Ducati’s baby superbike has always been an overlooked beauty. Visually identical to its bigger brother the supersport spec Duke was often perceived as the runt of the litter by riders blinded by the thought that bigger is better. Which wasn’t necessarily true. Get a 748, or later the 749, spinning and the motor reveals itself as a rev-happy monster, more than prepared to receive the thrashing of a lifetime and return the favour by providing a thrilling and immensely satisfying ride. So, fairly reasonably, I assumed that the 848 would follow a similar vein, just with a bit more grunt. This isn’t the case.
At the press briefing (think the brainwashing scene in Clockwork Orange but without the eye clamps) the Ducati men started uttering phrases such as ‘best balance between road and track’ and ‘entry level superbike.’ Hmm, this didn’t sound like what I was expecting. I wanted to hear lightweight, rev-hungry, supersport, phrases that would hint at a bike you could really throw around (or up) a track. A bit more waffle and some figures were uttered. The 848 is, according to Ducati, 20kg lighter and has 26bhp more than the 749. Ah, that sounds better, 134bhp in a bike weighing 168kg, now we are talking, that’s only 26bhp less than the 1098 and it weighs 5kg less. I apologise for that sudden burst of numbers, I don’t know what came over me.
Anyway, to recap, the 848 is lighter, more powerful and a damn sight better looking than the 749, so why isn’t Ducati shouting about it being a lightweight track missile? Simple, the 848 has been designed to be an easy to ride superbike as a counter to the rather aggressive 1098. Think of the pair as a classic good cop/bad cop combo.
At this point Ducati 749 purists might be starting to feel a bit put off. But don’t be, the 848 is still a fantastic bike, just in a slightly different way. Ducati chose to launch the 848 at Spain’s Almeria circuit, a favourite spot for BSB teams when it comes to testing because it’s tight, twisty and has a mega long back straight. I’ve been there a few times before with the magazine so I was lucky enough to kind of know my way around, a bonus because Ducati only gave us four 15-minute sessions.
First session out and after a fairly gentle warm-up lap I started to build the pace up, which resulted in me running over more inner corner paint than a myopic kerb crawler. Honestly, after about five laps I decided it was about time to hang up the leathers and start a new life as an illegal taxi, my riding was that bad. Every corner resulted in me peeling in, picking the bike up, then fifty pencing my way around. Pathetic. Slightly concerned that I had lost my (small helping) of biking mojo I was fairly relieved when the flag came out signalling the end of the session.
After a thorough talking to (and a quick slug of coffee to shake the remaining sleep out of my system) it was time to venture out again. Head down, concentrating like I probably should have been in the first session, and things clicked. Bloody hell this bike is good. The reason I had been such a shambles before was clear – I wasn’t going fast enough.
Ducatis always have the reputation as being fairly slow-steering bikes, which is true for the 9-derivative machines, but not so for the 848. This thing is light, agile and although not as fast as a Japanese sports 600 turns much faster than any other Ducati I’ve ridden. My slightly sleep-deprived brain had slipped into Ducati riding mode in the first session and I was instinctively turning it harder, causing the erratic lines as I over-steered. Up the pace and this amount of effort is correct, at slower speeds it’s over kill.
Despite this new found agility the 848 hasn’t lost its mid-corner poise. I love the feeling of complete stability and unshakeableness that you get with supersport Ducatis once they are leant over. It gives you such confidence that you start to take the piss when it comes to corner angle. Personally I consider the whole ‘elbow down’ thing a waste of time, it’s only Jean Philippe Ruggia that did it right, journos just hang off like gibbons trying to look cool, but every time I ride a Ducati on track a little demon in my head tells me to give it a shot. That’s the amount of mid-corner confidence this bike gives you.
But it’s not just mid-corner that the 848 is impressive, it’s the whole package. I like what Ducati has done with the 848. They have softened it in all the right areas. Actually no, they haven’t softened it, they’ve refined it in the right areas. Like the motor.
The 848’s motor is basically the same as the 1098. It has the same oval intakes for better flow of fuel/air into the cylinder, giving improved combustion and power, the same design testastretta head and same fuel injection system. But with the 848 Ducati has trimmed the capacity to 849cc (?) added a wet rather than dry clutch and lightened the whole thing by 5kg. It still has the soul and beautiful deep V-twin growl as the 1098, but is far less aggressive and easier to use to near its potential.
As I have already said the beauty of previous baby supersport Ducatis is the fact you can really nail them around a track, use all the revs and feel like you are the daddy. By upping the capacity, and with it the power, there was a chance this feeling would be lost. By refining the whole package Ducati has managed to keep the 848 true to itself and make it a ‘rider’s bike,’ and one that feels like you are in control of it and not the other way around. But don’t get lulled into too much of a false sense of security, it’s still a fast bike, deceptively so.
With its engine lazily churning below the 848 never feels like it is gathering any momentum. The revs rise, but they do it in a gentle and totally uniform way. The torque curve with the 848 is virtually flat, Ducati designed it this way, so rather than a rush of power it just builds and builds. On the twisty Almeria track I found myself sticking it in second for almost half the lap, rolling on and off the throttle and using the huge rev range, which highlighted another neat touch.
Although the 848 does have a rev limit somewhere over 10,500rpm it’s not a limit in the conventional sense of the word. When you over-rev a 1098 it’s like hitting a brick wall, on the 848 Ducati has designed it to be far less aggressive. The revs stutter and cough at the limit rather than stop dead. On tight tracks, and I’m sure the road, it’s great because the gentle reduction in power doesn’t upset the bike’s balance should you hit the limit mid-corner. And lets be truthful here, we all get the wrong gear now and then.
At this point I would really like to talk about what the 848 is like on the road, but unfortunately I can’t because we weren’t allowed out of the confines of the circuit. Which is a shame because I reckon the 848 will be a lovely road bike. Yes, the steering lock is crap, mirrors shit and the fabulous white paint will look muckier than a 16-year-old’s mind within seconds, but that’s just taken as read, it’s a Ducati after all. No, what I reckon will make it so good is this new refinement.
Not only is the suspension fabulously responsive it’s also set quite softly. According to the Ducati people we used almost the same settings on track as the road bikes come on, which bodes well as despite feeling soft our bikes handled track abuse with no issues. The brakes are the same story. Despite having the same calipers as the 999R the 848’s are much less aggressive when it comes to initial bite than the slightly over the top 1098’s monoblocks. Power but with control.
So has Ducati a potential hit on its hands with the 848? I reckon so. Judging by the success of the 1098 Ducatis are back in fashion and this is a wonderfully all-round balanced bike. Yes it has its foibles, it wouldn’t be a Ducati without them, but it’s a lovely bike that I think most riders would have better fun riding than its bigger sibling. Just leave your ego at the door and have a ball.
Engine: 849.4cc, liquid-cooled,
DOHC, 8-valve 90_ V-twin
Power: 134bhp@ 10,000rpm
Torque: 70.8lb.ft@ 8,250rpm
Front suspension: 43mm Showa USD, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Showa monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: 320mm discs, four-piston radial calipers
Rear brake: 245mm disc
Seat height: 830mm
Fuel capacity: 15.5 litres
Top speed: 150mph (est)
Dry weight: 168kg
Colours: Red, white