Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kawasaki introduces ECO2Logic in Europe

The cleaner, greener, Kawasaki Z750 is here...

Big Green are now getting… greener. In keeping with newer, stricter C02 emissions norms, Kawasaki, in Europe, are now offering their ‘ECO2Logic’ technology on some of their bikes – the ones with less than 100bhp. The 2009 Kawasaki Z750 will be the first bike to be equipped with ECO2Logic, which we think represents tweaks to the fuel-injection and exhaust systems to minimise emissions…

...though this is more our kind of Kawasaki-green!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In conversation with Damien Basset

Damien Basset, the man who designed the Ducati Streetfighter

We think the Ducati Streetfighter really is one of the very best looking machines to come out of Italy in recent times. It’s buff and muscular, taut and aggressive, and gives out that ‘you don’t want to mess with me’ vibe, which we quite like. So it was only natural that we tracked down the man who designed this bike – Damien Basset – and asked him some questions.

From 1997 to 2000, Damien studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, in the US, from where he got a degree in product design. He then started his career in 2001 with Honda R&D Americas and now works with Ducati at their Design Center in Bologna, Italy. He was the project leader for the Ducati Streetfighter and was responsible for the concept, design and development of the bike.

Here are some excerpts from what Damien has to say about his life, his work and motorcycle design:

On where he’s from, and how he got started with motorcycle design

I am from Laval, a small city in the north-west of France, about 30 minutes away from Le Mans. My father is a passionate motorcyclist; I've always seen motorcycles in the garage, all brands, all types, and all generations. I wanted to do something about bikes, selling them, building them etc. I was always a hands-on person – restoring old bikes and modifying my own…

Once, seeing the parts I had designed for my bike, a mechanic told me about Franco Sbarro and his design school and I decided to check it out. Till that time, I thought design applied only to furniture and weird lighting devices – I had no clue I could also apply this to creating motorcycles. While visiting Sbarro's school in Switzerland, I learnt about Art Center College of Design. When I entered the students’ gallery, there was a yellow Ducati redesigned as a thesis project by some student, and I was hooked.

When I enrolled at the Art Center, I first decided I wouldn’t design bikes!! I was much too involved with bikes to let anybody impose their vision on me. And so I started with sketching and designing more than 200 watches, TVs, cellphones and other consumer products. But in the end, I realised I’d rather do motorcycles after all…

I took a transfer to the American campus in Pasadena and redirected my studies towards motorcycle design. When I graduated, I got picked up by Honda R&D in California, where I worked on the design of a couple of ATVs, sportsbikes, cruisers and Jet-skis. There, I really understood what it meant to design motorcycles, and the complexity of the task. The Japanese are very thorough and I learnt a great deal. Those were good times!

On how he got started with Ducati

Four years ago, Ducati was looking for somebody to design motorcycles exclusively, so I wound up my 10 years of life in America and returned to Europe to design red, exotic racing motorcycles. I worked on the 1098, the SportClassics, the Hypermotard and the Desmosedici. And then I started the Streefighter project...

Damien says the MHe is a good blend of retro design and modern power, brakes and handling

On the bikes he rides

I have always ridden – cruisers, sportsbikes and motocross bikes. In my family, we always spend our vacations on bikes – we like to go places and meet people on the way. Motorcycles are great for that, it's a fantastic community.

I had many bikes – sportsbikes and cruisers – the latest one being a Ducati MHe. I love antique and classic bikes, but I also love to ride them. So, the MHe seemed a good compromise of retro looks, power and modern brakes and handling.

On his favourite bikes, from the design point of view

It's a bit difficult to say. There is the professional point of view and then there are the bikes that I personally loved, because they meant something to me. It's very difficult to differentiate passion from profession. I have respect for all motorcycles, I always find something interesting in most bikes.

In general, I like bikes designed by non-professional industrial designers. Bikes done in a garage, with very little resources, often lead to amazing and original design solutions, which can be very inspirational. This is the spirit in which it all started – from the early-1900’s DeDion Bouton cycle cars, to Britten. It has to do with people being able to see their design through – no restrictions, no limits, no meetings, lots of passion!

