Ducati 848 Review
Outstanding L-twin performance
The chassis and handling is sublime
Top rubber and components as standard
It will own the competition, mark my words!
2008 Ducati 848-848 after eight
The 848 is white as mint and awakens the senses just like chocolate. Sweet as it may be, the 848 is as sharp as they get. Slicing through the technical corners on the Almeria circuit in Spain with the confidence inspiring chassis the 749 was known for; but now 20 kilos lighter and with a hell of a lot more horsepower!
A bright November morning greets us in Almeria when the world press enters the bus just after eight. It’s going to be a great day onboard Ducati’s new downscaled superbike. Since I last tested a Ducati the Bologna firm have won MotoGP, added Marco Melandri to the 2008 MotoGP dream team and launched next years world superbike contender, the 1098R.
But still, it_s the 848 I have been most interested in. Every detail about it has promised a new superbike for the people. The 848 truly fills a big gap in the Ducati line-up now that the 749 is gone.
There has been nothing but Monsters for customers interested in a mid-sized motorcycle.
As a roadbike, the 749 always worked. On the racetrack it could never challenge the in-line fours in a convincing manner. Despite all this, the 749 was known for being a rider’s bike.
The question now is whether Ducati have managed to keep this in the 848.
The answer would come around the technical Almeria circuit in the south of Spain. Riding the track for the first time, there is no other motorcycle than the 848 I would rather be on. The chassis is proven and less horsepower and torque than the 1098 makes for a very forgiving package that can be fully utilized.
The 848 weighs in a full 5 kilos lighter than the 1098 too and that makes for great responsiveness.
Even with a wet clutch, there is never any doubt about the Ducatiness judging by the sound. A hearty rumble very similar to the bigger 1098 accompanies my acceleration out of pit lane. The Pirelli Supercorsa Pro tyres only needs a very few warm-up laps before the throttle can be applied a bit more generously. The throttle itself is very easy to modulate without a single protest from the fuel injection enabling safe adjustments mid-corner.
It’s a delight to use with a responsive linear torque curve helping traction.
In a couple of corners I could feel the chassis moving slightly through the Showa suspension, but nothing that would make you back off the throttle. The fully adjustable mono shock is the same as found on the 1098 and the front 43mm Showa fork is also fully adjustable. In most of the corners I found second gear to be the best choice, but in a couple of the faster corners third gear was suitable where one leads out onto the main straight.
At the end of the kilometre long straight I kept seeing around 235km/h in fifth gear. At this point I got to test the four pot Brembo brakes thoroughly as well and they never disappointed. They are not as extremely effective as a pair of top-range Brembo monoblocks, but very easy to use effectively even from high speeds. I kept the brakes applied hard until mid-corner a couple of laps and found it easy to modulate and ease off gradually without a hint of protest from the chassis.
The grip from the Pirelli tyres proved to be very good at all lean angles and that’s good as the 848 really can be leaned a lot with superb ground clearance. The 848 is such an easy motorcycle to keep on its ear and even though the pace is high, it almost feels leisurely.
With 135 horsepower on tap @ 10.000 rpm the 848 is all but leisurely, it is deceptively quick. The elliptical throttle bodies and sublime fuel injection coupled with a very linear torque curve propels the 848 forwards with predictive authority. The Ducati 848 is just as powerful as full litre V-twin superbikes from only a few years ago. To illustrate this Ducati claims that the power to weight ratio is even better than the last generation of 999 Testastretta’s.
Still, at a low weight 168 kilos, the 848 is only wheelie prone in first gear. I was positively surprised at how quickly the high revving L-twin revved up. The 848 feels much more powerful than the old 749 and the torque tops at 96Nm @ 8.250rpm. Compared to the old 749 it’s now more natural to short shift and there’s more than enough drive at around 9.000 rpm to do so.
Forced vacuum die-casting of the engine casings have allowed Ducati to reduce weight by using thinner walls and at the same time keeping the same reliability and service life as the 1098. This process alone has saved 3.5 kilos in the overall weight. Ducati have also added a modular wet clutch for prolonged service intervals and weight savings.
The same oil cooler and radiator as the 1098 also adds to the performance and reliability. The twin underseat exhaust takes care of the characteristic Ducati sound and despite being one of the most substantial components on the motorcycle; it only adds 9 kilos to the dry weight.
Despite the fact that Ducati kept emphasising that the 848 have been designed for the road, it remains obvious what sort of racing expertise the firm have with L-Twin engines. It’s a true delight to ride the 848 fast around the Almeria circuit. The 848 is a sports bike with the same racy seat position as the 1098 with a 51% weight bias to the front. On my first 15 minute session I felt a bit of a arm pump coming towards the end as Almeria is a very busy circuit with a lot of bends.
Many of those curves are blind and one off camber as well. Particularly on my first session it was evident how the 848 could shine on unknown roads too as I practised the correct lines. Corrections on the throttle and directional change were a breeze and if the 848 could talk it would probably have yawned at me for not challenging it enough. But Ducati brought one Spaniard that really knows how to put a superbike to the ultimate test, Ruben Xaus.
Watching Xaus ride the 848 was just a pleasure and an exercise in superior bike control.
I have only one real complaint about the 848, and that is the gear box at downshifts. Whilst brushing off all of that speed after the main straight, I also needed to click down three gears and often felt resistance that disturbed my braking. The gear lever simply wouldn’t click down as easy as it should always. So I had to spend half a millisecond extra getting my brain cells to tell my left foot to push down harder.
I never really got my head around the super tight chicane at Almeria, but the 848 flicked from left to right with the greatest ease and I could have gone much quicker if my head had been with it. Keeping the engine spinning through the midrange for a gradually fuller throttle and drive out of the corners from high lean angles was fun. The stability mid corner is fantastic and I can conclude that the 848 is every bit a rider’s machine as the 749 was.
Big horsepower is fun, but not always the right recipe to put together perfect laps on a circuit or even more important, enjoy a road ride. The Ducati 848 have got exactly what is needed to fully utilize the performance, achieve great lean angles without intimidating you and predictable as few other motorcycles to allow that perfect flow through the curves. The gearbox disappointed a bit on the downshifts and that is my only real complaint.
The 849cc L-twin is a gem and proves once again that big horsepower isn’t necessary to be fast and feel good. I predict now that the 848 will own the competition with a good margin. I want one!
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