Ducati 848 Evo vs. Suzuki GSX-R750 vs. Triumph Daytona 675R

Middle Ground

By Ari Henning, Photography by Cali Photography, Joe Neric

It doesn’t sound like much, but the 400 cubic centimeters separating a 600 from a 1000 is a massive chasm. It’s the difference between 100 and 150 horsepower; between carving a tight line and steering with the rear. Few manufacturers bother to build a bike that bridges the gap between the high-strung supersports and the big-brute superbikes, but for those that do the result can be a heavenly blend of sharp handing and broadband power.

How does one achieve this equilibrium? Is it with an 848cc twin, a 675cc triple or a 750cc four? Since it’s at a displacement disadvantage, we selected Triumph’s up-spec Daytona 675R to pit against Ducati’s hot-rodded 848 EVO and Suzuki’s newly refined GSX-R750. Through the benefit of additional displacement, these three middleweights boast greater midrange power, which makes them easier and more fun to ride on the street and more capable on the racetrack. The shrieking 600s are great, but there’s more to life than five-figure revs. And while liter-plus bikes offer arm-wrenching thrust, too much of a good thing can get you in trouble in a hurry. For those in search of that hallowed middle ground, one of these midi-superbikes might be just what you’re after.

Testing this trio took place over three days, with one on the street followed by two at the racetrack. Slogging through Los Angeles traffic and lapping our favorite test loop in the Santa Monica Mountains revealed these bikes’ street manners. For a more in-depth analysis, we took the bikes to a Fastrack Riders track day (www.fastrackriders.com) at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, where a combined 1500 track miles told us everything we needed to know about their performance at the limit.

Pages of notes were taken, lap times recorded, suspension changes documented and discussions held during roadside bike-swaps and between track sessions. The goal of this information gathering was simple: Determine which of these middleweights harmonizes the attributes of the two traditional displacement classes to strike the best balance.

Ducati 848 Evo
Best Lap: 1:37.4

There’s been a paradigm shift at Ducati. The Italian company’s pursuit of power is as relentless as ever, but as horsepower figures continue to climb, prices have mercifully remained the same. The 848 EVO was the machine that set this trend, maintaining the same $12,995 price tag as the standard 848 it replaces despite a number of upgrades.

The EVO treatment includes high-compression pistons, more aggressive cam profiles and larger throttle bodies aimed at increasing top-end power. The same Brembo Monobloc calipers used on the 1198 are now fitted to the 848, supplanting the two-piece pinchers employed last year. A non-adjustable steering damper has been bolted to the top triple clamp to calm the headshake that this bike’s increased output is expected to produce. Paint is light-absorbing matte-black; diehard traditionalists will have to fork over an additional $1000 for red. The only other discernable difference is audible: At idle and even at full throttle the 848 sounds suppressed. Blame it on the considerably longer underseat mufflers, no doubt put in place to meet increasingly stringent noise regulations.

Other components are the same as before, with a steel-trellis frame supporting Showa fully adjustable suspension front and rear. Strapped to Motorcyclist’s in-house SuperFlow dyno, the EVO put down 117 rear-wheel horsepower at 10,500 rpm with 62 lb.-ft. of torque on tap at 9500 rpm—8 lb.-ft. up and just 5 bhp down on the next-best Suzuki GSX-R750. Fully-fueled, the EVO weighs in at 430 lbs. That’s respectably light, but still 10 lbs. heavier than the featherweight Daytona and 6 lbs. more than the GSX-R.

A hard, high seat, low clip-on bars and unyielding suspension are stereotypical Ducati characteristics, and the 848 is no different. Wrist pain was a problem within miles of leaving the Motorcyclist offices in El Segundo, and every bump on Lincoln Boulevard was transmitted to the rider. While neither the Suzuki nor the Triumph exhibit any appreciable hot spots while sitting in traffic, engine heat collects under the 848’s uninsulated seat and wafts from the open side panels, roasting the rider’s butt and thighs.

Radiant heat and jarring ride aside, the Ducati is the roomiest of this bunch and proved the most accommodating for our taller testers. With a tall first gear and uncharacteristically soft power off idle, setting the bike in motion requires some clutch finesse, but the 848’s wet pack is much easier to modulate than the company’s traditional dry packs and shifting is smooth and precise.

Opinions improved once the road turned twisty. Then the bike’s taut suspension feels more appropriate and the grabby brakes less so. Getting up over the front end is the only way to make the 848 turn quickly, and even with your helmet stuffed behind the windscreen it wants to stand up mid-corner. And perhaps we’re accustomed to the 1198, but the middleweight’s midrange power wasn’t what we were expecting considering its displacement advantage. Rather than spreading power over a wide rev range, the EVO concentrates maximum thrust above 8000 rpm, with the rev limiter kicking in at 10,750 rpm.

As before, complaints diminished further when the bike was unleashed at the track. The aggressive riding position that felt torturous on the street was spot-on for the racetrack. After being fitted with Michelin race tires, we had Randy of In House Suspension give the 848 a once-over, reducing spring preload at both ends. With the suspension settled further in the stroke, the bike turned quicker and tracked better, although there was some headshake while powering out of turns. An adjustable steering damper would be beneficial.

Revving out the Ducati is the way to go, but keeping the motor on the boil is a delicate balancing act. Slam into the abrupt rev limiter and the Suzuki and Triumph disappear into the distance. Short-shifting is the best way to avoid this scenario. Running it lower in the revs makes the bike feel calmer, although judging by the way the EVO smears the rear tire and rockets off corners, it still has plenty of grunt.

With the strongest brakes and a stout fork, the 848 excels at decelerating and provides excellent front-end feel at turn-in and full lean. As with the other bikes in Ducati’s sporting lineup, the EVO isn’t easy to ride, but it rewards those who are willing to adapt. Keep your corner speed up, select gears carefully, get on the gas early and the Ducati is hard to beat around the racetrack. After all, that’s where it was meant to perform.

Off the Record

Barry Burke
Age: 50 | Height: 6’
Weight: 175 Lbs. | Inseam: 33 In.
I’m usually a big fan of Ducatis, but this 848 EVO came up short. It’s a tremendous amount of work to ride in a tight canyon, and the harsh suspension coupled with the lack of a heat shield under the cement saddle could be patented as a new form of birth control! The Suzuki’s motor is the best of the three, but with its soft suspension, narrow bars and tough gearbox, it was frustrating to try to ride fast. With a little work the GSX-R would be better than the Triumph, but in stock form the 675R wins. And why wouldn’t it? Aside from a hard-to-read dash, it’s practically perfect!

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Sorry about that, you should now see the correct dyno graph.
I think the HP/torque graph for the 675R is missing on page 4...
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