Ducati’s 1098 Superbike is one of the most successful new sportbikes of 2007, loved and admired by thousands of bikers across the UK and already proving to be one of the best selling non-Japanese sports machines.
But is the new 1098 really worth the hefty £14,000 price tag? Insidebikes spent a long weekend getting to know the 1098S.
Here’s a sobering fact for anyone old enough to recall the heady, pre-camera partnership days of the mid 1990s; A brand new Ducati 916 cost around £13,500 on the road in 1994. A 916 SPS cost a whopping 17K if I recall correctly, which was ridiculous back in the mid 1990s, you could buy a house in Cleethorpes for that princely sum.
For the same sort of money in 2007 – just under 14K in fact – you can buy yourself the addictively gorgeous 1098S Superbike, complete with all mod cons like electrics that work, a sweet-handling chassis featuring top class Ohlins suspension, adjustable steering damper and Brembo brakes which look like they came straight from a WSB racer.
Add on those staring-eyes lights, a blood red paintjob and two booming exhausts and you have biking heaven for many people; a perfectly honed, street-racer, a tool to unlock the trackday star potential within yourself.
There´s no doubt about it, the 1098S is a real rider’s motorcycle, pure and uncompromising in its pursuit of the ultimate sporting experience.
That 14K price tag (a mere £11,250 for the cooking 1098) seems a top value deal when compared to Ducati’s original 916, which had some serious flaws, not least of which was its basic unreliability, which of course led owners into a minefield of expensive repairs and modifications. To be fair, Ducati back in the early 90s was a very small factory, about three month´s wages away from bankruptcy and quality control definitely suffered.
Ducati now is a different entity. The range is expanding beyond sportbikes, the brand itself is global and they´re capable of taking on, and beating the best that Japan can muster in MotoGP. An amazing achievement in itself.
The new 1098 is a world away from those fragile, occasionally magical, 916 models, but it still has its faults. It also has a vast array of competitors in the Supersports class, whereas its grandaddy 916 basically had the 1992-96 Fireblades to contend with…and very little else, until the R1 arrived in 1998 to raise everyone´s game.
So is the Ducati 1098S the ultimate sportbike, the leader of the current 1000cc pack?
Nope, and I’ll come right off the fence straight away and say that today’s CBR1000RR Fireblade is a better road bike than the Ducati 1098S and for that matter, so too is a 2006 GSXR1000, any GSXR750 since 2005 onwards and a Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja, or a Triumph Daytona 675 can send exactly the same shivers up your spine on a sweeping A road, as Ducati 1098 can. I’d also prefer to have a Ducati 749R, or a KTM SuperDuke 990 in my garage than the 1098.
To put it bluntly, each and every one of those motorcycles I´ve mentioned above is just as much fun, but generally more practical, comfortable, or safer for your licence – on the public road – than a 1098 can ever be.
Now I can feel the angry emails being typed up at alarming speed at this point, but wait a few minutes, read on slowly, trying not to chew your pen too hard, and think carefully about what you’re trying to accomplish by buying any new sportbike in Police state Britain. Yes, we all want fun, speed, raw power, racetrack handling and all that jazz, but can you honestly say that a Ducati 1098 delivers that extra special something, that other brands simply don´t? That´s the real question I´m trying to answer.
THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION IS A ROCKY ROAD
As someone who has embarrassed himself by actually entering a few club races (which many bike journos have never done) I can honestly say that pure racetrack bikes are generally rubbish on the road. The suspension is rock hard, the brakes don’t work until the discs are as hot as downtown Basra and lightweight, stripped down, big horsepower superbikes feel like they’re about to rocket themselves from your shaking hands, straight into the scenery, when you nail them around Cadwell.
Racing is extremely difficult, precise, mentally demanding and very scary, which is why most road riders are just as rubbish at it as I was a decade ago.
