Ducati 1198 and 1198S review

Niall brushes elbows with Troy Bayliss at the launch of Ducati’s new big-bore superbike. It’s a monster machine that will put hairs on the inside of your eyelids, let alone your chest...

Click to read: Ducati 1198 owners reviews, Ducati 1198 specs and to see the Ducati 1198 image gallery.

Ducati did a good job keeping this one quiet. Even when launch invitations are sent out without stating the model to be launched you can normally take an educated guess as to what bike it will be. I was told by Urry (who normally gets it right) that I would probably be riding a new 848S so I was pretty confused when the1198 was unveiled at the Milan show.

At the same time I was surprised to hear Ducati were claiming it had the same power output as the 1098R, but was around nine grand cheaper. This bothered me during the weeks leading up to the launch as it appeared Ducati had unfairly squeezed some extra cash from 1098R owners when all along they knew a much cheaper version with the same performance was in the pipeline. Before I even sat on the new bike I was keen to get to the bottom of this and hopefully in the process find Ducati not guilty of stitching anyone up.

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So here is the deal. If you happen to be a 1098R owner, for your extra £9,000 you will have the same bhp as the 1198S (170bhp) but you get a different crankshaft, titanium conrods and valves. You get different cylinder heads and pistons, twin injectors (as opposed to single), different mapping, a slipper clutch, race pipes and a trick TTX Öhlins rear shock.

The power may be the same but as I’ve now ridden both I can tell you the 1098R feels more raw and requires much more focused riding, and ultimately it would be faster round a race track. The 1198 is a smoother, more docile animal and easier for everyone to ride, so I can clearly see there is a place in the market for both machines. Most importantly for me, I am now satisfied that both machines are still quite different and 1098R owners needn’t worry as they have still have quite an exclusive bike that will make you cry with fear.

Both versions of the new 1198 are lighter than the outgoing 1098, but they have exactly the same engine. However I would have to beg, borrow or steal the extra £3,000 to make sure it was the S version I rode home.

The standard 1198 has the same Showa suspension and non-adjustable steering damper as the original 1098. What it doesn’t have is the data analyser facility or the traction control. The data logging (now up from 2mb to 4mb) can actually be added at any time by a Ducati dealer, however the traction control can’t. Your wheels on this model are ten spoke and made from cast aluminium. For your extra three grand on the 1198S you get some serious bells and whistles thrown in.

Firstly the data acquisition and traction control come as standard but you also get full Öhlins suspension, Öhlins adjustable steering damper (all Öhlins same as 1098) plus lighter seven spoke Marchesini wheels which brings the claimed overall weight down a further 2kgs to 169kg.

The biggest and most important change to both bikes is of course the engine, which is now 1198cc, and although it keeps the same 1098 rev limit of 10,500rpm you now have a 10bhp increase in power all the way to the red line. To achieve this, in a nutshell, everything has been made bigger.

The bore and stroke has increased from 104 x 64.7 on the 1098 to 106 x 77.9 and the inlet and exhaust valves have increased in diameter by 1.5mm. The throttle bodies’ inlets have also increased by over 13%. The new motor has lighter, stronger, crankcases manufactured using Ducati’s ‘vacuolar’ process, which basically means the bubbles are sucked out from the metal allowing it to be stronger and more resilient at high temperatures. The 1098R gearbox is also used, which is stronger and more efficient and now has new third, fourth, fifth and six gear ratios to deal with with the 10bhp increase in performance.

The new pipes help to give it a slightly deeper bark but still nothing like the awesome roar of the full race Termignomis. As I mentioned before, the initial throttle response is softer than the 1098R both sitting on the stand and while setting off. The sharpness of the 1098R can be quite off-putting as it tends to jump skywards in the first three gears so this motor feels much more useable and was and at the same time more forgiving.

Apart from changing from red to silver in colour, the chassis and swingarm remain the same and there are no cosmetic changes to the overall look of the bike. Both the Showa suspension on the standard model and the Öhlins on the S are fully adjustable (all forks 43mm) however the very fact the Öhlins is on the more expensive version suggests that, ultimately, you will have more refined handling. New for 2009, are ‘caravaner’ type mirror extensions included with your new bike can be fitted to satisfy complaints from 1098 owners that couldn’t see what was going on behind them. They will also be handy should you want to tow a two berth Sprite to Skegness.

The 1198 also has a new brighter light sensitive LED dash with its functions controlled solely from a switch on the left handlebar; a feature I think should be on every single road bike. Fat gloved fingers just don’t compliment tiny buttons and you shouldn’t have to take your hand off the bars to press them. The four red shift lights at the top right also let you know when your traction control is kicking in and apart from gear indication the main dash clearly displays all the other info you should ever need on a motorcycle. The dash, headlight and fairing are mounted on a new, lighter magnesium sub frame adding to the overall weight reduction.

