2009 Ducati Streetfighter S - Stripped-Down Superbike

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

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Milagro

Ducati wants you to believe its Streetfighter is an authentic example of the breed--essentially, a stripped-down 1098 Superbike. But it's not--it's better than that. It's an all-new motorcycle that shares few components with the ancestral Superbike, but it's not another dumbed-down OEM imposter. For starters, the Superbike's brutal power delivery remains intact. Because Ducati developed a naked-bike chassis adequate to control that copious power, the Streetfighter is better than any "authentic" 1098 streetfighter could ever be--and likely the best naked bike to hit the market yet.

A naked 1098 would be a handful. Track-ready geometry wouldn't agree with the new weight distribution dictated by the upright riding position. Recognizing this, Ducati drafted a new steel-trellis frame with 1.1 degrees more rake and .7 inches more trail to slow steering response and increase stability. A 1.4-inch-longer swingarm stretches the wheelbase to 58.1 inches--one inch longer than the Monster 1100, and 1.8 inches longer than the 1098 Superbike--to further improve stability and keep the front wheel down.

The Superbike's committed riding position is hardly suitable for urban commutes, so that's been reconfigured to be radically more relaxed; there's actually more legroom and a shorter reach to the bars than on last year's Monster S4Rs. The seat is more thickly padded, and the forged risers holding the tapered handlebar are rubber-mounted. A Ducati built to coddle? Who spiked the acqua in Borgo Panigale?! The tank and tail look identical to those of the Superbike, but are actually smaller to emphasize the compact, cut-down streetfighter style.

One component not diluted from Superbike spec is the engine. Consisting of a 1098 top end grafted onto the latest vacuum die-cast crankcases from the 1198, this motor is 7 pounds lighter than that of the 1098, and produces a claimed 155 horsepower. That's just 5 bhp less than the 1098, due to necessary intake and exhaust reconfigurations. Cam timing is the same, as are ECU settings metering the 60mm elliptical throttle bodies.

The exhaust system is new, composed of massive 63mm headers, a power-spreading electronic exhaust valve and shotgun-style side-mount silencers replacing the Superbike's underseat setup. The cooling system is new too, with two smaller radiators to reduce overall width, and a water-to-oil heat exchanger making up for the lost radiator capacity.

Ducati will offer two Streetfighter versions: a standard model for $14,995 and an S version for $4000 more, upgraded with Ohlins suspension, forged-aluminum Marchesini wheels, carbon-fiber front fender and cam belt covers, plus Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and Ducati Data Analyzer (DDA). Despite the added DTC/DDA, the S still weighs 4.4 lbs. less than the base model.

We sampled the S model at the exclusive Ascari Race Resort, high in the Sierra Bermeja outside of Ronda, Spain. Ironic, debuting a motorcycle named the Streetfighter at a racetrack, but the impeccably manicured, 26-turn circuit was a much safer--and more lightly policed--environment to experience its Superbike-level performance.

Track sessions were announced with System of a Down's brutal song "ATWA" blaring from stadium-sized speaker stacks arranged on pit row--this was not your typical press launch. With music to set the mood, the first impression upon settling into the tall, 33-inch saddle and grasping the high, wide bar is "hooligan." Exiting pit lane you perceive the first difference: Unlike other naked bikes, steering is heavy, with noticeable resistance from the non-adjustable, top-mounted hydraulic steering damper. Spastic speed-metal soundtrack aside, this is not a twitchy bike.

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.

Tech Spec

Ducati's 1098 Superbike loses its fairing, gets some geometry tweaks and swaps clip-ons for a conventional handlebar.

Performance-oriented naked bikes such as the Aprilia Tuono 1000 R Factory, Buell 1125CR, KTM 990 Super Duke R, MV Agusta Brutale 1078RR and Triumph Speed Triple

Price $18,995
Engine type l-c 90-deg. V-twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v desmodromic
Displacement 1099cc
Bore x stroke 104.0 x 64.7mm
Compression 12.5:1
Fuel system Marelli EFI
Clutch Dry, multi-plate
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 155 bhp @ 9500 rpm
Claimed torque 85 lb.-ft. @ 9500 rpm
Frame Tubular-steel trellis with single-sided
  aluminum swingarm
Front suspension 43mm Ohlins inverted fork with adjustable
  spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Single Ohlins shock with adjustable
  spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake Four-piston Brembo Monobloc radial
  calipers, 330mm discs
Rear brake Two-piston Brembo caliper, 245mm disc
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Corsa III
Rear tire 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Corsa III
Rake/trail 25.6 deg./4.5 in.
Seat height 33.0 in.
Wheelbase 58.1 in.
Fuel capacity 4.4 gal.
Claimed dry weight 368 lbs.
Colors Red, black
Available May
Warranty 48 mo., unlimited mi.

Ducati North America, Inc.
10443 Bandley Dr.
Cupertino, CA 95014

Verdict 4 stars out of 5
Pure Superbike performance in a pure streetbike platform.

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