First Ride: Ducati 848 Evo review

Ducati's entry-level sportsbike packs more punch but is power it's real strength?

In 1994, when Ducati launched the 748 with the exact silhouette of the 916 it truly was a baby superbike.

In 2003 the 749 carried on fighting the Supersport fight but then in 2008 Ducati launched the 848 and not the 750 or 751 you might have reasonably expected. An additional 100cc might not sound like a big deal, but the 848 was ruled out of competing in the Supersport class and since then it's always been the odd one stood in the corner of the 600 supersport party.

Strange how, at 849cc - just 67cc off the original 916 - it's still managed to keep its baby superbike image and yet it's putting out more power than the original 916 did. I dynoed the 848 EVO at PDQ and it made 124bhp at the rear wheel, in comparison to a good 916 that made around 115bhp. 10 years ago you probably wouldn't have thought about stepping off a Hornet 600 and onto a 916 but the 848 seems like a logical step, what with its 'baby superbike image' firmly intact.

Now, for 2011, Ducati have eked out more horsepower from the 848 and called it the 848 EVO.

The list of modifications is extensive, are you ready? A re-worked head, new pistons to increase compression ratio from 12:1 to 13.2:1, modified intake ports, a new camshaft giving higher lift, 4mm larger throttle bodies now at 60mm and the rev-ceiling increased by 500rpm to 11,300. The resulting power gain? 6bhp.

Even though we all crave power, the best change Ducati have made is ditching the 848's front brakes. Gone are the two-piece cast Brembos in favour of the one-piece monobloc Brembos as used on the 1198. Although the new brakes still chomp on the same 320mm discs, the difference is huge.

On the road, it's hard to claim you can feel that extra 6hp, but the way you ride the EVO has changed from the standard 848. Even though the 848 never lacked torque, it never felt that happy being ridden into the redline. The EVO now sits a lot happier in the upper rev range.

The way the 848 EVO delivers its power is absolutely perfect for the road. At the top of Ducati's range is the 1198SP which frankly twiddles its thumbs and rolls its eyes at your pathetic attempts to give it anything worthwhile to do. The 848 EVO however wants to get stuck in. I prefer to short-shift on the road and not sit at crazy revs and the EVO's more than happy to run like this. Roll-on from top-gear at 40mph is surprisingly eager, there are no surprises with the power delivery but to get what the Ducati engineers intended from the motor you have to rev it right out. The sound it makes past 11,000rpm is epic and addictive and that's just on the standard cans.

If you've ever had your bike setup on the dyno then you'll know how it feels sharper and the throttle response that bit crisper, the EVO feels exactly the same; super precise throttle response and really clean delivery throughout the revs.

When it comes to road manners, the 848's chassis is superb. While the front end is light and the bars wag over bumps and changes in surface, the whole bike feels planted underneath you. There's never a moment when you feel like the EVO isn't going to go in the direction you want it to and while it definitely reacts to changes in the surface it never gets into a flap. The handling, like the engine, is lively and involving and really makes you feel like you're the one in control.

The new brakes are so good they're funny. One finger is all you need and if you only had half a finger, that would do too. The difference between the new and old calipers is this EVO's real strong point, even though it'll be the power hike that gets most people's interest. The initial bite from the monobloc calipers is way more powerful than the older two-piece versions and that power just builds and builds. You'll definitely get the most from the new brakes on the track but even on the road, they feel tight and once you're used to them, you can brake so much harder with much less effort.

The Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tyres really show off how good the EVO's package is. It frustrates me when a manufacturer brings out a decent bike and skimps on the tyres. No-one wins. The Supercorsa SPs are standard tyres on the EVO and you absolutely won't want to look elsewhere.

I managed to get 100 miles up on the clocks from the 15.5 litre tank before the reserve light came on and then got to a petrol station 15 miles later. I was pretty sure the EVO could do better than that, so we hung on and got to 29 miles on reserve before I bottled it and filled up. A 100 mile range would be pitiful but 120 gets the 848 into an acceptable standard.

The 848 sits in weird territory. When you walk into a Ducati showroom it's the entry-level sportsbike but there's no way it's a bike I'd recommend to inexperienced riders.

Even though it can be dosile, it's also a potent package. For the experienced rider, on the road it's a far better bet than an 1198SP. Trouble is, it lacks the 'man points' most bikers seem to go for if my local bike meet is anything to go by.

If you currently ride a litre superbike and you're open minded to a change, check out the 848 EVO. It's near on perfection and steals the accolade of 'Thinking Man's Sportsbike' from the GSX-R750.

Go try one.