Ducati 1098 Special | Motorcycle Review

Ultimate MotorCycling Special

Maybe you’re too young. Or perhaps you are not intimately acquainted with automotive racing history. Whatever the reason, if dark and light blue stripes with red fail to make your heart go pitter-patter, you might miss the inspiration for the Ultimate MotorCycling Ducati 1098 Special.

An homage to the Martini Racing livery of late 1960s and 1970s, the design recalls an era when untamed Porsches and Lancias dominated everything from the 24 Hours of Le Mans to World Rally Championships in North Africa. Martini’s four-wheeled thoroughbreds represented unbridled excess to the point where their racecars—whose engine outputs sometimes exceeded 1,000 horsepower—were banned because they were simply too successful at obliterating the competition. (Click image to enlarge)

Outfitting a stock Ducati 1098S with Martini livery might supply an apt visual representation of its impressive off-the-shelf capabilities, but to elevate the bike to become a true wolf in wolf’s clothing we exploited the Ducati Racing Accessories catalogue; a factory sanctioned guide to transforming an already powerful, sharp handling motorcycle into something altogether more wicked.

Starting from the inside out, the Ducati’s 1,099cc engine—already the world’s most powerful L-twin—was endowed with Ducati racing accessories for deeper performance. Titanium connecting rods not only add strength, they reduce rotational mass for quicker revs without a loss of top speed. Incorporating upgraded con-rods saves roughly half a pound where it counts the most—on the engine components that experience the most extreme amounts of rapid acceleration and deceleration. Crankshaft balancing is recommended, per factory specs, to accompany the upgraded con-rods, and an Ergal split belt roller kit saves another pound and a third of engine weight. A quick-response throttle condenses the handgrip’s twist into merely one-quarter turn, and the Martini 1098 engine responds nicely to this simple modification. Not that the stock motor is slow to rev, but the quick-turn throttle and the lighter motor internals, have combined to give absolutely instantaneous engine response—almost two-stroke like—when the throttle is blipped.

More weight is shed with the racing gearbox. Close ratio gears have been machined to reduce mass. First gear is very tall requiring some clutch slippage off the line, but the lighter cogs swap easily at the lever with Ducati’s usual precision. It is noticeable how acceleration response is improved without affecting the throttle connection as the lighter drivetrain works in concert with the modified engine particularly in the lower gears.

Engine braking and wheel-hop is managed with a light-alloy, hard-anodized racing clutch featuring titanium fasteners for roughly a half-pound weight cut. The clutch is capped with a windowed billet cover allowing a glimpse of the interior mechanism—a feature almost as strongly associated with the Ducati name as their Desmodromic valve mechanism.

In the interest of creating a bike that sounds and breathes as freely as the engine design dictates, the 1098 Special is equipped with a complete racing exhaust system which was developed in collaboration with Ducati Corse. The 70mm 2-1-2 stainless steel manifolds combine with a dedicated electronic control unit and racing air filter to increase engine performance by roughly 8%, and although with a much louder bark—especially under hard acceleration—the powerplant breathes better and performs the way it was originally intended.
While the system allows the fitment of silencers designed to take the edge off the decibel level, the lure of hearing the engine’s uncensored cry is a hard thing to deny; some restraint is called for when piloting through public places or blasting past officers of the law, since all it takes to stir unwelcome attention is a few extra millimeters of throttle twist.

The 1098 Special is dappled with various external pieces that, while slight of weight, also serve to accentuate the bike’s purpose-made appearance. Footpegs designed in collaboration with Ducati Corse are constructed of billet aluminum, and are 4-way adjustable. A carbon fiber instrument panel cover, ignition switch frame, rear mudguard, and rider heel guards streamline some key points of contact, and carbon air duct side covers and under-tank side panels continue the premise. These touches of functionality complement the 1098’s lean form, which also support its theme of focused performance. Furthering the pursuit of reduced unsprung mass are forged magnesium wheels. Although similar in appearance to the stock aluminum units, the lightweight wheels offer nimbler handling and improved ride quality thanks to careful hollowing. "They’re so light you can toss them like a Frisbee," laughs John Paolo Canton, Ducati North America’s Public Relations Coordinator. Wrapped in Pirelli’s excellent Diablo Corsa III tires, the Martini 1098 is more agile than the stocker and turns more quickly without appearing to sacrifice stability or neutrality.

The stock 1098S is graced with race-ready Öhlins suspension components, including 43mm FG511 forks that incorporate a low-friction titanium nitride coating, and a fully adjustable 46PRC rear shock. Improving upon this setup would have likely proven to be an exercise in futility, so they remain stock, as does the adjustable Öhlins steering damper. The standard issue 1098S also features massive 330mm Brembo monobloc calipers up front, which provide remarkably powerful, fade-free stops. Further decelerative forces would have verged on the ridiculous, adding a level of bike-stopping capability that ventures into the realm of the unsafe for street use, so the 1098 Special’s brakes were also left untouched.

