In the Ducati family it's no secret that the 848 is following in the footsteps of its 1098 older brother. As it shares many common parts with the 1098-most notably its bodywork-making comparisons between the two is inevitable.
In reality the 848 shouldn't be looked at as a diluted 1098, but rather as a supersized version of its predecessor, the 749. In that regard the 848 comes into its own as the perfect middleweight bruiser. To quote the Ducati press material, the 848 is "as agile and light as a Supersport, and as powerful as a Superbike." In a time where more and more motorcycles are gaining weight (in order to meet emissions requirements, mainly), weight savings has been among the top priorities with the 1098/848 makeovers at Ducati. According to the company the 848 comes in at 11 pounds less than the 1098. In reality, our 848's wet weight was 435 pounds, just eight pounds lighter than the 1098 we tested last year ("Mind the Gap," Jul. '07).
Besides a rigorous diet plan, the 848 shares many of the same technological advances first shown on the 1098. Of course, motivation comes from an 849cc Testastretta Evoluzione engine with an oversquare bore and stroke of 94mm and 61.2mm, respectively. Elliptical throttle bodies measuring an equivalent diameter of 56mm are employed on the 848 and are fed fuel through a single injector. Valve angle on the new engine has been reduced to allow a more efficient and straighter path to the redesigned combustion chambers. All this equates to the 848 pumping out 116.5 horsepower and 61.7 ft-lb of torque at 10,250 and 8250 rpm on the SuperFlow dyno.
On the chassis side the signature trellis frame on the 848 hasn't escaped the fine-toothed comb, either. Main-section tubes now increase in diameter from 28 to 34mm, while wall thickness is reduced to 1.5mm from 2mm. Front-suspension duties are courtesy of a 43mm, fully adjustable, inverted Showa fork. The same Showa rear shock as used on the 1098 handles the bumps out back. Strangely, as a cost-cutting measure the rear-suspension linkage doesn't provide the collars to adjust ride height-even some of the Monster models came equipped with this feature. Stopping power is provided by Brembo four-piston calipers, employing two pads each and clamping on 320mm discs. A single 245mm disc and two-piston caliper sit in the rear. Unlike the 1098, however, the front calipers on the 848 are not of the monobloc variety.
To really find out if the 848 could step out of the 1098's shadow we flogged the bike on the street and on the track to get some real-world impressions and see its racetrack prowess.
First off, sitting on the bike it's hard to miss its narrow proportions. Thanks to the V-twin engine layout the slim and slender shape of the gas tank is in stark contrast to its Japanese counterparts and their inline-fours. Beyond that, the 848 sits the rider high-placing significant weight on the wrists. Great for the racetrack. Not so much on the street.
Riding around town the 848 is an exercise in compromise. Unlike Ducatis of old, pressing the start button actually spins the starter motor instead of beginning the start sequence. Similar to other Ducatis, however, getting the engine to fire in the morning (especially a cold one) will require a few attempts with the button. Once firing, the Magneti Marelli EFI settles into a fast idle and warms the engine rather quickly.
On the road the 848's light weight and narrow bodylines make it great for ripping through traffic and zipping around town. On the flip side, the racerlike ergos kill the wrists on anything more than a moderate ride. To add insult to injury, while the wrists are aching your thighs and underside start cooking from the heat the underseat exhausts put out. Moving along at highway speeds helps to alleviate the heat from the legs, but there's no helping your buns-they'll get toasty on a warm summer's day. Clicking through the gears is silky-smooth as well. Engagement is slick, and there's never an issue selecting a gear. That said, a gear indicator would have been a welcome addition. But again, there's a compromise-a tall first gear means that significant clutch slippage is required to get the bike moving. Combine that with a rather stiff clutch lever and it's best to make sure your left-hand strength is up to par. For an 849cc V-twin, the 848 is rather conservative with fuel; we averaged right around 38 mpg in our combined daily commuting and canyon stretches. Oddly, though the tank carries 4.1 gallons of fuel, the low-fuel light comes on with almost a gallon and a half left. Better than the light coming on with barely any left, we suppose.
