It was getting to be rather tense. It was the Sunday during the Malaysian Grand Prix and the dense clouds had darkened. The Moto3 Grand Prix had just got over to a nail biting finish with an all-KTM dog fight won by half a wheel by champion elect Sandro Cortese from local ace Zulfahmi Khairuddin and I was yet having the woollies in the stomach.
No, it wasn’t about the MotoGP event to follow, mind still fresh from the tragic crash that robbed us of Marco Simoncelli at this very circuit a year ago but for the fact that if the dark clouds persisted, my ride the next day on the very Sepang circuit with Ducati would have all but been taken to the cleaners! It was not about the fact that the bikes lined up for us the next day, as part of a certain arrive and ride event (not to be confused by the DRE or Ducati Riding Experience) included the Panigale and the Diavel but the fact that there was also the 848 Streetfighter, a bike from Borgo Panigale which I hadn’t swung a leg over and ridden in anger.
A Streetfighter 848 over a blue-blooded circuit scratcher like the Panigale on a classic Grand Prix circuit? You would think I must be joking but having ridden the Panigale superbike at the Yas Marina circuit earlier in the year during its global launch, I knew how good it was but life is all about experiencing new stuff and the 848 was a gap in the awareness I wanted to go and fill up.
As it transpired the next day, I knew that I was spot on in my choice of mount for sizzling Sepang! Having been drenched from head to toe thanks to the two-hour long cloud burst after the final race of the day at Sepang (not unusual for a tropical land), I was smiling like an idiot while all else were scurrying for cover!
I know that lightning doesn’t normally strike twice in the same place and felt comfortable that the next day would dawn sunny and clear! And further bolstered by the thought that the next day I would have the chance to ride alongside the riders who I marvelled at and worshipped some years ago as literal demigods, I knew that nature’s pre-event cleansing was apt!
Sepang was bright and fresh when I landed there the day after the Malaysian Grand Prix – bright and sunny with clear blue skies and then a sight to gladden the heart – rows upon rows of Ducatis red, yellow and black, all lined up for us riders to get astride and ride the full GP circuit! Panigales, Diavels (yes, there were a few of these as well for those brave enough to try and chase Loris and Troy astride this rocket cruiser), 795s (yes, the very same which have yet to arrive in India!), a few Multistradas and of course a whole squadron of 848 Streetfighters.
Now one knows that this category of no-nonsense street scratcher is a recent extension of the naked superbike scene which has multiplied manifold in recognition and critical mass all over the world and for it to have been spawn from Ducati’s WSB-winning genes is enough to get the juices flowing. When talking about the Ducati Streetfighter 848, one of the key points to note is that it replaces the base model 1098 Streetfighter, which means now the Ducati Streetfighter line-up is made up of the 848 and the high-spec 1099 Streetfighter S.
This has helped Ducati bring clarity to its naked bike model range while offering a practical offering in the middleweight class of motorcycles and therefore a lot is riding upon the junior Streetfighter.The Streetfighter 848 is bold, brash and beautiful no matter from where you look at her. And helping its sporty demeanour is the sorted frame which it borrows from Ducati’s massive parts bin with much of it coming from the Superbike 848. So the sharp, agile and exciting characteristics of the supersport chassis are infused in the 848 as well.
The only marginal but significant change to the geometry of the 848 is a reduction in the rake to 24.5 degrees from 25.6 degrees of the bigger Streetfighter S and by doing that the chassis engineers at Ducati have managed to improve the overall front-end feel on the 848 leading to a confidence inspiring feel. The first two corners at the Sepang circuit are rather tight and require one to swiftly change direction, which on the 848 was a breeze as she briskly went from the tight right-handed first corner leading into the tightening left-hander in an absolutely composed and smooth fashion. And this sort of razor-sharp handling is attributed to the superbly balanced trellis frame of the 848.
