Just weeks after Ducati released photos of the brand-new 848-based machine, I found myself on an airplane to Italy to ride the new entry in the Streetfighter family. The 2012 Ducati 848 Streetfighter is everything that I wanted it to be and more. And what I wanted it to be was a lighter, better-handling version of its super-serious big brother, the 1098 Streetfighter, much like Triumph’s Street Triple 675 is to the 1050 Speed Triple.
Our press launch consisted of a street ride followed by two track sessions on the brand-new Autodromo Modena circuit, just down the road from the Ferrari factory in Maranello.
It may appear to be an exact facsimile of the 1098 version (which is only available as an S model in 2012), but the 848 Streetfighter is, in fact, a completely fresh design. Not only is the engine a new variation of the 848’s, but the frame, steering geometry, swingarm and ergonomics are specific to this model.
The Streetfighter is the third machine in Ducati’s lineup to feature an engine with short, 11-degree valve overlap, joining the torquey liter-plus Multistrada and Diavel. The 848 SF is tuned for real-world power delivery, not the maximum rev-eating output of the EVO’s 37-degree-overlap configuration. Otherwise, the liquid-cooled, 849cc, V-Twin is identical in specification that used in the 848 EVO; same 94 x 61.2mm bore and stroke, 13.2:1 compression ratio, same throttle bodies and same wet, non-slipper clutch.
What isn’t the same is the 848 SF’s demeanor. The changes that Ducati Project Engineer Giuseppe Caprara made to the basic chassis layout—compared to the 1098 SF—are dramatic in function. The all-new frame, new one-piece cast aluminum swingarm, new 43mm Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock, give the bike a completely different character than its heavier-steering big brother. Sharper geometry features 24.5 degrees of rake and 4.1 inches of trail, 1.1-degree steeper and 0.4 inch shorter than what’s used on the bigger bike. Wheelbase is an identical 58.1 in.
Our morning street ride was a loop frequently used by Ferrari test drivers from the Maranello factory, conveniently located just up the hillside. The roads had everything from tight, blind 180-degree carrousel turns to fast, open sweepers. The road was quite bumpy, so Ducati techs had set up the suspension very much on the soft end of the adjustment range.
The first thing that jumped to mind as we headed through the hills was the fantastic ergonomics. The tapered aluminum handlebar sits 0.8-inch taller than that of the 1098 SF, thanks to a new riser on the top clamp. This alone would be a huge improvement over the stretched-out big bike, but the footpegs have also been spaced apart by 0.4 inch on both sides, to prevent the rider’s right heel from interfering with the over/under cannon-style mufflers. Add in a great sporting seat, with ample room to move around and you have a completely changed and excellent upright seating position.
On the street and on the track the 848 is a completely different animal from the 1098 version. In addition to the bike’s fresh geometry, a new Pirelli Diablo Rosa Corsa 180/60ZR17 (instead of a 55 aspect ratio) rear tire puts more rubber on the road due to the new profile. I can’t go so far to say that the 848 SF rivals the Street Triple’s lithe handling, but compared to the 1098 SF or the 848 EVO, it’s a night-and-day difference.
The Autodromo Modena has to be the tightest and shortest (1.25 mile) racetrack that I’ve ever ridden a sportbike on, falling somewhere in between a kart and supermoto track. But after a few exploratory laps of the 11-turn circuit, I felt totally confident in the bike’s grip and was very impressed with its nimble handling and excellent front-end feel. The only issue I had on track was the lack of footpeg-to-ground clearance caused by their spaced-out positioning (which is said to reduce lean-angle clearance by 1.5 degrees). I completely destroyed a pair boots in our two 20-minute sessions after wearing through the toe sliders. Excellent Brembo four-piston, radial-mount front brakes provided awesome stopping power.
As for the engine, the 11-degree overlap spec allows the bike to grunt off corners easily. I was able to use second gear exiting turns that were tight enough that I could have downshifted to first. Top-end power doesn’t feel as strong as on the EVO, but usable torque is always readily available. Standard Ducati Traction Control (DTC) features the same 8 levels of interruption as the rest of the Ducatis that use the system. For the brand-new, slightly dusty and non-rubbered in track, I chose setting 3, which was ideal for snapping open the throttle aggressively without having to worry if the grippy tires fitted for sessions—Pirelli Super Corsas in the same profiles—would stick. With a claimed 132 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and 69 foot-pounds of peak torque at 9500 rpm, the 848 Streetfighter makes more than enough power to spin the tire if the DTC is switched off.
After my short one-day test session, I have to say that the 848 Streetfighter is one of the most fun and entertaining motorcycles in the company’s entire range. It will run $12,995 in Ducati Red, Fighter Yellow or Dark Stealth colors. Options like a quick shifter and other accessories will available from the Ducati accessory catalog.