2009 Ducati Streetfighter S - Stripped-Down Superbike

Finally, a naked bike that lives up to its name!

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Milagro

That unexpected stability initially makes going fast on the Streetfighter an act of faith. Other nakeds often exhibit over-sensitive handling, especially at high speed, as high-leverage handlebars tend to amplify even the smallest inputs. Not the Ducati, and because this feels so unusual, you have to talk yourself into trusting the Streetfighter not to misbehave--especially when the low-mounted footpegs kiss the pavement in one of Ascari's two 140-mph sweepers. But both high-speed and mid-corner stability are rock-solid on the Streetfighter, even in the extreme 40-mph crosswinds whipping off the mountains that day.

Of course, there is a trade-off: The Streetfighter doesn't snap into Ascari's tourniquet-tight front-straight chicane like you'd expect from a handlebar-equipped Superbike. In the slower sections, it's better to get on top of the bike and lever the bars more like you would on a supermoto bike. The roomy cockpit makes it easy to bounce between roadrace and supermoto riding positions as speed or situation demand, though a few swipes across the slippery footpegs with a file would enhance grip. Long-legged riders complained of feeling crowded by the low-slung exhaust on the right, but there was no interference with my size-9 boot.

Brakes are Brembo Monoblocs lifted directly from the latest 1198, though without the almost-overwhelming initial bite associated with the Superbike--curious, as the pad compound hasn't changed. There's still enough stopping force available to load the firm and responsive Ti-nitride-coated Ohlins fork, however. This top-notch hardware lets you push the front end harder than you'd imagine on such an upright bike, until the limiting factor becomes front-tire grip from the street-spec Pirelli Diablo Corsa III. But even if front-end feedback doesn't match that of the Superbike, this naked bike has enough chassis potential to actually exploit the added grip of a DOT race tire.

Having experienced DTC on the Superbike, it's interesting to note how differently it behaves on the Streetfighter. At times, its ability to instantly shunt wheelspin seemed almost detrimental. With less forward weight bias, the Streetfighter doesn't carve a line as tenaciously as the Superbike. The front also unloads more easily under acceleration, which can cause the bike to run wide at corner exits. With the DTC set on the higher end of its 8-step scale, where even the slightest wheelspin is retarded, the Streetfighter will hook up and suffer this exact problem--especially in long, fast corners like the final curve onto Ascari's front straight. Better handling resulted when lower DTC settings were selected, allowing more wheelspin while lessening the tendency to wheelie and letting the bike follow a tighter line.

It's worth manipulating the traction control, since wheelspin--and wheelies--are a near constant with the powerful Streetfighter. Initial throttle inputs can be abrupt, not due to tuning hiccups (the Marelli ECU performs flawlessly), but because the torque hits so hard even at very low revs that the bike lurches forward. Geared identically to the Superbike, power swells uninterrupted right up to the 10,700-rpm redline, where the businesslike rev limiter butts in. With such a quick-revving motor, you'll bump the limiter often if you're not paying close attention.

Unfortunately, the data-rich dash cluster (likewise lifted from the 1198) isn't easy to assess at a glance. The cluster is mounted lower and farther forward here, and without the beneficial shading of an upper fairing, it's harder to read in open light. And like on the Superbike, it's difficult to tell the shift light from the DTC engagement lights, especially when you're accelerating out of a corner, spinning the tire and nearing redline at the same time.

Exercising the Streetfighter S at Ascari certainly was entertaining, and the bike circulated better than any naked upright with the word "street" in its name should be expected to. But the new machine really ought to shine on the street. In fact, the Streetfighter has the potential to be Ducati's most entertaining streetbike yet. There's no comparison with the Monsters--the Streetfighter is a full 22 lbs. lighter and 25 bhp stronger than last year's top-of-the-line, Testastretta-powered S4Rs, and it's more comfortable too. With essentially the same performance as the 1098 in a much more accessible and user-friendly package, there's no reason to choose the Superbike unless you're a track fiend.

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