Winter Warmer - Ducati 848

Ducati claim its 848 is a new breed of useable superbike, but is it useable enough to deal with a daily commute in mid-winter?

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The 848’s digital dash is glowing bright in the gloomy light cast by the streetlights, its large digital speedo wavering between 29 and 30mph while the bars on the rev counter intermittently creep over the ‘3’ marker. Next to the speedo a smaller framed figure reads ‘AIR -2 °C.’ It’s not a welcoming sight, but neither is the silver car with blue lights that’s sitting behind me.

Despite the early hour I seem to have managed to find the only police car in south London on patrol, and it’s following me at a leisurely distance. Well I imagine it is, despite contorting my arms in every conceivable direction it’s still proving impossible to gain anything other than a close up of my winter jacket’s elbows in the Ducati’s mirrors.

The cop behind, if indeed he is still behind, must be wondering what the hell the figure in front of him is doing. Not only am I twitching like a dreaming dog due to my futile search for rear vision, what on earth would posses someone to venture out on a freezing winter morning to cruise around on a brand new Ducati 848, covering its beautiful white fairings in a film of grime.

Which was roughly what I was thinking as I shifted between second and first gear, the 848 straining like a dog on a leash to rip clear of the imposed 30mph limit. There is no way such a beautiful bike as a pearl white Ducati 848 deserves to be ridden through such filth in numbing conditions. But life is cruel, and sometimes we all have to suffer in the name of vanity.

Which was always the case with Ducati superbikes of old. Visually they were stunning, physically they were crippling. Clutches ruined wrists, seats turned arses to jelly, the engine was lumpier than my mum’s custard and the riding position was akin to medieval torture. But most riders simply learn to live with this, it was all part of the ownership experience. With the 848 Ducati has updated this experience.

According to Ducati the 848 is its ‘entry level superbike.’ With a list price of £9,500 that’s quite a high entry level, but there again it’s not a hell of a lot more than a Japanese 1000. What the 848 has, according to Ducati, is a whole heap of features that are designed to make it a far more easy-going and less aggressive bike than its bigger brother, the 1098. Believe it or not, this is a Ducati superbike designed for road riders, although presumably not ones that need to use their mirrors.

So, to see if Ducati had truly created a bike that could survive in the real world I subjected it to a task that would push its design limits to the absolute edge – a daily commute in winter.

Approaching the pristine 848 in the dingy TWO car park on the first day of our week together I had to stop and take a few seconds to look at the bike. In the sea of grey that is the TWO car park the pearl white 848 with its subtle red logo looked stunning, from any angle. It’s been a while since I simply stood and looked at a bike, but I needed a few seconds alone to take in the 848. I just hoped the ride home wouldn’t spoil its illusion of beauty.

Key in and the digital dash leaps into life. Something about racing scrolls across the bottom but that’s not important, for road use the large rev counter and reasonably big speedo seem obvious enough. Resisting the urge to fiddle with the menu options on the display I thumb the starter. Well it wouldn’t really be a Ducati if it started first time, would it? A second churn and the 848 barks into life and settles into a steady tickover.

As part of the calming down of the 848 Ducati has given it a wet clutch rather than the traditional dry item. What this means is that the classic Ducati rattle is missing from the 848 at tickover, which is a bit strange at first but means you can appreciate the new exhaust note. Just sitting on the bike, blipping the throttle and allowing the rap, rap of the motor bounce around the walls is like a symphony. It’s far deeper than other smaller capacity Dukes and sounds like it has a real punch to it. Time to head home.

On the track launch in sunny Spain I remember thinking the 848 was the fastest steering Ducati I had ever ridden, unsurprisingly things change with a temperature drop of about 20-degrees and a location change from Almeria to Orpington. Pulling out of the garage the 848 felt long and reluctant to turn, the combination of freezing cold oil in the forks and my nervousness about the brand new tyres gave it the turning ability of an oil tanker floating in a sea of treacle. A right at the first roundabout again showed more reluctance with a nervous exit line somewhere over near the inside curb. Despite its new light weight and lower centre of gravity the 848 isn’t a fast turning machine when you aren’t trying and requires more effort than a Japanese inline four at low speeds, something I was unwilling to do considering the conditions.

