Ducati Desmosedici RR vs. 1098R - Money No Object

When Only The Best Will Do

By: Aaron Frank, Brian Catterson, Photography by Rich Chenet

Last October on The Tonight Show, Jay Leno asked comedian Katt Williams what he thought about the downturn in the U.S. economy. "We're going into a recession, America," Williams said. "Buy yourself something nice before it happens."

That may not be the best financial advice ever given, but there's wisdom in those words. If you're not going to buy the motorcycle of your dreams now, then when? Sure, your mortgage interest rate just doubled, your 401K is worth half what it was a year ago and there are rumblings of layoffs at work. So what? Gas is back down to $2 per gallon. Every cloud has its silver lining.

Or gold, or platinum, as in the two uber-Ducatis shown here. Neither the $39,995 1098R nor the $72,500 Desmosedici RR lays claim to being the most expensive sportbike on the market-that distinction goes to the $120,000 MV Agusta F4CC-but both represent their respective pinnacles of race-bred engineering. The former is the World Superbike homologation special that just propelled Troy Bayliss to his third world title, while the latter is patterned after the MotoGP-winning 990cc Desmosedici GP6 of 2006 vintage. No matter how much money you spend, you're not going to find a street-legal motorcycle with a purer racing pedigree.

But the question remains: Which is the one to have if you can only have one? To answer that question, we arranged for one example of each to be delivered to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where we hoped to test the day after the inaugural Red Bull Indy Grand Prix. Unfortunately, while speedway officials granted us access to pit lane for a static photo shoot, they ultimately denied our request to test there. Thankfully we had a backup plan: an all-Ducati track day presented by Ducati Indianapolis and Sportbike Track Time at nearby Putnam Park. No, it wasn't the world-famous Brickyard, but it was a racetrack, and a fine one at that.

Let the games begin...

Ducati Desmosedici RR
Even better than the real thing

Perhaps the most overused phrase in the sportbike lexicon is "race replica." Truth is, ever since the advent of production-based Superbike racing, most so-called "race replicas" have come before the racebikes they supposedly replicate.

In contrast, Ducati's Desmosedici RR is a bonafide replica of the GP6 MotoGP racer on which Troy Bayliss won the final race of 2006-the last year that series catered to 990cc machines. With more than 250 horsepower on tap and top speeds surpassing 215 mph, these were the hairiest-chested motorcycles ever to go around corners. No wonder series rules makers reduced the limit to 800cc for '07.

Leave it to Ducati to be the first manufacturer to produce a MotoGP replica for the street. Of course, it's offered in limited numbers-just 1500 worldwide-and at a high price: $72,500, or nearly twice the price of the $39,995 1098R. What does that money buy you? Literally the most high-tech, powerful and purposeful sportbike ever offered to the public.

Start with the engine: a 90-degree V-4 with gear-driven double overhead cams actuating 16 valves desmodromically, meaning mechanically, as in there are no valve springs. Each valve has both an opening and closing rocker, each of which has its lash set with a shim. That's 32 shims, so it's a good thing the bike comes with three years' free maintenance.

Twiddle the little fast-idle dial on the left bar cluster, thumb the starter button and the Desmo (which is what everyone calls it) settles into a lumpy, uneven idle. At the beginning of the MotoGP project, Ducati Corse sold the "Twin Pulse" concept to company brass by saying that the V-4 would sound like a twin because the cylinders would fire in pairs. Of course that idea was discarded almost immediately, and the engine now employs a conventional Big Bang firing order.

Blip the throttle and be thankful you're wearing earplugs, because this is the loudest production streetbike ever-and that's without the $8800 Ducati Performance exhaust. Liberal use of titanium (valves, con-rods) and big-bore/short-stroke cylinders let the 989cc V-4 rev incredibly quickly, and not just at a standstill.

