Ducati 848

Trickle-Down Technology: Engineering For Hailwood. and You.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to straddle a very special motorcycle, it was one of Phil Schilling’s prized Ducatis. The initial intent of my exercise was only to meet Phil, see and admire his collection. What I left with was a lifelong admiration for the complex engineering that has always been a trademark of Ducati motorcycles.

This particular motorcycle was purpose built to win the 1958 125cc World Championship with none other than Mike Hailwood aboard. I distinctly remember how tiny it was, and what stood out was a disproportionately oversized cylinder head that actually enclosed its three gear-driven Desmodromic overhead camshafts. Incredibly complex, the small Desmo seemed to be made for one purpose, to win a World Championship.

Obviously Ducati has always been a company with an intense focus and clear intent for each of the motorcycles it creates, and the more racing oriented the bike, the more focused the objective. The immense amount of engineering that went into the development of Ducati’s new 848 has resulted in a bike that already implements technology that supersedes the just released 1098. Stoner may have made it look easy in winning the Moto GP championship, but behind the scenes lay a labyrinth of knowledge learned both at the race track along with cutting edge engineering development tools and strategies back at the factory.

The 1958 Works 125 was developed utilizing drafting boards and blue prints, and an indescribable amount of ingenuity by the famed engineer Dr. Taglioni. The new 848 underwent countless engineering revisions and iterations utilizing computerized modeling.

A process with which an engineer can, with the movement of his computer mouse, and the aid of very complex three dimensional modeling programs, simulate the outcome of every part of the motorcycle including new casting designs and processes, integrity of wall thickness at critical high stressed points, air/fuel flow via differing valve sizes, cam duration, valve timing overlap, combustion shape and valve angles, length and shape of intake tracks, injector timing and placement. The complexity can make ones head hurt, and as you can imagine, the development iterations could be endless.

Marco Sairu, Ducati’s Engine Project Manager and his team were very focused on what the 848 was to deliver to the rider, and while the process is immensely complex, the outcome is a motorcycle that feels so proficient and competent in delivering to the street rider a balance of intoxicating power and real world flexibility.

The race track provided real world knowledge from the new 800cc GP07 championship winning bike, this combined with the new-age computer simulations and very bright engineers, Ducati has produced a bike that deserves to be looked at with a much more discerning eye. When ridden, remember that the smile on your face is a result of decades of focus, determination and belief in a beautifully simplistic, yet immensely complicated desmodromic valve actuation design, just as Taglioni utilized exactly 50 years ago.

The methodology to meet their design goals may have changed, but the outcome has not. The biggest change being that in 1958 you had to be a Mike Hailwood just to have the honor to race the bike, today you can walk into your local Ducati shop and buy the latest in technological wizardry in the new 848.

Proof is in the numbers, not only with how evolved this engine is from the just-released 1098, but with the stout 134 crank horsepower at 10,000 rpm and over 70 ft. lbs. of torque at 8250 rpm that the new engine produces. Combine this with a dry weight of 369 lbs-which is a full 44 lbs. lighter than the outgoing 749 and 11 lbs. less than the 1098-and the results are a lively and very entertaining ride, to say the least. With 70% of the engine being redesigned from the 1098, it was obvious, even before riding the bike, that Ducati is very serious about introducing to the discerning market a sportbike that should be included on any rider’s short list regardless of displacement.

First impressions can be very telling if the design and development criteria have been met, so it was apparent that it was going to be a fun day when, coming out of pit lane, the front wheel lofted skyward after clicking second gear, then, with what seemed to be little effort, flicked into a fast but tight turn one. The Almeria track is an undulating course made up of 14 turns with just two moderate straights, which means that you are almost constantly concentrating on braking, corner lines, and quick transitions.

Throughout the day’s sessions, it became very clear that the true magic lay in the development of the engine. Exiting turn one brought me over a blind hill down into a flowing right turn, then quickly flicking into a fast, but long, left turn that had my toes on the pegs, as grip and stability were almost a second thought.

A week before this trip I had spent a warm-up day on a 1098S, for which I was thankful, as this 848 felt like a much-lighter, even smaller bike to ride even on this demanding course. When I asked how the 848, being dimensionally almost identical to the 1098, could feel so lively transitioning left to right and back with such ease, Marco Sairu carefully explained that Ducati had removed 36.8% of the reciprocating mass.

In other words, the rotational inertia of the crankshaft, piston/conrod, primary gear, flywheel, and rotor (which alone is 46% less than the 1098 and outgoing 749R) have been lightened so much that the effects of this rapidly moving mass on the chassis, is this agile, almost racebike feel. Over the past few years, many articles have been written on how the factories have been experimenting with the center of gravity on the new breed of GP bikes.

The trickle-down benefit to the 848 is the C of G being moved 3.3mm closer to the center axis of the crankshaft and 7mm higher. When you combine this with the reduction in internal rotational inertia, you get a sportbike that handles more like my 250GP bike than a modern, fully legal streetbike.

Compared to the 1098, the crankcases employ a new casting technique called Vacural, which is a vacuum diecasting technology that enabled Marco and his team to remove 6.5 lbs-a full twenty-five percent of weight–out of the crankcases alone. In tandem with FEA (finite element analysis), the engineers were able to reduce wall thickness of the castings by as much as fifty-percent from 6mm at the thickest points to 3mm in less load-bearing areas.

Another benefit of this new casting technique is that it provides a denser, tighter grain with minimal voids in the alloy. Upon visual inspection, it was easy to see in the telltale Testastretta deep sump that the finish was very smooth and almost glass like.

Also unique was the utilization of material around the critical crankshaft bearing area, where there is a balance of thinwall material and a unique spiral webbing spreading out from the edge of the bearing area, allowing for required strength but, yet again, attaining the target weight reduction. Another lesson of less is more. Combine all this with a thirteen percent lighter crankshaft and a new wet clutch that is twenty-nine percent lighter than the usual dry clutch application on Ducati’s sportbikes, and the result is a bike that has a better power-to-weight ratio than the potent 999.

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