MC Test: 2008 Ducati 1098R

Redefining Superbike

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Kevin Wing, Milagro

Chassis-wise, the R-model retains the standard 1098's geometry but boasts uprated Ohlins suspension and steering damper, the shock the latest TTX (for Twin Tube) design. This is effectively a tube within a tube-a solid piston pushing damping oil from one tube through the applicable shim stack to the other. The advantages of this setup are positive pressure buildup in both directions, much lower gas pressure for reduced cavitation and friction and the compression and rebound adjusters don't affect one another. Additionally, the shim stacks are located in the reservoir, meaning they can be removed and changed without dismantling the shock-a real boon for race mechanics.

Owing to the aforementioned engine changes plus some carbon-fiber body parts, an alloy subframe for the solo seat, a Ti muffler and forged Marchesini wheels, the R-model weighs considerably less than a standard 1098, tipping the scales at 422 lbs. wet and 397 lbs. dry.

I was fortunate to attend both the 1098R's world press introduction at Jerez, Spain, and the U.S. intro at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, after which Motorcyclist exclusively received a testbike to ride on the street. First stop was the dyno, where the stock machine pumped out an impressive 155.6 bhp and 87.2 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheel. U.S.-model 1098Rs will be sold with full 70mm race pipes and a dedicated CPU, but those weren't yet available, so our testbike came with the slip-ons the rest of the world will get. So equipped, it churned out an astounding 163 bhp and 90.3 lb.-ft. Forget torque and tractability, the 1098R's peak power is right there with the liter-class fours!

You feel that power as soon as you let out the clutch lever-this Ducati pulls with the urgency of a built Harley. (Those of you who have never ridden a built Harley are likely laughing at this remark, but trust me here.) Wheelies aren't a matter of if, but when, and in fact you have to work to keep the front end down. Best turn that right wrist slowly, get your foot over the brake pedal, and it wouldn't hurt to hunch down over the front, either. On the street you find yourself dialing in almost no throttle and slipping the clutch from stoplights-and you're still accelerating like gangbusters. This thing really is ferocious, so it's probably a good thing that the high price will keep young, inexperienced riders away.

Jump on the freeway en route to the local mountains and you promptly discover the 1098R is a rack, with a bum-high, stretched-out riding position. In stock trim, the suspension is set so firm the bike rattles your teeth over bumps and expansion joints. Of course it does-what did you expect? Fuel mileage and range are abysmal, the low-fuel light illuminating in as little as 85 miles. You'll forget all this as soon as you point the bike down a twisty mountain road.

Hold on tight-the standard 1098 is plenty fast and wheelie-happy, and the R-model makes a mockery of it. Barely crack open the throttle and the bike rockets from corner to corner, wheelying everywhere and making the straightaways feel very short indeed. And with the strong radial-mount Brembo Monobloc calipers actuated by a radial master cylinder, seldom are both wheels on the ground. Handling is superb, with precise steering and incredible feedback from both ends. The only glitch is a somewhat high center of gravity that makes the bike fall into corners and stand up slightly on the brakes. You need to ride it like you stole it-which isn't a bad idea, actually.

By Brian Catterson
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