From the saddle, the Desmo doesn't feel much different than the 1098R, though the fuel tank is wider and the windscreen is taller. Heat wasn't an issue at our track day, but you just know it will be on a hot, humid day in the Southeast. Whatever you do, don't touch the ceramic housing where the exhaust comes up through the tail-it's hot!

Snick it into gear, ease out the light-action clutch and ignore all the gaping mouths as you head out onto the racetrack. The Desmo is geared so tall you have to slip the clutch in first to troll through the pits, at which point it produces a beautiful racket. We did a photo shoot on pit lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all of the MotoGP mechanics' heads popped out of their garages like prairie dogs as the Desmo trolled by, wondering what was making that sound. You do 18 races in a season and you get to know the exhaust note of all the engines, and this one definitely sounds different.

Back at our track day at Putnam Park, the Desmo stormed down the front straightaway so fast, I was afraid to look at the speedo. Surely there's not another production motorcycle that can match it. Streetbike or no, the thing goes through the gears as quickly as a racebike, and it likes to be revved in five digits. The 180-horsepower peak arrives at 13,800 rpm and the rev limiter cuts in at 14,200, so you've got to have a quick left foot. In comparison, a Suzuki Hayabusa makes 172 bhp-while weighing nearly 200 pounds more. The Desmo and 1098R are essentially equal on paper, the former making more power but less torque while weighing a few pounds more with its larger fuel tank topped off.

Grab a handful of the front Brembo Monoblocs and the Desmo slows with authority. Bang a succession of downshifts with the aid of the slipper clutch, tip it into a corner and you discover that this is a bike that demands to be ridden hard. Between its relatively high center of gravity, stiff chassis and triangulated front tire profile, it likes to be snapped into corners and trail-braked to the apex. Get back on the gas and the back end squirms as the special 16-inch Bridgestone struggles to find grip-surprisingly, the Desmo doesn't have traction control like the 1098R. It also doesn't wheelie like its twin-cylinder sibling, thanks to its extreme forward weight bias and extra-long swingarm. In contrast, the front end tends to come up higher in the rev range, when you're pouring on the coals and reveling in the most glorious music ever to emanate from a production motorcycle. Truthfully, onlookers (and listeners) lined pit wall every time the Desmo hit the track.

Unfortunately, it literally hit the track later in the day (see sidebar, page 54), putting an end to our day. And between that, the fact that our spare tires never showed up and intermittent rain, we were unable to gather the lap-time data we'd hoped to in order to determine which Ducati was quicker around the racetrack. But one particular session effectively answered that question: I was on the Desmo and Aaron Frank on the 1098R, and at first I gapped him and checked out, putting the MotoGP replica's higher performance to good use. As the 20-minute session drew to a close, however, I started to see a headlight in my mirrors. The physical and emotional strain of riding the more demanding, more expensive Desmo had worn me down, whereas the user-friendly 1098R just encouraged Aaron to go faster and faster.

That said, if you're looking for the ultimate collector Ducati to profile on the street, there's only one choice: the Desmosedici RR. But if you live for track days, you'd be better off on the 1098R. Seriously, though, if you've got the kind of coin to even be considering spending this much money on a motorcycle, why not buy one of each?

Ducati 1098R
The $40,000 Bargain

There are plenty of good reasons not to drive a racecar on the street. While it might sound fun to ferry little Jimmy to elementary school in a Coyote CC/08 Daytona Prototype, his backpack would probably snag on the rollcage, and you can't just roll down the window to swipe your security card entering the office parking garage.

Riding Ducati's Desmosedici RR is a bit like commuting in a racecar. Granted, its heart-stopping exhaust note paralyzes your brain with pleasure tremens, and no other production machine can tractor-beam liter-bikes as effectively on a long straight. But such pleasures come at a high cost-and we're not just talking about the $72,500 MSRP. The Desmo is indeed as close as you can get to a MotoGP bike for the street. The question is: Does a MotoGP bike belong on the street?

