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Feed the habit: Living with the Ducati 1098R

Ducati’s hand-made and deliciously savage 1098R is unashamedly brutal, it takes no prisoners and makes no excuses. We lived with the £26k masterpiece for three weeks to find out if you can really live with such excess

I’m a manic-depressive. I’m either tremendously happy or wretched, and there’s very little in between. The highs are stratospheric, I go right up there as the serotonin floods my system and we’re on cloud nine; me, my mood and I. Nothing is a problem, everything is great, bring it on. And then, quickly as it poured in, the endorphins hit the plug-hole and we’re left with a bleak emptiness that nothing could possibly fill. Bollocksed, all over, total blank. Up and down we go; life is a constant see-saw.

That means I need a bike to suit my moods, and right now I’m so happy I could shit. I just clicked into top gear at 176mph on the speedo and am well on my way to an indicated 190mph in the fast lane. My jeans are flapping so hard they’re stinging my ankles and my helmet is doing its best to strangle me as the wind blast gets under it and shoves it backwards. And still we’re accelerating. Jesus, doesn’t this thing ever slow down?

20 minutes ago I was scything through the B-road that leads to the A3, cutting perfect apexes on warm tarmac, wheelying past lines of cars and generally behaving like the sort of hooligan who’s personally doing his best to get motorcycling banned forever. And maybe I am. Because when you’re commuting to work on a Ducati 1098R, you honestly don’t care what other people think. You’re living in a special place called Me Town, population: one.

I’ve ridden everything from jet-bikes in Arizona to Valentino Rossi’s RC211V in Malaysia, but the Ducati 1098R is as special as they come. It’s the most extreme production sportsbike yet made, a homologation special refined over the years into something akin to a work of art. Silly, overpriced devices like Ducati’s Desmosedici can’t see which way a 1098R went on the road, it’s a sluggardly curiosity by comparison.

If you just want to show people you’re rich, a Desmo will do perfectly. But if you want to ride properly and need a bike that doesn’t suffer fools, the 1098R is the machine for you. Ducati make V-twins, it’s what they have and always will do, and this is the fastest, most glorious V-twin ever to be seen in this country. Or the next.

180bhp is delivered to the magnesium back wheel through a 102db set of Termignoni exhausts with such girth they look like drainpipes. Carbon fibre is used for everything, saving 16kg over the stock 1198S and giving the bike a claimed dry weight of just 165kgs. Öhlins suspension graces the front and rear ends, while Brembo monobloc brake calipers bite on massive 330mm discs.

Ducati have taken their best sportsbike, thrown all the most expensive component parts in the world at it, tuned the engine for racing, hand-assembled it and set the final thing up to perfection. But surely, such a creation can’t actually be practical or usable in the real-world - a Honda CBF600 is a much better bet day-to-day? To find out, I lived, slept, ate and breathed the 1098R for three weeks, using it as my sole form of transport. This is what is was like.

First up: the paint. The standard R-model looks way nicer in its deep Ferrari red. The Aussie paint job looks cheap and garish in comparison. Troy Bayliss is an amazing rider and the nicest guy you could hope to meet, but he’s a bit, y’know, 2008. Indeed, the paint job makes the 1098R somewhat invisible.

Other riders don’t check it out as they would a Ducati in its blood-red livery. Filling up at a gas station next to Loomies café near West Meon on the A272, there must have been 200 bikes there on a glorious 28° August evening – and not one rider looked at the £26,000 Ducati. Not one. This suits me, I’m not one for biker small talk, but it is surprising. When people do know what it is they go gaga, however.

Like all thoroughbred Italian sports machines, just waxing and wanking over the 1098R is enjoyable up to a point, but this bike was made to be used and it’s at this that it excels. High-compression pistons give the starter a hard time as the 1098R turns over and then explodes into life, the tickover settling into a fast bark as the engine warms.