Now the basic problem I have with the new 1098S is that it’s simply too close to being a pukka racebike for its own good. The engine coughs and grumbles at tickover, it doesn’t really want to idle, then its gearbox catches you out at the first junction by being notchy and imprecise, needing a fair old whack of your boot to move from first to second gear.
Even when warmed up, the Ducati 1098S had a very elusive neutral, which was almost impossible to select from first gear. It might seem a niggling thing, but I don´t think that´s acceptable on a 14K motorcycle in 2007? Ducati should have solved this problem a decade ago quite frankly.
Ride slowly in traffic and your weight is set forwards into a racing crouch. The bike is uncomfortable, a bit cramped. The bike vibrates harshly which renders the mirrors almost useless; they wobble about like a pair of cocktail shakers at sundown. Your neck hurts and you take regular `hits’ to your wrists and butt cheeks as the 1098S shrugs off the speed bumps, manhole covers and pot-holes that pepper the average urban road.
The brakes grab at low speed and, on the model tested, made a strange creaking noise at very low speeds when you come to a halt. Not good, not confidence inspiring as regards reliable build quality to be honest. The entire experience is one of hard work, total concentration and you begin to feel that the bike simply doesn´t feel at home pootling along in suburban traffic.
On the upside, the 1098S begins to feel happy, alive with power and easy to flick through corners, once you break free of the 40mph limits and find a relatively quiet bit of country road. Given some clear road, and the chance to pick up speed, the 1098S suddenly reveals some of its true majesty. It has a subtle blend of sheer, grunty power, knife-edge brakes and slick handling which really flatters your riding ability. The 1098S makes almost anyone feel like a million dollars on a swervy piece of road, it is that simple.
You relax a bit and get into a rhythm, then begin to rev that amazing V-twin engine a little more. It rewards you by simply exploding with raw, infinitely addictive power. This bike wants to sing like a rock God baby, it simply thrives on being used hard and fast, delivering its claimed 160 bhp within an instant of the throttle being twisted open.
The 1098´s motor is 5 kilos lighter than the 999 engine, and you certainly feel like the new bike revs a little faster than the old 999 model. It feels much closer to the 749 in terms of power delivery, which is very much a good thing. The 1098S just feels alive, buzzing with kinetic energy, once you dial in more than 2000rpm. It simply wants to go fast, very fast, all the time.
The new chassis compliments that liquid power delivery perfectly. The 1098 feels like a 750 compared to the old 999 model. It´s more agile, compact and with rapid, responsive steering characteristics. You can push on – even in the wet – at a fairly illegal rate of speed on the 1098S, because the Ohlins suspension is near perfect, although it is undeniably hard on the wrists, spine, neck and your bum cheeks.
The odd thing is that the new bike has a slightly longer wheelbase than the 999, (plus the same rake and trail) so it should feel like it needs a shade more physical effort to work hard at speed. However, the reverse is true, the 1098 has a really `flickable´ nature, you trust the bike to respond in a fraction of a second when you shift your bodyweight or push on the handlebars. The same can be said of the 749S and 749R Dukes – these are machines which you can almost `think´ into a corner, if you understand what I mean.
Apart from the strange creaking noise at low speeds, the Brembo brakes, complete with sexy monobloc calipers, do the business. You soon learn to trust the front brakes 100%, and the bike remains stable under braking in a way that say an Aprilia Tuono can never match. It has gravitas, a sureness of touch that few bikes can equal.
On the one dry day I got a chance to explore the performance of the 1098S, I began to understand why so many people rave about the new Ducati. It almost speaks to you, it tells you how the road feels, the brakes have real finesse in their operation and the engine booms in your ear all the time, urging you every faster. You begin to do things like trail the brakes deep into corners, because you know you can get away with it. The 1098S has a serene stability, much the same as the GSXR750/1000 series, or the latest Fireblade.
