January 29, 2009 MotoGP fans can argue all they like about whether Casey Stoner's 2007 World Championship was a triumph of Ducati electronics over rider skill - but the fact remains that traction control technology is certainly relevant to us lesser riders, particularly in an age where half the price of a family car can buy you a 180-horsepower, featherlight superbike missile at any dealership. Ducati's 2009 1198S packs a 170-horsepower, 97lb-ft L-twin, top-rate Öhlins suspension front and rear, 7-spoke Marsechini wheels, an upgraded data acquisition and downloading system - and the same 8-stage traction control system you'd find on Stoner's GP8 or Bayliss's 1098R. Oh, and if you paid USD$40K for the 1098R last year, you might be annoyed to find out that this year's 1198S, a virtually identical bike with just 10 less horsepower in stock trim, is going to sell for less than USD$22K. Ouch.
Ducati's 2009 1198 superbike is a pretty compelling machine in its own right, but as usual, the Italian firm has announced an up-spec sister model for those who are willing to spend extra money for top-shelf componentry where it counts.
The 1198S has the same engine as the 1198: the 1198cc L-twin used in last year's World Superbike homologation 1098R. Remarkably, with the 100cc capacity jump from the straight 1098 has come a 3kg weight saving on the engine alone, due to vacuum die-cast crankcases and magnesium-alloy valve covers. In the 1198 and the 1198S, the engine makes a claimed 170 horsepower - a staggering figure for a twin but just shy of the 180 horsepower claimed for last year's highly-strung 1098R. The 1198's 97lb-ft torque output at 8000rpm beats the 1098R's 90, so it's probably a superior road bike.
The electronics package on the 1198S includes the sophisticated DTC (Ducati Traction Control) system, an 8-stage piece of technical wizardry that's come straight out of Ducati's MotoGP and WSBK development programs. The system has been adapted from the racebike system found on the 1098R - which cut the spark to restore traction. This would have sent unburned fuel through the catalyzer and damaged a streetbike's emissions-compliant exhaust system.
Instead, the DTC unit retards ignition as the bike loses traction, and if you're really wailing on the throttle it alters fueling to get your rear-end grip back together. Eight settings between "terrified newbie on a wet road" and "super slide god hero" allow skilled riders to dial in as much controlled slide as they want for the conditions, using an easily accessible knob on the left switchblock. Initial testing has found the system to be effective, comfortable and non-intrusive on the track.
The DDA (Ducati Data Analysis) system lets you download a raft of performance data to your PC one you're done manhandling the throttle - so you can see, among other things, exactly where and how much you had the traction control system working.
While a step down from the R models, Ducati's S models always feature upgraded suspension packages. The 1198S is no exception - fully adjustable Öhlins units at either end provide about the best roadholding you could ask for. The brakes are just as outstanding - monobloc radial Brembo units the equal of anything going around, with a more progressive initial bite than the previous model for extra confidence when getting on the stoppers at high speed.
A lot of sportsbikes are sold these days as "racebikes with mirrors on" - but the 1198S proved its credentials emphatically at the world press launch, setting a lap time a massive 2 seconds under the Superstock lap record at Portugal's Algarve Motor Park - bone-stock out of the crate, mirrors and all. Of course, the rider may have had something to do with that - Ducati's retired current World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss certainly knows how to twist a throttle.
Considering that last year's 1098R cost a whopping USD$40,000, and that apart from a few engine tweaks worth just 10 peak horsepower, the 1198S is very closely specified, the retail price of $21,795 makes the 1198S an absolute steal. For that money you're getting a bone-shattering L-twin race-rep with massive power, razor-sharp handling, eye-popping brakes and a traction control system so good that people said it, not Casey Stoner, beat Valentino Rossi. So if you can't whip your buddies around the track on the 1198S, you'd best be creative with the excuses!