Friday, 4 May 2012

2012 Ducati 848 Streetfighter Review

What's New, Pussycat?
2012 Ducati Streetfighter 848
The 2012 Ducati Streetfighter 848, also available in red and matte black.
Photo © Brian J. Nelson
Okay, so maybe "pussycat" is a slight exaggeration, but the new 2012 Ducati 848 Streetfighter ($12,995) is a softer riding yet meaner looking spinoff of the fully-faired 848 EVO.
How much softer?
If you like going fast but don't enjoy being hunched over, the Streetfighter 848-- like its big brother, the $18,995 Streetfighter S-- offers more comfortable ergonomics, with a handlebar that's .78 inches taller, and slightly wider footpegs. One common complaint with the big-bore "S" version is that the exhaust pipe encroaches on the rider's right boot. That ergonomic qualm has been alleviated with the new, smaller bike. Thanks to narrower exhaust pipes, the 848 feels a bit more conventional in layout, and doesn't crowd your foot. That's not to say it isn't sporty, but it's certainly less committed than the stretched out posture demanded of the 848 EVO. Swing a leg over the new Streetfighter, and it feels narrow and light (thanks to a 437 pound wet weight, which is actually 9 pounds heavier than the EVO.) The 33-inch saddle is slim enough to allow my 5 foot, 11 inch frame plenty of room for flat-footed standing at stoplights.
The new Streetfighter's $1,000 price advantage over its fully-faired counterpart can mostly be attributed to its lower-spec suspension components. The EVO's 43mm Showa forks are replaced with 43mm Marzocchi units, and the Showa rear monoshock is now a Sachs piece. While the 24.5° rake figure remains the same, trail has been increased to 103mm and the single-sided aluminum swingarm has been lengthened 35mm, in order to increase stability. The EVO's monobloc brakes have also been replaced with standard 4-piston front, 2-piston rear Brembos.
Visually, the Streetfighter 848 ditches the $13,995 848 EVO's bodywork in favor of a more raw, exposed look. Cooling fans spin visibly just aft of the rider's knees, engine bits reside just behind the naked trellis frame, and various mechanical parts previously protected by body panels are now out in the open. But the Streetfighter is more than an 848 stripped bare; its engine has been revised with a milder valve overlap of 11 degrees, which smooths out power delivery while reducing output from 140 to 132 hp. Torque measures 69 lb-ft, and a standard 8-setting traction control system senses wheel speed differential and enables you to micromanage how much slip angle the computer will allow, before power is cut.
Now that we've got the basic's down, let's ride.

On the Road: A Lover and a Fighter
2012 Ducati Streetfighter 848
The Streetfighter 848 tackles the mountain roads between Idyllwild and Palm Desert, California.
Photo © Brian J. Nelson
Climb aboard the Ducati 848 Streetfighter, and its ergonomic improvements over the 848 EVO-- not to mention the big-bore Streetfighter-- become immediately apparent. Gone is EVO's stretched-out posture and the Streetfighter S's bulky undercarriage; the naked 848 feels natural and relatively comfy, though it's still more of a hooligan along the lines of a Triumph Speed Triple, as opposed to more sensible naked bike alternatives.
The Desmodromically-valved 849cc L-twin makes all the predictably evocative Ducati rumbles and roars, and with a release of the wet (read, quiet) clutch, the smallest Streetfighter accelerates easily and urgently, its engine picking up extra momentum in the mid-section of its powerband. The rev range is represented via a bar graph on the small MotoGP-stle instrumentation, along with speed, trip computer, traction control, and ambient temperature information. A digital gear indicator would be a welcome addition to the assemblage of information, but for what it's worth, the gauges work clearly and effectively, toggling between readouts using switchgear on the left handgrip.
Riding the backroads between Palm Desert and Idyllwild, California, the 848 Streetfighter's nimble footing and willing motor make it a blast to fling around from corner to corner. Though eager to turn in, there's enough stability on hand to make it feel reassuring at more extreme lean angles. However, the steering feels noticeably slower than the 848 EVO, and greater commitment is needed in order to keep the bike from cornering wide. A bit of bumpiness comes through the lower spec suspension bits, but nonetheless this Duc doesn't dishonor its mean looks, managing a nicely balanced blend of tarmac devouring enthusiasm and generally welcoming ergonomics. In fact, the most glaring item that might hold you back from extended stints on the Streetfighter is its lack of fairing, which requires a headstrong neck posture for long, windblown rides.
After fiddling with the traction control setup (which is only permitted at a standstill), the system reacts invisibly but instantly in the most restrictive setting of its 8-level setup: at 7 or 8, virtually every mid-corner throttle application triggers two bright red lights on the dash, though there's little to no perceptible throttle cutback. Dropping to lower numbers like 4 or 3 requires far more aggressive maneuvers to trip the lights, and yet the system is still not abrupt enough to feel intrusive. Incidentally, the electronics allow burnouts and wheelies. Which we love.
The fast-moving proceedings are halted by strong Brembo brakes. The 4-piston front setup isn't as dramatically overpowered as the superbike-spec stoppers on the 848 EVO, but they work just fine for the road... and speaking of the road, if you're wondering whether or not the small Streetfighter will satisfy your canyon carving curiosity, the answer is covered in the forthcoming Bottom Line.