Traffic moves aside for you, as those mad staring eye type headlights loom in their mirrors. It´s so, so very hard, not to keep doing 100-120mph whenever the traffic clears, and even at that speed, it still feels like your commuting quite frankly. But in Brown´s Britain, where 130mph means jail if you´re caught (and there´s no chance of seeing what´s behind you in those stylish 1098 mirrors) this bike makes very little sense on the road. It is too racetrack orientated, too demanding for the average road rider.
In essence, what I´m saying is that the 1098s only works well in a narrow band of riding experience, that adrenaline fuelled zone where each rider truly feels like they´re right on the limits of their own ability. When you´re there, the 1098s feels like the greatest racebike you could own – plus it has lights, indicators and is road legal. Outside of that mythical zone, the 1098 is a pain in the neck to ride, unlike almost any other 2007 superbike.
You can go just as fast on your favourite road on a CBR1000RR, or a GSXR750. A skilled rider on a Triumph Daytona 675 could feel just as happy, or scared, at 150mph. The advantage that the truly bespoke 916 once had is gone forever, everyone else is making mind-blowingly good sportbikes in 2007.
THE PRICE OF FAME
If you launch a new bike, which trounces the opposition on track and makes nearly every other road bike look a bit dated, slow, or lacking in trick components then you can charge over the odds. That´s what made people stump up for the 916, and others buy Bimota’s, or RC30/RC45 series Hondas, in days gone by.
But the new 1098S is a refinement of the basic, raw ingredients that make the Ducati V-twin experience so addictive. It moves the game on another small step, but it isn´t a big leap forwards in terms of sheer performance. The bottom line is that the 1098S is a great sportbike, a brutally quick, incredibly adroit 180mph missile. But it isn´t massively superior to a Japanese four cylinder sportbike, just substantially more expensive.
On the track, I am certain the 1098S would have blown me away with its hard-edged, precise exposition of speed and svelte handling. On the wet A41 in July, it just seemed like really hard work to ride at times. I have ridden the same roads on Japanese superbikes and have to say that a CBR1000RR makes a far better road bike, any day of the week. More comfortable, you can see in the mirrors, the gearbox is wonderful and it goes, stops and handles perfectly when you press on a bit.
What you pay extra for with the Ducati 1098S is a little bit of fame, the sheer pose value of parking it somewhere and having people go `ooh´ and ahh, look at the swingarm´ over it. Engineering soft porn basically. The sort of thing which makes men who live in their sheds go all gooey at the weekend.
I don´t have time for that in my life. I want to ride motorcycles moderately fast; overtake cars, nail them through a set of corners with some determination, or tour Europe, and sample some true two-wheeled freedom where it doesn´t rain every damn week. If I want attention, I´ll dress up as a pirate on Saturday nights and cop off with the nearest Hen Night party.
I can feel like a BSB racer on any number of motorbikes available in 2007, from an Aprilia RSV Mille Factory, to a Yamaha R1. The 1098S is in that select bunch too of course, but it isn´t at the top of my Christmas list, and it never will be. I so wanted to fall in love with the new Ducati, but in the end, it disappointed me. I think one day it will disappoint many more riders.
Get Ducati motorcycle insurance for the ducati 1098 superbike 2007.
|Engine||V-twin, 1099cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder|
|Bore and stroke||104 X 64.7mm|
|Fuelling||Marelli fuel injection|
|Claimed peak power||160bhp @ 9750rpm|
|Frame||Tubular steel trellis type|
|Front suspension||Ohlins 43mm USD forks, multi-adjustable|
|Rear suspension||Ohlins monoshock, multi-adjustable|
|Brakes||Twin 330mm Brembo, monobloc calipers at front, single 245mm Brembo, 2 piston caliper rear|
|Wheels/Tyres||120/70 ZXR 17 in front, 190/55 ZR17 rear|
|Fuel capacity||15.5 litres|
|Estimated top speed||180mph|
|List price||July 2007; £13,995 (£11,250 for 1098)|