The Kawasaki ZXR750, Yamaha V-Max and MV F4 are some of Damien's favourite bikes...

On his favourite bikes from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s

From the 70s, the Yamaha 1100XS, the first bike I remember in the garage when I was eight. The Goldwing GL1000 and Watsonian sidecar, with earl forks and square car tyres. These are not really design references, but they're the reason I design bikes today!

From the 80s, the Yamaha V-max – it’s one of the first bikes I remember desiring. I was 11. I still think the original bike looks more modern than most bikes today.

From the 90s, GSX-Rs, CBRs, and especially the Kawasaki ZXR750, for it's monstrous air-intake pipes. Those were the forbidden crazy rides, the race-replicas, 0-to-60 under 4s... Then, Britten, for the story and the innovation.

Current models? The concept MT-01 before it became fat, Sachs Beast, Honda NAS, Harley-Davidson Softtail, Benelli Tre, MV Agusta F4 and the Ducati Streetfighter... because it's my baby!

On how working in Italy, for Ducati, is different from working in the US, for Honda

The work is pretty much the same, the environment is different. LA is a big place, Bologna is small. Honda is a big company, Ducati is a small company... The culture of a company is related to its size. I think that's the main difference between Honda and Ducati.

Things are not as planned here at Ducati, at least not as you would expect. Therefore it takes a while to gather all the resources necessary. Once it starts, it's very quick, efficient and to the point. Just like a race. Also it seems that designers are more involved from day one, therefore have a little more control over the outcome.

The Japanese plan everything, even the non-planned hurdles are computed, so products are defined well in advance in a very tedious process. Everybody and everything is considered and when your turn comes, there is the necessary time to achieve exactly what was expected of you. You have to be quick and efficient…

On European vs Japanese motorcycle design

Japanese manufacturers must follow their market very closely. They are huge enterprises therefore must sell lots of ‘products’ to sustain their activities. This is something that drives their design. A bike will look different if you sell it for 15,000 euro to 4,000 people or if you sell it for 9,999 euro to 20,000 people. Because it's a saturated market, you must make sure you'll design something that will please those 20,000...

Europeans must identify a narrower set of taste and opinions, which lead to more targeted design. This what BMW or Ducati are doing. Talking about evolution, It's seems there are many more crossover concepts nowadays. Bikes used to be classified in just a couple of categories – standard, cruiser, sports... Nowadays, it's motocross-meets-streetbike and sport-tourers with 300km/h top speeds.

They're all doing it, but Europeans have to stick to their core market due to limited resources. The Japanese have expanded exponentially in all directions – and not only in the motorcycle business – Honda is making jet airplanes now…

While he's happy with the Streetfighter, Damien wants to make a 'Director's Cut' someday

On the Ducati Streetfighter

Claudio Domenicali identified an opportunity to use the chassis and engine of the 1098. Because of the new Monster 696, we had to find an alternative for the S4RS. We rapidly decided that the ‘Streetfighter’ had to have its own style.

Due to time restrictions, we decided not to modify the 1098’s chassis, engine and airbox. It was clear to me from that point that the ’Fighter would be closely tied to the 1098. So, identifiable details and form language are directly drawn from the 1098, but proportions are clearly more aggressive and the lines are more directional. I also put it on steroids – more muscle. I really wanted it as the ‘pissed-off’ alternative!

Another design prerogative was to make it a 160kg/160bhp motorcycle. We blew it somehow, but not by much and certainly those figures remain easily reachable. Overall, I am quite satisfied, considering the complexity of the project. The bike is very short, narrow and directional. The goal was to keep most of the volume contained in the perimeter of the frame. Proportion is the most important aspect of design, the rest is detail.

In terms of integration, creating a sense of unity was one of the biggest challenges. Unlike with a faired bike, the bodywork and surfaces are interrupted by mechanical components on a naked. Overall, I just kept the bodywork on top of its mechanical, functional part. In terms of surface treatment, I wanted fluid surfaces, along with clear and sharp character lines.

