2009 Ducati 1198 S | Superbike Review

Baylisstic Ducati 1198 S

The 2009 Ducati 1198 S barks to life like a vicious animal. It’s narrow and agile, like a cheetah, but with the roar of a lion. This contrast makes it into an event in itself just pushing the starter button. So the massive Ducati 1198cc L-twin roars to life in a way that would intimidate even those riding liter in-line fours. The Ducati 1198 S is, put simply, exciting from beginning to end.

Troy Bayliss guided us around the circuit on our first 1198 S session. No one in the whole world knows more about going fast on a Ducati superbike than Bayliss. To help me I had the DTC (Ducati Traction Control) set to level 4. This I found is actually a brilliant way to both learn a new circuit and a new powerful motorcycle. Whilst ABS is a safety feature for ordinary people, traction control is a safety measure for hard-boiled racers–up until now, that is. Ducati is toying with various ideas on how to implement race style traction control systems on all bikes. The DTC would actually work well when you hit that wet patch accelerating out of a roundabout, so it’s a real world safety measure.

What I really like about the Ducati 1198 system is the adjustability and flexibility. The DTC has eight settings, with level 8 being the most intrusive. DTC can also be turned off. Fast guys, such as Troy Bayliss, will choose from level 2 down to no traction control. As opposed to Suzuki’s power mode system, you can’t change levels whilst on the move. This is a safety measure, but I am pretty sure that I would have liked to be able to play with it whilst on the move. Let’s say you are riding your Ducati 1198 all day and suddenly it starts raining. Rather than having to stop to change to a more strict DTC level to prevent wheel spin, I would have liked to be able to adjust on the fly.

The Ducati 1198/1198 S traction control differs from the 1098 R in that Ducati has enabled DTC by cutting power at the fuel injection level, rather than at the spark plug level. This prevents unburned fuel from entering the exhaust and torching the catalyzer. The result is true traction control on a sreet-legal bike.

I started out with a careful level 4 setting before moving down to level 2. When traction control is activated, four red lights will show above the rpm indication, with a big red light announcing when traction control is 100% active preventing rear wheel spin. Out on the gorgeous Portimao circuit, it’s difficult to pay any attention to the instruments, as there’s a lot of stuff going on all the time. The circuit may look straightforward on a map, but ride it and there are plenty of elevation changes, drops, blind corners, and crests.

Coming over the blind crest just before Craig Jones corner, suddenly the tarmac just drops away in a steep downhill. Wheelies are very difficult to avoid on the Ducati 1198 S. It was nothing but good old fun to me, but short shifting early from third to fourth sort of fixes the little wheelie problem. In any case, it’s full throttle here and into a fast left-hander which I think I did in third most of the time. Then full throttle up the hill before hard on the brakes for a wonderfully technical right-hander where the exit is done sideways on one wheel in second gear. The circuit was slippery in parts, but the DTC took all the scary bits away. It really only is a matter of being careful with the front end. I’m not going through the whole circuit here, but all I can say is that it’s mind-blowing on the Ducati 1198 S!

The 2009 Ducati 1198 S features a super strong 170 horsepower twin. Then count in 97 ft/lbs of torque @ 8000 rpm and you’ll have an idea. The S version also weighs 4.4 pounds less than the standard 1198 (mainly due to lighter wheels) and, with a dry weight of 169 kgs (373 pounds), the power to weight ratio is (in Kilos) finally a 1:1. The main straight at Portimao is 1,060-yard long, but due to a very fast right hander just before the straight I could see 125 mph very early on the straight and more than 160 mph before my conservative brake mark. It was conservative because I saw Bayliss fly past me at the end of the straight at one point.

The Brembo monobloc brakes are as brilliant as they always are, and with such a stable bike as the Ducati 1198 S, it’s just a matter of how much you dare to apply. The Öhlins fully adjustable suspension is also something we are familiar with from past S models, and the setup worked well for me on the bike I was assigned. The Ducati 1198 wants to wheelie, so it would have benefitted me to stiffen up the rear shock a bit more, but I left it as is–I don’t mind a wheelie or two.

The Ducati 1198cc engine’s massive horsepower is seriously addictive. There’s so much drive and from 8000 rpm, when the torque peaks, I had a big smile inside my helmet. The Ducati 1198 S engine feels massively strong, and it’s completely different than on a GSX-R1000 or R1. The power builds in a very linear way, but so much of it is available from very low rpm.

To handle all this Ducati 1198 S power, you need good tires, and that’s just what the new Ducati 1198 has in the new Pirelli Diablo SuperCorsa SC. They come in the usual 120/70-ZR17 front and the 190/55-ZR17 rear. These tires has been approved up to 199 mph, which should be enough I think! These tires have been designed with the Ducati 1198 in mind. The shoulder areas are designed to maximize the contact patch area and length, and carcass specially designed for stiffness under heavy braking and precision during high speed cornering. On the Ducati 1198 S, they sit on lightweight seven-spoke wheels, while the standard 1198 have to settle for slightly heavier ten-spoke wheels.

As for ergonomics, the Ducati 1198 S is pretty much identical to the predecessor 1098 and also the 848. It’s a true thoroughbred, and you will feel it in your limbs after a while in the saddle. No pain, no gain, as they say.

I’ll go through a couple of practical details here at the end. The Ducati 1198 S now comes with the DDA (Ducati Data Analyser) with twice the capacity compared to previous models. This involves a 4MB memory which should be enough for two full laps. On the 1198, this is not included as standard. As an option, you can also choose a spacer kit for the mirror stems should your elbows become too boring to look at. Looking at the specs the S model is now more than only Öhlins suspension and lighter wheels, there’s actually a fair few extras included that makes it good value compared to adding bits and bobs to a standard Ducati 1198.

The Ducati 1198 S is quite simply a fantastic sport bike. The Desmo power is ultra strong in performance and addictive for the soul. The traction control is a high-tech feature taken directly from racing, and it works unbelievably well. There are no half measures with Ducati these days, and road products benefit more than with any other manufacturer.

Photos by Milagro


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