It takes my breath away, this motorcycle. I first see it from afar, and every step closer to it amplifies the beauty that is the Ducati 1198. The little angel on my shoulder is in his element, his harp playing the most heavenly notes. Apt, since we are in the presence of a heavenly body. To me it looks, in a word, flawless. If this isn't one of the most gorgeous motorcycles on the planet, I don't know what is! The first Ducati I ever rode was the 916, the same yellow one BSM featured eons ago. And the 1198 is a derivation of that iconic motorcycle. I've never gotten my hands on a 999, though. Ah, it's just as well. It's what Ducati would want, as if the 999 never happened. After Pierre Terblanche's neo-industrial design flop, Ducati went back to the drawing board placed in a room full of 916 posters. The result was the 1098, a motorcycle so sexy it made grown men weep with joy. Just look at the visual connection to the 916 - the seven-spoke rear wheel held by the single-sided swingarm, the trellis frame that peeks out from under the incredibly stylised fairing and finally, the twin under-seat exhausts that aim for the sky - all of these hark back to the 916, albeit in a futuristic manner. This is what the 916 would look like were it designed in 2100. However, where the 916's sad eyes made it a melancholic beauty, the 1198's narrow slits make it look sinister but seductive. There's no doubting the fact that it's out for the kill. In the night light, its red skin looks even redder, taut and alive. Every woman on this planet would kill to possess such charm. Even the hardcore superbikers who've come along for the shoot look at the 1198 in a different manner. Or maybe it's just me again.
Even before getting on the bike, I realise that this is the most focussed superbike that I've come across. Left on its own, I'm sure the 1198 will roar its way to the nearest racetrack. It is, after all, a racer with lights in the truest sense of the term. It makes no pretences at being an everyday bike, which the Japs do to some degree. Need proof? Well, how about the Ducati Traction Control (DTC) system and the Ducati Data Acquisition (DDA) system that come as standard? If you follow MotoGP, you will have heard praises being sung about Ducati's electronic know-how on their bikes, so I'm pretty sure that the 1198's green chips will be extremely impressive at the limit. So impressive, in fact, that Ducati has seen it fit to leave out a slipper clutch on this, a 170 bhp motorcycle! What's unbelievable is that something so beautiful and sophisticated can also feel as raw and gnarly. Blip the throttle and the shoulder-dwelling angel issues a terrified shriek and flies away, replaced by a devil cackling away to glory. As soon as I give in to the temptation, my head spins in direct proportion to the 1198cc motor's ultra-quick revs. Power delivery is smooth and as I'd imagined, there's a LOT of it. All your weight is on the front to keep the wheel down and the setup gives the 1198 the most extreme riding position I've sampled on the street. Then there's the small matter of the 170 horses straining at their reins. The slightest hint of throttle has the 1198 begging to torch the rear tyre on its way to 100 kph in 2.7 seconds. And if you find a straight enough stretch of tarmac, the Ducati will show you the magical 300 kph figure on its MotoGP look-alike instrument cluster too! The 1198's handling is the stuff that racers' wet dreams are made of. I can only imagine what that feels like as I curse my luck for being able to ride it only on the street. No traction control-inducing stuff for me, then. Even so, I can feel the quality of the fully adjustable Ohlins suspension work its magic on these cobbled roads. It feels firm but not harsh, surprising me with its ride quality. Even braking hard to shed the trouble that the motor's trying to get you into is not enough to upset the 1198's balance - commendable, since the 1198's wheelbase is a full 45 mm shorter than the Streetfighter and has a more powerful motor! This makes the transition from thought to actual change of direction simply sublime. And all of this on less than perfect road surfaces. The only chink in the 1198's dynamic armour is the riding position - it's torturous even by superbike standards! Never once do I forget that I'm on a race-bred motorcycle, one that puts pure track focus above everything else.
Even as I bask in the 1198's glow, I wonder what sense spending Rs 23.64 lakh of my hard earned money (if I had it, that is) on it, makes. Why? Well, I'm having a tough time justifying the premium the Italian Duke commands over the Japanese competition as well its own more comfortable and madder sibling, the Streetfighter. Don't get me wrong now - the 1198 is one of the finest motorcycles that exist, exquisite in turn out and colossal in performance. Besides, there's the Ducati heritage that stays with you for every moment that you ride it. And I can't deny the 1198's inimitable V-twin charm coupled with the Italian romance that reeks from every fibre of the bike's being. Surely, for an experienced rider who's looking for an exotic and precise track tool, the 1198 will be more rewarding than most motorcycles. However, all of the race-inspired tech that you pay a premium for will only work at speeds that are beyond most mortals' abilities. Hence, lost as I am in the 1198's charm, I cannot ignore the R1 that calls out to me.
DUCATI 1198 S
Type: Tubular steel Trellis frame
Brakes: 330 mm twin discs (f), 245 mm disc (r)
Suspension: 43 mm USD telescopic forks (f), Single-sided swingarm with monoshock (r)
Tyres: 120/70 ZR17 (f), 190/55 ZR17 (r)
L/W/H (mm): NA
Wheelbase: 1430 mm
Dry weight: 169 kg
Fuel tank: 15.5 litres
Rs 23.64 lakh, ex-showroom, all-India