As you would expect, the little Duck is in its element when the roads get twisty. Turn-in is quick, no doubt in part due to its relatively light weight. At street speeds the rear shock is a bit on the harsh side. A turn or two less rebound would be a helpful fix, except that accessing the adjuster is hampered by the single-sided swingarm. A small cutout is built into the swingarm, but an Allen-head driver is required to make any adjustments. And of course it's not included in the (minimal) tool kit.
For the torque the bike puts out, the 848 rewards proper gear selection-the Testastretta doesn't like spinning below 6000 revolutions. Drive out of corners at anything less and the engine starts to bog and complain. Get it right, though, and the Duck will power out of a turn as hard as anything out there. Fuel injection is well tuned with no jerkiness during on/off throttle. Eventually you'll need to slow down-and while they may not be monoblocs, the Brembo brakes can easily bring everything to a halt with one finger. The Brembo master cylinder and steel-braided lines provide great feel as well, though initial bite is somewhat soft.
The folks at Borgo Panigale live and die at the racetrack, and they engineer their bikes to do the same. With that, it was only natural to bring the 848 to the track and let it stretch its legs. We tagged along with the folks at SoCal Track Days (www.socaltrackdays.com) to one of their well-run, no-session trackdays at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, Nevada. The Spring Mountain course provides a nice variety of fast sweepers, tight bends, hard-braking zones, short straights and a few bumps to test everything a bike can do.
Opening the throttle on the Ducati at racetrack speeds one notices that the 849cc Testastretta engine provides a good spread of power. It was only as the revs neared redline that the power started to drop off. The series of red LED shift lights atop the Desmosedici-like gauge cluster was readable in a tuck, but otherwise shifting was done purely by ear. Fortunately, the rev limiter isn't abrupt like that of other Ducatis we've tested in the past.
On the chassis side, the quick steering exhibited on the street shone through at the track. Turns 9 and 10 are part of a quick chicane that leads onto the front straight and shows off the bike's nimble chassis. The slightly stiff rear suspension we noticed on the street suited the track conditions well. It was the front where we noticed the budget Showa suspension falling behind. Here the bike feels as though the compression-damping circuit is nonexistent and that damping is purely controlled by the spring. Similar to the shock linkage without ride-height adjustment, we believe this compromise to be another cost-cutting measure on Ducati's part. While this works well enough on the street, at track speeds there's a lack of feedback at maximum lean. Not to mention the severe fork compression under braking.
Speaking of which, the Brembo brakes that perform so well on the street also do a great job on the track. The one-finger stopping power proved more than adequate for Spring Mountain's few hard-braking areas. With the bike's weak compression damping, however, jamming on the binders bottoms out the fork, causing the rear to skip off the ground and unsettle the bike. hlins bits for both the front and rear are optional and should really bring out the chassis's potential. It's important to note, too, that a steering damper does not come standard. As with the hlins parts, the damper is optional.
Overall, the little Ducati has the makings of a great track weapon. The first two turns at Spring Mountain-a series of long right- and left-hand sweepers-give the bike time to settle the suspension and carry great corner speed. Turn 2 has a few ripples in the pavement that test the suspension while fully leaned over-none of which seemed to be a problem. Riding the 848 at track speeds, one learns to make the most of what the bike gives you, which is great torque, strong brakes and a nimble chassis.
So What's The Deal?
The 1098 unquestionably has cast a huge shadow for the 848 to step out of. On the street it makes for a worthy companion, but riding it any which way but fast just doesn't do it justice. When flogged on the track it seems to come alive, but it's hampered by a few suspension woes-a bit like its bigger brother, really. Was the 848 never meant to step out of the shadows after all? No, instead the 848 walks right beside its brother and casts an even greater shadow. This then raises the question-will there be an S or R version coming in the near future? If history is any indication, we're willing to bet on it.
+ Nice spread of power throughout the rev range
+ Awesome brakes
+ Neutral chassis
- Quirky suspension
- Racer ergos are torture on the street
- Exhaust roasts your buns and thighs
x The 848 is a few suspension bits short of a knockout.
