Road Test Review
The Ducati Streetfighter S is a sexy, expensive machine. It’s like Tyler Durden in the movie “Fight Club”: not a real bare-knuckles pugilist, but a good-looking imposter. The streetfighter that sits in my garage is a 2001 Suzuki SV650 that some dude crashed and resurrected as a snarling, punk-rock beast. The knackered front end was upgraded to GSX-R750 spec, an ear-splitting Yoshimura pipe and metal handguards were bolted on, the tail section was kicked up and the bodywork was sprayed rattle-can black. It was my $2,500, high-octane dose of post-Katrina, post-divorce therapy. Perfect for the road-warrior streets of Los Angeles, but frowned upon by the much less preoccupied police here in sleepy little Ventura.
Of course, we wouldn’t expect Ducati to resell wadded superbikes stripped of plastic and tarted up with motocross handlebars and agro-looking headlights. But in this distressed economy, such a business model might work. Rather, Ducati applied essential streetfighter elements to its 1198 superbike.
Start with an 1198 frame, relax the rake from 24.5 degrees to 25.6 degrees and add a new subframe. Extend the swingarm by 35mm for more stability (which increases the wheelbase from 56.3 to 58.1 inches) and use a new pivot area casting. Use a cast top triple clamp and a beefy gull-wing-shaped lower triple clamp. Add forged, rubber-mounted handlebar risers and a tapered aluminum handlebar. For the S-model, use top-shelf Öhlins suspension and lightweight Marchesini forged wheels; for the base model, use Showa suspension and cast 10-spoke wheels. For more high-dollar cache, make the S-model’s cam belt covers and front fender out of carbon fiber. Common to both models are a trick Öhlins steering damper and primo Brembo brakes with steel hoses and new fluid reservoirs. Dual 330mm discs in front are gripped by radial-mounted four-piston monoblock calipers with a radial master cylinder, while the rear gets a single 245mm disc and a two-piston caliper.
No one but Kate Moss would accuse the Ducati 1198 of being pudgy, but the Streetfighter was made even smaller. The emperor-with-no-clothes has a shorter snout and a clipped tail. A minimalist fairing has lower LED headlights and air intakes inspired by the 1198. Dual stacked radiators and a small water/oil heat exchanger keep the machine narrow. Though more compact than the 1198 (and 5 pounds lighter at 373 pounds), the Streetfighter has real-world ergonomics, with a higher, pulled-back handlebar, lower and slightly forward footpegs and a more generously padded seat. The instrument panel is straight from the 1198 and covers most of the bases: speed, rpm, time, trip, fuel use, water and air temperature, lap time, maintenance, over rev and, for S-model bikes, Ducati Data Analyzer and Ducati Traction Control (I’m always amazed when bikes of this caliber do not come with fuel gauges). The S-model stands apart with a bronze-colored frame and wheels and black mufflers, available in Red or Midnight Black. The base model comes with a black frame and graphite-colored wheels in Red or Pearl White.
Ducati’s engineers took a Frankenstein approach to the Streetfighter’s engine, stitching the top end of the 1098 to the cases of the 1198…it’s alive! Vacural technology, which prevents air and other gasses from being trapped within cast parts, was used to create the crankcases. This allows for thinner walls, shaving 6.6 pounds off the motor. The Magnetti Marelli fuel injection system uses 60mm elliptical throttle bodies. Spent gasses pass through an exhaust valve to boost low-end power and exit via dual, stacked, upswept mufflers on the right side. Power is claimed to peak at 155 horsepower and 85 lb-ft of torque at 9,500 rpm. These figures are 5 ponies and 5 lb-ft down on the 1098 because of shorter ram-air ducts, not tuning. Still, that’s plenty of honk for anyone without professional racing credentials.
The Streetfighter S was introduced in Ronda, a town in the mountains of southern Spain that is home to that country’s oldest bullring (Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles used to hang out there and wax poetically about bullfighting). We tested the S-model because Ducati wanted to showcase traction control, which isn’t available on the base model. Much to our chagrin, we didn’t ride on the undulating roads around Ronda but at the Ascari Race Resort, a private 3.37-mile, 26-turn circuit. With charming Italian accents, the Ducati folks did a lot of hand-waving and expressed concern about our safety and police on public roads. That’s a shame because our day at the track was terribly windy and limited to five 15-minute sessions. We would have had more riding, more fun and less wind on the street.
Splitting the difference between sportbike and standard, the Streetfighter has sensible ergonomics. Reach to the bars and pegs is manageable, though the footpegs had smooth balls on the ends that were slippery and distracting (a technician filed grooves into the pegs of some bikes for better grip). Switchgear is clean and simple, with a clever kill switch that slides down over the starter button. As we were standing near the bike in front of the pit garage, the P.A. system began playing a fast-paced rock song followed by a menacing command: “Select your fighter!” As if in a music video, 16 of us fired up Streetfighters simultaneously, blipping throttles for sheer testosterone-addled joy.
For the first couple of laps, we followed Ducati test rider Vittoriano Guareschi around the Ascari circuit to learn the racing line. Later he demonstrated the full capabilities of the Streetfighter S by screaming down the front straight, smoking the rear tire as he backed it into the chicane and then wheelying up the hill through the grass. For mortals like me, the prime objectives were to keep it steady in the crosswinds and not crash an $18,995 exotic motorcycle, especially not in front of a photographer!
Just as cheating at bowling will bring on a world of pain, getting ham-fisted with a throttle connected to a 155-horsepower motor will produce unwanted consequences. Smooth inputs are rewarded accordingly. The L-twin motor revs up quickly to the 10,700-rpm limit, indicated by a flashing red light since the LCD bar tachometer has no redline. With 85 lb-ft of torque trying to pull the bike out from under you, gear changes are more about prerogative than necessity, though the transmission is very accommodating. Setup for the technical Ascari circuit, the Öhlins suspension was taut but soaked up bumps well, especially the rough curbing on the inside of two ridiculously tight chicanes. The Streetfighter’s Brembo brakes would probably work just fine on a Mack truck full of gravel. On a 373-pound motorcycle with a 185-pound rider, one finger does the trick. Set by the technicians on level 6 out of 12, Ducati Traction Control was unobtrusive. In fact, twin red lights would flash to indicate DTC engagement at unexpected times, suggesting that our bike’s tires slip more than we realize. Although not a guarantee against accidents, it is reassuring.
Conditions notwithstanding, a motorcycle like the Ducati Streetfighter S delivers an exquisite sporting experience. Stunning to look at, exhilarating to ride, stimulating to hear and reassuring in terms of braking and suspension capabilities. Really, it doesn’t get any better than this.