The sun sinks slowly toward the distant mountains, casting long shadows over the gleaming row of white Ducatis parked alongside the Almeria race circuit in southern Spain. As we thank the mechanics and drag our gearbags onto the waiting bus, I can't help but wish I was on one of those 848s chasing the sun over those mountains. The new middleweight superbike was excellent on the track and I'm anxious to try it on the street, especially after Engine Project Engineer Marco Sairu made a comparison to the 749, the model the 848 replaces in Ducati's lineup.
"This bike is not linked to racing, like the 749," Sairu said. "The 749 was designed to perform in Supersport races, so its dynamics were not ideal for the street. For the 848, we wanted the best dynamics for the street, with no constraints due to racing." Too bad, then, that these testbikes weren't registered for road use. The 848 is deliberately less intimidating than the 1098 from which it is derived, and thus more inviting (both in terms of performance and cost) to riders new to the Ducati brand. Though they look identical, behind the fairing the two siblings are totally unique. The new 849cc desmo engine is less oversquare (94.0 x 61.2mm for a bore-to-stroke ratio of 1.535, compared to 104.0 x 67.4mm/1.543), and utilizes smaller 56mm elliptical throttle bodies, lower 12.0:1 compression and a reconfigured combustion chamber. These changes are all engineered to provide a broad, street-friendly torque spread, and still produce a claimed 134 peak horsepower-a 26-bhp increase over the 749.
Ducati's other aim with the new eight-valve V-twin was to reduce weight. Finite Element Analysis highlighted areas of the crankcase that could be trimmed. Other changes inside the cases, including a lighter crankshaft and a new wet clutch, combine to save 11 lbs. Over the 1098 motor. Claimed dry weight for the complete machine is just 370 lbs.-44 lbs. lighter than a 749, allegedly providing a powerto- weight ratio superior to that of a 999!
Despite Ducati's desire to broaden its appeal, the 848's ergonomics are decidedly hard-core, with low clip-ons and a racy riding position just like the 1098's. The chassis is almost identical as well, with the same 43mm Showa inverted fork and fully adjustable Showa shock. The single-sided aluminum swingarm is shared, too-though the 848 lacks the larger model's ride-height adjustment.
The deep exhaust note sounded as menacing as the 1098's, but once I'd eased out the clutch lever-action from the new wet clutch seemed smooth and reasonably light-it didn't take long to confirm that this is indeed a more rider-friendly machine. Ample midrange let the bike breeze through the sweeping infield turns without the violent, wheelie-inducing, high-rev kick of the 1098. For maximum acceleration, it's best to keep the tach near the 10,000-rpm mark (where peak power is produced), but the engine pulled sweetly and smoothly from below 5000 rpm. The 848 revs quickly and is mighty fast, thundering up the main straight to an indicated 150 mph. It would likely get to a genuine 160-plus, given more room.
My only slight complaint came at the end of that straight, when I sat up to brake. The 848 slowed efficiently, but its more conventional Brembo setup (320mm discs with two-pad calipers, compared to the 330mm rotors with cutting-edge, four-pad calipers on the 1098) didn't approach the stunning ferocity of its big brother. Considering that the 1098's brakes are somewhat excessive on the street, this is probably a good thing.
They say: "Lightweight moves, heavyweight punch." We say: "Lighter price tag, too!"
Despite its racy appearance, the 848 was designed as a streetbike.
The 848 gets a new wet clutch that's allegedly 2.2 lbs. lighter than its dry predecessor.