Ducati's dream machine

What the 748 lacks in size it makes up for in speed. By Roland Brown
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Anyone who has contemplated choosing a new car will be familiar with the array of engine sizesavailable beneath most bonnets. Things are simpler in the motorcycle world. The big difference that even a small capacity change makes to performance helps ensure that new bikes are normally designed from scratch rather than being existing models with different engines.

Ducati is one exception. Having introduced smaller capacity versions of its popular 900SS and M900 Monster, which were less successful than the originals, it did not make the same mistake with the latest model, the 748. This time, Ducati has produced a scaled-down sportster with thrilling performance and a distinct appeal of its own.

Much of the smaller bike's quality is down to the machine from which it was developed. The 916 caused a sensation last year with its combination of potent engine, agile handling and Italian style. Ducati left the new 748 virtually identical apart from its engine. That certainly goes for the gorgeous, flowing styling that extends all the way from the sharp, sensuous snout to the twin exhaust silencers poking from the seat unit.

The 748 Biposto's frame, a traditional Ducati ladder of steel tubes, is borrowed directly from the 916. So, too, is the suspension - a combination of top-quality telescopic forks and single rear shock absorber from Japanese specialist Showa.

Ducati's trademark V-twin engine layout features cylinders spaced at 90 degrees and set in line with the bike. Like the 916's motor, the 748cc unit is fuel-injected and watercooled, with twin overhead cams and eight valves, operated by a desmodromic system of positive closure. The motor contains many new parts, and features a higher compression ratio, plus a lighter flywheel that allows it to rev faster, producing an maximum of 98bhp at 11,000rpm.

It's this high-revving nature that gives the 748 its distinct appeal. At 6,000rpm, when the 916 would be leaping forward violently, the 748 is merely warming up, which necessitates frequent gear changing. But all is forgiven at 7,500rpm, when the 748cc motor suddenly takes off, heading towards 11,000 rpm with a spine-tingling surge of acceleration. The harder the 748 is ridden the better it responds, aided by a superb chassis whose light weight, rigid frame, taut suspension and sticky tyres combine to provide almost unbeatable cornering ability.

The Ducati's streamlined bodywork and racy riding position are ideal for fast riding, but the tale is very different at lower speeds, when the 748 is horribly uncomfortable. Anyone forced to endure a long trip on the pillion seat, too, might be tempted to question the legal use of the name Biposto.

The 748 is certainly not the machine for every rider, or for every journey. It is expensive, at pounds 10,000, and owners' patience has been tested by a spate of recalls and electrical problems. But when bike and rider are in the right mood, the sun is shining, and the road is twisty and free of traffic, the 748 Biposto proves that a downsized V-twin can be just as much fun as the original.

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