It takes some learning, but the payoff is spectacular
I was lucky enough to be among the international press contingent that saw the Streetfighter for the first time at the Milan motorcycle show in 2008.
The moment those two brightly lit “eyes” peered out of the stage smoke that accompanied the bike down the catwalk, we were all sold. The Streetfighter was almost instantly declared the most beautiful bike of the show.
Not that this is just a pretty bike. After all, the donor of the Streetfighter’s heart is the 1098 Superbike. It is not, however, just a 1098 with the fairing panels removed. While it has taken over the 1099cc L-engine, most of the running gear and things such as the riding position are quite different.
Indeed, the S model is actually more advanced: it gets goodies such as the competition-level traction control system of the 1098’s successor, the 1198.
My friends at Motorrad magazine in Germany put the S on the dyno. Now, the factory claims 148 horses. The dyno showed 159. Usually it’s – a lot – less. They also ran a top speed check – they can do that quite legally on the Autobahn. Top speed was, wait for it, 263km/h – on a naked bike. They did point out that from 170km/h on the rider’s neck muscles got a bit of a workout.
The bike looks serious, too, and feels it. It gives the impression of crouching on the road but the seat is actually quite high at 840mm. You sit a long way forward, nudged there by the slope of the seat, and the wide handlebar is quite close.
The effect is an awesome feeling of being in control, of sitting right over the front wheel and steering it with arms and body to precisely where you want it to go.
It’s not a slow-speed bike. Riding for photos was fun when we were in front of the camera but low-speed manoeuvring was a bit fraught. The bike just isn’t meant to trickle through traffic.
If you want it to go fast, on the other hand, you just wind it up over 3000rpm and let the typically heavy Ducati clutch go. The bike will, too; the torque curve flattens out for a while and then starts climbing again at 7000rpm. All the go you want, right there whenever you want it.
The Streetfighter is brutal; it roars its approval when you wring its neck; it just wants to run.
Handling is typically responsive Ducati, with just a very slight tendency to dip into corners. I thought I was imagining it, or that I might be getting better at this high-speed cornering business but other riders confirmed it. It’s probably deliberate, because it does make you feel even more adventurous than you already do on a Streetfighter. Contrariwise, the bike has a tendency to run a little wide on exit. Suspension setup should cure this and any other slight peculiarities but you’d need to be faster than I am to find them a problem anyway. I guess the most telling result of my test ride was that I kept getting faster and more confident the more I rode through the same corners for photos. You need to learn the Streetfighter, but it’s a quick process.
I couldn’t feel the steering damper at all, which is the highest praise I can offer one of these highly useful gadgets. Cornering clearance is enormous; I doubt very much that you’d ever touch down.
The radially mounted front Brembos are every bit as good as they need to be to pull up this powerhouse. The front suspension does dive quite noticeably if you use them in anger but they sure stop the bike.
The DTC traction control retards the ignition if it senses rear wheel slip and if that’s not enough, it cuts the fuel supply. This is great on the racetrack, they tell me. On the road, traction control seems a bit like anti-lock braking (ABS) to me, only more so: if you need it, you’re running out of talent. But then again, I wouldn’t do without ABS these days. Maybe traction control will prove as reassuring.
The little things are good. The tank is a decent size; the mirrors are useful at pretty much all speeds; the headlight is small but effective. My right foot did slip off the short footrest a couple of times.
But there is one thing I have to say. I’ve always loved Ducatis and a lot of that affection has been for those wonderful engines. Being liquid cooled, the Streetfighter hides its L-motor behind a lot of tubing. I do understand the advantages but it’s still a real shame.
This bike is for you only if you are serious. But if you are, it is truly spectacular.
Ducati Streetfighter (S)
$24,990 ($30,990), both plus on-road charges
Two years, unlimited distance
114kW @ 9500rpm
115Nm @ 9500rpm
Liquid cooled L-twin, four valves per cylinder, desmodromic actuation, Marelli electronic fuel injection and digital ignition
Bore x stroke:
104 x 64.7mm
Six-speed, dry multi-plate hydraulic clutch, final drive by chain
Front, Showa 43 mm fully adjustable upside-down telescopic fork, travel 127mm (Ohlins 43mm fully adjustable upside-down telescopic fork, travel 120mm) Rear, progressive linkage with fully adjustable Showa monoshock, 127mm travel (progressive linkage with fully adjustable Ohlins monoshock with top-out spring, 127mm travel)
Seat height 840mm, weight 169kg dry (167kg dry), fuel capacity 16.5 litres, wheelbase 1475mm
Front, 120/70 ZR 17. Rear, 169/55 ZR 17
Tubular steel trellis frame
Front, twin 330mm semi-floating discs with radially mounted Brembo Monobloc four-piston calipers. Rear, 245mm disc with 2 piston caliper
250km/h (claimed), 263km/h (achieved)
0-100km/h: 3.2 sec
60-100km/h: 3.8 sec
5.2 litres per 100km, premium unleaded
Red or pearl white over black/graphite; S model, red or midnight black over bronze