I always give the bike at least three minutes to warm-up – this isn’t a Honda, it needs time for the cases to warm and expand and the pistons and barrels to reach operating temperature. I fly a stunt plane called a Super Decathlon and we do the same with that – you never take off with a cold engine.

It’s hard to put into words how savage the 1098R is. Performance like this does indeed belong on a racetrack but by God it’s fun off it if you can cope. It makes a GSX-R1000 feel completely neutered. Time and again we head out on the A286 towards Chichester, the A272 to Winchester or the A339 via Basingstoke, and bring blood and thunder to the roads of southern England.

I make no excuses, to ride the 1098R and not crank it properly is an utter waste of time. Out on the open road, you tuck in with your head down, looking over the top of the screen, with your elbows folded neatly into the sides of the tank. Suddenly, the Ducati feels right.

The engine has shattering amounts of torque from any revs, but you need to be in the right gear for the bike to really fly. As you pass through 6,000rpm the acceleration is breathtaking, as you hit 7,500rpm a nanosecond later it keeps building, and then at 9,000rpm it does what I call, ‘The Thing’.

The Thing is the moment when everything that you thought was fast before gets ripped up into little pieces and the 1098R goes stark, staring mad. It’s like you hit a hidden nitrous button – the note of the engine goes demented and the thing leaps forward even harder. In 6th gear, the engine doesn’t even get into its comfort zone until 130mph is on the speedo…

My daily commute takes me into the heart of London and here, indeed any environment where a steady 60mph wind blast isn’t passing through the 1098R’s radiators, the Ducati is an aberration. The pistons generate so much heat that by the second set of lights the temp gauge jumps from 76° to 104° while the massive exhaust pipes cook your inner thighs. In air temperatures in excess of 25° it’s actually painful. Part of city life is parking up in a bike bay and visiting friends/popping into shops.

And here’s where I run into another huge problem with the Ducati: I can’t do this. Cities are off-limits. People treat bike-ranks as scrums where everybody’s bodywork gets scratched to hell, while unpleasant people from Kent cruise the capital in white Transit vans looking for sportsbikes to steal to order. I’m forced to leave the Ducati in the garage and use public transport if I want to go anywhere in the capital. And I really hate public transport.

Used to the genius of a BMW Adventure, using the 1098R to go to the gym and for food shopping is a right faff. I’d forgotten about life with a backpack perpetually worn on your back – everything you buy has to be considered for size and fit. I’m like the poshest tramp in Tescos, trying to force as many things into my backpack as I can, and the purchase of loo roll is the end of all things; it’s the loo roll or no dinner for tomorrow night. Dinner wins, although the milk leaks through the base of my pack and all over the 1098’s tail unit.

I keep a can of Mr Sheen and a cloth next to the Ducati for a quick wipe-down each morning; a bike like this doesn’t look good dirty. One of the instructors at the gym asks what it is. “That’s the most beautiful bike I’ve ever seen,” he blusters. “How fast does it go?” So I tell him about my commute into work that morning and he just stares, boggle eyed. “Holy shit! How much does it cost?” I tell him and get the same reaction. The 1098R is not a bike for covert espionage, that’s for sure.

My sister’s kids are rather taken with the Ducati. The two boys (12 and 8) are hugely into their cars and, I know, rather pissed off that their uncle works on a stupid motorbike magazine and not for Evo or Autocar. They’ll sit and watch 430 Scuderias with their mouths open, and rattle off the performance figures of the Bugatti Veyron in a thrice. But even they prick up their ears when the 1098R rumbles into the driveway. “Woah! At last – a cool bike,” says Tom. He instructs me on the benefits of titanium con-rods and sand-cast crankcases before declining a ride up the road and going back to watching Top Gear in silence on BBC iPlayer. But from them, this is huge respect.

