Ducati versus Ferrari: That's got a nice, juicy newsstand ring to it, doesn't it? And it should. After all, it suggests two of the most recognizable marques in transportation history duking it out (if one may be permitted the pun) for top honors. Even if the concept is arguably irrelevant, who could resist?
Seriously, the bike-versus-car scenario keeps coming back to haunt us. Over the annals of time, and in the pages of various magazines, the results have been mixed, each vehicle winning roughly half the time.
So why do it again? Well, one reason is we sportbike riders are proud of the fact that our steeds are endowed with performance rivaling sportscars priced many times that amount. We enjoy the idea of budget performance taking on the rarefied realm of the mega-rich.
Either way, as the saying goes, comparisons are invidious. Somebody always gets pissed off at the outcome. So before we go any further, allow me to point out that vehicles with four wheels usually triumph if you take the matter to its logical conclusion. They have a lot more grip, and possess architecture that allows for aerodynamic improvisation. Formula 1 cars run much quicker lap times than MotoGP bikes. Top Fuel dragsters smoke Top Fuel bikes. See where I'm going here?
That argument takes care of the extremes. But what if we set up a test in circumstances that would exploit the bike's strengths? Say, limiting acceleration tests to the dragstrip, where lightness and a good power-to-weight ratio come to the fore. And then take the contest to a short and tortuous roadrace track, where a bike can get off the corners hard. Yeah, that might work...
To obscure our motorcycle bias, we could say we're doing a comparison of two iconic Italian manufacturers, mainly to compare the manner in which these stylistic giants approach the issue of high-performance art. Or we could blame it on Motor Trend, since it was their idea to begin with. I only got involved because I write about both subjects and can be relied on for fairness.
Or can I?
Okay, enough excuses. It turns out there is something these two Italian machines share, apart from manufacturers with competitive instincts at a near-pathological level. The Ducati and Ferrari were both born of a culture that has been obsessed with flavor for more than 2000 years, and both filter mechanical essence through carefully weighted control mechanisms, then offer it to the operator in precise measure.
When other cultures seek to adjust the noise-to-signal ratio in their mechanisms, they usually trim off some of the signal. Not so Ducati and Ferrari. These companies would rather have you tolerate some noise and vibration than lose that priceless sense of control. So it is with Ducati's 1198S: The bike has right-now throttle response, a torque range that will snap your head back at almost any speed and brakes that bite like a rabid pit bull.
Despite that, I thought it was the friendliest Ducati sportbike I'd ever ridden. The fuel injection, for once, actually metered precisely throughout the rev range. Other Dukes I've ridden were great for wide-open work, but would sputter and surge at part-throttle and low revs while trying to split lanes here in L.A.
The Remus exhaust canisters that came with the 1198S (displaced by the 1198SP for 2011) are more civil than the Termignonis that came with the 2010 Corse editions, allowing me to enjoy the bike's burly broadcasts without attracting the attention of every cop in town. In addition, the clutch offered more range than just on/off, and the shifter snagged gears with a light, precise action.