Ducati has always provided the faithful with the closest approximation to race bikes on the road starting with the original 750SS. When the World Superbike series began, Ducati was right there with the 1988 851 Kit which led to a series of ever faster, desirable homologation specials. The current model is the 1198R which is almost identical to the 1098R reviewed in this post. What is it like to sling a leg over one of these $40,000 weapons? Read on and find out.
The World Superbike championship has led us to believe that the bikes we ride every day are pretty close to what our stars do battle on during the weekends. The truth is that there is little relation between a factory Superbike and the road bike it is (loosely) based on. Ducati has for some time enjoyed an advantage that comes from being a small volume manufacturer that allowed it to produce special, small run homologation specials that contained the parts the factory needed to ensure racing glory.
New for the 2008 model year the Ducati 1098R looked very similar to the 1098 range introduced a year earlier, but those similarities were just skin deep. The engine was a full 1198cc (1099cc for the 1098) equipped with a slipper clutch and producing a claimed 186bhp with the included race exhaust and ECU. Ohlins suspension replaced the standard Showa gear including a trick TTXR twin tube shock. Liberal use of magnesium, titanium and carbon fiber meant the bike weighed just 165kg (364lb) dry. In a move that set the scene for an ever increasing technology proliferation as seen in the Ducati Multistrada 1200, the 1098R included Ducati Traction Control (DTC), the first for a sport bike. Priced at $40,000, it was more than twice the price of the base 1098 and 50% more than the 999R it replaced.
For 2010 the homologation rules changed, requiring all manufacturers to produce 3,000 examples prompting the launch of the 1198 range that means the base model bikes are closer than ever to the ‘R’ but some important differences remain.
The 1098R has larger, titanium valves, a lightened crankshaft, sand cast cases and 2 injectors per throttle body to go with a soupçon more compression. The repli-racer also has a slipper clutch and a more sophisticated Ohlins TTX rear shock and despite lacking the vacuum die-cast crankcase process is still 4kg lighter. All of this provides just 10 more bhp (180 vs 170) and a meager 2lb-ft of extra torque.
So let’s ride. Slinging a leg over for the first time wasn’t too encouraging. You know the sensation of the suspension settling a little under your weight as you ease yourself down on the saddle? Not on the 1098R. It feels like it is pushing you back up, so firm is the springing. This bike is setup track taut, just like a real racing machine. The seat is a plank reinforcing the racing vibe. Surely this will be a disaster on the street?
The engine fires up and idles smoothly but at a high speed, the noise surprisingly muted out of the 70mm full termignoni system. The engine responds eagerly to the throttle suggesting great things to come and the clutch is smooth enough to allow a sedate takeoff consistent with riding someone else’s $40,000 bike for the first time!
The riding position is more comfortable than expected. Yes, the racer crouch is in full effect, but at 6’2″ I am tall enough that I am not too stretched out and the clip ons are therefore low but not too far forward. The seat area offers plenty of space to move around as you shift weight from side to side when hanging off.
We are straight into it, a group ride down a twisty mountain road. I lead off with Eric, the bikes owner, following behind on my Monster. The contrast is enormous and at first difficult because as with all real race bikes the suspension firmness takes away feel until you can break through with enough pace to get it working effectively. Not that it is too harsh. Your money is going to good use with the Ohlins moving with nary a hint of stiction and with progressive damping that doesn’t knock you out of the saddle.
It is hard not to disintegrate now into a swath of cliches when trying to describe what riding this bike is like. Yes it feels ‘planted’ and has that ‘cornering as if on rails’ feel but these over-used words don’t explain even the half of it. The 1098R has a handling feel that is so confidence inspiring you feel it would be impossible to fall off unless you made a massive error of judgement.
Even though it is light and responds eagerly to clip on and peg steering effort, it isn’t flighty or quick turning. Everything this bike does is measured. The ‘R’ feels magnetically pulled to the road, the combination of stiff frame and firm suspension allowing no imprecision to creep into the rider bike interface. It is the nearest riding experience I have had to playing an arcade game in real life. It is like playing a Playstation riding game where you only need to worry about your inputs and where you want to go with no thought that the bike couldn’t manage. Well just like that but with the substantially added exhilaration of riding in the real world. There truly is an invisible force cementing you to the road.
There is no riding around issues, waiting for the bike to settle after turn in, as an ex-racer I can see why this bike is so devastatingly fast on a track. The flip side to this is that you need to be a self confident individual content to live with the realities of your riding skills. The entire time I rode this bike, I felt it was laughing at my general riding incompetence. I felt like I was in an encounter with Star War’s Darth Vader ‘Your Powers are Weak Old Man’ when I didn’t flick the bike hard enough from one hairpin turn transition to the next. Grabbing the brakes when I felt my entrance speed was a little too hot proved totally unnecessary ‘I Find Your Lack of Faith in the Force Disturbing’. My only criticism of the chassis is the brakes which make the bike stand-up more than I would like (as someone who likes to trail them). I’m sure this could be improved with a click here or a twist there.
The biggest surprise was the engine. This bike for me was not dominated by its engine (as for example my Monster S4Rs is). And that is a surprise as this 1098R has dynoed at 172bhp at the wheel! The engine produces a smooth, ever increasing wave of torque and power that because it starts off as a smooth swell never quite feels like the tsunami that arrives as the engine clears 7,000 rpm and races to the cutout like a cat chasing its tail.
Never has a bike this fast felt so manageable (but be careful – you arrive at the turns a lot faster than you expect!). The Testastretta Evoluzione is smooth and sophisticated with inevitably a little less character than the older 4 valvers. Exiting turns at 5,000rpm is devastatingly effective on the street. The bike will power stand eagerly if you let it but isn’t too hard to keep down if you move your weight forward.
The slipper clutch just plain works, only a strange sensation in the last degrees of clutch release movement letting you know it is even there. Still this bike is deceptively fast. The smoothness of the power delivery belies the fact that the digital speedometer is blasting through the numbers at such a rate, I need to check it isn’t in km/h! No wonder that the Desmosedici RR has trouble holding off the 1098R at the racetrack.
There is no rational reason to buy a 1098R over a 1198S. It is expensive, uncompromising (although not at all difficult to just ride) and offers just a little in additional performance over the 1198S. Luckily motorcycles are not rational purchases. Thank-you Ducati for producing this bike. I want one!
This bike is for you if:
- You want the ultimate Ducati Superbike expression for the Street
- You can handle being reminded of your limited skills on a regular basis
- You already have a Desmosedici RR and you’ve got that kinda cash
You want to keep looking if:
- You have no self control (you’ll lose your license inside of month)
- Your reaction to the price is ‘How Much!!?’ (check out the 1198S for a lot of the experience at half the price)
- You don’t like red (buy the white Bayliss edition or the 2010 1198R Corse SE)
Ducati 1098R: Make every ride something very special with this glimpse of your own personal World Superbike Glory.
Thanks to Eric Huffman for being generous enough to allow me to ride his fantastic Ducati 1098R!!
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