Ducati 1198 S

Duc11_Po_35

By Kevin Ash


Pictures: Milagro




So what were you expecting of the new Ducati 1198? The capacity’s up 100cc of course, the weight’s dropped a bit... and that’s pretty much it, so not a lot to get very excited about, surely, it’ll be just like a 1098 with a little bit more performance?

 Duc11_Po_13Click on image for gallery... and yes, that's WSB champion Troy Bayliss with me in some of them!If that’s your mindset then you’re in for a shock: the 1198 S with the world’s first road-usable, race-type traction control system is not merely better, it’s a milestone in motorcycling history. And I don’t say that lightly: this bike will elevate most people who ride it to a whole new level of performance and excitement and have them riding a motorcycle in a completely new way, and that makes it a very significant machine.

And yet you’d have to be a hardcore Ducatista to spot the visual differences between 1098 and 1198. The standard 1198 Biposto gets new 10 spoke alloy wheels while the higher spec S is fitted with MotoGP-derived forged and machined 7-spoke versions, while the S’s steel trellis frame is now finished in bronze, the badges on the rich red flanks have a different number on them, the dash is revised... and that’s pretty much it.

Inside is where the important changes have happened. The bore and stroke are both increased (for the full technical low down click on this link), the compression ratio is up, the valves are bigger and consequently maximum power is boosted by a healthy 10bhp. Nothing wrong with that, but much better and more useful, the power hike is a major one right across the rev range – it still makes 10bhp more than the 1098 as low as 6,500rpm. The same applies to the torque of course, up to a thumping 97lb.ft (13.4kg.m) at 8,000rpm with big dollops more at much lower revs.

Duc11_Po_10The crankcases are new, and thanks to a new casting technique and a redesign of the rear section have shed a hefty 6.6lb (3kg) compared with the old ones, while a further 1lb (0.4kg) has been lost from the headlights, disproportionately useful as this is weight stuck far out at the front which has a big effect on agility.

Oh yes, and I nearly forgot (as if...): Ducati Traction Control (DTC). This is standard on the 1198 S, the model we rode at Portugal’s fabulous new Portimao circuit on the Algarve, and it opens up a whole new world. The 1098 R had traction control last year of course, and it was astonishingly effective on that, but couldn’t be used on the road as the system dumped neat fuel through the exhaust which would destroy catalytic converters. It was also quite harsh, resulting in a stammering power delivery which was disconcerting for some riders. Not so the 1198 S’s, which stops the fuel supply when the torque needs to be curtailed, and which operates so smoothly it’s often unnoticed unless you happen to see a red light winking on the dash.

But first you need to unlearn years of mental conditioning: heel the bike over hard into a turn, toes scraping Tarmac, then (and take a deep breath...) crack that throttle wide open! The bike drives forward so hard as the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP digs and finds grip where it shouldn’t exist you have to grip the bars tighter. In the lower gears comes a brand new phenomenon for any road rider: this bike will wheelie while still on its side in a turn! It absolutely hammers out of corners, but the rear tyre’s spin is so well controlled and so easy to deal with you just point the bars, feel the bike shimmy a little and laugh manically at the sheer exhilaration of being as quick as Troy Bayliss (for a little bit anyway...).

Duc11_Po_11You can change the level of spin the system allows on the move, with eight different levels from almost obstructive to laying black lines out of every turn, and you feel like a Superbike god. The only way any other road bike is going to live with an 1198 coming out of turns will be if it has a national level racer on board, otherwise, they’ll be floundering (or highsiding...) in your wake.

And there’s so much more to the 1198 too. All the while this is happening the bike is seducing you to go fast with that glorious tenor boom from the underseat silencers - even Ducati doesn’t seem quite sure how they passed noise emission tests, but thank goodness they did. The engine punches and shudders with the torque it’s churning out, driving impressively up to 6,000rpm then firing you like a rocket beyond that – with its 373lb (169kg) and 168bhp it offers almost 1000bhp per tonne, and that’s exactly how it feels.

