The parking lot encircling the hotel was packed, despite it being a weekday. Among a sea of rental fleet specials, a leviathan tractor trailer was parked, taking up four parking slots and the adjacent lane. The Ducati Corse livery, bright rosso paint and the anticipation of what lay within, triggered salivation like a Kobe steakhouse. The Ducati reps greeted us and promptly started offloading the bikes – the new Monster 696, a Hypermotard S and a beautiful, red 848. Wait…no, it’s a 1098, followed by an 848, in yellow. No, that one’s a 1098 also. Which one is the 848? More importantly, which one is mine? My uncertainty is easily apparent, as the Ducati rep catches me peering around the bikes for the side decals; the only way I can discern my ‘middleweight superbike’ from the 1098.
Confusion picking the 848 apart from its larger sibling is understandable and represents both the main point of criticism and praise of it; the 848 is identical to the 1098 in its outer beauty. The 1098/848 are perhaps the most gushed-over bikes to come out of Bologna since the 916. Since the controversy over the love-it-or-hate-it, ‘design exercise’ styling of the 999/749, the somewhat more conventional clothing of the current siblings have that mass appeal that even a non-motorcycle aficionado can appreciate. Whether in red or unconventional white, the 848 is not for introverts: heads will turn and eyes will cast jealous stares in the direction of this Italian stunner.
Criticism of the 848 tends to focus on the fact that it’s essentially a 1098 with a few cheaper components and a smaller engine. Those critics clearly side with the ‘tank is half empty’ argument. Sure, the 848 lacks the traditional dry clutch of its predecessors and its bigger brother, but the wet clutch setup makes for easy modulation and greater durability, as well as a decent weight savings. The ‘lesser’ Brembo calipers may not be as beefy as those on the 1098, but the initial bite is far tamer. To state that the 848 is simply a smaller displacement 1098 is like saying Prada is simply a lesser brand compared to Vuitton. Despite the fewer cc’s. the 848 features an all-new Testastretta Evoluzione powerplant churning out more power than the 749 while shedding weight faster than a supermodel prior to a Vogue photoshoot. In spite of the displacement reduction, the engine is incredibly smooth in its linear power delivery and certainly doesn’t leave its rider in want of more power; if anything, the 1098 chassis feels better suited with the smaller twin for street riding.
The ergonomics of the bike are somewhat misleading. The steeply raked nose and long, narrow tank make the handlebars appear far out of reach of the seating position; combined with the wafer-thin seat and ultra-narrow profile, the 848 looks about as comfortable to mount as a Philippe Starck recliner. But it’s really not that bad.
Upon straddling the bike, I wasn’t as stretched out as the long profile suggested, and the seat had substantially more give than it appeared. My only complaints stem from certain design elements; the fairing along the trellis frame ahead of one’s knees has a tendency to rub the fairing screws into the tender part of a rider’s shins, and the raked angle of the fairing stay becomes an issue with low speed maneuverings, whereupon fingers are easily pinched between the clip-ons and cowl. The lack of an indicated redline on the otherwise fantastic MotoGP-derived instrument pack induces hooliganism simply to see how high the Testastretta twin will sing.
Minor quibbles, really. Thumb the starter, and the subsequent sonorous bellowing from the twin exhausts is akin to Queen drummer Roger Taylor pounding on a set of kettle drums, enough to drown out any thoughts of what few flaws the bike may exhibit. Although appearing slightly gaudy in weld-marked stainless steel, one would have to give serious thought to replacing such a rich sounding exhaust. Pull the clutch with minimal effort and snick the shifter into first, and you’d be forgiven for mistakenly believing the transmission had been sourced from the finest among the Big Four from Japan. The clutch pull is relatively light (albeit still wrist-achingly cramp-inducing in heavy traffic) and the shift action smoother than any of its predecessors. Ratios are well matched to the torque of the twin, and more geared towards street than that of the 1098.
The Pirelli Super Corsas equipped as standard are the perfect pairing for the 848, enhancing turn-in feel without exaggerating the falling feeling displayed by so many 600’s. Once warmed, they grab and grip like an inebriated freshman at a year-end frat party. “Confidence inspiring” fails to describe the surprise of being able to roll on the throttle mid-corner and not find the backside squirming and sliding in an attempt to outpace the front.
The Showa suspension, despite the lack of proper setup and adjustment prior to my thrashings, provided such stability and feedback throughout the repeated ‘S’ curves of our local stomping grounds that I began to think running my hand along the pavement would yield less tactile sensation. Perhaps the extra length of the 848 (at 56.3 inches, over an inch longer than any competition) accounts for this stability and the lack of a need for a steering stabilizer; however, both contribute to a need for slightly more effort on turn-in than a typical 600. Although the 848 ditches the pricey Brembo monobloc calipers as featured (and often raved about) on the 1098, the two-piece units and slightly smaller rotors on the smaller sibling do a fantastic job of crushing one’s pelvis on the angular tank under heavy braking.
At $16,495 CDN ($13,995 US) MSRP, the premium paid for Italian exotica is certainly still there, but it is shrinking. Factor in Ducati’s 50% reduction in maintenance costs for the current lineup, and the 848 is almost affordable. The satisfaction of hedonist desires is rarely cheap, but the 848 delivers with gusto, style, and an unmistakable v-twin rumble.