Great things come in small packages they say and the Ducati 748 proves that point, whether in Biposto, S or R versions.
A baby brother to the 916/996 series, the bike shares the same beautiful bodywork, trellis frame and top notch suspension as the big V-Twin Duke. But the smaller 748cc engine gives this bike a unique feel; a rev-happy hunger for speed and twisty corners which many riders prefer over the faster 916/996.
Still forming the basis of a very competitive bike in the World Supersport class, matched against four cylinder 600cc bikes, the Ducati 748 is a bike for the purist who wants to learn how to use every degree of lean angle, apply every single bhp to the tarmac.
It’s a fact that 90% of Italian Fiat Panda drivers under the age of 70 would take on Jenson Button in his F1 BMW…blindfold. Racing is the Italian motivation for life itself, and there are few finer tools for the job than the Ducati 748, unless someone lets you ride their Supersport race spec 748 of course.
There are those who think the 748 is something of a poor man’s Ducati, but equally, the baby brother to the 996 has its devotees – people who value the sheer precision and usefulness of the less powerful Italian thoroughbred.
What better place for a comparison between the road and tricked up race variant that the sweeping curves of Donington Park, where developing a smooth riding rhythm is more important than tyre sliding antics? Ask yourself one question when you buy your next motorcycle; do I want something practical, luggage friendly, easy-peasy to ride and so quiet that the local neighbourhood watch OAPs fail to twitch a single net curtain? You might think you do. But after careful consideration at 135mph down Donington’s main straight, with 10,000rpm of V-twin screaming like a WWII Spitfire inside my helmet, I have to disagree. Motorbikes should kick-ass. Annoy the neighbours. Frighten animals. A Ducati does all these things, in style.
What’s more, the stock 748 model is the best value sportbike in Ducati’s range since the parallel price wars dragged the price down to mere mortal levels. The Y2K £8,000 official asking price (down around £1500 in 99) gets you a ticket to racer road, every Sunday, with more performance than you’ll ever use safely, or legally, on UK highways. Yes, I know you’re already snorting that the Duke 996 is the ultimate Italian sportsbike and maybe on a dry racetrack, 20% of you reading this could lap Donington 5 seconds faster on the 748’s bigger brother. But chuck in some diesel, rain, pot-holes, the odd, blindfolded Fiat Panda driver, plus regular police revenue cameras, and the playing field suddenly becomes much more level.
The 748 is a joy on the open road because sometimes in biking, less is more, giving you exactly what you need – not what you think you want in a motorcycle.
Like fine wine, the Ducati 916/996/748 series has matured well over the 1990s, but you couldn’t accuse the factory of going overboard on technical development. Underneath the gorgeous bodywork is the same 748cc 8 valve, fuel injected V-twin, making a claimed 97bhp at 11,000rpm.
But there’s precious little wrong with the motor and since the re-generation of Ducati following the huge investment by Texas Pacific Group, the Bologna Vees seem that bit smoother, and more reliable, than days of old. This particular bike was a 1999 spec Biposto from Fowlers in Warrington (cheers lads) and had a slightly slow tickover, which meant you had to keep blipping the throttle at junctions… well, that was my excuse.
But that apart, the Duke started first time, ran faultlessly from 0-10,000rpm on the rev counter and handled the twisty stuff like a brand new bike. It seems bizarre to say it, but Ducati’s now are beginning to feel as durable as Japanese bikes. There is still an incredible amount of clattering from the clutch of course, a hint of slippage when you dare to commute on the 748, and a succession of strange aches and pains in your back and neck to contend with too. The 748 will never be a consummate all-rounder.
But that’s its appeal for me. The 748 is still 90-something bhp in a fiendishly precise chassis; a road scalpel, a corner cutting instrument. Once out of town, the riding position begins to make sense, the suspension feels like it’s working properly and the engine noise alerts cyclists/dog walkers/horse riders on B roads to get the hell out of the way, as a complete lunatic is approaching at high speed. You gotta love the 748, because it is so perfect at one prime, motorcycling function; having its nuts caned.
Because there’s a fraction less power than the 996, the chassis doesn’t get too out of shape on crests and bumps, and it takes a very dodgy road surface repair to get the back tyre slipping sideways on a corner exit. These obstacles are everywhere in the real world and the 748 gives you that bit more breathing space to deal with them.
Basically, it lets you use pretty close to 100% of the bike’s performance, which as any proper racer will tell you, is the point when you realise that are truly going fast.
One area where the 748 could use progress is in the braking department. With just 192 kilos to stop (around 415lbs), you’d think the 320mm Brembos would have no problems, but there’s a distinct feeling that newer sportsbikes have now got the edge over the Duke’s stoppers. In fairness, this was a used bike, so a set of new pads could have altered the feel at the lever dramatically. However, if you are thinking of buying a Ducati because the mirrors have improved, or the grimacing headlights have suddenly become suitable for night-time motorway excursions to Scotland… then it’s time for your medication again.