Suggested Suspension Settings
Spring preload: 3 lines showing; rebound: 7 clicks out from full stiff; compression: 1.5 turns out from full stiff; ride height: 10mm fork tube showing above top triple clamp
Spring preload: 10mm thread showing above collar; rebound: 5 turns out from full stiff; compression: 4 turns out from full stiff
'08 Ducati 848
Type: Liquid-cooled, 90-deg., 4-stroke L-twin
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 4 valves/cyl.; desmodromic actuation
Bore x stroke: 94.0 x 61.2mm
Compression ratio: 12:1
Induction: Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 56mm dia., 1 injector/cyl.
Front suspension: 43 mm Showa inverted cartridge fork, 5.0 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single Showa shock absorber, 5.0 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in.; cast alloy
Rear wheel: 5.5 x 17 in.; cast alloy
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa Pro
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa Pro
Rake/trail:24.5 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)
Wheelbase: 56.3 in. (1430mm)
Seat height: 32.6 in. (830mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal. (15.5L)
Weight: 435 lb (197kg) wet; 410 lb (186kg) dry
Instruments: LCD panel for digital speedometer, tachometer, odometer/tripmeter, temperature gauge, clock, scheduled maintenance warning, average speed, average fuel consumption; warning lights for oil pressure, fuel level, oil temperature, fuel reserve, trip fuel; neutral, high beam, turn signals
Quarter-mile: 10.71 sec. @ 130.44 mph
Top speed:164.5 mph
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/4.00 sec.; 80-100 mph/5.15 sec.
Fuel consumption: 30-40 mpg, 37 mpg avg.
_I'm not really cross-eyed, I swear._
Prior to riding the 848 I was testing the latest crop of 600s for our 600 shootout. Before that I was riding the newest literbikes for our 1000 comparo. So with all these varying power levels in mind, I really didn't know what to expect from the Ducati. Its displacement is in the middle-and it's a twin. I went into it open-minded and came away pleasantly surprised: The power isn't overwhelming like the literbikes, but it has more gusto than the 600s. Being a twin, that go-juice was available much earlier in the rev range as well. Add to that a great chassis and awesome brakes and you have the makings for an all-around perfect motorcycle. Well, almost. Ducati's decision to cheap out on the suspension is ultimately the bike's fall from grace. Can't please them all, I guess, but hey-at least it looks like a million bucks!
_I'm late for American Idol!_
When I first saw that Ducati was building a little brother for the 1098, I was pretty skeptical-I was never a big fan of the 749 and figured the 848 would be more of the same. But it took just a few turns down one of my favorite roads to prove me wrong. In a lot of ways the 848 is a better streetbike than the 1098. The power is not so overwhelming, throttle response is much smoother and the chassis feels better balanced. It's a bit disappointing that Ducati so obviously cut corners to make the bike affordable, and that would make it less appealing to me as a buyer, but the overall package doesn't suffer for it. Where the 749 always felt to me like an underpowered 999, the 848 is its own motorcycle with a very individual personality.
_I can't believe I trust these two with motorcycles._
In many ways I've always preferred the smaller-bore Ducati twins over their liter-size brethren. Despite the outright power disadvantage, they just have a friskier, quicker-revving character that makes them more enjoyable to wring out in the canyons or on the racetrack (I could cite nearly winning an AMA Superbike Pro Thunder National race in 2000 on a 748R as ample proof). Their handling is also more agile, especially on initial turn-in, adding to the fun.
The new 848 is no exception. Instead of the 1098's strong-arm torque that threatens to tie its chassis in knots, the 848 has that middleweight-style balance of power and handling that makes for a smoother and more satisfying ride when the pace gets turned up. Being able to use more of the engine and chassis means you often end up going faster with less effort.
The chassis setup on our 848 test unit seems more front-end-biased than the 1098 we last tested, and that appears to have helped quell at least some of the handling issues we encountered with the bigger desmo. Front-end feedback was excellent, and I could rail into corners and carry mucho corner speed with confidence (although I did notice that front-tire wear was getting a bit excessive).
Bike hangout regulars may turn up their nose at the smaller 848, but those who know will understand that the owner is probably having more fun than the majority of big-bike owners.