On its own the standard 1098 has a powerful engine, strong brakes and nice suspension-although rear-shock settings were rather stiff and I never did get them completely to my liking. But where the standard model is good, the R is just that much better. Instantly you notice the massive torque available, but just as with the standard model power delivery is very linear. Powering down the front straight at Jerez it's visually obvious that man and machine are going fast, but audibly it's almost hard to tell. Strictly relying on the ears to gauge shifting points takes some getting used to as well, because the hard rev limiter abruptly brings the propulsion to a halt at 10,500 revolutions-just when you think it's coming alive. Fortunately clicking from gear to gear is a snap. The gearbox on Big Red requires just a tap in either direction and might very well be the best cog box I've sampled yet. Similarly the slipper clutch may just be the best I've tried as well. No matter how sloppy my shifting, banging down through the gears never upset the rear wheel in the slightest. In fact it might be too good, because the lack of back-torque to the rear placed virtually all of the braking forces on the front.
No matter, as the huge discs and Brembo components were more than up to the task. Hurtling down the back straight-the fastest portion of the Jerez track-leads you to a tight, right hairpin that really tests the binders. Lap after lap the Brembos never let up or faded, providing brutal stopping power with a positive feel at the lever.
The Circuito de Jerez combines fast, sweeping turns with a nice mix of slow hairpins to make things interesting. Being there with a mix of some of the world's best moto-scribblers (and at least one former MotoGP rider) meant learning the track quickly would be paramount. Fortunately the 1098R only knows one speed: fast. Its featherlike weight makes for seamless side-to-side transitions, and the Pirelli Supercorsa tires stick like glue (a harder, more durable version dubbed Supercorsa SP comes stock). Although I never quite got the front end feel I wanted from the hlins bits, the sticky Pirellis probably tricked me into the confidence needed to push just that little bit extra into each turn, which is a good thing because the steering is so precise that my punishment for inferior corner entry speed was an unwanted early apex.
So now the part you really want to know: How well does the DTC work? Simply put it can make the average Joe feel like a complete hero. At level 5 the TC kicked in exiting the tight hairpins on the track. Knee on the ground and neutral throttle applied-no noticeable difference. But twist that wrist ever so slightly and the electronic trickery kicks in like a hard rev limiter and ever so gradually feeds the power to the rear wheel the more the bike comes vertical. Hard on the gas in fast, sweeping turns resulted in an audible silence down below for a fraction of a second, like a soft limiter, as spark was interrupted during that cycle. On a perfect day like we had in Jerez the higher settings were pointless because they basically meant less and less power the more the bike was leaned, actually slowing lap times.
With the settings at the lower end of the spectrum the real magic began. Experimenting with the DTC at 3, exiting those same slow-speed hairpins hardly triggered any response from the system, giving the impression of a more direct link between the rear wheel and the throttle. And while the system does kick in during fast sweepers, it allows the rider to get a slight feel for the slide beforehand. Following other riders who had their settings even lower it was clearly apparent when the system was working, as the rear Supercorsa would engage in a dance between sliding and regaining traction several times through a turn, leaving little darkies on the ground each time. It's interesting to note the DTC relies strictly on wheelspeed sensors and doesn't employ the use of bank-angle sensors and the like; the system only monitors if the rear wheel is spinning faster than the front, so celebratory wheelies won't be very spectacular-which I found out firsthand.
At the end of the day, though, wheelies won't drop lap times, and this is what the 1098R is all about-going as quickly as possible for as long as possible. As impressive as it is the Ducati still has its faults, mainly a harsh limiter set at 10,500 rpm and a tachometer that was difficult to read at speed. And though I had some front-end issues, with more time to adjust the clickers I'm sure those would have been sorted out. Small quibbles, really, for a machine that is otherwise faultless. Of course there's a price to pay if you want exclusive access to this elite club, say to the tune of $39,995. Definitely not chump change, but as John Paolo Canton, the U.S. press officer for Ducati puts it, "It's an investment in happiness."
I couldn't have said it better myself.
'08 DUCATI 1098R
Type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC L-twin
Bore x stroke: 106.0 x 67.9 mm
Induction: Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 63.9mm dia.; 2 injectors/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail: 24.3 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)
Wheelbase: 56.3 in. (1430mm)
Claimed dry weight: 364 lb. (165kg)
Seat height: 32.2 in. (820mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal. (15.5L)