Stand-alone tests of European exotica, while important, can usually be summed up in a handful of words along the lines of "Wow, it's fantastic! Wow, it's expensive!" followed by an insightful comment relating the outrageous cost to the equally outrageous performance. Wishing to avoid a similar fate in these pages for Ducati's latest R model, we hatched a plot during the long drive back from HPCC one day to pit the exotic and expensive 1098R with one of Japan's best: the '08 Honda CBR1000RR. And because the 1098R is delivered with a set of Termignoni carbon/titanium slip-ons and an ECU that unlocks that bike's traction-control system for track use, we equipped the Honda with an aftermarket exhaust and a traction-control system to match. Beyond those forced similarities, however, the contrasts are many: Italy versus Japan; V-twin versus inline-four; "real" traction control versus pseudo-TC, and valve springs versus desmodromics. Why the Honda and not the Kawasaki ZX-10R that won our recent literbike comparison test ("Turn It Up to 11," June '08) and represents perhaps the pinnacle of Japan's offerings? We could argue that the CBR turned the quickest lap time in that earlier test by a comfortable margin and that this test is more about track capability and lap times than all-around performance on both street and track. But we really picked the Honda because, like the 1098R, it's red. We like red.
The 1098R is, in typical Ducati R-model fashion, a racebike with a few bits of hardware tacked on to meet homologation and DOT requirements. Associate Editor Siahaan reported from the bike's Jerez press intro a few issues back ("Superbike for the Masses," May '08), but the executive summary is this: Compared with the base 1098, the R model's mill is hotted up with 100cc more displacement, lumpier cams, more compression, bigger titanium valves, titanium rods and the addition of a slipper clutch and secondary shower-style fuel injectors. On the chassis side, the R benefits from the Ohlins front fork and forged magnesium hoops of the S model and goes a step further with an Ohlins TTX shock (in place of the S-bike's standard Ohlins) and a smattering of carbon fiber. The end result is a package that weighs 21 pounds less than the garden-variety 1098 and packs an astounding 20 more peak horsepower.
While the 1098R is sold with an EPA-friendly ECU and exhaust system, included are the Termignoni slip-ons and a matching ECU that bump peak horsepower to 163 (from 157.4 horsepower, now 27 more than the standard 1098). As mentioned, the new black box activates the Ducati Traction Control system, which compares front and rear wheel speeds. Should the rear wheel start turning faster than the front, indicating wheelspin or a wheelie, the ignition is retarded-or cut completely-to restore traction. The setup can be adjusted using the left-handlebar switch to one of eight profiles, with profile 1 offering the least electronic intervention, profile 8 the most.
We're well familiar with the new-for-'08 CBR1000RR; all the technical details were covered in Senior Editor Trevitt's first-ride piece in the May '08 issue ("Light Makes Right"), and the Honda finished a fighting second in our literbike comparison test. The bike's highlights include stomping midrange power and the lowest weight in the class, and those facets combine to make the liter-sized CBR a terror on the racetrack. Big Red doesn't offer an R model of the CBR (well, that you can buy at a local dealer, anyway) and there were no slip-ons or ECU delivered with our bike. No matter; the aftermarket is already up to speed with bolt-on goodies. We snagged the first Leo Vince Corsa exhaust in the country for the CBR, and for a traction-control system we turned to Ammar Bazzaz and his company's Z-Fi setup, which is a piggyback system incorporating fuel-injection mapping, a quickshifter and rate-of-change traction control all in one unit. (See the sidebar on page 40 for more details on the Bazzaz Performance Z-Fi system.) While the unit can be programmed with an extensive map of traction sensitivity and cut parameters, the 12-position switch attached to the left handlebar allows trimming the entire TC map to be more or less aggressive (or the system to be turned off).
Prelude: The Street
While our thoughts on the CBR1000RR's street prowess were well documented in our June issue, this was our first opportunity to sample the 1098R in that arena. Before we ventured to the racetrack we snuck the Ducati out along with a standard 1098 for a day in the hills. As expected, some of the base model's traits-like the strong-but-grabby monoblocco brakes, stinkbug ergos and roasting exhaust-are found in the R model. But in many respects the high-dollar version is both more and less: The 100cc-larger mill offers more power and definitely more torque, the lighter weight is noticeable in transitions, and the R steers both lighter and quicker. But that additional power comes at the expense of drivability: The 1098R's larger throttle bodies and lighter crank require a more subtle hand on the throttle for smoothness. And while the stiffer, more track-oriented Ohlins suspension may likewise offer better performance on the track, not only is it less comfortable than the standard bike's bits, but it offers less overall control over the variety of bumps encountered in canyon riding.