The brakes remain the same with twin Brembo mono bloc calipers and 330mm discs up front and a 245mm single disc at the rear. The tyres are Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP made especially for the 1198 and also happen to be the control tyre for the 2009 FIM European Superstock Championship.

I could tell from watching the world’s best riders on the Portimao circuit at the final round of the World Superbike Championship that just finding my way round would be a challenge. During the morning of the launch the track was quite cold and dusty but I was happy just to use this time to get to grips with this amazing track. Due to the lack of grip the bikes had their suspension set soft to help increase tyre temperature in an attempt to keep things safe.

At any new circuit my first goal is to find a gear pattern and this time it came quite easily after just one session. I found 2nd and 3rd worked well through all of the corners except the final fast right

which was 4th gear. After the crest onto the start finish I was clicking 5th and holding the same gear until my braking point for turn one. I was making 14 gear changes per lap which is nothing considering the variation of corners and straights.

The widespread power from 4,000rpm to the 10,500 red line gives great flexibility at all times and means you never find yourself in between gears at any corner. One interesting point was I never once hit the rev limiter as the motor constantly encouraged me to use lower revs and the mid range power pretty much all the way round.

This ties up watching and talking to Shane Byrne this year as he never needed to rev his Airwaves Ducati but always had good drive off the turns. Unlike the 1098R, I found the engine quite fluffy while pulling away and up to around 3,500rpm, but after this point it feels fine.

Having no slipper clutch didn’t seem to cause any problems as I never felt the need to shift back to a really low gear for any corner. Considering the suspension was soft and how much the circuit undulated I was surprised how little the 1198 wanted to wheelie. Apart from one massive downhill plunge the front wheel stayed on the tarmac for most of the five sessions on track. Some of this will be down to good chassis balance and the Öhlins suspension, but also to having a very smooth power curve all the way through played its part.

During the day I stiffened the suspension slightly which made the rear tyre chew up less and reduced weight transfer while braking and accelerating. I needed to go more steps but to be honest there was more time to come from me finding my way round the track properly than trying to tune the suspension.

I’ve heard 1098 owners complain of sore wrists due to the race-like riding position. I’m sorry to say nothing has changed here as my upper body reminded me after a day on track. And the only answer will be getting down to the gym because with the 1198’s greater acceleration comes higher speed braking so you’ll need to be stronger than ever especially if you visit a physically demanding circuit. One thing that may help if you start to feel tired and the concentration starts to go is traction control on the 1198S.

With eight levels (8 being the most extreme) your bike will detect any lack of grip due to front and rear wheel speed differential. High speed software will then modulate engine power via the engine management system until full traction is regained.

You can even monitor this with the data analyzer. This on board computer collects all your riding information, which can be download onto a PC allowing you to analyse every corner on every lap. Throttle position, gear position, engine revs, speed, engine temperature, lap time plus the amount of traction you are getting is all logged for your perusal. You can even overlay different laps. I have to say, and I’m serious, it is fascinating. I’ve been around this stuff for many years but the traction control

information is brilliant. Even if you can’t feel it, the logging will show how much grip you have at every single corner and you can then adjust your traction control (DTC) to help you go faster while staying safe. On the road the benefits would be mainly if it were wet and you could choose a setting depending on conditions.

As the 1098 looks far from tired I wasn’t really for a new model yet. I think it still looks fantastic from every angle and like the timeless 916 I’m sure will continue to do so for many years to come.

With the 1198 we have a 1098 with serious muscles, brilliant technology and a celebration of Ducati’s racing success. It is different from the 1098R as it will have sensible road manners and will be more manageable on track days.

But what I really came away from this launch with was a new idol. Ex-racer Paulo Pinheiro is my new hero. Back in April the Algarve Motor Park was nothing more than barren Portuguese countryside. But now, from the entry road to the pits, paddock and track you can’t help but be blown away. Many top riders have already rated the circuit and it’s facilities as the best in the world but it doesn’t stop there.

Already under construction is a massive karting centre, a technology park, hotel, apartments and sports complex. The popular figure that has been spent so far is 100million euros and you can tell. With cheap flights from many UK airports to Faro and the beautiful Al Garve resorts nearby us British bikers have suddenly got heaven on our doorstep. Paulo Pinheiro is some sort of god!

Ducati 1198S price and specification


Price £11,950 (£14,950)

Engine: 1198cc, liquid-cooled, 8 valve, V-twin

Power: 170bhp @ 9,750rpm

Torque: 97ft.lb @ 8,000rpm

Front suspension: 43mm, fully adj (Öhlins)

Rear suspension: monoshock, fully adj (Öhlins)

Front brake: 330mm discs, four piston radial calipers

Rear brake: single 220mm petal disc, single piston caliper

Dry weight: 171kg (169kg) (c)

Seat height: 820mm

Fuel capacity: 15.5 litres top

Speed: 165mph

Colours: White, Red, Black, Red

VISORDOWN rating: 5/5