Aiding the frame is the equally well sorted suspension set-up despite employing somewhat low-spec components than its elder sibling, the 1099 Streetfighter S.Running 43mm fully adjustable Marzocchi upside down forks upfront and a Sachs-provided fully-adjustable monoshock on the rear, these components do a fine job when put to the task and are more than enough to take whatever the road or track has to throw at them. Although the true essence of the 848, as also any other modern day Ducati is its engine, the 849cc vee-twin Testastretta motor with Ducati’s patented Desmodromic valve mechanism is nothing but a scaled down and slightly detuned version of Ducati’s 2011 World Superbike Championship winning machine, the 1198. Pumping out a whopping 132PS of power at 10,000rpm and a solid 93.5Nm of torque at 9,500rpm, the motor packs in enough grunt to keep power-hungry souls satiated.
However, the manner in which all that power and torque is transferred to the rear wheel via the slick six-speed transmission is really the charm of the 849cc motor.Smooth and slick, there is a constant surge of power that keeps coming in throughout the rev range but not in a scary or intimidating manner but more so in a very friendly and hospitable form. It is quite like being treated as a guest at a Japanese spa. Twist the throttle and even as the 848 lurches forward with staggering urgency, it goes about doing it in a highly unruffled manner thanks to the balanced chassis clubbed with well damped suspension and super-sticky Pirelli Diablo Corsa 3 rubber on both ends. Well yes, we do admit that a lot of this soothing and well-behaved character of the 848 is also due to the high-end tech-wizardry that has gone into the motorcycle but hey suddenly I am finding this is a most civilised hooligan bike that ever could be!
For the 848 gets the advanced Ducati Traction Control (DTC) system package which comes with eight different operational modes as well as an option to turn it off completely if you like it wild. The electronics largely control the wheel from spinning out of control and depending upon the mode selected, release limited power to the rear wheel when the throttle is turned wide open. However at the same time, ABS is missing from the 848 Streetfighter, which we believe has been done solely to keep costs under check. However the Brembo-made radial-mounted twin discs upfront and a single disc unit provide assured anchors to scrub off speed and for overall control whatever the situation might be.
There has been a slight revolution underway at Ducati HQ in Bologna and this takes in the adoption of a hydraulically controlled wet clutch system that has dispensed the dry clutches which was staple Ducati fare for the transmission. I must say that having experienced this on the 796 and then on the 795 and now on the Streetfighter, this change is proving sound (literally as well with less clatter!) and meaningful in operation – the shifts are positive yet ultra slick and there are none of the missed neutrals which were so much a bugbear of Ducati vee-twins of the last decade, Even the clutch actuation is easy and not one where you had lopsided arms with the right one all pumped up muscle and the left being just flabby!
After having spent enough time astride the Streetfighter 848 at the Sepang circuit, I realised that it is not one particular thing that really works for the naked middleweight from Italy but the sum of its parts which delights. No doubt the engine has racing pedigree to it and the chassis is supremely balanced for the road, but it’s the entire package which works in such perfect harmony leading to an absolutely enriching experience every time one would straddle the Streetfighter 848.
And that brings me to a rather interesting quandary, which is – why can’t superbikes be as much fun as naked motorcycles? There is nothing quite like the hooliganism that envelopes these minimalist beasts which are always eager to get into a brawl. Honestly, it’s a bit too much too handle at times astride a superbike and its stops being fun then. A superbike will scare your silly even before you swing a leg over it. It’s a known fact that the race replicas are brutal and a mistake could lead to catastrophic results for the rider.
But naked machines, on the other hand come across as subdued versions of their race-winning counterparts, tamed for the road and a lot more comfortable notably for their upright riding position and comfortable ergonomics. Naked machines make for a fun riding experience and keep at it without expecting 100 per cent from the rider or demanding to be ridden at full clip all the time – motorcycling at its easiest and most basic form if I can say that. And the Ducati Streetfighter 848 is a one such versatile brute that further builds on the fun factor allowing neophytes as well as the gurus of biking to go out and simply have a blast on winding roads without having to worry about lap times or sponsors.
I did just that, also getting lapped by Bayliss, Capirossi and some others on the Panigales but it didn’t bother me in the least bit! The torque was heady and swooping into the turns truly as god intended! I had found peace and pleasure, from a hooligan bike no less! Who says Streetfighter is a bad word? Not me!