Ducati 848 - 2009

Living with the 848, Ducati’s smallest capacity Superbike, promised to hurt. The head down and bum up riding position ensured maximum weight on my arthritic wrists, and rock hard suspension did its best to let me know about every road imperfection. But let’s go back to the start…

Testing, testing...
I’d gone into Fraser’s Wollongong with the intention of getting a longer test ride on the Monster 1100S. I’d gotten chatting with their salesman, Dean, at the Monster Beach Party – the official release of the new Monster, and moaned about the lame demo course that we’d ridden. “Come on down, we have a beauty”. I did, and he did. Up and down the Illawarra escarpments we went, some twisty bits, some quick bits, some bumpy bits some smooth bits, and some light traffic.

The 1100S proved to be everything I expected – light, grunty, good handling, excellent brakes – and something I didn’t – uncomfortable – very uncomfortable. Now, I know some people find the ergos fine, but I didn’t. The slope of the seat continuously pushed me into the tank – resulting in crushed family jewels. To make it worse, the bar position was also wrong for me. As a result of old riding injuries, one of my wrists doesn’t bend properly anymore, and there’s arthritis in both. This means that lots of bars don’t work for me, and the Monster’s fell firmly into that category.

monster beach party

But it was what I wanted, so I persisted. Dean offered to get a comfort seat in for me, a genuine Ducati part. A week later, and I was back for more tests. The comfort seat was higher at the front, and was a big improvement for me (not so good for shorter riders), but I still wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t seeking Goldwing style luxury, just something I could sit on without starting to hurt in a few minutes, and the Monster couldn’t offer it. I started to regret not buying either the older S2R or S4R Monster when I’d tested them, they’d had been much more comfortable for me.

Seeing as I was there, Dean urged me to ride the 848 and 1098. Now, these were bikes I knew I didn’t want – I was aiming for something less sporty than my last sports tourer (Aprilia Falco), not much more sporty, but I really did want a go, if only to be able to say I had.

I headed out on the 848 first. Man, that rear end is high, and hard! And the mirrors? Great view of my arms, but no view whatsoever of the cops travelling right behind us. Not good. Not good at all. Just as well we’d been behaving. But… it wasn’t that uncomfortable. And the seating position wasn’t that much different to the Falco. It stuck to the road like glue, and where I’d felt the 1100S getting light, the 848 felt planted. Turn in was very sporty – I just had to think and I would change lanes, and found myself turning into corners much too early, thinking I was on the slower turning Falco. And performance? Oh my.

Twisting the throttle through the gears, the revs rose rapidly, and I could feel the mighty twin pistons shaking away, revs climbed higher, my eyeballs started to shake, and I started manically screaming into my helmet. WHAT A RUSH! Hitting the brakes quickly scrubbed off speeds, and I stopped to swap to the 1098. But I couldn’t stop grinning. This bike was more fun than any of the others I’d tested, including the Triumph Street Triple 675, which had been a blast, if more civilised.

Climbing aboard the 1098, and one difference was obvious. The 1098 has rear ride height adjustability, and the standard rear height feels much lower than the 848. This difference changes the balance of the bike, and makes it much more comfortable on the wrists as the rider’s weight is shifted back. The 1098 was an amazing ride. The motor was superb, far more grunt and power than the 848 meant silly speeds were hit in the blink of an eye. Stopping was handled by the baddest, most powerful brakes I’ve ever encountered. So powerful were the brakes that they scared me at lower speeds – I was constantly worried I was going to over brake and put myself down the road. These brakes really only came into their own for me when rapidly slowing from high speeds – then they were brilliant.

Yes, the 1098 was amazing, but it wasn’t the bike for me. I felt as though it sneered at me, and there was a constant air of menace when I was nearby. I expected to be severely beaten for the slightest indiscretions, and while there may be times when that could be enjoyable, I couldn’t live with it. To quote Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry “a man’s got to know his limitations”.

That 848, though, was just begging to be used. It kept looking seductively at me in the dealer’s, winking slyly and tempting me with its incredible Italian beauty. Could I handle a mistress this hot?

stop looking at me!