Weeks turn into weekends, and I’m praying for good weather so I can take the Ducati out to savage the local roads. The rear Pirelli causes amazement wherever the bike goes – evidently someone at Ducati has made a mistake and put a racing slick on the back instead of a road-legal tyre. Seriously, there’s a few wiggly lines in the Diablo Supercorsa and that’s it. “What are you supposed to do when it rains?” asks my friend Alex. “I don’t know, fall off at the first sign of a corner, I suppose,” I reply. It stays mercifully dry for most of my tenure with the Ducati, but then the heavens open. I turn the traction control up to its highest setting and prepare to crash.

Come to first corner, get back on gas, close eyes and…nothing. Remarkable. Despite having apparently nowhere to channel standing water, the Pirellis cut through the slime and find grip. I hate having to ride the 1098R in the wet, the idea of such a pretty thing getting covered in road-grunge is disquieting.

The Ducati is changing who I am when I ride it. I’m aggressive, noticeably so. The next day I get pulled over by a copper for (get this) riding the bike with my left forearm resting on the tank. The last time I got stopped for this was in 1990 on my RGV250L when I was 19 years old – half my life ago. He’s a young provincial policeman fresh out of school. If he’d seen what we’d been up to 20 seconds previously, fair enough.

But this is ridiculous. “How many hands does it take to ride a motorbike?” he asks with so much sarcasm in his nasal voice that I can’t even look him in the eye. “I don’t know, one?” I reply. “How many handlebars has that motorbike got?” He asks. “I don’t know, ONE?” I say, and I can hear my voice getting louder. What a cheesedick. The worst kind of policeman, who thinks that because he wears a uniform he can talk to people any way he sees fit. “What’s with the attitude?” he asks. “If you talk to people like idiots, it’s what you’ll get back,” I hiss. He does his checks and we leave it at that.

Attitude. Oh yes, the 1098R’s got plenty of that. It’s not me, officer – the bike made me talk like that. That’s when I realise the Ducati is my Christine, it’s practically alive and has infected me with its raw aggression. When you ride a bike like this every day, it becomes part of who you are. Every journey is an event, every trip to the shops a MotoGP. I can forgive it for the occasional whacks in the bollocks when you hit a bump; I can forgive the ridiculous 70 miles before the fuel light comes on; I can forgive the burned skin on my inner thighs.

The Ducati is 100% raw meat and wimps need not apply – they are neither wanted nor catered for. I respect the total single-mindedness of the Ducati, I admire it for the engineering, and I salute the team who assemble this bike in Bologna. You can feel the passion in every nut and bolt. Make no mistake, as a bike to live with every day, for someone with as little self-control as me it’s a nightmare.

It makes you ride like a psychopath, treat other road users with utter disdain, gives you cramps after 40 miles, burns your flesh in town and can’t be left anywhere that isn’t secured like Fort Knox. The dry clutch is horrifically grabby, the mirrors are almost useless, and it turns you into Travis Bickle.

For all these reasons, I love this Ducati to pieces. One day, and it won’t be far off, they’ll ban bikes like this. Too fast, too focussed, too dangerous. And when that day comes, the 1098R will go down in history as the purest superbike ever made.

Rating: 5/5

For

  • The best V-twin ever made. Period
  • Stunning engine, brakes and handling

Against

  • Shockingly ghastly in traffic
  • It makes you ride like Freddy Krueger

2009 Ducati 1098R Specifications

Price: £26,000
Top speed:
186mph Engine: 1198.4cc, 8-valve, liquid-cooled V-twin
Bore x stroke:
106mm x 67.9mm Compression ratio: 12.8:1
Power:
186bhp at 9,750rpm Torque: 99.1 lb/ft at 7,750rpm
Front suspension:
43mm Öhlins inverted forks Adjustment: Compression, preload and rebound
Rear suspension:
Öhlins Monoshock Adjustment: Compression, preload, rebound and ride height
Front brakes:
2 x 4-piston Brembos, 330mm discs Rear brake: Twin-piston caliper, 245mm disc
Dry weight:
165kg (364lbs) Seat height: 820mm Fuel capacity: 15.5 litres
Colour options:
Red, Bayliss