Out of the residential area and I’m stuck in a row of rush hour traffic at a leisurely 40mph as the pressure on my wrists starts to build up. The seat may be thinly padded but it’s comfortable enough, the same can’t be said for the bar position. My wrists are both starting to protest when a traffic light gives me some much needed respite. I’m not sure what it is but I can ride a Japanese 600 and 1000 all day with minimal wrist pain, but there is something about the angle of the 848’s bars that sets my wrists off. So far this experiment is proving a little tiresome, but at least the red light has given me a chance to get to the head of the traffic and a clear road was ahead.

Accelerating hard away from the lights the rear briefly loses grip on some winter slime before catching up again. It’s no big drama with the 848’s engine, its power delivery is nothing like you would expect from a big twin. There are no big hits of power to overwhelm the limited amount of grip available and the smooth and precise fuel injection system seems almost tailored to suit the poor conditions. It responds well too small inputs of throttle without getting too giddy or a nasty snatch of power, in fact the only real problem was trying to keep it at legal speeds.

Despite ‘only’ being an 848cc engine the Ducati makes 134bhp, but it’s the 70ft.lb of lazy torque it makes through the rev range rather that is the difference. With a sports 600 you know you are going fast because the engine is working, the Ducati, like a 1000cc bike, builds up speed subtly. Gently rev the 848 through the first few gears and the speedo quickly registers 60-plus mph. Sitting below 30mph is a real chore as the engine is continually straining to show you what it can do, something the congested roads simply won’t allow.

But even on a commute there is the occasion to open a bike up, and when you do the 848 comes alive. Allow the engine to run and the Ducati responds beautifully. The chassis, which at slow speeds seemed reluctant, regains its interest in life and the sweet feeling returns, even on winter roads caked in salt. It’s a satisfying bike to ride and one with a great exhaust note and when I arrived home I genuinely enjoyed the ride, despite the pain in my wrists.
Retracing my route back to work the next day the 848 seemed to be mellowing, or possibly my body had just become more accustomed to a sportsbike after two months on the Street Triple. The flow of traffic was faster, taking some of the strain off my wrists, and in the daylight I could see people’s reaction to the bike. Part of Ducati ownership is knowing you are riding something exclusive, an object of desire and beauty, something the 848 certainly is judging by the amount of looks it received. But who could blame them?

Having been forced to venture into the centre of London for the photos I was pleasantly surprised to find the Ducati’s clutch is certainly lighter than a 1098’s. It’s still not great, but I managed to sit at the traffic lights waiting to cross Tower Bridge with the clutch held in without my forearm developing the kind of arm pump that is usually only found on hormonal teenager. Unfortunately the 1098’s terrible steering lock remains. Quite how Ducati’s test riders managed to miss the fact you can’t physically get the 848 (or 1098) on full lock without trapping your arm/knuckles against the fairing is a mystery to me. Although you would imagine using full-lock is a fairly minimal exercise it’s surprising how much in town you have to, after commuting on the 848 I certainly did.

Something town riding also highlighted how good the 848’s brakes are, especially in wet conditions. Where I reckon some other bikes have gone over-kill with the front brakes set-up, sacrificing feeling for out-right power, Ducati has hit a perfect combination between the two. Enough power on track yet controllable and with the feel required to avoid a nasty incident on wet roads. It really would have been a great shame to put a scar on the beauty of the 848’s fairing with a front end spill, especially in front of the morning commuters crossing Piccadilly Circus.