Decision time
Now I was torn. The 848 had grabbed me, really grabbed me, but my head said I needed a more sensible, upright, naked bike, less sporty than the Falco. I was sure that was what I wanted, and it was where all my research and test rides had been leading. Maybe I should revisit the Trumpy. But...

My 848 grin wouldn’t go away. I relived my test ride over and over throughout the night. The next morning I phoned Dean, and talked prices before I put down my deposit on my fifth Ducati - a red one. I know white is the popular 848 colour, but Ducatis should be red. Looks like I was going to have at least one more foray into the world of sports bikes. Trade-in on my Falco was a joke, so I decided to sell that privately. Luckily, the first of a number of callers bought it. I think he got a great bike at a bargain price, and I got got lots more than Fraser's were offering.

Living with my choice
I’ve since had a 1098 rear ride height adjuster fitted and the height dropped to that of the 1098. Less preload and less compression up front had that end feeling good, but the rear was still ridiculously rigid. I had Fraser’s adjust the rear preload (I don’t have the tools), and they backed the spring collar up about 1 cm!! There are just a couple of threads showing now. They also tried to adjust the compression, but the adjuster just span freely – warranty! The new shock, with preload backed right off, and compression and rebound adjusted, is a big improvement. Why it comes so stiff in the first place is beyond me. It’s not like I’m some skinny lightweight, and I can’t imagine such a small bike is a favourite of really big riders.

The comfort is now on a par with the 1098 and Falco, which means it’s a sporty ride, but not unbearable. My wrists complain, but I can live with it. Touring wouldn’t be the 848’s forte, but the bike could cope if the rider could. Credit cards and pubs would be the go, rather than panniers and tents.

Living with the 848 has been a joy. The bike handles my commute easily (very little stop start traffic, mostly highway and motorway). The mirrors still suck, even though I fitted some extenders from Oberon Engineering. The problem is in the mirror head Ducati supply, there’s bugger all adjustment available. I think a convex lens style and ball joint adjustment might be the go, but it would be an expensive experiment at around $250. I tried a stick on convex thingie, but it was a dismal failure. With the extenders, the mirrors sit very wide, and because they can’t fold in, lane splitting is trickier than it was on the larger Falco - but at least I can see behind me.

I’ve also lowered the gearing, which improves low speed work – less clutch slip and chain snatch, at the expense of a little relaxation in 6th. But at least I can now use 6th at legal speeds.

Running in was hard, I kept wanting to hold it in gear and rev, but had to restrain myself. Still, 6000 rpm showed plenty of promise for the future. After the first service the run in rules relaxed. Now I could hit 7k without feeling guilty, so I did. Oh yes, yes indeedy. This bike motors.

Another 1500 km and it was run in, and I’ve since seen rev limiter lights a few times, and hit the limiter once or twice. Bang it down a couple of gears and the 848 flies. Oh lordy. It’s not as grunty as the Falco but it is much quicker when ridden on the boil.

At first, I felt the front end was a little twitchy on back roads, and put that down to the lower ride height changing the geometry. The 1098 comes with a steering damper (optional on the 848), and I think a damper would be a useful, although not essential, addition. Now the shock has been sorted, twitchiness is less of a problem unless the road is really rough. The tyres I have now are less sporty, and a bit slower, which has made the twitchiness non-existent. I've recently taken the 848 for almost 1500 km of back road fun - twisty, narrow, rough, potholed, with an occasional stretch of dirt, and was very impressed with its composure. OK, I went out on separate days - it's definitely no Goldwing. 600 km of hard riding in one day left me tired, and a bit sore around the neck, shoulders and top of my thighs - not much padding in that seat. Two days later, and more of the same, and I pulled up, tired, exhilarated, and with sore thighs. My neck and shoulders had already acclimatised to a long day in a sporty riding position.

One particular road I hadn't been down in over 20 years, yet the 848 handled it with aplomb. I chanced upon a moment that was almost car free, and it was bliss, sheer bliss.

Tools were a shock. There aren’t any.

