2011 Ducati 848 EVO | First Ride

Black Magic

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Andrea Wilson

It gave me pause when I glanced down before my first track session and noted the odometer displaying exactly 666 miles. With black-on-black graphics and a snarling V-twin exhaust note that sounds like something piped straight from the depths of hell, Ducati's 848 EVO could have been designed by Beelzebub himself. Cracking the throttle only sealed my deal with the devil, as the front wheel mimicked the rapidly rising tach needle. "Forgive me, safety marshals, for I have sinned ... before even exiting pit lane!"

It's hard to ignore the little demon that appears on your shoulder when riding the EVO, a potent update to Ducati's venerable middleweight Superbike. The 848 has found fame this year in fiercely competitive AMA Daytona Sportbike competition, with Steve Rapp earning multiple podiums and Bobby Fong one-upping him with a win at Virginia International Raceway. Ducati has been paying attention to the results, and the company says feedback from these AMA racing efforts directly influenced this latest evolution of the platform.

The majority of changes are found inside the Testastretta Evoluzione engine, specifically at the top end. Alterations include freer-flowing cylinder heads and new pistons with a revised crown shape to increase compression from 12.0 to 13.2:1. Enlarged, 60mm elliptical throttle bodies replace last year's 56mm units, delivering the air/fuel mixture to revised combustion chambers via higher-lift, longer-duration cams that actuate the same desmodromic valve train. Peak output is now 140 horsepower and 72.3 lb.-ft. of torque (an increase of 6 bhp and 2 lb.-ft.), and the new, rev-happy engine character makes this Ducati's liveliest twin yet.

Modest chassis improvements complete this evolutionary update. Front brakes are upgraded from two-pad Brembo calipers to the stronger, four-pad Monoblocs from the 1198. A non-adjustable steering damper is now bolted across the upper triple clamp, enhancing stability. Lastly, the tire spec switches from Pirelli's Supercorsa Pro to the line-leading Diablo Supercorsa SP, which offers a steeper profile for quicker turn-in and a larger contact patch at lean to deliver track-ready grip and feedback.

Ergonomically, the EVO is identical to the old 848. The riding position is best described as purposeful, defined by a tall, firm saddle, high, rearset footpegs and low, wide bars. The squat upper fairing requires a tight tuck before relinquishing any meaningful wind protection. Thankfully, the flat, wide tank is easy to wrap around, and deep knee cutouts make it easy to lock your legs in place when the going gets good.

The faster you go, the better this riding position feels. Likewise, the chassis responds favorably as velocity increases. With a rangy front-center distance, a stiff, high-riding Showa fork and 36mm-offset triple clamps, the 848 resists turning unless there's a reasonable load on the front end. Keeping your body weight forward, however, and taking advantage of those beefy brakes and sticky tires to run hard into corners reveals what might be the most stable, predictable and communicative front end on any production streetbike. The EVO positively railed the downhill Dead Bear carousel at Putnam Park, where we sampled the bike during a Ducati track day following the Indianapolis MotoGP.

Ducati claims the 848 EVO's high-rpm power gains come without any significant low-end losses. We haven't seen a dyno chart, but from the saddle it still feels sufficiently stout even at low revs, which makes pedaling the shift lever less critical than on a multi-cylinder middleweight. And, just like we've seen in AMA competition this year, the torquey twin leaps off corners and leaves even well-ridden 600s eating dust.

Like any twin, it's easy to get lazy and let that low-end torque lug you around. Short shifting, however, masks the bike's greatest attribute: its willingness to rev. The freer-breathing top end makes the EVO absolutely come alive at 8500 rpm, and it screams across the top of the tach with an appetite for revs that no big twin can match. The 848 engine is more accessible at the same time. The 1198's output is so overwhelming that it's difficult to find an opportunity-or the real estate-to hold the throttle wide-open and relish the twin's unique top-end rush. The 848 EVO encourages this behavior, reminding us how satisfying a middleweight V-twin can be.

We've often argued that Ducati's 848 Superbike is the better choice for many street and track-day riders, delivering the same world championship-caliber performance as the 1198 in a lighter, more manageable package. Now with more power and an even livelier engine character, the 848 EVO only makes that argument stronger. And there's no denying the value it represents: Even after the engine and chassis upgrades, MSRP remains unchanged at $12,995 for the Dark Stealth edition or $13,995 in traditional Ducati red.

Take that to mean you won't have to sell your soul to the devil to afford one.

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