I took a step back and paused before accepting the key to a 2011 848EVO from Ducati Canada. I was convinced that they had wheeled out the wrong bike- it’s not your typical Ducati. Missing from the picture was the narcissistic bright red paint that is the signature colour for the Italian manufacturer. The motorcycle was the antithesis of brashness and appeared to shun attention. Perhaps it was snuck out the back door of Ducati’s skunk works department, the result of some top-secret military project to build a motorcycle that was undetectable by radar. Where most Ducatis are long-legged supermodels in six-inch stilettos, this Dark Stealth version of the 848EVO was a mugger in a dark alley waiting to slit my throat.
By the time I had returned to the office, I’d learned something crucial about the Dark Stealth model. It really does look the part – that is providing you keep it under glass in a dust-free environment. Within an hour, the bike’s ominous matte black paint job had been horribly disfigured by its innate ability to absorb every speck of dirt and the guts of countless bugs deep within the molecules of its paint. If you retain anything from this review, it should be to buy the 848EVO in another colour instead.
Paint choices aside, if you’re one of those gearheads who hides in the garage when the TV is being tuned to American Idol, the 848EVO has enough visual delights that you’ll wish the screaming brats were actually on the tube every night. The rear wheel and single-sided swingarm deserve the better part of an hour to enjoy, and it takes the better part of an evening to fully appreciate its trellis frame, sculpted bodywork and five-spoke Enkei wheels. Although most manufacturers have moved away from the trendy use of underseat exhausts, Ducati has stubbornly clung to the approach of letting it all hang out, defending the exhaust location is a part of their DNA.
Visually identical to the 848 that was first introduced in 2008, the 848EVO is none-the-less an evolutionary step forward. Ducati doesn’t attempt to disguise the fact that at its core is a motorcycle designed for track use, and they are understandably proud about the role their MotoGP and World Superbike programs played in the development of this production machine.
Accepting the design intent of the 848EVO, it would be absolutely pointless to discuss the ergonomics of the bike with respect to using it as a street machine. If you buy this motorcycle to impress your friends or tour Canada, you’ve reaped what you’ve sown. Don’t expect any sympathy when you whinge about your swollen wrists, incapacitated neck and abused buttocks. However, as a purpose built machine for hyper-performance riding, the ergonomics work well to allow rider movement and provide a slippery aerodynamic profile. There is one warning, which is mostly directed toward street riders: turning the handlebars either way to full lock will crush your hands against the sharp edge of the fairing.
Powering the motorcycle is the EVO version of the 848’s Testastretta engine. Numerous modifications have resulted in a modest performance increase; peak output has been raised by six horsepower to a claimed 140 (103 kW) and maximum torque is now rated at 72.3 lb-ft (98 Nm). To achieve this, the liquid-cooled, 90-degree L-twin has had its inlet port revised and elliptical throttle bodies enlarged (they now have an equivalent diameter of 60mm). Internally, the piston crown profiles have been changed to work with reshaped combustion chambers that bump compression up to 13.2:1 from 12:1. The modifications also help the inhaled fuel mixture to burn more efficiently. Ducati says that the revised camshafts, which increase valve-lift and inlet duration, could only be used because of the engine’s Desmodromic valve system that mechanically closes the valves with a cam and lever system instead of the more common use of springs.
It may seem that Ducati has made a lot of modifications for such a small gain in performance, but when engines reach this level of engineering, working to find more reliable power is often an exercise in diminishing returns. In use, the engine is a workhorse that spins freely and pulls quickly to its rev limiter – too quick at times – as I found myself hitting the rev limiter often at the beginning of my test. Despite the warning from the strobe-like shift lights, it takes a little while to recalibrate my senses to the Testastretta characteristics. Although any increase in power is nice, it’s the bike’s improved torque that really stands out and makes this engine an ideal choice for lazy riders. With the 848EVO you don’t pay the same penalty you would on a 600 cc machine when your haphazard shifting fails to keep the engine at full boil. The Testastretta absolves you of your sins and pulls hard from low in the rev range to help save face. Exhibiting confidence in their engine’s design, Ducati states that its service intervals are spaced 12,000 km apart.
Audiophiles will be slightly disheartened to find that the engine’s exhaust sound is muted. Sure you can hear Ducati’s signature staccato in there, but it’s vague, like the sound of an operatic baritone being strangled at the bottom of an elevator shaft. If you want the hair on your arms to rise, you will need to indulge yourself with an aftermarket or accessory Ducati exhaust system that will really let the fat man sing.