Ironically, in EPA-safe form the 1098R's DTC is inactive, and even though the Ducati may be the first to offer such a system on a production bike, traction control for the street is still not currently a reality. Our testers' verdict after a day in the mountains? The 1098R may have a slight performance advantage, but certainly not $24,000 worth-the standard model more than held its own in the R's company. But the 1098R is not intended as a streetbike.
"The R is a race bike, pure and simple," says the Ducati's press material. To better explore the full capabilities of the 1098R and modified Honda, we chose our usual battleground of Buttonwillow Raceway Park and the usual cast of misfits (Kunitsugu, Trevitt, Siahaan and guest tester Lance Holst) to conduct the testing. We fit both bikes with Bridgestone's latest DOT-race tire (see the sidebar on page 42 for more information about the new BT-003) and set our riders loose for the day on Buttonwillow's west loop.
All our testers were immediately enamored of the sheer power output of both the Ducati and Honda. "The Ducati has power everywhere and more than you can use in most instances," wrote Holst. "The Honda is more of the same: power everywhere and delightfully more than you need or even can use. It's an embarrassment of riches." Kunitsugu proclaimed the 1098R to be the most exciting V-twin sportbike he'd ever ridden, while Holst noted that the Honda's midrange lunge had it feeling like a V-twin but with the advantage of a four-cylinder's overrev. Though the 1098R's lighter internals and racing ECU don't increase redline higher than the standard or S model's limiter, the wider powerband gives much more choice in gear selection. Still, care must be taken to avoid slamming into the abrupt rev limiter at inopportune times, especially when compared with the Honda's acres of overrev.
The Honda's dyno chart may not show much of an improvement in top-end power compared with the stock bike, but fueling is more precise and the midrange even stronger. Part-throttle power is definitely beefier, turning the Honda into more of a missile. "Both bikes make gobs of power," raves Siahaan. "It's a wash as far as that's concerned." The score sheets show a slight advantage for the CBR in the power department, although the dyno says otherwise with the 1098R having a commanding advantage. "The more important thing," continues Siahaan, "is how it gets to the rear tire. And with both bikes being so powerful, the electronics come into play."
Ahh, the electronics. Interestingly, the Ducati's TC setup is adjustable with the left-handlebar switch but requires you to scroll through the menu options to select the DTC, make the change and then apply that change-it's far too awkward to do on the track, so that in turn it's difficult to experiment with the system. "Once you figure out the right settings it really does help the rider achieve better times," wrote Boy Toy in his notes. "The lower settings will let the bike slide a bit before engaging, whereas the higher settings do most of the thinking for you." While some of our testers could hear and feel the electronics cutting in on corner entries, others couldn't-the effects are very subtle, especially as you venture into the lower numbers. "Although its settings are rather coarse," noted Kunitsugu, "it still has enough adjustability to fit riders of all skill levels." El Jefe decided on setting number 3 for his fast laps, feeling that a higher setting (with more electronic intervention) slowed the bike too much.
The Honda's Bazzaz setup, adjustable on track using the bar-mounted trim switch, made experimentation easier. Kunitsugu: "There was quite a difference between clicks of the adjustment knob (which I thought should be slightly larger); even one click from the baseline made a huge difference." Just as on the Ducati, too much TC slowed the Honda around the track, and the Boss settled on a sensitivity level of 4 during his hot laps. Trevitt noted that varying the traction-control settings affected the Honda's off/on throttle response. "Position 4 was just right for me. It softens the initial throttle hit and feels the quickest-it's very smooth on corner exits and gives me lots of confidence. The lower settings make the power more abrupt, and the front end gets flighty."
Turning to each bike's handling characteristics, our riders were somewhat divided on performance. Flyweight Kunitsugu felt the Ducati's Ohlins suspension was too harsh for bumpy Buttonwillow and the awkward bar angle made controlling the 1098R's power difficult: "The harshness upsets the chassis when accelerating over bumps, and with the R model's monster torque it quickly gets the chassis all wound up and forces you to hold off a bit to get things back under control. As with the standard 1098, the bar angle is too wide and flat, causing some unintended steering inputs under acceleration if you aren't careful." In contrast, heavier and taller Holst coped with the 1098R better. "The Ducati requires a bit more steering effort and muscle to transition from side to side, but I prefer its superior feedback and stability to the flightier Honda," he wrote. "The CBR is quick and light-handling but doesn't feel planted and lacks the feedback and stability that I want to feel confident when pushing hard." Again, the CBR edged the 1098R on the scorecards with slightly higher ratings in the suspension, ergonomics, and chassis and handling categories.
