Ducati's new red-hot superbike is trouble.
The biggest change Ducati's made for its latest and greatest desmodromic twin is the L-configured cylinder heads, which helped grow the bike's displacement by 100 cc and up the horsepower. Instead of mix-and-match Garanimals, Ducati upgraded to dedicated vertical and horizontal heads that lighten the load in the engine's bowels by requiring fewer leakage-prone peripherals. Coupled with new elliptical throttle bodies that feed the four intake valves on each cylinder with 50% more air than the previous angled system, the new heads also crank more power.
But just like with a Ronco potato peeler, the benefits don't end there. The new heads even factored into improved handling because they allowed the exhaust cam shaft to be lowered. This allowed the front wheel to move back, so the steering angle could steepen and the handling would improve. The result is a bike that could run a "Survivor"-style obstacle course. It's that nimble and quick-steering, even at low speeds.
During the two days I had the bike, I didn't find much occasion to go slow, aside from the time I was stuck behind a beat-up pickup truck on my first run through Azusa Canyon. Being forced to go slow behind that pickup was probably a good intro to the 1098 S. One twist of the grip in a straightaway and I was practically teleported into the upcoming turn. It's that fast and flawless on the accel. As I rode up and down Azusa Canyon, then up and down it again, and again and again until my gas light flickered on and a fleet of cops sped by with what appeared to be dollar signs reflecting in their sunglasses, I was alternately shocked and euphoric at the bike's power and grace.
"Objects in mirror are closer than they appear" has never seemed less relevant. Nor have the mirrors themselves, which were good for two things: signaling my intentions to oncoming traffic and checking out my own shoulders and upper arms.
And getting the 1098 to go slow? No problem. The front dual discs are an industrial-strength 330 mm, and they're squeezed with radially mounted, four-piston calipers that aren't two bolted-together pieces but a single and stronger Monobloc.
On regular street bikes, it's best to use all four fingers on the front brake. On sport bikes, two fingers. But on the 1098 S, a single finger is not only sufficient, it's preferable, unless you want to crush the family jewels against the 4.1-gallon tank.
Riders don't sit on a 1098 S. They sit in it. The saddle is deep. And the riding position is fetal rather than stretched, so carpal tunnel isn't an issue.
Nor are roasted hamstrings. The catalyzed, 2-1-2 exhaust is tucked under the tail, but it's also dropped about an inch to improve air flow so the pipes don't get hot as a wok.
I didn't really feel it, but the hottest this liquid-cooled beauty ever got was about 220 degrees, according to the entirely digital dash. The new instrument panel, which toggles between settings with a button on the handlebar, is a modified version of the one on Ducati's 990 Moto GP model. Ditto for the Ducati Data Analyzer that comes stock on the S version of the new 1098. Plug it into the tailfin USB port, and the data card records 3 1/2 hours of lap times, revs and other race-oriented information.
Ducati wouldn't let me take the 1098 on the track, due to the bike's high media crash rate. But racing is what it's about. The rules haven't yet changed to allow bikes up to 1,200 cc in world and AMA Superbike racing, but Ducati's hoping that will change next year.
Ducati, after all, is known as the Ferrari of motorcycles, even if the new 1098 is priced like a Porsche. At $14,995 for the regular 1098 and $19,995 for the more premium S model I tested, it's easy to see why all 3,000 1098s earmarked for North America have been pre-sold. Ducati even claims demand has been so high that three times as many 1098s could have been sold here if the company weren't limited by production capacity at its Bologna, Italy, factory.
It's just as well. The Ducati 1098 S is the smoothest, sultriest and best sport bike I have ridden. If I could figure out a way to wheel it in to bed with me at night, I would.
2007 Ducati 1098 S
Test price: $19,995
Powertrain: Liquid-cooled, desmodromic, L-twin cylinder, four valves per cylinder, six-speed
Displacement: 1099 cc
Horsepower: 160 at 9,750 rpm
Torque: 90.4 pound-feet at 8,000 rpm
Bore and stroke: 104 mm by 64.7 mm
Dry weight: 377 pounds
Seat height: 32.2 inches