I have to give credit to the patience and perseverance of the development team in charge of producing the bike – they're the ones who really made the Streetfighter, not me. With the time constraints, it turned out to be an engineering nightmare, but they still pulled it off.

On how people react to the Ducati Streetfighter

The response of Ducati fans has been very good. The bike won the best of Milan show – I guess that means something. Still, I get criticism about the headlight and the bellypan (I hate it by the way!), more from people who’ve only seen the bike in pictures. But once they have seen it physically and felt its volume, size and proportions from all angles, the criticism tends to vanish. In the end, you can't please them all, right?

In fact, I can't wait to see personalised Streetfighters. And I dream of making a ‘Director's Cut’ version – all carbon and aluminium, back to the original 160kg/160bhp concept. The final test will be when the bike hits the dealers but I am convinced owners will love it.

Of these three, he'll take the 916. But of course...

On which bike he would choose, between the Ducati 916, 999 and the 1198

I would choose the 916 because it became such a design icon, a classic. At the end we always come back to that bike. If I wanted performance before everything else, I would choose the 1198, but the 916 is our 911, and if you offered me a choice between the current Cayman or a 1993 911, I would choose the original (money considerations

Among older Ducatis, I really love the F1 – it’s my favourite. Then, the1972 Ducati 750 Imola and the 916.

On how motorcycle design has changed over the last 20 years

From craftsmanship to industrial process, computers, the way we draw, the way we introduce a bike to management.... Nowadays, the management must have a preview of what the bike will be. The goal is to provide more evaluation opportunities and provide choices, options. We draw the bikes, many of them, so the management can choose early. This is necessary because compared to 20 years ago, many more departments are involved in bringing a bike to the market. Quality expectations have evolved and the earlier you can test the final design, the more time you have to avoid potential problems.

Designers are just one element in the team, but we are where the process begins. We have the responsibility to control the aesthetics of the bike in a macroscopic way. The bike must be beautiful, but it must work perfectly too, then it must sell. This has to be a common goal for the team…

On the role of computers in motorcycle design

Computers do allow a much more integrated process. I constantly send and receive updated 3D CAD models. Surfaces are digitized in the first steps and are updated all along the development, allowing us to control the layout in a more efficient manner or, later, to update our surfaces accordingly. Mechanical or functional parts are superimposed by the technical office, while I can modify the 3D model in a couple of days and material resistance/volumes or weight are simulated in a matter of weeks.

It's a big dance – I propose some ideas for a part, receive a counter proposal from the engineers, then digest it and redesign, incorporating those changes. Eventually, the essence of the design is understood and we start to work on the details. That's a big change from 20 years ago, when you would have to wait until the first prototypes to validate an idea fully. Obviously, this provides you with much more opportunity to experiment and refine the design.

On what he would build, if he had full, complete freedom to design a replacement for the 1198

It would have to be identifiable as a Ducati in any colour, without any logo – just gorgeous by any standards! The bike would be small and very aggressive. It would have a pair of eyes and flowing lines, shapes inspired from nature, designed by wind tunnel – a mix of the 916 and the Desmosedici.

I would try to bring in the mix, some ‘shrink wrapping’ around the technology – just like the human form, which follows the shape of the muscle and the bone structure. Don't you find that F1 cars have such an intrinsic beauty, due to their absolute function-oriented shape? I'd like people to think at first glance, ‘That is the F1 of motorcycles.’ And it would be red!

On how he thinks motorcycle design will evolve over the next 10 years

Until recently, parts suppliers were, more or less, common to the auto industry. If you wanted a battery or a radiator, the choices were quite limited. Also, considering the numbers of units per year, it was quite difficult to justify the investment in specific tooling for just a couple of thousand units a year. Basically, for many components, we had to choose from a catalogue.

Now, industrial suppliers are becoming increasingly flexible. The looks of the motorcycle will evolve in parallel with those suppliers’ increased capacity. I dream of batteries taking any shape, radiators that I could curve in any direction, mouldable, cheap carbonfibre etc.

