MC Test: 2008 Ducati 1098R

Redefining Superbike

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Kevin Wing, Milagro

R-model Ducatis have traditionally been the flagships in Ducati's range. And they've carried the price tags to match. The previous-generation, $30,000 999R was one of our favorite motorcycles, with tractability, suspension and steering precision that let it rival much more powerful four-cylinder literbikes. The $40,000 1098R doesn't just rival them; it leaves them for dead.

Of course, for that much money, it had better. Raising the price of the R-model by $10K seems like heresy, Ducati rubbing our noses in it, but the increased performance more than justifies it. And there's been no shortage of well-heeled buyers lining up to own one.

Impetus for creating the 1098R was the change in World Superbike regulations allowing 1200cc twins to compete alongside 1000cc fours. (The AMA dragged its heels but finally acquiesced.) This may sound unfair to those who are new on the scene, but throughout the 750cc Superbike era twins were allowed 1000cc-plus a weight break. It's testimony to Ducati Corse's efforts and Troy Bayliss' dogged determination that they managed to win a world title after the fours were allowed 1000cc as well.

But Ducati claimed its 1000cc Superbikes were too close to their mechanical limits, running what was described as a MotoGP state of tune. Take that to mean the engines didn't last long. That's costly, and with the small Italian manufacturer also competing in MotoGP, its resources were stretched too thin. The company petitioned the SBK organizers to raise the displacement limit for twins, and after much debate, the change went through. There were, however, a few stipulations: Twins would have to retain their stock valves and connecting rods, run 50mm intake air restrictors and carry an additional 6 kilograms (13.2 pounds). Furthermore, these numbers could be adjusted throughout the season depending on race results.

To take the 1098cc Testastretta Evoluzione engine to 1198cc, the bore was increased from 104 to 106mm and the stroke from 64.7 to 67.9mm. That bigger bore allowed 2mm larger intake and exhaust valves at 44.3 and 36.2mm, respectively, while new alloy three-ring pistons with double-ribbed undercrowns bump compression from 12.5:1 to 12.8:1. Superfinished rocker arms and a deep gas-nitrided crank increase strength and reduce friction. Numerous weight-saving measures such as sand-cast cylinder heads and cases, titanium connecting rods, valves and retainers, an intricately machined crankshaft and carbon-fiber cambelt covers shave 4.8 lbs. compared to the standard 1098 engine and 12.3 lbs. compared to the 999R. Impressively, the service interval is 12,000 kilometers (approximately 7500 miles), same as all other current Ducatis.

The fuel-injection system was upgraded, too, the elliptical throttle bodies growing from 60 to 63.9mm. A twin-injector setup sees the main central injector provide a set amount of fuel for each cycle, while the secondary injector is called in whenever more fuel than that is required. Owing to another change in the SBK rules, the R-model finally gets a slipper clutch this year, plus third through sixth gear ratios.

Most noteworthy of all, however, is the addition of Ducati Traction Control, said to be identical to that employed on the MotoGP and World Superbike racers. Inactive until the included racing CPU is installed, there are eight positions available, level 1 being the least intrusive and level 8 the most. (It can also be shut off, but don't go there.) In simple terms, the system compares the speeds of the front and rear wheels, factors in other parameters such as rpm and throttle position, and adjusts fuel and spark to limit torque whenever it senses the rear tire is spinning-or about to. Saved by technology!

By Brian Catterson
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