OK, I lie, there are tools. Three. Yep, that's not a typo, three tools in total.

There’s a plug remover, an Allen key and a screwdriver. There isn’t even a chain adjusting tool (or allen key big enough to undo the pinch bolts), something I was able to resolve with assistance from eBay. Definitely the lamest toolkit I’ve ever had on a new bike, and frankly, not bloody good enough, Ducati. Going to the dealer to adjust your chain is ludicrous, even for us soft and pampered Ducatisti.

Have I had any woes? Well, yes. Apart from the Showa shock problem (ironic that an Italian bike had issues with a Japanese part), the bike has been great. My biggest woe was a holed radiator.

I'd had a day off and planned to spend it blatting along some fun country roads. Only I never made it. Coming up behind a slightly slower moving 4WD, he thought he’d do the right thing and pull over to let me pass. Unfortunately, as his wheels hit the rough, I was peppered with rocks, and they hurt, even through my jacket and boots. “Knob”, I thought, and continued on my way. Not 200 metres later, I was showered in coolant. My coolant. Yep, one rock had barrelled into the radiator at about 100 kmh. Quite a few dollars, a new radiator, and a set of radiator and oil cooler guards later, I’m back on the road.

It occurs to me that Ducati (and other manufacturers of liquid cooled bikes) should include protective grilles as standard – just like my son’s 12 year old Kawasaki GPX 250. My old Aprilia didn’t come with grilles, but I’d been lucky, and didn’t have a problem, although the radiator had taken a few hits. Grilles weigh 3/5 of bugger all, look good, and are cheap. Manufacturers can really have no excuse for not fitting grilles. After the dollar shock of replacing the radiator, next time I buy a liquid cooled bike, it will stay in the showroom until protective grilles are fitted.

I've also recently noticed that condensation has started appearing in the instruments. Reading various forums, it seems that this is a common problem, and replacing the instrumments may or may not fix it. It's not bad, but is annoying. Funnily enough, the instruments on my 1976 Ducati 860GTS had the same problem, only worse.

The OEM tyres were pretty good (Pirelli Corsa Superdragon), but were worn out by 8000 km (outstanding for a sports tyre). I also felt they didn’t inspire confidence on cooler days, and I suspect that they never got hot enough in my use. Track use would probably have been a different story.

I’m now running Metzeler Z6 Roadtec Interact sports touring tyres, which seem much better suited to me. They don’t turn as easily, but conversely, hold the line very well. Although I still have chicken strips, they’re smaller than they were with the sportier tyres, and nearly gone on the rear. I’m expecting much better wear from the Metzelers. Incidentally, a number of shops told me they were made in the same factory as Pirelli, Metzeler and Pirelli being under the same umbrella these days.

It’s small, it’s thin, and surprisingly, I haven’t find it uncomfortable, except on the long rides mentioned above. I think that’s because the  riding position means more weight is on my thighs than my bum. Pillions ony get a tiny pad and high pegs, which doesn't look comfy at all. I fitted a single seat cowl instead.

Ducati 848/1098/1198s all look nearly identical. That is to say, beautiful. Need I say more? The 848 is one stunning motorcycle, and attracts compliments wherever I go.

Maybe I'm lame, maybe I'm old, but I've kept the standard pipes, and I reckon they sound pretty good for legal pipes and look better than carbon. I couldn't justify the expense of Termis + chip, and Staintune don't make slip ons for the 848.


Don't look at those chicken strips - how embarrassing!

It’s not the sensible bike I thought I wanted, but it can be ridden sensibly. Of course, it can be ridden with insanity in mind. After 12,000 km, I still love it.

I like the look of the Ducati Streetfighter, but I think that the 848 has more than enough to keep me happy. Maybe the the Streetfighter will appear in 848 or 800 guise. That would be interesting.

one fat hippyone fat hippyone fat hippyone fat hippyone fat hippy
4.5 fat hippies, only because it’s not perfect. For me, it’s damned close.

Youtube video of my 848 on some back roads (also available in HD)

More 848 fun (HD available)


fAt  hIpPy productions
another fAt hIpPy production