"I can't decide which gun to bring!"
This type of comparison is the most pleasurable to experience and yet the most difficult to explain. But in this case both sides can come away happy.
The hopped-up Honda proves that modern literbikes are bang-for-the-buck performance champs. The CBR1000RR makes ridiculous speed and impressive lap times for just over a quarter of what the top-of-the-line Ducati 1098R costs. I was most impressed by the refinement of Ammar Bazzaz's electronic wizardry. I've ridden precious few modified bikes that perform this seamlessly. And while I don't like what traction control has done to racing (for proof, just watch how much more interesting Formula 1 car racing is now that it's banned TC for 2008), I must say I love riding with it. Aside from making riding safer, it's absolutely fascinating to experiment with the various levels of sensitivity. I can't believe we have such advanced technology so readily available and for such reasonable prices.
For those privileged few who can come up with the scratch, however, rush down to your favorite Ducati dealer and slap down the money without a moment's hesitation: It's worth every red cent! This is no glorified streetbike dressed up with bits of unobtanium posing as a racebike. I've ridden factory Superbikes that don't feel like this much of a pure racebike. The 1098R's obscenely powerful brakes, wickedly intoxicating power delivery and seamlessly sophisticated traction control are several steps above that of the hot-rodded Honda. The Ducati looks, sounds and feels like the real thing because, quite simply, it is. It's the two-wheeled equivalent of the Ferrari Enzo or FXX.
Can now blame everything on Troy.
Having read about, written about and talked to racers about traction control for a couple of years now, this test marked the first time for me to actually ride a bike with traction control. Both bikes were huge amounts of fun to ride, and the electronics bring a whole new level of confidence to riding a big bike. The interesting aspect of the TC for me was the sense of detachment between the throttle and rear tire. Instead of feeling for traction and gradually feeding in power on corner exits, it seemed like I was an independent observer simply opening the throttle and holding on. That new feedback loop between your brain and the bike definitely takes some getting used to, but I can easily see the benefits.
The DTC works seamlessly, is well sorted and should offer more performance than the Bazzaz Performance Z-Fi setup because it works from front and rear wheel speeds. For a bolt-on piece, however, the Z-Fi system on the Honda is incredibly well refined and works well-amazingly so when you consider it operates on engine rpm rate of change alone. It seems to me that while the Ducati's system may offer better performance if one of the settings is perfectly matched to the conditions, the Bazzaz setup allows you to dial in a setting way quicker and then fine-tune the map for different tracks and conditions.
The 1098R is a beautiful piece with performance to match, and if I were in a position where money wasn't an issue there would be one in my garage. I would only ride it on Sundays, though. Because if money weren't an issue I'd have the CBR1000RR, too, and I'd be at the track riding that the other six days of the week.
"La la la la la, I'm not listening."
It's nice to see traction control finally making its way to the public both in production form (Ducati) and aftermarket (Bazzaz Performance). It was inevitable that rider-aid technology from racing was going to filter down to the consumer, but it should be pointed out that while this technology will surely save your bacon at some point in time, it's not the fail-safe some are making it out to be. One need only look at Fiat Yamaha MotoGP rider Jorge Lorenzo's spectacular get-off at the Chinese GP or Alstare Suzuki World Superbike rider Yukio Kagayama's highside crash at Monza to see that even these highly sophisticated and developed systems cannot prevent rear-tire-traction-related crashes from occurring.
I really enjoyed using both the Ducati and Bazzaz systems, although it definitely requires some time to get the systems dialed in to your particular riding skill level. The current traction-control systems are not some magic pill that will immediately give you better lap times. In fact, in some circumstances they will hold you back simply because they are dialing back engine power. I think that with more time spent with both systems we would have seen some real performance potential, but I'm still unsure at this point in their development whether they would be more of an actual performance benefit as opposed to a mostly safety benefit. Which still isn't a bad thing, all things considered.