By Gabe Ets-Hokin
“I know it when I see it,” said Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when asked to define pornography. That’s how I felt when I first laid my eyes on Ducati’s Streetfighter at the Milan motorcycle show last year. Some motorcycles, like the BMW R1200R or Star Roadstar Warrior, hide their sick, twisted hooligan personalities with Q-ship styling. But the Streetfighter, with its bare-bones bodywork and murderous-looking shotgun exhaust, looked like trouble with a capital T, the subject of the Shangri-La song “Leader of the Pack,” something no sane person would want in their garage.
I mean seriously, Dude: a standard motorcycle with a liquid-cooled 155 hp V-Twin that less than 10 years ago would have required tens of thousands of dollars and months of frustration to build on your own?
“Hello, I called this morning about my engine? The one I dropped off six months ago? Well, is Pietro in? He’s at lunch? When do you expect him back? Tuesday? Hello? Hello?”
That motor is bolted into a chassis essentially the same as what’s dominating World Superbike this season. It sports race-spec Brembo monobloc brakes that could stoppie a C-17 loaded with plumbing supplies.
So with those credentials, who even cares how well the bike works in person? Who cares what it costs? Sign me up. And if you’re similarly demented, I’ll spare you the pain of reading the rest of this review. To quote an unfortunate character in Apocalypse Now;
SELL THE HOUSE
SELL THE CAR
SELL THE KIDS
FIND SOMEONE ELSE
I'M NEVER COMING BACK
Still here? Fine. Here’s a traditional evaluation of the 2009 Ducati Streetfighter S.
It’s basically a 1098S with handlebars and different bodywork - but “basically” misses a lot of interesting changes. The chassis is similar to the 848/1198 unit, but isn’t adjustable for rake like the 1198. It’s also kicked out an extra degree to 25.6. It gets an extra 30mm on the single-sided swingarm and a beefier lower triple clamp. Suspension on the S model, front and back, is by Öhlins (Showa on the standard bike). The inverted front fork, in both cases, uses 43mm tubes.
Is it fully adjustable? Do you have to ask?
The S model also gets lighter five-spoke forged alloy wheels and some carbon-fiber trim. Braking on both models is with those radial-mount Brembo monoblocs and 330mm discs. Tires are a pair of track-ready Pirelli Diablo Corsa III, with a 190/55-17 in the back.
Sounds pretty good so far. I’d take a Briggs-and-Stratton 2.5 hp motor with that setup and be happy. Give me the 155 hp motor from the 1098, and I’m happier still.
No girly tuning for torque in Bologna, just shorter intake stacks which result in a 5 hp (and 5 ft.-lbs. of torque) drop in power. Also, lighter Vacural-process engine castings shave some weight. Otherwise, that motor is the motor you’ve been reading about since it debuted in the 1098.
The S model gets Ducati’s eight-position Digital Traction Control (DTS) to go with the Digital Data Analyser (DDA) that comes with the standard model. DDA lets the rider download (with an included USB adapter and software) jillions of data points about his ride, including throttle position, vehicle speed, engine speed, lap times, and if it’s working with the DTC, when the traction control was kicking in. The instrumentation is similarly thorough, and includes a lap timer, clock, bar-style tachometer, speedometer, temp gauge, and ambient temperature gauge, all in a very compact—but readable package.
The nice people at Ducati North America’s corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California let me borrow their CEO’s Streetfighter S for the weekend. Being the CEO of Ducati, Michael Locke outfitted his S with some extra goodies: Ducati Performance vented clutch cover and anodized pressure plate, a carbon-fiber passenger seat cover and carbon-fiber Termignoni “mufflers.” Ducati, you had me at “hello,” no need to gift-wrap it.
Boosting my 5’7” body on-board, I had trouble getting both feet flat, but only just: the seat is small, sloping and narrow, especially where it meets the tank. The tapered bar is low and narrow for a standard, but not as irritatingly far forward as the Monster’s. The seating position is compact and probably best suited for smaller people (who somehow have long enough legs to reach the ground when stopped). The pegs are at a nice height, the seat is more comfortable than you’d think, and there’s even some wind protection. Not touring material, but 100 miles? No sweat.
Flip the tigger-style stop switch up to reveal the starter button. Stabbing it brings the motor to life with a harsh, sexy roar. Serious race machinery. The hydraulic clutch has an easy feel and the gearbox is smooth (although I did miss a shift once or twice in my test). Gearing is the same as the 1198 for first and second gears; third through sixth are taller, and the sprockets are the same as well. So combined with the longer wheelbase and lazier geometry, wheelies don’t happen every time you crack open the throttle. But some drive-train lash and choppy fueling—maybe because the bike hadn’t been set up for the new mufflers—made low-speed, around-town riding less fun than it could have been.