A World Superbike, on the other hand, shares significantly more DNA with road-going motorcycles, making Ducati's 1098R the decidedly more sensible of these two bikes-and, I'd argue, the more desirable, too. Even if the R-bike can't quite match the visceral presence of the Desmo, it's still amazingly adept at activating-and emptying-your adrenal glands. And at "just" $39,995, the 1098R is more amenable to recession-era budgets, too.

The 1098R is almost certainly the better-looking bike, with slimmer, shark-like styling that out-sveltes its whale-bellied brother. The revvy, short-stroke Testastretta Evoluzione twin also scores highly on the aural sex scale, emitting a deliciously rabid bark from its 70mm Termignoni race pipes. And with 163 bhp and 90 lb.-ft. of torque on tap-essentially equal to the Desmosedici-the 397-pound 1098R rockets from corner to corner with requisite, bowel-loosening urgency.

Unlike the forged-from-billet Desmo, the streetbike-based 1098R chassis allows some lateral flex, and actually offers useful feedback at less-than-suicidal speeds. Same for the hlins TTX shock and matching Ti-nitrided fork, both brilliantly sprung and damped to activate over slight irregularities and still resist hard braking and acceleration inputs. Super-light Marchesini forged 10-spoke wheels, a seamless slipper clutch and clock-stopping Brembo Monobloc brakes all help to make this the best-handling Ducati we've ridden yet.

Then, of course, there's the Ducati Traction Control (DTC)-essential technology for any modern SBK (or MotoGP) machine that is conspicuously absent from the Desmosedici RR. Hardliners complain that the nanny grip takes all the skill out of riding. Whatever: This is a fine argument for those with the innate talent (and unlimited track time) necessary to develop a world-class wrist. For the rest of us DTC is a revelation, and it's what makes riding the 1098R such a transcendent experience.

You have no idea how much the rear tire spins until you make a lap with the DTC circuitry enabled. Set at Level 4 (of 8, with the higher number being the most intrusive), you'll detect what feels like a slight misfire at every corner exit, as the ECU cuts spark and raw fuel ignites inside the exhaust. At Level 2 DTC is less apparent, allowing enough wheelspin to keep the front end down and help you steer before the rev limiter abruptly asserts itself. The system remains engaged only until the bike catches up, and then quietly steps out of the way, leaving you to rocket-or, if you so desire, wheelie-your merry way down the straightaway.

DTC is seamless, dynamic and, once you get accustomed to it, supremely confidence-inspiring. Let the purists scoff-for most of us DTC only enhances the riding experience, and lets us access even more of the extraordinary performance that Ducati has built into this phenomenal motorcycle. Accessible performance is the 1098R's real asset. The Desmosedici RR so far exceeds most of our abilities that riding it is an exercise in humiliation. The 1098R takes no such pleasure in mocking you. Instead, it delivers power on par with the Desmo, and employs DTC to give you the control to exploit that power.

The bottom line: If you want to look like Casey Stoner at your local Bike Night, the Desmosedici is the bike for you. If you'd rather inspire comparisons to Troy Bayliss, spinning, sliding and snap-wheelying from corner to corner at your next track day, the 1098R is the bike to have. I'll take the latter, thanks. What the hell, at that price why not give me two of them? It's still a lot cheaper-and more practical-than a Daytona Prototype.

Legends-And The Fall
Who Better To Rate Two Ducati Superbikes Than Three Famous Ducati Superbike Racers?

Paul Smart
1972 Imola 200 winner and the man who put Ducati on the world map as a superbike manufacturer

"This is the first time I've ridden a 1098R, and I've got to have one. I love it! It's just superb! I really enjoyed that-maybe too much. It's just in a different league. It's magic. I didn't have the slightest hairy moment, though I didn't rev it out too much. It's got so much torque that you can go into a corner two gears too high and it'll still pull through. It flatters you. You're just going to go that much quicker on it than anything else. It makes the job that much easier.

"The Desmosedici is a totally different motorcycle, a totally different feeling, riding position, everything. Maybe if I had one for track days I'd get more comfortable on it. Ducati gave me a Paul Smart Replica to ride at track days, but it does need a bit more horsepower..."