Given that motorcycle design is closely related to the layout of its components, these technological breakthroughs will drive big steps in design. Every once in a while, there is one of those breakthroughs and bike design evolves (for an example, aluminium moulding/welding has shaped sportsbike design over the last 20 years…).

Factory personalisation will also probably play a big role in changing the design picture. Big manufacturers have implemented factory ordered personalisation. In the modern age, I can see how that will expand – from designer to owner – that sounds good.

About my future designs, I'll keep trying not to be taken by ‘design concept’ frenzies or originality for its own sake. I want to see more beautiful motorcycles that are refined and well thought out.

Thank you, Damien, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer all our questions. We wish you all the best and look forward to more Ducatis that you’ve designed…!

Ducati Streetfighter Ducati Streetfighter Ducati Streetfighter Ducati Streetfighter

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Herve Poncharal supports Moto2, Tech3 to build Moto2 bike

Tech3 Yamaha team boss, Herve Poncharal says all satellite MotoGP teams should start thinking about also getting into Moto2, where they could play a useful role

Tech3, who currently run a satellite Yamaha team in MotoGP and who won the 250cc world championship back in 2000 (with French rider Olivier Jacque), may get into the Moto2 series in 2011.

‘I do have a big interest in Moto2 and during the course of ’09 we will work on building up a Moto2 bike,’ said Herve Poncharal, speaking to ‘Hopefully, if we have time, we would like to have it on track before the end of ’09 and I think all independent MotoGP teams should also think to do Moto2,’ added Poncharal, who heads Tech3.

‘An independent MotoGP team today is not a big team, so the factory teams will always be the ones winning the championships,’ says Poncharal. However, he adds that while a MotoGP world championship challenge is now unthinkable for satellite teams, these teams still have an important role to play in racing, especially with regard to a class like Moto2, from where riders would ultimately be able to graduate to MotoGP.

‘If, as an independent MotoGP team, we want to fight against Fiat Yamaha, Ducati Marlboro etc., then we are wrong. Because we will never have the same means and we will never have the same budget, we will always be one level down,’ says Poncharal. Satellite MotoGP teams should put their racing expertise to good use by getting into Moto2, where they might stand a better chance of winning races as well as, perhaps, championships, he adds.

Poncharal believes that Moto2, where rules will prohibit the use of exotic, mega expensive engines, will be a relatively cheaper way of going racing at the top level. ‘Moto2 is fitting with the current financial situation perfectly,’ says Poncharal. ‘Moto2 will use engine technology already widely used by all the manufacturers, so it will be a lot cheaper than running two-stroke 250s,’ he adds.

Apart from Tech3, Bimota, Moriwaki, Ilmor and BQR-Honda have also expressed interest in getting into Moto2. It’s still two years away from taking off and we don’t how things may change by then, but for now, things don’t look too bad for Moto2…

Also see:
Massive collection of 2008 MotoGP wallpaper...
Nicky Hayden wants to 'stick one' to Pedrosa...
Tyre tech, electronics hurt overtaking in MotoGP...
Repsol KTM 690 Rally: What lies beneath...
2009 Yamaha YZF R1 vs early-1990s Yamaha 500cc GP bikes...
Riding impression: Carlos Checa's WSBK Honda Fireblade...
Honda's vision of the future of racing...
Jeremy Burgess: The man even Rossi can't beat...

KTM RC8 R riding impression

2009 KTM RC8 R: 170 horsepower, killer looks, ready to race right now!

Pics: Fast Bikes

The guys at Fast Bikes recently had the opportunity to ride the brand-new KTM RC8 R at the Portimao circuit in Portugal. Here are some excerpts from what they have to say about the bike:

The 2009 R-model RC8 has many changes over the 2009 RC8, including new pistons, an orange painted frame (instead of the older model’s black) and a super delicious black-white-orange colour scheme. In response to feedback from owners and journalists, KTM have paid a great deal of attention to fine-tuning the bike’s fuel injection system and making the six-speed gearbox slicker and smoother. A new oil cooler has also been added to optimise engine cooling in extreme conditions.