The 848EVO retains its predecessor’s tubular steel trellis frame, which was originally developed with input from Ducati’s racing division. The manufacturer maintains that when combined with the magnesium subframe in its front end – it supports the fairing, instrument and headlight assemblies – it’s one of the lightest frames they’ve ever produced for a performance machine. Matters of weight aside, it feels sufficiently rigid for the task and never hinted that it was capable of unruly behaviour. I’ve always attributed it to Ducati’s steel trellis frame, but every time I get on a bike from Bologna, it feels like I’m straddling an I-beam.
Another DNA component, the single-sided swingarm is described as the product of a dual construction technique. It combines aluminum castings used in high stress areas such as the wheel hub, pivot points and suspension links with lightweight, fabricated aluminum sections to hold everything together. Mated to it is a compact, fully adjustable Showa shock that requires the use of a linkage system with separate lower pick-up points for the push-rod to reduce the stresses placed on the frame. Suspending the front of the bike is a 43 mm Showa inverted fork that is also fully adjustable. Completing the inventory of suspension components is a steering damper; without having experienced any issues with front-end stability, it was difficult to tell whether the damper was a superfluous addition or if it was really doing a good job.
Out of the box, I was impressed with how well the suspension maintained the tires’ contact with the track surface, especially over some of the bumps that I consistently managed to find every lap through the same turn. With Japanese machines in particular, stock suspension settings require adjustment to deal with the demands my 235 pounds of rider and gear place on the machine. The 848EVO’s standard settings worked well for going fast, but would have required tweaking had the pace been raised to furious. All in, the complete engine and chassis package is claimed to weigh 168 kg (370 lb) – dry – and it was noticeably easy on its Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SC1 tires, a favourite of mine because of its predictable nature and great grip.
Although I can’t confirm Ducati’s claim that the 848EVO’s Brembo Monobloc brakes are powerful enough to stop planets, I can write with a clear conscience that they’re very powerful. The race derived system features two massive front callipers that squeeze 320 mm discs; a gentle pull of the lever with the tips of two fingers is enough to press your eyeballs against the helmet’s visor and force your legs to clamp the fuel tank for dear life. Hard lapping in high temperatures did nothing to diminish their performance, as they shaved off obscene amounts of speed without any sign of fade. I didn’t have an issue with the 848EVO’s lack of a traction control system; it’s not a necessity with its level of power output, but the omission of a race ABS system was a disappointment, especially since it’s a feature that is beginning to become standard fare for high-performance sport bikes. That’s not to say the motorcycle is completely void of electronic wizardry. Most obvious is the entirely digital instrumentation that Ducati boasts originated from their MotoGP program. A toggle-type switch mounted to the left handlebar controls what I feared would be a complex and myriad choice of data. However, the system is intuitive and I was able to navigate and make use of it without needing to consult the manual. Aside from the essentials you would expect from a motorcycle’s instruments, the LCD also provides a lap timer, air temperature, coolant temperature, and battery voltage, but inexplicably it doesn’t have a fuel gauge. Instead, a special trip meter and low fuel light is your warning that the fuel tank has dipped into its reserve. On the track, the only item of concern in the instrumentation was the adjustable rev-limit warning lights that never tired flashing frantic warnings that I should upshift.
The instrument panel is also capable of displaying information from the optional Ducati Data Analyser (DDA) system. The data acquisition module works in conjunction with a USB data card and PC-based software to evaluate the performance of the both bike and rider by collecting information from the bike’s various ECU channels. They include data pertaining to throttle openings, road speed, engine rpm, gear selection, engine temperature, distance travelled, lap numbers and times. You have to either be a hardcore track day rider or an electronics junkie to want this level of detail out of your motorcycle, but on a more realistic note, amateur racers that campaign an 848EVO will find DDA an invaluable tool as the data from multiple sessions can be compared to assist in chassis and engine tuning.
Ducati claims the bike’s twin headlights are a modern take on those used on their 916. I’ll be honest; I never noticed them. For some reason they were always on the wrong side of the fairing. I’ll also have to take Ducati’s word that the bike’s powerful headlights are complemented with bright LEDs that are used for the tail light and turn signals.
A competent rider on an 848EVO can easily dispatch much more powerful machines piloted by track day neophytes. When the riders are on par, it will aggravate the competition riding Japanese 600s. What the 848EVO lacks in brute-force on long straights, it claws back with good corner speed through turns. However, the 848EVO is a more demanding bike to push around the track compared to smaller displacement in-line fours. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For your efforts you’re rewarded with a riding experience that enables you to follow the beat of a different drummer, one that plays the resounding thump of a Ducati twin. The 848EVO is a good fit for track day junkies who want something different than dime-a-dozen 600s that can be found buzzing around every track.