A page is about to be turned in Ducati’s glorious quarter-century history of building the world’s ultimate twin-cylinder Superbikes, with the expected introduction one year from now of the Italian firm’s new-generation ultra-short-stroke 1200cc desmo V-twin. Featuring gear camshaft drive, a cassette gearbox and its cylinders still set at 90 degrees but rotated rearward to produce a true V-twin motor rather than the traditional L-twin format of all Ducati Superbikes ever made, the new engine will reputedly be located in a monocoque chassis based on the format of the Desmosedici MotoGP contender. As such, it represents a radical departure from the layout adopted by Ducati on all its models ever since the debut of its first liquid-cooled fuel-injected Superbike back in 1986, comprising a tubular-steel trellis frame housing an L-twin motor with toothed-belt cam drive.
To mark this forthcoming end of an illustrious era, Ducati has launched the most avant-garde volume-production sportbike it’s yet developed as the ultimate version of its series of title-winning twins. Replacing both the previous 1198S and 1198R models, the 1198SP isn’t a limited-edition homologation special like the R Corse, but it has all the electronic software and mechanical hardware, including DTC (Ducati Traction Control), DDA (Ducati Data Acquisition), Ohlins suspension, Brembo monobloc brakes and Marchesini seven-spoke forged aluminum wheels. New for the SP is DQS, Ducati’s Quick Shifter system that is the first for any Ducati production bike and is also fitted to the base 1198 model. Also new are a ramp-type slipper clutch fitted as standard and the larger, aluminum 4.8-gallon fuel tank from the R Corse model that saves two pounds compared with the 1198’s 3.8-gallon plastic tank. The SP is available in red or black, each with a red frame and black wheels with distinctive red pinstriping, and the SP lists for $21,995, just $200 more than the S model it replaces and $500 less than the Aprilia RSV4 APRC SE, similarly loaded with World Superbike title-winning electronics.
The engine is identical to...
The engine is identical to the standard 1198 powerplant, and no R version is offered for ‘11. However, engine internals will be available through Ducati Performance to upgrade the engine to the R specification.
Riding the 1198SP at Ducati’s iconic Imola home track-where the Italian factory’s race-winning heritage was forged back in 1972 when Paul Smart won the Imola 200 on the first-ever Ducati desmo V-twin racerunderlined the significance of this series production model. Carlos Checa, double race-winner on the Team Althea customer race version of this very motorcycle in the World Superbike round held just one month earlier on the same track, was present to give me a master class on how to ride the swoopy, switchback circuit, and confirmed his bike was still competitive at the very highest level. This new streetbike is the closest thing I’ve ever ridden to the bike I’m racing at weekends, even compared to the R1 Yamaha I built to do track days on when I was racing for Yamaha in MotoGP.
Same as all Ducati big twins since the advent of the 1098, the 1198SP has a spacious, balanced riding position without excessive weight on your wrists and shoulders, which gives you lots of space to move about the bike and use your body weight to load up either wheel by moving back or forth, as appropriate. As with the 848 EVO also launched that day, you sit much more within the Ducati than on it, with your arms draped round the voluptuous, larger fuel tank.
The traction control system is essentially unchanged from the 1098R it was introduced on three years ago, and monitors the relative speeds of the two wheels, engine rpm, throttle angle, gear selected and the engine map to deliver instant electronic adjustment to the ignition advance or, when more extreme intervention is required, cut the fuel injection. The rider has eight different levels to choose from, and it’s a genuine race-quality traction control system. However, the cutout causes a staccato rattle when the rear wheel loses grip and the TC activates, whereas the more controlled and refined Aprilia-developed system in the RSV4 APRC equivalent of Ducati’s 1198SP is completely silent and arguably quite a bit more refined in operation.