While the basic RC8 makes around 155bhp and 120Nm of torque, the R-model packs 170 horsepower at 10,250rpm and 123Nm of torque at 8,000rpm. The compression ratio has also been increased from 12.5:1 to 13.5:1. The light and strong chrome-molybdenum lattice frame remains as before, as does the aluminium swingarm.

This is one Austrian you don't want to mess with...

The Brembo brakes on the RC8 R are just wonderful – we must thank KTM for choosing these brakes! The twin 320mm discs at front, with their radial-mount four-piston callipers are just wonderfully efficient, while the reworked gearbox smooth and precise – no more missed shifts, ever. The RC8 R’s engine isn’t exactly very smooth, but the vibes are almost charming – we like the engine’s character – and there is plenty of torque from low down in the rev range. We think KTM have done a good job of optimising the RC8’s fuel injection system and the bike now works much better, especially at lower revs.

Coming to the suspension, the RC8 R’s WP 43mm USD fork worked very well on the glassy-smooth surface of the Portimao circuit. The fork offers multi-adjustable compression and rebound damping, so most riders should be able to find a setting that works for them. The KTM's fully adjustable rear shock also offers ride height adjustment, which, again, is a good thing.

The RC8 R has a spacious riding position and its adjustable foot and hand controls allow you to tweak the ergonomics to suit your requirements. You can also choose between ‘road’ and ‘race’ modes on the bike, with the instrument panel’s display changing accordingly. The digital panel’s contrast setting even changes automatically to adjust to the ambient brightness.

So, who exactly is the RC8 R meant for? We would say it’s primarily for those who would sacrifice comfort for a heavy dose of all-out performance. As you would expect, the bike’s ergonomics are more suited to the track rather than the street, but then you wouldn’t buy a KTM RC8 R to go touring on anyway…

Visit the Fast Bikes website here for the full article

Also see:
Supercharged KTM RC8 drag racer...
The 200bhp, NOS'd Suzuki B-King we want now!
Riding impression: Troy Bayliss' WSBK Ducati 1098...
Here's why you need to ride a bike with a big, noisy engine...
Duell in hell: KTM RC8 vs BMW HP2 Sport!
Graeme Crosby: The man and his bikes...
In conversation with Leslie Porterfield, the fastest woman on two wheels in the US...
2009 Yamaha R1 vs early-1990s Yamaha 500cc GP racing bikes...

Elsewhere today:
You'd love this GSX-R...

Nicky Hayden: ‘Sticking one to Pedrosa would put a smile on my face!’

The man who beat Rossi to win the 2006 MotoGP world championship. Surely, the Kentucky Kid can whup Dani Pedrosa's ass this year?

2006 MotoGP world champ Nicky Hayden, who’s riding for Ducati in the 2009 MotoGP season, has been struggling so far in testing this year. In tests, the Kentucky Kid has been nowhere near as fast as team mate and 2007 MotoGP world champ Casey Stoner – the Aussie still seems to be the only man who can work magic with Ducati’s GP bikes.

Edgar Jessop, of BikeSportNews, recently had the opportunity to speak to Nicky and here are some excerpts from what the ex-MotoGP world champ had to say:

On how he may have to change his riding style to adapt to the Ducati GP9

Well I'm sure there will be some tweaks and work on many things. Also, I need to understand how the team works and to get down our communications so they can give me what I need. But really at the end of the day I need to twist that throttle and just ride the wheels off the front if I want to make any noise this year...

On looking forward to sticking one to Pedrosa

That would probably put a smile on my face!

On why his relationship with Dani Pedrosa went wrong

I don't know and don't really care to be honest. It is a shame two team mates had such an ugly relationship but this ain't little league baseball. Anyway, that's all old news now and I'm over that story.