The 1098R benefits tremendously from the addition of a slipper clutch, and-as is typical of the R's upgrades-it works flawlessly. The slipper clutch is definitely necessary with the engine's lighter flywheel and internals and makes the bike less susceptible to the chatter of the standard model on corner entries. Both bikes' transmissions shift like the proverbial buttah, although the Honda benefits tremendously from the Bazzaz quickshifter that allows silky-smooth upshifts. Some of our riders felt the pressure switch was too sensitive and found themselves making unintentional shifts occasionally; others more used to such setups had no problems. You may cry foul that we fitted a quickshifter to the Honda, but others would argue that at $40,000 the Ducati should be equipped as standard with one, and given the bike's intentions it's an obvious oversight. Still, the ratings sheets give the nod to the Ducati in the transmission category.
Just as with the standard 1098's huge 330mm binders, the R model's front brakes can be grabby at the track and require some finesse, especially when you're moving about on the bike and trying to modulate the lever at the same time. There's no question about their strength, however, and just one finger is required for more than enough stopping power. Our testers were divided on the Honda's Tokicos, with some noting excellent power and response, others citing a spongy lever and less-than-optimum feedback over a series of laps. Chalk up another category win for the 1098R, according to our testers' scores.
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, lap times are the important factor here, and the Honda had a comfortable margin with a best lap nearly a second quicker than the Ducati's: 1:07.81 for the CBR versus 1:08.72 for the 1098. Interestingly, the times are off compared with our recent literbike comparison test, and while conditions were not as ideal, some of the difference may be attributed to the traction control and the fact that the Ducati is a piece of moto-exotica. "The track was definitely slick in the greater part of the morning, and I didn't want to wad the 1098R," wrote Kunitsugu after some time to collect his thoughts. "However, I do wish we could have spent more time fiddling with both bikes; I think part of the lost time was due to the traction control hindering drives off the corners. When I turned the TC down on both bikes, their performance jump was great enough that it took a few laps to get accustomed to it, and that took time." Indeed, Kento turned his fastest lap on the Honda just after dialing the TC down a notch, dropping almost a half-second in two laps. Likewise, the Ducati's fastest lap was posted just three laps into a session after its DTC was backed off.
Our other riders could definitely feel the higher settings of traction control slowing the bikes down, and we've talked to many racers who encounter the same thing. While the advantage in safety and speed is clear, TC is definitely a case of "be careful what you wish for." Turning on the Ducati's DTC, or simply installing the Bazzaz setup, will not magically make you faster. "I think it would take more than a day of riding to fully exploit the advantages of traction control, especially with a setup like the Bazzaz unit," summed up Kento. "Attempting to find where the limit is in each setting takes more than a few laps, because forcing your mind to overcome your natural instincts is a lot more difficult than it appears. And with the literbikes' brutal treatment of their rear tires, it's easy to run out of rubber before you run out of exploring the benefits of TC."
In the final analysis, three of our four testers scored the Honda higher overall, and the modified CBR handily turned the quickest lap of the day. But as usual when comparing a piece of high-dollar moto art with a comparatively disposable Japanese machine, our numbers don't take into account the exclusivity or style associated with owning the 1098R. Read the SROs to find what our individual testers felt, and, as always, draw your own conclusions based on your own tastes and pocketbook.
60-80 mph, 80-100 mph
Ducati 1098R: 2.79 sec., 3.23 sec.
Honda CBR1000RR: 2.58 sec., 2.32 sec.
Ducati 1098R: 188.1 mph
Honda CBR1000RR: 178.3 mph
Ducati 1098R: 9.75 sec. @ 148.6 mph
Honda CBR1000RR: 9.73 sec. @ 147.8 mph
*Performance numbers are for a stock Honda CBR1000RR
|MSRP||Ducati 1098R **Honda CBR1000RR|
|Price as tested||$39,995||$15,128|
|Type||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke 90-degree 4-stroke L-twin||Liquid-cooled, transverse, 4-stroke four|
|Bore x stroke||106.0 x 67.9mm||76.0 x 55.1mm|
|Induction||Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 64mm dia., two injectors/cyl.||DSFI, single-valve 46mm throttle bodies, two injectors/cyl.|
|Front suspension||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel|
|Rear suspension||Single shock absorber, 5.0 in. travel||Single shock absorber, 5.4 in. travel|
|Front tire||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier PT K|
|Rear tire||190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP||190/50ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier NK|
|Rake/trail||24.3 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)||23.3 deg./3.8 in. (96mm)|
|Wheelbase||56.3 in. (1430mm)||55.4 in. (1407mm)|
|Weight||422 lb. (191kg) wet; 397 lb. (180kg) dry||430 lb. (195kg) wet; 402 lb. (182kg) dry|
"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.