But the apparently little changed chassis has moved on too, to the point where the new S feels almost flighty in its responsiveness. Direction changes are much quicker than before and until you get the suspension set up just right it can start to shimmy and wobble at very high speeds. The feel is much more like a race bike than before, yet paradoxically the 1198 S is also easier to ride, even if some of that comes from the great spades of extra confidence the traction control gives.

Duc11_Po_18My first laps of Portimao were find-my-way wobbles, made more precarious by the circuit's many blind crests and turns, and then the 1198 S felt as uncertain as I did. As I learned both bike and circuit, so everything gelled until the bike was working with such harmony and safety I didn’t want it to stop, despite the fatigue tightening and pumping up my arm muscles. It’s not perfect then, this bike: the slender, pretty fuel tank is a pain in two respects as it has only a 3.4 gallon (4.1 US gallons, 15.5 litres) capacity, restricting the bike’s everyday versatility, but also because it’s so slim at the back there’s little to grip with your legs. Those ferocious Brembo Monobloc front callipers deliver massive stopping forces with the brush of a couple of fingers on the lever, but most of that you have to take through your arms, and at Portimao, that starts to hurt pretty soon!

At least now Ducati offers inch and a quarter mirror extensions to deal with another 1098 criticism so you stand some chance of seeing what’s behind you. Other areas where once Ducati was weak have been convincingly addressed. The electronics are not only way ahead of what the Japanese are offering, they’re reliable too, as are the mechanical parts, judging by warranty return figures (Ducati is at a similar level to Suzuki these days), while servicing costs are on a par with the Japanese too. The finish quality meanwhile is outstanding, going some way on its own to justifying the £14,950 price tag of the 1198 S. The stock 1198 is £11,950, but really you’re missing out on a motorcycling milestone by doing without that traction control, so grit your teeth, dig deep and find the extra.

Duc11_Po_22The question really is, why would you pay an extra £9,000 for a 1098 R? Okay, so that has more horsepower and revs harder but it’s not much quicker, and you can only use its traction control on the track, not the road. The handling is not significantly better meanwhile. The 1198 Biposto meanwhile will feel a whole lot less, much more than a stablemate model should. Really, the 1198 S is the only one to go for. And not just against other Ducatis, but any other superbike – this is the outstanding bike of the year, for definite, but likely it’s going to go down as one of the great bikes of the decade.

Price: £14,950 (1198, £11,950)

Available: January 2009 (1198, March 2009)

Contact: Ducati UK, 0845 1222996, www.ducatiuk.com

Related Technical Features:
* Ducati 1198 S DTC and technical

Specifications

shuggiemac
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The article sort of addressed my question in its closing but I am still left with a huge feeling that the S version is going to all but render the base level 1198 redundant, so why would they do that? Well Kevin's words I suppose explain it, in that they are just hoping that more people will dig deeper to find the extra money.

I think though I would be feeling slightly ticked off right now if I had bought a 1098 a couple of years ago when it was being hyped as the next greatest thing, especially if I had bought one of the tricker versions. I personally bought a 999 just when the 1098 came out as I got a great deal on it and it is still a good bike and more than enough for me. The arrival of the 1198 actually makes me glad I didn't go the extra leap to buy the newer model then.

I am a dyed in the wool Ducatisti but I do think that a number of their customers may be feeling slightly pissed off right now that the company has come up with some major changes and that does not include just the traction control, in the very short period since they were forking out for their 1098S Tricolore! Was the 1098 always meant as a stop gap due to the poor reception of the 999?

kevash
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I spoke to some Ducati staff about exactly that at the bike show recently and they are conscious of pissing off 1098 owners, but they say they don't really have any choice as the Japanese uprate their superbikes every two years, and it's the only way to keep their own on the pace and in the news. The question I guess is how they managed in the past with much longer life cycles than their rivals, and with the 999 at least, the answer is, they didn't really.
What they were saying to 1098 owners at the show was, are you happy with your bike? The answer was yes, so they said, good, keep it then! But I think Ducati owners are going to have to get used to the same pace of change and development as Japanese superbike owners, it's the only way really Ducati can stay competitive in the showrooms.
Ducati is expecting to sell more S versions than bipostos too, although traction control aside the base model is still an awesome bike.

