When Ducati first released the 848 in '08, it was hoping that the WSBK organizers and the FIM would approve its homologation for use in World Supersport competition. The previous 749 was no longer competitive, and the company's switch to the new 1098 platform meant that the smaller sibling had to undergo upgrades as well. Unfortunately, vociferous objections from the Japanese 600cc four-cylinder manufacturers regarding the 848's near-100cc displacement increase put a halt to Ducati's WSS racing plans for its new middleweight.
In fact, the only place where the 848 has been approved for competition among the middleweight landscape is in the U.S., where the AMA's Daytona SportBike category has allowed a wide variety of engine configurations and displacements to race against one another. Team Latus Motors Racing's Steve Rapp, and DNA Energy Drink CNR Motorsports Ducati's Bobby Fong and Michael Beck have been campaigning the smaller desmo with reasonable success, with Rapp finishing on the podium in seven of the season's 18 races, and Fong winning a photo finish over eventual champion Martin Cardenas in the first race at Virginia International Raceway.
That might explain why the U.S. - often last in line when country-specific variants of a particular model are slated for production - was the first country to get shipments of Ducati's latest version of the 848 for '11, christened the 848 EVO. And why we think that you might see more Ducatis running up front in the AMA Daytona SportBike class in '11.
Ducati used typical hot-rodding...
Ducati used typical hot-rodding tricks in the new 848 EVO engine, with new pistons and combustion chambers for a surprisingly high 13.2:1 compression ratio, hotter cams, and larger 60mm throttle bodies.
Ducati's engineers dove into the 848 powerplant's internals in the search for more horsepower, utilizing mostly tried-and-true methods. A new piston crown and combustion chamber shape improve burn efficiency and bump compression significantly from the 848's 12.0:1 to a staggering 13.2:1. More aggressive cams feature higher lift (13mm versus 11.5mm), with the intake cam offering a longer 257-degree duration from the 848's 253-degree span. The Marelli EFI elliptical throttle bodies increase in equivalent diameter from 56mm to 60mm, and the 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system now uses two lambda probes (one for each cylinder) to maintain precise fueling.
New non-adjustable steering...
New non-adjustable steering damper helps quell headshake tendencies under hard acceleration. LCD instrument panel is still difficult to read at a glance in bright daylight, and shift lights aren't that much better.
The chassis and running gear also received some minor upgrades, with Brembo's monobloc calipers now handling front brake duties, and a non-adjustable steering damper installed behind the steering head. And Pirelli's superb Diablo Supercorsa rubber replaces the previous Dragon Supercorsa Pro tires.
Andiamo! ("let's go!")
Firing up the 848 EVO results in a bark that is slightly more muted than the previous 848. There's still plenty of the usual desmodromic basso profundo exhaust note present, but much of the edge has seemingly been lopped off. A look at the EVO's tail section reveals why: the EVO's twin underseat silencers are much longer than the previous units, with the ends protruding far beyond the tiny taillight perched at the tip of the angular tailpiece (the reason for these longer mufflers is part of what appears to be a stop-gap solution that we'll get into later).
Noticeable right off the bat is a slight dead spot around 3000 rpm that requires a little throttle and clutch finesse to get off the line smartly, especially with the V-twin's typical tall gearing. Thankfully the 848's wet clutch is far more durable and smoother in action than the dry clutch units found on the bigger desmos.
The ergos are unchanged from the previous generation, so all that needs to be said is that they're great for the racetrack or serious canyon use, but anything other than an aggressive pace on twisty tarmac and your wrists and backside will be begging for mercy in no time. Mirrors are great for a blurred view of your elbows, although all Ducati Superbikes now come with optional 30mm mirror stalk extensions; we weren't able to try these out, but the vibration from the V-twin's power pulses fuzzes out the image so badly that it'll be difficult to tell if it's a police cruiser or pickup truck behind you anyway.