An unexpected phone call announced an opportunity to test ride the Ducati Superbike 848 several hours hence. Sweet. Having just been to the two-day Skip Barber Superbike School less than two weeks ago (watch for a review in the print version of Ultimate MotorCycling), I was suffering serious high-performance motorcycle withdrawal and this was just the antidote.
Sexy, sleek, bright Ducati red, and Italian, the 848 beckoned me to climb on, snap down my Arai RX-Q’s visor and tuck in. Well, okay, I don’t really need to tuck in as I ride through the neighborhood and out onto the boulevard, though a tucked position might help me see something in the tiny low mirrors.
I quickly pass through the suburban streets and head up toward a favorite mountain road. With a ridiculous amount of low-end torque, I am eager to shift up and let the bike stretch its legs. However, the stiff suspension has me squatting on the pegs with my posterior barely touching the seat to avoid being bounced off.
The condition of the local roads is not conducive to the Ducati 848′s race-ready suspension, so I found myself dialing back a bit on a particular stretch that I’ve whipped through much faster on other bikes. Never mind–here comes the climb and the turns; this ought to be fun.
Ought to be. But after zipping around my usual canyon stomping grounds for awhile, instead of a big smile and rush of adrenalin, I was noticing how heavy the clutch pull was, and how no amount of core muscles were going to keep my body weight off my arms and wrists with the long reach to the bars.
The missed shifts from first to second also caught my attention, reminding me this was not a Japanese bike. A more deliberate movement is required from my left Sidi Vertigo Lei boot for the 848′s long shift lever throw.
I also noticed I was getting worn out keeping all the power under control. This surprised me as I’ve ridden liter bikes often enough–most recently, the KTM RC8 at the Skip Barber Superbike School. The Ducati 848′s power is in your face, and downshifting must be handled with care as it has no slipper clutch.
On the plus side of things, the bike feels like a featherweight. Its 370 (claimed dry) pounds are well-balanced and the slightest lean or extra weight on the foot peg turns the bike effortlessly. With the fast acceleration thanks to the twin’s plentiful torque, you can make quick work of long straights and sweepers.
Twin 320mm discs up front provide complete confidence when the canyon tightens up, they are powerful but not grabby. I had little use for the rear brake on the winding roads, but the single 245mm rotor has perfect feel and is effective at lower speeds. Whether braking, cornering or accelerating, the Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro tires were flawless–definitely up to the performance standards of the rest of the 848.
I am quite sure the Ducati 848 is a complete blast on the track. A groomed tarmac shared with no four-wheeled vehicles, or oncoming vehicles of any kind, would allow the bike’s suspension, acceleration and brakes to be used to their fullest, which is where they would shine.
It seems odd that a bike so obviously built with the track in mind, does not have a sanctioned international race series to compete in, but the 848′s engine size falls in between World Superbike 1000s and World Supersport 600s. To have so much of the bike’s power hobbled by the realities of the street is simply uncomfortable and frustrating. An upright Ducati makes much more sense for real world conditions, and I am a big fan of the Monster series (watch for my test of the 2011 Monster 796 in an upcoming print issue).
Stopping to refill the tank at the end of my ride, I welcomed the short break from the crouched position and flexed my tired hands. The gas station attendant eyed the bright red 848 and asked how my ride had been. “Totally awesome!” I exclaimed, not wanting to disappoint him, and I was reluctant to admit to myself that a Ducati could be more of a pain to ride than a complete adrenalin rush. I went fast, but I can’t say I had a whole lot of fun doing it.
Motorcycle Riding Gear:
Helmet: Arai RX-Q
Eyewear: TAG Heuer Zenith
Jacket: Dainese Dominia Pelle Lady
Gloves: Icon Merc Long
Pants: Dainese SF Pelle Lady Leather
Boots: Sidi Veritigo Lei
Type: L-Twin cylinder, 4 valve per cylinder Desmodromic, liquid cooled
Bore x Stroke: 94mm x 61.2mm
Compression ratio: 12:1
Power: 134hp (98.5kW) @ 10,000 rpm
Torque: 70.8 ft/lbs (96Nm) @ 8250 rpm
Fuel injection: Marelli electronic fuel injection, elliptical throttle bodies
Exhaust: Lightweight 2-1-2 system with catalytic converter and lambda probe. Twin stainless steel mufflers
Ratio: 1=37/15 2=30/17 3=28/20 4=26/22 5=24/23 6=23/24
Primary drive: Straight cut gears, Ratio 1.84:1
Final drive: Chain; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket 39
Clutch: Wet multiplate with hydraulic control
Frame: Tubular steel Trellis frame in ALS 450
Wheelbase: 1430mm (56.3″)
Front suspension: Showa 43mm fully adjustable USD fork
Front wheel travel: 127mm (5″)
Front wheel: 5-spoke in light alloy 3.50 x 17
Front Tire: Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro 120/70 ZR17
Rear suspension: Progressive linkage with fully adjustable Showa monoshock. Aluminum single-sided swingarm
Rear wheel travel: 120mm (4.7″)
Rear wheel: 5-spoke light alloy 5.50 x 17
Rear tyre: Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa Pro 180/55 ZR17
Front brake: 2 x 320mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo calipers 4-piston, 2-pad
Rear brake: 245mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Fuel tank capacity: 15.5l – 4.1 gallon (US)
Dry weight: 168kg (370lb)
Instruments: Digital MotoGP derived unit with displays for: Speed, rev counter, lap times, time, air temp, coolant temp, battery voltage, A & B trips, fuel reserve trip, scheduled maintenance. Warning lights for: Neutral, turn signals, high-beam, rev-limit, oil pressure, fuel reserve. Plus: Integrated immobilizer system
Warranty: 2 years unlimited mileage
Body Colour (frame/wheel): Red (red / black) – Pearl white (racing gray / black) – Matt black (racing black / black)
Versions: Dual seat
Seat height: 830mm (32.6″)
DTC: Not available on this model
ABS: Not available on this model