Manufacturers usually choose exotic, warm locations to hold motorcycle press launches, with twisty roads and warm temperatures assuring we hacks enjoy ourselves, while also providing the appropriate backdrop to test their latest creations.
Ducati followed protocol by holding the North American introduction of the Streetfighter 848 in sunny and warm Palm Springs, California. The only hiccup in the formula was that Ducati’s lead rider kept a rather sedate pace. Although this allowed us to take in the scenery, it didn’t allow a proper assessment of the Streetfighter’s true cornering prowess.
It was only later in the afternoon when fellow journalist Bertrand Gahel and I took off behind one of Ducati North America’s staff members that the speed picked up. Way up.
Within about three turns he had set an invigorating pace. Gahel and I had to muster a fair amount of our riding skills to keep up, leaning the bikes deep into corners and getting hard on the gas coming out.
Our host rider’s smooth, aggressive riding style kept us on our toes as we blasted up one side of a mountain pass and rocketed down the other. We eventually stopped to wait for others in our group to catch up.
“You’ve raced before,” I commented inquisitively to our guide. He acknowledged that he only gave up road racing about a year ago, when he took over the post as Ducati North America’s head honcho.
You see, the rider we were following was Dominique Cheraki, the organization’s general manager. A suit that not only rides, but rides hard. Nice.
THE CANYON CARVER
Ducati introduced the 1,098 cc Streetfighter in 2009, essentially presenting a stripped version of the 1198 supersport machine. Frenchman Damien Basset designed the bike in the mould of what he considers a bike he’d want to ride: naked, sporty and built with mountain roads in mind.
The Streetfighter 848 came about because, according to Ducati, there are riders out there who would like everything the larger Streetfighter has to offer, like supersport handling and aggressive hooligan-esque styling, but in a package that is slightly toned-down from the nearly superbike-spec original.
It also has a slightly more relaxed riding position, with a 20-mm taller handlebar and footpegs placed 10 mm wider on each side (easily identified by the 10 mm spacers placed behind the footpeg brackets).
When seated on the bike it feels narrow and compact, and with a full-face helmet on, the tiny instrument panel and headlight nacelle disappear below with only the tops of the mirrors poking above the chin piece and into your field of vision. It also feels light on its feet; it tips the scales at 198 kg (437 lb) wet.
The riding position is still on the sporty side, with your torso leaning more forward that it would on a sport-tourer and legs bent almost like on a supersport, and of course, you’re also exposed to the windblast. But despite the lack of weather protection, you’re still way more comfy on the Streetfighter than you’d be on any supersport.
This new Streetfighter uses the 849 cc version of the liquid-cooled Testastretta 11° V-twin, and even though the bike has been toned down with a smaller-displacement engine, it still produces a very satisfying 132 hp, which isn’t all that far off the 155 hp of the bigger bike.
Torque peaks at 69 lb-ft, and a bunch of that twisting power is available from right off idle, the bike accelerating quite forcefully from a stop, and when passing in the higher gears. Taking off from a stop takes a fair amount of clutch slippage though, as first gear is quite tall and easily capable of getting the machine up to 50 km/h without excessively revving the engine.
At speed, the engine shudders a bit if it is only slightly lugged but this is never intrusive, and getting the revs up a bit makes the bike shudder-free. The machine cruises along quite contently at 110 km/h with the engine spinning at 4,000 rpm in top gear (the LCD bar-type tach is in 250-rpm increments).
However, the 848 isn’t just the bigger Streetfighter with a smaller engine dropped into the frame. Steering geometry has been altered, with the rake steepened from 25.6 degrees to 24.5 degrees (the latter being the same as the 1198 supersport bike) and less trail dialed in compared to the Streetfighter 1098.
Suspension at both ends (43 mm inverted Marzocchi fork and single Sachs shock) is fully adjustable, and the swingarm is a new design, now a complete aluminum casting as opposed to the bigger Streetfighter’s partially cast and sheet-aluminum piece.
The rear wheel is also a half-inch narrower at 5.5 inches, and the rear tire has gone from a 190/55ZR17 to a 180/60ZR17. The 60-series aspect ratio is being used on world-class Supersport machines and provides a wider rear contact patch when at full lean. All I can say is that equipped with the OEM Pirelli Diablo Rossos, traction is the least of your concerns.
Steering is very light but without any nervousness about it, and on the open highway the bike exhibits confidence-inspiring stability. But this bike belongs on twisty roads, and the changes to the chassis make the 848 super nimble. It handled the southern California mountain roads with a poise usually found on bikes donning number plates and race slicks.
The lack of a fairing and the wide handlebar make it considerably more flickable than any supersport I’ve ridden – it actually had me wondering why anybody would even consider a supersport machine if their weekend riding doesn’t include entry fees and potential podiums.
Closed-course competition notwithstanding, this bike should be quite potent on a racetrack during track days, and the ride there would be more comfortable than on a supersport to boot.
This isn’t the first time Ducati has developed a potent, nimble motorcycle, then made it even better by downsizing it. I liked the Hypermotard when it was introduced, and I liked the 796 version even more. It was a bike that anyone could feel comfortable on, and the Streetfighter 848 is no different.
It should appeal to riders who aren’t looking for the most extreme performance, and who expect a bit more versatility and everyday friendliness from a machine. And the best part is that while you’re still getting a substantial chunk of the bigger Streetfighter’s performance and all of its handling traits, which are improved upon, you’ll be dishing out a considerably smaller amount of money.
The Streetfighter 848, available in matte black, yellow and, of course, red, lists at $13,995. This undercuts the larger Streetfighter S by a whopping $8,500. That’s some serious cash, making it a seriously enticing back-road burner.
|Bike||Ducati 848 Streetfighter|
|Engine type||90-degree V-twin, liquid cooled, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder|
|Power (crank)*||132 HP @ 10,000 rpm|
|Torque*||69 ft-lbs @ 9,500 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||16.5 litres|
|Final drive||Six speed, chain drive|
|Tires, front||120/70-ZR17 radial front|
|Tires, rear||180/60-ZR17 radial rear|
|Brakes, front||Dual 320 mm discs with four-piston radial calipers.|
|Brakes, rear||245 mm disc with two-piston caliper.|
|Seat height||840mm (33 in.)|
|Wheelbase||1,475 mm (58.1 in.)|
|Wet weight*||198 kg (437 lb)|
|Colours||Red, yellow, matte black|
|Warranty||Two years, unlimited mileage|
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