve actuation for reliable high-rpm power output.
With similar, race-inspired livery and a number on the nose, the Nicky Hayden Edition 848
Geometry of the steel-trellis frame is identical to the big-brother 1198, providing equally sure-footed handling. And like all proper Ducati Superbikes, the lightweight Marchesini Y-spoke rear wheel mounts to a single-sided swingarm. Suspension comes from Showa in Japan, consisting of a fully adjustable shock and 43mm inverted fork. Radial-mount four-piston Brembo Monobloc calipers matched to 320mm discs provide stoppage.
The 848 is a real sweetheart at speed. The combination of less weight (said to be 11 pounds lighter than the 1198), reduced crankshaft inertia and a narrower 180/55 rear tire make it less taxing to turn than the bigger bike. We also appreciated the wet clutch, which is unique to the 848. It might lack the characteristic rattle of the traditional dry clutch, but the improved lever feel and smoother operation (especially compared to the grabby unit on our 1098R) enhanced the 848's accessible, user-friendly character.
Significantly oversquare cylinder dimensions (94.0 x 61.2mm) give the 90-degree V-twin a lively, revvy personality and make Ducati's horsepower claims (an impressive 134 bhp, which translate to around 115 at the rear wheel) seem credible. The Hayden Rep easily outpaced well-ridden 600s around Putnam Park. This lends credence to Ducati's claim that the 848 offers a better power-to-weight ratio than the old 999. Moreover, the power profile seemed perfectly matched to the track-unlike the mega-strong 1098R, which seemed almost caged on the 1.7-mile layout. This allowed us to concentrate on exploiting the available output rather than merely controlling it.
The Nicky Hayden Edition 848 might not match the performance of the racebike it resembles, but it's unmistakably a Ducati Superbike-and a great-looking one at that. In this case, it's the American buyers who win.