Ducati 1098: Just don't sit down

The Ducati 1098 will have performance fans drooling – if only they can learn to ride it, says Tim Luckhurst
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The Independent Online

Specifications

Engine: 1099cc liquid-cooled, L-Twin cylinder four-stroke
Maximum power: 160bhp (119.3kW) @ 9,750rpm
Maximum torque: 90.4lb/ft (12.5kg/m) @ 8,000rpm
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, chain final drive
Brakes: Front twin 330mm semi-floating discs, rear single 245mm disc Ducati 1098 820mm
Dry weight: 173kg
Price: £11,250

The Ducati 1098 was almost a legend before it was launched. Last Christmas in the City of London, men with vast bonuses put down deposits. Ducati had promised its most powerful L-twin ever and the highest torque-to-weight ratio of any production sports bike – a machine for people who go weak at the knees about performance stats.

A declared 160bhp and a top speed of 180mph are figures you can really brag about. Combine the straight-line speed with 24-carat suspension, premier league brakes and flawless handling, and this aggressive product from Ducati's Bologna factory sounds truly scrumptious. All you have to do is learn to ride it. Excuse my cynicism, but I suspect that may already have caused a few nasty surprises among those with more money than motorcycling experience.

From its high tail section and twin under-seat silencers to its horizontal twin headlamps, the 1098 proclaims itself an agile, aerodynamic racing motorcycle. It has indicators and a number plate, but they look despairingly out of place. The 1098 is a by-product of Ducati's World Superbike and Moto GP experience, rendered road-legal but scarcely road-oriented.

That is not a criticism. From the moment I first heard the 1098's gorgeous basso profondo exhaust note I suspected I was going to like it. In many ways I felt even more enthusiastic after 60 miles in the saddle, but only in the sense that I badly wanted to ride it on a racetrack instead of the public highway. Because nothing will persuade me that this is a practical, road-going motorcycle. It is to everyday riding what a lace g-string is to work attire.

The first weakness, instantly apparent because it is the first thing any competent rider checks before moving off, is the mirrors. Cheap, tiny and impossible to adjust, they feel appallingly incongruous on such an expensive bike. They are also functionally useless, affording no worthwhile view of the road behind. It would have been more honest to abandon them entirely, but the law does not permit that. They look like a vague and insincere afterthought, a gesture of disdain from designers who yearned to omit them.

My next problem was posed by the vicious front brakes. These new Brembos (four-piston callipers cut from a single lump of aluminium alloy) bite the discs like a terrier at a rabbit's neck. Had I been heading into the hairpin at Knockhill at 120mph I would have been grateful for such brutal stopping power. But when the forks compressed on the approach to a suburban roundabout in Coventry I just felt silly.

Fortunately, the road was dry. Under the provocation of slimy tarmac, even the superglue-sticky Pirelli Dragon Super Corsa tyres might falter.

Then there is the seat. You are not really supposed to sit in it. It is a perch from which to shift weight, hang off the bike and get your knee down. Given that such antics are hard to accomplish on many British roads, and even harder at legal speeds, the 1,098 is as comfortable as riding bareback on a horse with a protruding spine.

Crippling flaws? It all depends on how you intend to use your Ducati. The engine is sublime, handling exquisite and stability at least as good as its closest competitors. Where traffic melted away and winding lanes opened up in front of me I was in motorcycle heaven. Tyres and chassis function in near-perfect harmony. Steering response is lightning fast. And those brakes have formidable power to slow the bike.

In sum, this is an exceptional sports bike. I can think of few that come closer to the feel of a genuine race machine. It is light, nimble and tenacious, and as thrusting as a jet-fighter on wheels. In skilled hands on a racetrack or closed-road circuit it must be formidable fun.

But do not make the mistake of imagining that this bike is easy to live with. It makes no concessions to comfort and it is extremely difficult to ride in traffic. But it does what it is designed to do – and with thril-ling verve.

As such it represents a huge step forward in Ducati technology and proof of the enduring genius of the L-twin engine design. Let's face it, car technology that is this good costs well into six figures – and even then it is slower.

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