Shoei RF-1000 Diabolic Zero TC-5
Jacket: Dainese 8-Track
Gloves: Spidi Race Vent
Pants: Dainese Delta
Boots: Sidi Vertigo Corsa.
While the Ducati 1098 Special is a street legal motorcycle, at its heart, it is a track bike. Photograph by Don Williams. (Click image to enlarge)

On the other hand, virgin expanses of bodywork were viewed as a blank canvas for visual expression, and what began as cut and paste musings in Photoshop eventually progressed into a perfectly executed replica of the Martini Racing paint scheme. One-off period decal sets were researched, recreated, and printed by Cut Grafix of Australia using special decal transfer paper. Finishing Touch of Monterey, California was assigned the task of designing the distinctive Martini stripes, which inhabit far less real estate than on the racecars that made them famous. The challenge of incorporating the striations was an aesthetic one, involving riffing on the functional aspects of the bike’s architecture. Thus, they streak off the squinty headlights like contrails, over the nose and towards the rider’s shoulders. The arc of the front fender is accentuated with stripes that run across the top, while the leading sides of the fairing are treated with thicker stripes that converge slightly. The effect adds delicacy to the bodywork intended to hide the engine and shield the rider from wind. Stripes pick up again close to the seat and above the tank, allowing for just enough negative space to give breathing room. The rear end is merged with a continuation of the stripes that wrap around the monoposto tail guard.

Riding the 1098 Special reveals a hint of the sharp edge associated with purebred racing machines, mitigated with a modern twist. On one hand, the responsiveness of the machine is astounding, and approaches alarming. While the original 1098S weighs in at 377 lbs stock, the Special’s mass is trimmed to an estimated 360 lbs, and although 17 lbs is a relatively small amount of weight, it translates to a big change in feel. Along with the reduction of rotational mass in key moving parts—primarily with the engine and wheels—the shortened gears and quarter-turn throttle kit serve to heighten the bike’s responsiveness, making it considerably more sensitized to input. Thus, an already sharp tool becomes even more incisive, demanding greater attention, precision, and care from the rider. Micro additions to throttle result in considerable amounts of thrust; feathering the clutch smoothens acceleration only so much, before the torquey L-twin eagerly shoves power to the rear wheel. (Click image to enlarge)

The 1098 Special’s modifications also enhance maneuverability. Reduced mass enables the front end to lighten more easily under acceleration, and the changes impart the illusion that the bike’s wheelbase has been shortened. The effect makes the bike’s longitudinal axis more dynamic; the Special becomes a bit more lively, more eager to respond to input, sometimes seemingly before the rider even thinks about the intended change in course. (Click image to enlarge)

Turning is a similarly clairvoyant experience. The 1098, more stable than agile in stock trim, gains acuity with its leaner poundage and more purposeful demeanor. The forged magnesium wheels coupled with the Öhlins suspension enable the double benefit of compliance with road irregularities (thanks to reduced unsprung mass and sophisticated shock technology), and—just like the Special’s razor sharp acceleration—the bike simply wants to turn at the slightest provocation. It is like a hummingbird infused with a shot of adrenaline; every moving part of the motorcycle has become a bit more alive, maximized for that function for which it was originally intended.As focused and capable as the standard 1098S may be, the addition of Ducati Racing Accessories parts enable the bike to become an even purer distillation of its originally intended goal—a race-ready Superstock spec bike with license plates. Quick, responsive, and durable enough to withstand lap after lap of abuse, the 1098 Special is a one-off whose capabilities demand finesse, precision, and discretion. Like a finely tuned instrument, it is able to discern the most nuanced of inputs—the slight engine braking from clutch slip, the subtle hip swivel at turn-in, the touch of trail braking—and translate it directly through the machine and towards the road. Handled irresponsibly, it will reveal you for the indelicate brute you are. Modulate your hands, feet, and body just right, however, and it will reward you with superb performance.

This is not a bike for the faint-hearted or the weak of constitution. It demands complete attention and rewards those who respect it by delivering virtually anything most riders can dish out, without the aid of drastic modifications such as turbocharging. "The beauty of the 1098 Special," explains Jon Bekefy, Ducati Accessories Manager for North America, "is that [these modifications] are pretty pain free. Building it was so plug and play, it was easy." (Click image to enlarge)

As for the 1098 Special’s aesthetics, its unique styling took a bit more work, and its graphic treatment could have only been created from the "what if" conversation that arose from enthusiasts with the resources available to execute their vision. Though racing stripes often add the implication of motion to a static motorcycle, the Martini scheme on the 1098 Special tempers the theme of speed with a nostalgic disregard to conventions of color wheel rules and contemporary style. More than simply a trendy decoration, the Martini livery speaks to the fearless embrace of absolute power, and machines of the past that have reached a near mythic status in the world of racing, thanks to their raw, challenging nature.

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