Bottom Line: Tuned Down, but Amped Up
2012 Ducati Streetfighter 848
The 2012 Ducati Streetfighter 848, banking.
Photo © Brian J. Nelson
People who obsess over spec sheets will quietly-- or perhaps not so quietly-- dismiss the Ducati 848 Streetfighter. With fewer horsepower, curtailed agility, and less sophisticated suspension and brakes than the 848 EVO on which it's based, the Streetfighter 848 looks, at least superficially, like a $1,000 compromise against its superbike sibling. And yeah, if you're the track day type, this is not the bike for you.
But after a day at the helm of a Streetfighter 848, my bright yellow test bike delivered on virtually everything I asked of it, which was a lot. Several stops made it difficult to gauge its long range comfort (which, it's safe to say, isn't this bike's strong suite), though the relatively upright posture certainly makes it easy to ride for prolonged stretches of winding road. A born entertainer on mountain roads, the bike's predictable handling and safety net of traction control pair with taut suspension to deliver gratifying responsiveness. It may not have the finesse to deal with excessively ragged surface conditions, but this Streetfighter is nonetheless a quick, precise, and tractable tool-- and there's still more than enough power on hand to get you into trouble with the law.
Nimbler, sprightlier, and more affordable than the Streetfighter S, the Streetfighter 848 is the surprise firecracker that's still a premium product, but temptingly priced amidst the spread of Ducati's lineup. On the non-Italian front, the $11,999 (or $12,799 with ABS) Triumph Speed Triple offers a difficult to resist alternative, and naked Japanese offerings like the $11,760 Honda CB1000R and the $10,799 Kawasaki Z1000 present huskier, heftier distractions at a lower price point.
But then again, there's nothing quite like a stripped down, lightweight Ducati when it comes to desire-stirring motorcycles-- and that intangible alone will undoubtedly draw plenty of riders to the Streetfighter 848.

Specifications, Who Should Buy the Ducati Streetfighter 848?
2012 Ducati Streetfighter 848
A CAD file of the Streetfighter 848.
Photo © Ducati
  • Price: $12,995
  • Engine: Liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 849.4cc L-twin
  • Power Management: 8-setting traction control, defeatable
  • Output: 132 horsepower, 69 lb-ft of torque
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 4.4 gallons
  • Frame: Tubular steel trellis
  • Gearbox: 6-speed
  • Clutch: Wet, hydraulically actuated
  • Front Suspension: Fully adjustable Marzocchi 43mm forks
  • Rake/Trail: 24.5° / 103mm (4.05 inches)
  • Rear Suspension: Progressive linkage with fully adjustable Sachs monoshock
  • Swingarm: Single-sided aluminum
  • Front Brakes: Dual 320mm disc, semi-floating radially mounted 4-piston Brembo
  • Rear Brakes: Single 245mm disc, dual-piston
  • Seat height: 33 inches
  • Wet weight: 437 pounds
  • Warranty: 2 years, unlimited mileage
Who Should Buy the Ducati Streetfighter 848?
Sportbike fans who prefer an upright riding posture, and don't mind the lack of wind protection or slightly less refined suspension offered by this more affordably priced alternative to the 848 EVO.

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