Baylisstic 1198 SThe new Ducati 1198 is the most evident example of the philosophy Ducati adheres to in distributing racing technology to us. At the fantastic new Portimao circuit, Ducati also shared another jewel with us in Troy Bayliss showing the way around the track. That’s not everyday stuff, and neither is the Ducati 1198 S.
The Ducati 1198 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 1198cc L-twin roars to life in a way that would intimidate even those riding liter inline fours. The Ducati 1198 is, put simply, exciting from beginning to end.Ducati World Superbike Champion Troy Bayliss guides us around the circuit on our first session. No one knows more about going fast on a Ducati twin Superbike than Bayliss. It was a privilege following the man for the first few laps, despite the fact that I didn’t actually follow as I was more getting to terms with the power and how not to crash as soon as the pace was upped. To help me I had the Ducati Traction Control (DTC) set to level 4–a brilliant way to both learn a new circuit and a new powerful motorcycle. While ABS is a safety feature for ordinary people, traction control is a safety measure for hard-boiled racers. Up until now that is, and Ducati is toying with various ideas on how to perhaps 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 too.What I really like about the Ducati system is the adjustability and flexibility. The DTC has 8 level settings, with level 8 being is the most intrusive. DTC can also be turned off. Fast guys such as Bayliss will choose from level 2 down to no traction control. I would have liked to be able to adjust it whilst on the move. Let’s say you are riding your 1198 all day, and suddenly it starts raining. Rather than having to stop to change to a more strict DTC level preventing wheel spin, I would have liked to be able to adjust whilst on the move.The Ducati 1198/1198 S traction control differs from the 1098 R in the fact that Ducati have enabled DTC by cutting power at the fuel injection level rather than at the spark plug level. This prevents unburned fuel to enter the exhaust torching the catalyzer. The result is true traction control on a road legal bike.I started out with a careful level 4 setting before moving down to level 2. If the traction control is activated, red lights will show above the rpm indication in four steps, with a big red light shows when traction control is 100% active preventing rear wheel spin. Out on the gorgeous Portimao circuit, it’s bloody difficult to pay any attention to the instruments at all, 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’s lots of elevation, 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 where wheelies are very difficult to avoid. 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 it’s 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 4.5 pounds less than the standard 1198 (mainly due to lighter wheels), and with a dry weight of 373 pounds, the power-to-weight ratio is impressive. The main straight at Portimao is 0.6 miles 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. The Brembo monoblock brakes are as brilliant still, as they always are, and with such a stable bike as the 1198 S it’s only 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. The 1198 wants to wheelie a lot, so perhaps it would have benefitted me to stiffen up the rear shock a bit more, but I left it, as I don’t mind a wheelie or two.Twin power in this shape, Ducati 1198cc and massive horsepower is seriously addictive. There’s so much drive and from 8000 rpm when the torque peaks, I just had a big smile inside my helmet. The Ducati engine feels massively strong and it’s a completely different more brutal strong than on a Suzuki GSX-R1000 or Yamaha R1. The power builds in a very linear way, but so much of it is available from very low rpm.To handle all this power you need good tires and that’s just what the new Ducati 1198 have 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 nearly 200 mph, which should be enough I should think. These tires have been designed with the Ducati 1198 in mind. The shoulder areas are designed to maximize the contact patch area, with a length and carcass specially designed for stiffness under heavy braking and precision during high speed cornering. On the S, they sit on lightweight 7-spoke wheels, whilst the standard 1198 have to settle for 10-spoke slightly heavier wheels.As for ergonomics, the Ducati 1198 S is pretty much identical to the predecessor Ducati 1098 and 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 Analyzer) with twice the capacity compared to previous models. This involves a 4MB memory, which should be enough for two full laps. On the Ducati 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 as standard that makes it good value compared to adding bits and bobs to a standard 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 very 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. The Ducati 1198 S should cost more than a Japanese liter and is completely justifiable in any way.Photography by Milagro