shuggiemac
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That is a good point about the longer model life cycle that they used to implement. I think that it is also interesting that they state they are doing this in response to the Japanese factories. Does this mean that they will also aim to price the bikes like the big four then? I know that economies of scale right now would not allow that but is that where they are heading?
I fully understand the intricacies of business and I can take on board the reasons that they gave you at the show but let's be quite honest and this is something that I have always said ever since I bought my first Duke - you buy a Ducati primarily with your heart and not with your head. It was precisely because they didn't change the models every ten minutes and the fact that they were just so good that attracted many of us in the first place. There were technically, financially, logistically and practicality wise better bikes on the market when I bought all of my Dukes but I still did not consider them.
I really hope in doing what they are setting out on that they do not lose that very intangible something that makes Ducati different from the rest.
Not that it effects me, I can't afford a new 1198S anyway!!!

ciganin
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Ok...here is the thing....Looking at both the 1198S and the 1098.... after having rounds of conversations with different Ducati dealers, riders and others, you can create the following equation.
1198S = 14,750 plus DTC plus new bike plus possible track day God
1098 = 10,300 plus 0%finance plus new bike.....and just be smooth on the throttle
Is the 4,000 really worth it....not having ridden it I cannot say....but the reality is that with maybe 2,000 pounds of road fund and VAT in the price....depreciation in 18 months of about 4,000....do you buy now or sit and wait
Of course, you could buy the 1098 and then chop it in for the 1198S in a year or so..............head vs heart !!!!

kevash
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Be wary of Ducati dealers at this time of year with old stock 1098s to unload... they're going to struggle to move them, and for good reason. Okay, in the end the 1198S is another five grand and that might be the deciding factor on its own - nothing much wrong with the 1098 after all. But being careful with the throttle doesn't come remotely close to the experience of nailing it wide open at the apex and feeling that bike twitch and drive you out of the turn faster than you've ever done it before. Even Troy Bayliss was quicker with TCS (the same system too!). It's not just about preventing highsides, it's about the thrill of using TCS to the full. And if you're on a track with a Ducati superbike, why do you want to be careful with the throttle anyway?
If you don't do track days and don't ride especially hard on the road then TCS isn't much value except down the pub, but even then the 1198's extra grunt and agility are useful improvements - go for the non-TCS Biposto rather than the S and the price difference narrows too.
Or... squeeze the dealer really hard on the 1098. There are probably some more pips to pop out yet... and he IS desperate!

shuggiemac
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I had a similar dilema when I bought my 999. I knew the 1098 was coming out and I used this to talk the dealer into such a good deal on the 999. I really did not have the wonga for a new 1098 at the time so really it was the old model or nothing and it's not as if the 999 suddenly became a bad bike over night.
On the other hand what a nice dilema to have should I buy a 1098 or an 1198? Life bites some times!!

kevash
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Quite, what a problem to have... Me, jealous?

shuggiemac
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1198S update. Well yesterday I had the chance to ride the 1198S with DTC at last and I sit here today underwhelmed and feeling slightly cheated by the whole experience!
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Don't get me wrong, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the bike at all and I am sure it is the absolute canine's dangly parts. However the bike was available to us on a Ducati day at one the tracks over here and I signed up before reading fully the small print of the test agreement. It turns out that if I had damaged the bike then I would have been liable for nearly three grands worth of any repair work as the organiser had cut back on their insurance for us (and the press) due, I guess, to the crisis. I realised this ten minutes before I got on the bike and the upshot was that I wobbled around the track thinking more about not dropping it and having the most expensive fifteeen minutes of my life than I did about the bike itself. It was great what I did take in, however right now I feel a bit like I ended up in the sack with Angelina Jolie but fell asleep!
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kevash
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They should have used that technique at Guantanamo Bay... Waterboarding's got nothing on that.

shuggiemac
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Yes, that is a pretty good analogy.
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Still at least I got try it I suppose, it's not like I am ever liable to actually be able to buy one.