On whether he misses Dani…

Being away from him I realize how much I miss him and especially Puig!! No kidding, Dani is a very talented rider – fast and dangerous, so I don’t want to say too much. It really is a dead topic for me.

On leaving Honda

Yeah, nobody likes to get moved on, and I worked with some great people and rode some trick Hondas. They gave me a great life and helped make a lot dreams come true for me, so I am thankful. But it was time to move on and I know I've got bullet fast Ducatis, so it’s up to me to make it happen now...

On the 2009 MotoGP season

I hope this year I can get back to where I was in 05 and 06 and be a contender week in and week out. I really need to start the year solid and build momentum. I got a big opportunity from a great team. I can't wait, but really no need to talk about it anymore – need to just be about it.

Visit the BSN website here for the full article

Also see:
Huge collection of 2008 MotoGP wallpaper...
2009 KTM RC8 R riding impression...
Fiat Yamaha push for reduction in MotoGP costs...
Blastolene's supercharged V8-powered trike...!
An interview with the men behind Xenophya...
Gordon Murray: "The MV Agusta F4 is so slow..."
Face-off: BMW K1300R vs Buell 1125CR...
Barry Sheene tribute GSX-R750...

Elsewhere today:
Eurosport's 1993 500cc GP racing season review
(You'll need something like uTorrent to download this 312MB, 53-minute video, and Real Player to watch it. It's an absolute must-watch for Kevin Schwantz and/or Wayne Rainey fans...!!!)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Speedymax's Kawasaki ZX-9R-based streetfighter

Simon Speedymax's Kawasaki ZX-9R-based streetfighter...

Pics: Speedymax

We first came across this rather interesting looking streetfighter on Motoblog and then traced its owner – Simon 'Speedymax' – through Flickr, to ask him for more details on this machine. Turns out the bike is based on an early-1990s B1 model Kawasaki ZX-9R, which has been heavily modified by Simon.

The list of add-ons is quite long – wavy bake discs with Harrison six-piston callipers, Rizoma clutch and brake levers, carbonfibre front mudguard, Vapor motocross tacho and speedo, Harris race bars, Barnet clutch, braced JMC swingarm, Nitrox rear shock and MotoGP-style exhaust system, to name just a few.

The ZX-9R’s ram-air ducts and airbox have been modified and the ‘Phantom Head’ fairing is from the Belgium-based Tecno-Bike. Simon has got NOS bottle mounts fitted to the bike but says the NOS system is not yet functional, though it will be, soon. He also says he intends to do more – lots of polishing and the application of pearl blue paint with simple white graphics, which he intends to do on his own.

The standard B1 ZX-9R had about 125bhp and a top speed of around 265km/h. Depending on how the bike’s NOS system is finally set up, Simon’s streetfighter could have about 140-165bhp, which should certainly be quite enough to have a bit of a blast. Go, Speedymax…!

Also see:
One-off: John Hopkins replica ZX-10R...
Master Blaster: Kawasaki ZX-10 Turbo...
Big CC Racing's Kawasaki ZZR1400 Turbo...
1992 Kawasaki ZX-7R-based special...
Kawasaki Z900-based street-tracker...
Blast from the past: Gary Nixon rides the Kawasaki ZX-RR MotoGP bike...
Battle of the Ninjas: ZZR1100 vs ZZR1400!

Elsewhere today:
Ducati Monster 696 vs Aprilia Shiver...
Lamborghini: Hot heels for fast chicks...!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Desmo Duo: Ducati 851 and Ducati 1198S

The Ducati 851 Tricolore. Still so effortlessly cool after all these years...

One of our all-time favourite Ducatis, the 851 was launched back in 1987. The first truly modern machine from Ducati, the 851 Desmoquattro came with liquid-cooling, fuel-injection and four-valve, Desmodromic cylinder heads.