There is no practical aspect to this bike and never will be, although this was the Biposto version, which had a handy pillion seat pad for the occasional carriage of Macaque monkeys. If you’re fired by a passion for speed at all costs, or searching for a sharper cornering technique at trackdays, the 748 will blow you away. But anything less than obsessive devotion to the dolce vita and you need to look elsewhere. This is still a classic, no compromise, racer for the road. An invite to ride a racebike doesn’t come along too often round at my Northern hovel. So I have to admit to feeling like a kid who broke into the toyshop when D & E Racing said I could have a quick play on one of the Scott Smart/Dean Thomas Supersport 600 spec 748s.
As in WSB and Brit Superbikes, the bigger capacity V-twins are allowed to go up against the four cylinder sportsters. So the 748 gets to take on the CBR600, Yamaha R6 etc. which is probably slightly harder work than its bigger brother 996 slugging it out with 750cc fours in the senior classes. The 748 is a much freer revving engine than the 996, so you can’t rely on its midrange catapulting you out of the corners, it needs a bit of a thrashing.
As a warm-up, I went for few laps around Donington on the Ducati Race Experience machines, which are basically stock 748s without mirrors and lights. The legendary rush down Craner was a more stable run than on your typical Japanese four, mainly because the Ducati doesn’t seem to ’push its front at the bottom of the hill so much. You get a lot of confidence on the 748 at somewhere like Donington because the smooth track lets you use all the bike’s considerable steering precision and ground clearance. So after the corporate sponsors had finished their playtime, and I had stopped joyriding about in the Stratstone Ferrari 355, I got the green light for a racer test, with strict instructions rattled into my ears, ’do a few steady laps – but do not take it above 11,000rpm.
The bike was still almost smoking from the serious workout which Aussie racer Dean Thomas had been giving it, and the shredded edges of the tyres showed he’d got the hang of that old rear wheel steering technique too. In fact the first time I tipped the bike into a corner I thought I was riding on well chewed Toblerone. Once I’d wobbled around for a lap, the tyres began to work OK, the brakes were a revelation compared to the roadbike and a couple of excursions to 10,000rpm on the curiously hard-to-see electronic rev counter, suddenly woke me up. The easiest way to describe a race bike, compared its road version, is to say the race machine is the same thing, but under a magnifying glass. Every component feels like it’s working at optimum performance, which I guess it should be if the team have got the time, and the cash, to do everything they want to the bike.
The gear ratios are obviously altered, so first feels weird ,a long shudder away from standstill but the most difficult thing mentally was remembering that the reversed gear lever (higher rearsets on racebikes mean switching the gear lever around) meant I was changing down, to go up the gearbox… if you see what I mean. I only cocked up once, sorry Deano. In terms of power, the odd thing was how little extra bhp the racer seemed to have at first, but as you begin to use the 7,000-10,000rpm range more, there’s easily another 10% more lunge over a stock 748. It just feels like it wants to keep on revving forever at the top end, incredibly addictive. Especially with the extra decibels coming out of the John Hackett exhausts. As it was already tea-time and Donington’s marshals were visibly checking their watches (or it could’ve been another well-known gesture) to get me off the track, I reluctantly pulled into the pits after just three decently rapid laps.
The strange thing about an experience like this is how quickly your elation at just getting a go on the thing, is replaced by the sudden realisation that no matter how good the bike is, there’s no way you can ever match the pace of British title contenders. I was still braking so early at the end of the main straight that pitlane staff were putting their clocks back an hour… But what a once-in-a-lifetime adrenaline rush. Any chance of nipping over to Monza on one lads? Just for a laugh like…
Get Ducati motorcycle insurance for the ducati 748.
Engine Liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin Valve arrangement DOHC, eight valves, desmodromic
Claimed power (bhp)
Compression ratio 11.6:1
Front suspension 43mm inverted telescopic Showa, 120mm (4.7in) travel,
adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension One Ohlins damper, 130mm (5.1in) wheel travel, adjustments
for preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake 2, four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm cast iron discs Rear brake Double-action Brembo caliper, 220mm disc Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast aluminum Rear wheel 5.50 x 17in; cast aluminum
Front tyre 120/70 x 17in Pirelli Dragon radial Rear tyre 180/55 x 17in Pirelli Dragon radial Rake/trail 23.5-24.5 degrees/91-97mm (3.6-3.8in) Wheelbase 1410mm (55.5in) Seat height 790mm (31in)
Top speed 155mph approx
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Current price £11.500