Cook Neilson
1977 Daytona Superbike winner, former Cycle magazine editor and one of the few men who could get away with crashing a Desmosedici RR

"The only problem with the Desmosedici is the 1098R! With the 1098R you don't really understand where that last $20,000 went until you get it on a racetrack. The traction control was set high enough that I could feel it cutting in at the apex. When you lean it over and turn the throttle, it says, 'That's enough horsepower for that.' It's not like the good old days, that's for sure!

"One of the great experiences I had was when we were in Misano a couple years ago for World Ducati Week and they gave me this old green-framed racebike sort of like my Old Blue racebike. Then I got on this New Blue thing, and there was something like 33 years of progress between them. As much as I loved the way things were in the late '70s, this is a much better deal for much more people than what we had to put up with back then."

Larry Pegram
1999 Willow Springs Superbike winner and tireless campaigner of 848cc Ducatis in the AMA Formula Xtreme Championship

"The Desmosedici has a totally different feeling than the 1098R. It wants you to run it into a corner and at the last second throw it in as hard as you can. It's like riding in the sand: If you try to go slow it's hard, but if you go fast it becomes easier. I didn't like it at all the first couple of laps!

"The 1098R is by far the best streetbike I've ever ridden at the racetrack. It's got a ton of power, and the powerband is perfect. You could leave it in third gear most of the way around the track. I've jumped on other 1000s that have a ton of power and they were moving all around. This thing feels as solid as my 848 racebike! You could probably make a Honda perform close to that for the same money, but it wouldn't look nearly as cool, and you'd still have a Honda that wouldn't be worth $40,000."

Hard Parts

A blast from the MotoGP past, when men were men and racebikes displaced 990cc. Dimensionally identical to the GP6 racer, the 90-degree V-4 maintains the irregular, "Twin-Pulse" firing order (0/90/290/380-degree sequence). The 16 valves are desmodromically actuated (thus the name), the cams are gear-driven and materials are exotic: magnesium case covers, titanium valves and con-rods.

It wouldn't be a Ducati without a steel-trellis frame, paired with a carbon-fiber subframe. Built from four different sizes of tubing, the RR frame is 80 percent (!) stiffer torsionally than the 1098, and employs the engine as a stressed member. The massive aluminum swingarm, which pivots in the engine cases, is "only" 35 percent stiffer than the 1098's single-sided arm.

Suspension comes straight from the MotoGP paddock. This is the first production streetbike with pressurized fork damping, housed in remote reservoirs on each hlins leg. The Ohlins shock under the swingarm offers a dizzying array of adjustments: 20 low-speed compression settings, 48 high-speed positions and 25 clicks for rebound damping.

Another first for a production streetbike: A race-style remote adjuster for the front radial master cylinder allows the rider to adjust brake-lever travel on the fly via a knob located above the left clip-on. Brembo Monobloc calipers and 330mm rotors are identical to those on the 1098R-and just as impressive.

Ducati Desmosedici RR | Price: $72,500

Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c 90-deg. V-4Front brake: Dual four-piston Brembo radial calipers, 330mm discsWeight (tank full/empty): 430/396 lbs.
Valve train: DOHC, 16v, desmodromicRear brake: Single two-piston Brembo caliper, 240mm discMeasured horsepower: 179.8 bhp @ 13,800 rpm
Displacement: 989ccFront tire: 120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-01Measured torque: 77.4 lb.-ft. @ 10,000 rpm
Bore x stroke: 86.0 x 42.6mmRear tire: 200/55-ZR16 Bridgestone Battlax BT-01Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 46/39/43 mpg
Compression: 13.5:1Rake/trail: 23.5-24.5 deg./3.9 in.Colors: Red
Fuel system: Marelli EFISeat height: 32.0 in.Availability: Now
Clutch: Dry, multi-plate slipperWheelbase: 56.3 in.Warranty: 36 mo., unlimited mi.
Transmission: 6-speedFuel capacity: 5.7 gal.Contact:
Ducati North America
10443 Bandley Dr.
Cupertino, CA 95014
Frame: Tubular steel trellis with aluminum swingarm
Front suspension: 43mm Ohlins inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single Ohlins shock with adjustable spring preload, high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping

