Ducati 848: So speedy, it’s almost worth the speeding ticket

2008 Ducatu 848
Discribed as “agile and light” Ducati intends it new superbike design to “redifine the middleweight sportbike class.
(Don Kelsen/ Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

There are many ways to learn Italian. You can take a language class and memorize the words. You can travel to Italy and experience the culture. Or you can ride Ducati’s new 848, which will give you an entirely different lesson in Italian.

New for 2008, the 848 is the little brother of the 1098 superbike that Ducati wheeled out last year. And, like the sibling of a sport bike superstar, it aspires to the same high standards: breaking the speed limit with style. The 848 just does it with fewer pounds, lower horsepower and a price that’s $3,000 less than its older sib’s, so there’s money left over for gas.

In this era of escalating fuel prices, that’s important, because the 848 isn’t a bike that will let you keep it parked. And it isn’t a bike that will let you ride it slow. It’s a bike that will make a mockery of most riders -- inspiring them to gear up in fancy imported leathers and foolishly masquerade as streetable Casey Stoners, scuffing their pucks on tightly curved freeway offramps, smoking Chevy sedans on the long, flat straightaways and tempting the many Highway Patrol officers staked out on California 2.

Despite its name, the 848 is actually 849.4 cc, but that displacement doesn’t sound nearly as cool. Nor does it draw a direct, nomenclatural line to the 1098, which, being 1099 cc, is also a slight misnomer. But the connection between the two bikes is important.

Both are race-derived, performance-oriented and handsome enough to make a girl freshen her lipstick. But where the 1098 is geared toward racing, the 848 is more street-centric -- not that you’d know from looking at them. If it weren’t for the names on the tanks, it would be hard to tell the difference. The weight, profile and fit of the two bikes are almost identical. The 848’s saddle is a scant 0.4 inch taller than the 1098’s, but the bikes use the same size tubular steel trellis frames and are mirror images in terms of wheelbase, rake and trail. The brakes, fork and rear wheel are only slightly different -- toned down on the 848 because otherwise they would be overkill.

The biggest difference, of course, is in the engines. Both bikes use Ducati’s legendary Desmodromic valve system, but the 1098’s four-valves-per-cylinder L-twin cranks an unholy 160 horsepower and 90.4 pound-feet of torque from its 381-pound body. The 848 has a less favorable power-to-weight ratio, coaxing 134 horses and 70.8 pound-feet of torque while being only 11 pounds lighter.

Like Olympic-level sprinters who, against the odds of human physics get faster with each passing year, the 848 was engineered to remove whatever minuscule bits of fat were possible in the manufacturing process. There just wasn’t a lot of flab to starve away. The biggest weight savings came from using a vacuum die-cast process to form the 848’s engine cases (which shaved 6.5 pounds) and from improvements to the wet clutch (which saved an additional 2.2 pounds).

But mere mortals probably won’t notice the difference as they fly Ducati’s newest on the freeways.

2008 Ducati 848 Base price: $12,995Powertrain: Liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, L-twin cylinder, four valves per cylinder, Desmodromic, six speedDisplacement: 849 ccMaximum horsepower: 134 at 10,000 rpmMaximum torque: 70.8 pound-feet at 8,250 rpmSeat height: 32.6 inchesDry weight: 370 pounds

The stories shaping California

Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.