Honda CBR1000RR Modifications
Until recently, aftermarket traction control was available only in concert with a dedicated ECU that completely replaces the stock black box. With the release of Bazzaz Performance's Z-Fi control unit, however, traction control is within reach of the club racer and trackday rider. The base Z-Fi unit is a Power Commander-like piggyback unit that plugs into the stock bike's fuel-injection harness and allows the user to tune the EFI system to accommodate an exhaust system or other modifications. This basic unit can be expanded with the addition of a quickshifter, which plugs into the bike's coils and a switch installed into the shift linkage and allows for clutchless, full-throttle upshifts.
A further expansion adds traction control. The Bazzaz TC setup provides the user with a throttle position/rpm map, similar to the fuel-injection map, that can be programmed with a simple number from 1 to 10 representing a level of sensitivity to the traction control. For each throttle-position range a level of "cut," also ranging from 1 to 10, can be applied. A rapid increase in rpm generally indicates a loss of traction at the rear wheel, and changing the sensitivity setting determines how quickly the system will allow the rpm to rise. If engine speed rises at a rate beyond that determined by the sensitivity setting, the Z-Fi cuts spark to one or more cylinders; the amount the power is reduced is determined by the cut setting. The full Z-Fi setup, including the injection control, quickshifter and TC, costs $999.95. The handlebar-mounted switch that allows switching between two maps and changing the overall sensitivity on the fly retails for an additional $249.95.
The exhaust system we chose for the CBR is a Leo Vince Corsa full system. The $1929 pipe is made from 1mm-thick, high-grade titanium, and weighs just eight pounds-almost 12 less than stock. The Corsa pipe installed easily enough, but the Honda's snap-together bodywork is very frustrating to deal with, and we had to trim a small piece from the bellypan to fit the header.
We took our CBR1000RR to Bazzaz Performance to have the Z-Fi system installed. The process appeared straightforward, with a couple of hours required to make all the EFI and coil connections to the Bazzaz harness and install the unit in the tailsection. We sprung for the additional Z-AFM air-fuel mapping kit, which costs an additional $349.95 and made mapping the Z-Fi box to match the Leo Vince pipe a quick affair. The kit provides real-time feedback to the mapping software, and after running the bike through the range of each throttle position/rpm step the software built a suggested map that was programmed with a single instruction-quick and easy. The AFM kit can record as you ride and be used to continuously fine-tune the mapping, but it falls just short of a full-on closed-loop system.
Turning to the TC portion of the Bazzaz Performance unit, our box was programmed with a base of all 5s in the sensitivity and cut maps for a moderate amount of traction control, with the external switch set to add or subtract sensitivity with each setting. Further features abound on the Z-Fi system: The traction control and fueling maps can be trimmed for each gear, and the quickshifter's kill time can be set individually for each gear. The software is very intuitive and allows for minute adjustments to suit almost any condition, but at the same time the base parameters are very well sorted and the system can be used in true plug-and-play fashion if desired.
Hot on the heels of Bridgestone's release of the new BT-016 street tire comes the BT-003, a replacement for the BT-002 DOT race tire we have used with success in the past. The new tire is claimed to offer improved handling, better grip and significantly reduced front-wheel chatter. The front BT-003 in type 2 and 3 (hard and medium) compounds has a cross-belt construction similar to the BT-002 front, but an additional medium-soft compound (type 4) has a mono-spiral belt construction for bumpy or low-grip tracks. Likewise, the 180/55 and 190/55 rear tires are offered in three compounds, with the 180 type 4 rear having a more flexible construction as well as a softer tread. The 190 rear in type 4 compound has a similar profile to the BT-002 190/55 rear, while types 2 and 3 have a more rounded profile.
We used type 4 fronts and type 3 rears for our day at Buttonwillow, and the new tires performed well in tricky conditions on both the CBR1000RR and 1098R, providing excellent grip and good wear over the course of the day. The front tire provided light and linear steering characteristics very similar to the BT-016 street tire, wiith excellent feedback at all lean angles. The rear tires held up well, lasting most of the day before traction faded only slightly and in a predictable manner. The BT-003 is offered in three sizes (120/70 front, 180/55 and 190/55 rears) and three compounds. For more information see your local race-tire distributor or log onto www.motorcycle-karttires.com.