24 June 2011 | Reviews
Text by Janie Omorogbe
It’s a strange thing. Trust. It takes a while to gain, requires a lot of faith, but once it’s established, it’s yours to own.
It’s the same deal between two people, a rider and machine, or a man and his dog. He may have a potentially aggressive Pitbull straining at the leash, but that doesn’t mean he will be bitten. Not if the animal is restrained.
Ducati’s 1198S is an animal. Especially in comparison to its predecessor, the equally stunning, but less potent 1098. The R version was equipped with DTC, Ducati Traction Control and we loved the idea of being able to muzzle our monsters at will. But it worked by retarding the ignition before eventually cutting the spark, instead of the fuel supply, so the technology was only suitable for use in conjunction with a race exhaust. The 1198S also benefits from having DTC as standard, but because its system works by interrupting the fuel injection when the level of grip is compromised, it’s safe to use with road legal catalytic exhausts and the standard ECU. It also has DDA, Ducati Data Analyser which records the performance of you and the bike which you can download and produce later as evidence during the inevitable pub banter.
Ducati’s superbikes always look so intimidating and serious. Perhaps it’s the deep red paint that highlights the athletic bodywork. Perhaps it’s the legendary badge that has graced the top step of MotoGP and World Superbike podiums alike. Or perhaps it’s just the thought of straddling all those thoroughbred stallions in a focused racing crouch and wondering if I’ve really got the balls to stick the throttle on the stop. Can I trust myself not to get carried away with £14,950 of Italian magnificence? Or can I trust the DTC?
First up though is the difference in the engine capacity, which has resulted in an increased power output of 10bhp to 170bhp @ 9750rpm and torque to 97.lb.ft @ 8000rpm. It’s ferocious. Wind the throttle back, and the 1198S is capable of rendering you utterly speechless. It fires you forwards like a human cannonball with a ballistic rush of power that batters your senses. The power that surges from the two beefy cylinders is utterly predictable. It’s smooth and precise, running hard until it hits the 10,500 redline, unless you slide up another gear and renew the charge. A track you know and pace you’re comfortable with suddenly seems like a distant memory as corners fill your vision with alarming speed. Braking markers fly past unannounced as your throttle hand falls for the Italian’s spell and sticks the ride on fast forward.
Such explosive power needs to be harnessed in a way that will encourage you to exploit the bike’s potential. Or at least try to. The lighter ‘S’ version is a higher spec model than the standard 1198, with extras like ‘GP Replica’ seven spoked forged wheels and fully adjustable Ohlins as opposed to the base model’s Showa suspension. Not to mention the DTC. And on track, it feels harmonious.
Overcooking corners can be easily rectified by leaning the bike outside your comfort zone. Its high speed stability is as impressive as its eagerness to turn sharply or correct a wayward line. And despite feeling initially cautious, it soon became apparent that the bike responds best to a firm hand and a confident rider. That said, there’s also a kindness to its nature that guides you through mistakes, rolling through turns as if your excessive speed is just a number.
The eight different settings on the DTC are far from that though. The higher the digit displayed on the MotoGP styled dash, the more secure the safety net. Here’s where the trust comes in. The trouble with safety nets is that you can’t always see them. Try standing forty feet high in the air and jumping onto a black net, suspended above black carpet. In dimmed light. In lycra. I’ve done it and it’s not pleasant. So it’s little surprise that I selected level eight on my first track session at Pau Arnos in France, to build my confidence in the system. I needn’t have bothered. It’s as effective as dipping an oversized cargo net in day glow orange, jumping is no longer an issue. You can snatch the throttle back, with a healthy degree of lean, with zero risk of orbit-launch. A row of red lights flash on the dash to show the system’s been activated and it continues to serve and protect until the appropriate traction is resumed. Nice. Rumour has it, it’s nigh on impossible to highside above level three. Level four it is then.
More throttle, more acceleration, more fun. The bike lights up on the exits and takes the edge off the power without interrupting the flow of your riding. It’s confidence inspiring and it flatters your riding, whatever level that may be.
The 1198S devoured afternoon on track and I savoured every moment. The riding position’s focused and firm, and ideal for these circumstances, although less so for the road. But the DTC will suit both environments and most riders. Trust it.
Model £14,950 Ducati 1198S
Engine 1198.4cc L-Twin
Power 170 bhp @ 9750rpm
Torque 97lb.ft @ 8000 rpm
Transmission 6 speed
Dry Weight 169kg / 373lb
Seat Height 820mm / 32.2 in
Fuel capacity 15.5 litres
Pictures by Jason CritchelRead more