The Desmosedici's 989cc V-4 was designed to perform wide-open on the racetrack, so the steep, top end-biased dyno trace is no surprise. The 1098R makes more peak torque, but the D16 makes more than enough-over 70 lb.-ft. between 9000 and 14,000 rpm-and spreads it over a much broader range.

Ergonomically speaking, the Desmosedici RR is almost identical to the 1098R. The D16's bars are lower and its pegs are higher, though both are within a half-inch. A wider frame (to accommodate the V-4 motor) and a bigger, 5.7-gallon fuel tank make the Desmo feel larger from the saddle.

Hard Parts

Ignore the model designation-this Testastretta Evoluzione V-twin measures 1198cc. A 2mm bore and 3.2mm stroke increase take advantage of World Superbike's 1200cc displacement limit for twin-cylinder bikes. Bigger pistons, bigger valves, higher compression and bigger throttle bodies all contribute to the R's almost 30-bhp advantage over the base 1098.

The steel-trellis frame is manufactured from ALS 450 tubing, a low-carbon steel alloy with admirable strength-to-weight properties and high corrosion resistance. The subframe is aluminum on the monoposto R-model (saving weight), and the latest-version of Ducati's single-sided swingarm combines cast and welded-sheet sections to optimize the strength/weight balance.

The back end is held up by Ohlins' latest shock technology, the TTX "twin-tube" design that facilitates positive pressure build-up in both directions and decreases internal gas pressure for reduced cavitation and friction. Up front, the fully adjustable Ohlins FG511 fork is Ti-nitride coated to minimize stiction and maximize front-wheel feedback.

Brembo's radial-mount M4-34 Monobloc calipers are identical to those on the Desmosedici, and are machined from a solid block of alloy to clamp down on six-button, alloy-carrier rotors with minimal distortion and maximum force. A radial-pump master cylinder decreases lever travel and improves feedback-essential when modulating this much braking force.

Ducati 1098R | Price: $39,995

Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c 90-deg. V-twinFront brake: Dual four-piston Brembo radial calipers, 330mm discsWeight (tank full/empty): 422/397 lbs.
Valve train: DOHC, 8v, desmodromicRear brake: Single two-piston Brembo caliper, 245mm discMeasured horsepower: 163.0 bhp @ 9500 rpm
Displacement: 1198ccFront tire: 120/70-ZR17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa SPMeasured torque: 90.3 lb.-ft. @ 7750 rpm
Bore x stroke: 106.0 x 67.9mmRear tire: 195/55-ZR17 Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa SPFuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 33/30/31 mpg
Compression: 12.8:1Rake/trail: 24.5 deg./3.8 in.Colors: Red
Fuel system: Marelli EFISeat height: 32.2 in.Availability: Now
Clutch: Dry, multi-plate slipperWheelbase: 56.3 in.Warranty: 48 mo., unlimited mi.
Transmission: 6-speedFuel capacity: 4.1 gal.Contact:
Ducati North America
10443 Bandley Dr.
Cupertino, CA 95014
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

With peak horsepower hovering solidly in the 160s, you might be forgiven for thinking this is the dyno trace of a liter-class inline-four. The torque curve is the telltale V-twin giveaway-not even the strongest liter-bike can approach the 1098R's 60-plus lb.-ft. reading in the neighborhood of 3500 revs.

Uber-Olympian Michael Phelps is said to have the perfect swimmer's body; his freakishly long torso and arms also make him perfectly suited for the 1098R's long reach and low bars. Pegs mount high and rearward-good for cornering clearance and forward weight bias, not so good for comfort.

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By Aaron Frank, Brian Catterson
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