2009 Ducati 1198S - Bigger And Better

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Milagro

The big news, though, is Ducati Traction Control (DTC), which now comes standard on the 1198S (though not on the base 1198). This system is significantly different than that on the 1098R, in that it works right off the showroom floor instead of only after installation of the accessory Ducati Performance racing exhaust and ECU. Why? The R-model's system cuts spark to cut power, which lets unburned fuel escape into the exhaust. That would be a fire hazard on a stock bike with a catalyst, so the S-model's system first retards timing and then cuts fuel. The row of four shift lights atop the dash illuminate sequentially to tell you when-and how much-the traction control is working. As on the R-model there are eight levels available, displayed on the dash and adjustable via a switch on the left bar cluster-the lowest number is the least intrusive and vice versa. The Ducati Data Analyzer (DDA) system also comes standard, now displaying DTC level and function along with the previous (and relatively primitive) parameters. As before, data is downloaded to your computer via an underseat memory stick, and you can overlay and compare two laps at a time.

To put the 1198S to the test, Ducati invited the press to the beautiful new Autodromo do Algarve circuit in Portimao, Portugal, site of Troy Bayliss's career-capping double-victory a mere three weeks before. The 2.9-mile, 14-turn circuit is truly world-class, its challenging, undulating layout reminiscent of a larger Barber Motorsports Park or a newer (and safer) Infineon Raceway.

First impression is that the 1198's power increase effectively bridges the gap between the 1098 and 1098R. It's noticeably torquier than the base model right off the bottom, yet not as mind-numbingly fast as the R-model on top. Even so, it's incredibly easy to ride quickly, especially in light of the standard traction control.

The bikes we rode were stock save for fitment of Pirelli's latest Diablo Supercorsa SP radials, which will be the spec tire for the '09 World Supersport and Superstock Championships. Like at the 1098R intro a year ago, we started off with the traction control set approximately in the middle, at Level 4. On the R-model, that resulted in pronounced sputtering when you cracked open the throttle at the apex, but on the S-model it's much less noticeable, and as a result, smoother. Even when all four LEDs were flashing, there was no surging or backfiring-just smooth forward progress at the limit of tire slip. No doubt there's more power on tap, as the bike felt monstrously fast, particularly through the final fourth-gear downhill corner and wheelying over the rise onto the front straight. But it never felt remotely unmanageable.

Our one and only gripe has to do with the shift lights pulling double-duty as the traction-control alert. It's not a problem when DTC is set at a higher level and the lights illuminate mid-corner; then you know you're not about to hit the rev limiter. But with DTC set at Level 1 or 2, the lights don't come on until higher revs and larger throttle openings, at which point you suspect it might be the shift light-and as abrupt as the rev limiter is, you don't want to chance hitting it. Certainly there's no harm in short-shifiting. Before the advent of traction control that was an effective way to control wheelspin. But with it you want to leave the throttle pinned and let the electronics do their work. So it would be beneficial if the warning lights were separate-or at least different colors.

In all other regards, the 1198 is a natural evolution of the 1098, and the S-model's Ohlins suspension elevates its already superb handling. Ducati twins have always been easy to ride quickly, and the 1198S is the easiest/quickest yet. Some purists have scoffed at traction control, saying it ruins racing, etc., but they probably haven't ridden with it. If they had, they'd be whistling a different tune. There's no denying that traction control lets you go faster, safer. Ducati deserves props for being the first sportbike manufacturer to bring it to market.

By Brian Catterson
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