Every day of the week we spent together when I opened my garage door and saw the 848 it sent a slight tingle of excitement down my spine. Riding a Ducati as beautiful as the white 848 is an experience. Yes it has some bad points, and is far from the ideal commuter, but the 848 has enough plus-points to make it almost as useable as a Japanese sportsbike but without the sanitised feeling. The clutch, although still quite firm, isn’t that bad and you kind of get used to living with the annoying steering lock. The V-twin engine is beautiful and rather than the aggressive top end and lacking midrange of 600s the torque of the 848 is a relaxing joy. But most of all the 848 in white is quite simply the sexiest Ducati around at the moment, I felt so guilty about making it dirty I nearly caught frostbite cleaning it in sub-zero temperatures. Even in the dull, misty and miserable winter mornings when the outside temperature gauge was refusing to creep over zero the 848 made me smile and actually want to ride it. As Ducati sportsbikes go the 848 is certainly the most useable to date, but thank the lord it manages to do useable without detracting from what makes a Ducati special – character and sex appeal.

As for the cop car I mentioned at the beginning of this story, he obviously didn’t feel the need to venture out of his warm car to see what the idiot on the bike was up to. Well that’s what I imagine anyway, in truth it wasn’t until about two miles of paranoid riding that I managed to get an angle I could actually see behind me. He was nowhere to be seen having turned off, I reckon, about a mile and a half earlier!

The 848’s digital dash is glowing bright in the gloomy light cast by the streetlights, its large digital speedo wavering between 29 and 30mph while the bars on the rev counter intermittently creep over the ‘3’ marker. Next to the speedo a smaller framed figure reads ‘AIR -2 °C.’ It’s not a welcoming sight, but neither is the silver car with blue lights that’s sitting behind me.

Despite the early hour I seem to have managed to find the only police car in south London on patrol, and it’s following me at a leisurely distance. Well I imagine it is, despite contorting my arms in every conceivable direction it’s still proving impossible to gain anything other than a close up of my winter jacket’s elbows in the Ducati’s mirrors.

The cop behind, if indeed he is still behind, must be wondering what the hell the figure in front of him is doing. Not only am I twitching like a dreaming dog due to my futile search for rear vision, what on earth would posses someone to venture out on a freezing winter morning to cruise around on a brand new Ducati 848, covering its beautiful white fairings in a film of grime.

Which was roughly what I was thinking as I shifted between second and first gear, the 848 straining like a dog on a leash to rip clear of the imposed 30mph limit. There is no way such a beautiful bike as a pearl white Ducati 848 deserves to be ridden through such filth in numbing conditions. But life is cruel, and sometimes we all have to suffer in the name of vanity.

Which was always the case with Ducati superbikes of old. Visually they were stunning, physically they were crippling. Clutches ruined wrists, seats turned arses to jelly, the engine was lumpier than my mum’s custard and the riding position was akin to medieval torture. But most riders simply learn to live with this, it was all part of the ownership experience. With the 848 Ducati has updated this experience.

According to Ducati the 848 is its ‘entry level superbike.’ With a list price of £9,500 that’s quite a high entry level, but there again it’s not a hell of a lot more than a Japanese 1000. What the 848 has, according to Ducati, is a whole heap of features that are designed to make it a far more easy-going and less aggressive bike than its bigger brother, the 1098. Believe it or not, this is a Ducati superbike designed for road riders, although presumably not ones that need to use their mirrors.

So, to see if Ducati had truly created a bike that could survive in the real world I subjected it to a task that would push its design limits to the absolute edge – a daily commute in winter.

Approaching the pristine 848 in the dingy Visordown car park on the first day of our week together I had to stop and take a few seconds to look at the bike. In the sea of grey that is the Visordown car park the pearl white 848 with its subtle red logo looked stunning, from any angle. It’s been a while since I simply stood and looked at a bike, but I needed a few seconds alone to take in the 848. I just hoped the ride home wouldn’t spoil its illusion of beauty.

Key in and the digital dash leaps into life. Something about racing scrolls across the bottom but that’s not important, for road use the large rev counter and reasonably big speedo seem obvious enough. Resisting the urge to fiddle with the menu options on the display I thumb the starter. Well it wouldn’t really be a Ducati if it started first time, would it? A second churn and the 848 barks into life and settles into a steady tickover.

Continue the Ducati 848 Winter Test - 2/2

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