Based on the older Ducati Pantah engine, the 851’s v-Desmo v-twin was designed by Massimo Bordi, who worked with the UK-based Cosworth to develop the original Desmoquattro mill. Depending on the version (Strada and the various SP versions…) and whether you measured power at the crank or the rear wheel, this 851cc engine made anywhere between 93 to 128 horsepower. Ducati claimed a top speed of over 280km/h for the top-spec 851SP, though we think 240-250km/h might be a more realistic number…

Launched in 1987, the 851 was the first 'modern' superbike from Ducati

The Ducati 851 was fitted with a six-speed gearbox, multi-plate dry clutch and steel-tube trellis-type chassis. Initially, the bike was fitted with a 16-inch front wheel but that was later changed to a 17-incher given the complaints about the machine’s handling. With its Marvic wheels, Brembo brakes and Marzocchi suspension (some of the later bikes were fitted with Showa suspension components), the 851 was well equipped for the street and the track...

Produced between 1987 and 1993, the Ducati 851/888 was ridden to numerous race wins by legendary riders like Marco Lucchinelli, Raymond Roche and Doug Polen. Ducati never stopped improving the bike, launching the 851 Sport Production (SP) in 1989 and the 851 SP2 in 1991, which actually had an 888cc engine. The 851 SP2 featured two injectors per cylinder, close-ratio gearbox, a Termignoni exhaust system, cast-iron brake disc (Brembo) and high-spec Ohlins suspension front and rear.

We hope you appreciate the effort that went into finding that picture...!
Ducati 851

There were also SP3, 4 and 5 versions, with various updates like higher compression, uprated clutches, forced air induction, less restrictive exhaust systems, stronger crankcases and uprated braking systems. The 851 was finally replaced by the Massimo Tamburini-designed 916 in 1994, which went on to prove itself as the true spiritual successor of the 851/888 Superbike.

Fast-forwarding the story to 2009, the 1198S is now the reigning heavy-hitter in the Ducati superbike line-up. After the 851/888, the Top Dog title at Ducati was held by various versions of the 916, 999 and the 1098, and this year it rests with the new-for-2009 1198S. With a dry weight of 169 kilos, and 170 horsepower at 9,750rpm and 131Nm of torque at 8,000 revs from its 1198cc ‘Testastretta Evoluzione’ L-twin, the 1198S offers truly remarkable performance – performance that’s equal to, or better than, anything on offer from Japanese machines with 1,000cc inline-four engines.

Like the 851, the 1198S still uses a steel-tube trellis frame, but in terms of sophistication and refinement, it’s a whole new world. In recent years, the focus has moved from sheer outright power to power that’s actually usable, and that’s where the 1198S’ electronics come in.

While the 851 had Weber electronic fuel-injection, the bike probably did not have much more in terms of electronics. On the 1198S, there are things the 851 wouldn’t have dreamt of. Things like Ducati Data Analyzer (DDA) and Ducati Traction Control (DTC), which come as standard equipment on the bike.

The 1198S’ DTC system is the most significant of recent superbike technologies. It monitors front and rear wheel speeds to detect rear wheelspin under acceleration, and electronically reduces engine power whenever needed, to restore traction. Yes indeed, it’s the first proper race-bred traction control system on a streetbike.

In terms of sheer, outright track-oriented performance, the 2009 Ducati 1198S is currently the best superbike in the world (though the 2009 Yamaha R1 should run it close...)

The 1198S also gets high-spec, fully adjustable Öhlins suspension (the standard 1198 gets Showa components), Marchesini forged aluminium wheels and various carbonfibre bits, which keep dry weight down to 171 kilos.

Unless you can afford a Desmosedici RR, the Ducati 1198S probably represents the ultimate in hard-core (but street-legal) sportsbike performance. Prices start at around US$16,500 for the standard 1198 and US$22,000 for the 1198S.

Back in the early-1990s, the 851 cost about US$15,600 (at today’s exchange rates), so prices for Ducati’s top-of-the-line bikes have remained at least reasonably consistent. Given the advances in technology, performance, of course, has moved on to a whole new level. But for those with memories of watching the likes of Roche, Falappa and Polen in action on their 851s and 888s, the original Ducati ‘Superbike’ remains evocative as ever…

Also see:
Ducati 851 riding impression from 1987...