That being said, if you buy this bike to just troll around town you need professional help. On a fast, busy freeway this bike is Master of its Domain. Shorter gearing in the top three gears means it just rips through traffic, accelerating so hard and fast that you think there’s something wrong with the speedometer. Nothing without wings should be able to accelerate to 120 mph so fast (theoretically, CHP, I’m talking theoretically), especially when your grinning head is whipping along through the air without a fairing to protect you. The low, tucked-in riding position and tiny fairing actually make high-speed cruising possible, if not comfortable. Riders on other standards, or even sportbikes will have a hard time keeping up. “What’s that blur?” they will say to themselves.
This bike, by dint of it being so precise-steering and stable at high speeds, will encourage you to do very bad, illegal things. Do you really need that in your life?
Practical? It is comfortable, but it has zero storage (you might get a book of matches under the seat, which means you could bring Gisele Bundchen her lunch), and the plastic tank rejects magnetic tankbags.
Yet the 4.5-gallon gas tank, combined with 40-plus mpg (at legal freeway speeds, and good luck sticking to that) means good range. The motor is smooth and vibes are minimal. There’s noticeable heat from the rear cylinder, but I didn’t notice it as much as I did when I rode the 1098; chalk it up to cooler weather.
Freeway terrorizing done, it’s time to put the bike to the test on some twisty backroads. I wish I was the kind of guy who could report to you the Streetfighter’s limits, street or track, but I am not that guy. I want to live! But I can tell you that the SF is sensitive to chassis setup. Even without the 1198’s adjustable steering head, there is still preload and ride-height adjustment, as well as all the damping fine-tuning you can do. My test unit had the rear preload cranked almost all the way soft and the rear ride height all the way low. The springs were still much too stiff for 155-pound me, and the fork sliders were all the way flush with the top triple clamp. That made the bike feel light in front and it wanted to push wide in turns. It was also heavier to steer than I expected, especially in low-speed stuff, probably partially due to the nonadjustable steering damper, which unlike the dampers mounted on some bikes I could name (but won’t because I like getting free stuff) actually has some damping effect.
Does this mean the SF is an ill-handling pig? Hardly. It feels small, tight and easy to handle way beyond what its 450-ish pound wet weight hints at. So you can hustle it down a straight, slip past the angry guy on the FJR1300 (sorry, angry guy!) into the corner, brake at the last minute, hold a tight line and then pick up the throttle early, thanks to the confidence the DTC instills. And then you rocket down the straight like you’ve been fired out of a torpedo tube, sobbing in your helmet and wetting your pants. Sure, I’ve ridden big-bore sportbikes, including the 1098, and I’ve ridden big, fast standards, like the 140 hp BMW K1200R, but I haven’t ridden a standard this light and compact with race-ready suspension and such a powerful, torquey motor: 85 ft.-lbs. of torque. Crazy stuff.
What’s actually more intimidating than that mega motor is the braking system. It’s serious race tackle, and luckily for you, words fail me when I try to describe it, sparing you from my turgid prose. I’ve always loved powerful brakes—nothing tells me a manufacturer is serious about building a bike like race-spec stoppers—but these verged on almost too strong, too sensitive. They feel ready to do one-finger rolling stoppies at 90 mph (again, CHP: theory, my friends, theory), and demand attention and respect when you’re trail braking. Another worrying niggle is the footpegs; they’re kind of smooth and can be slippery: racing rearsets would be an early purchase for me.
Are you starting to get the picture about the Streetfighter? It’s not like the Monster it’s supplanting in the Ducati catalog, a practical, easy-going commuter that’s also fun to ride on weekends. It’s a 1098S without the fairing, a race-ready competition bike that needs a seriously committed and knowledgeable expert owner to make it work as designed. Give me a few trips to the tuner’s and suspension shop and I could have a perfect bike…well, as perfect as a Ducati can be, anyway. But the value is intense: at $14,995 the Streetfighter is just $1000 more than the Monster 1100S. What? And the Streetfighter S is four grand more, but you get the lighter wheels—a $2500-plus value right there—and the DTC, a pretty useful accessory when you’re dealing with somewhere around 140 hp going through your back tire. Oh, and something like $4500 in suspension upgrades. But I’ll bet with proper setup the Showa will work (for me, anyway) almost as well as the Öhlins suspension. The lighter wheels’ main benefit is in braking and accelerating (and yes, steering, too), but the SF isn’t exactly screaming for improvement in those arenas. Let’s just say that either bike is a bargain.
I don’t really like owning sportbikes. You can go just as fast in the street environment on a standard, and those plastic fairings are expensive, fragile cop magnets. I like having options: racetrack, commuting, backroad fun? The SF, with proper setup (and what motorcycle works perfectly as delivered?) offers it all.
But you already knew that when you saw it.
Gabe Ets-Hokin edits City Bike, Northern California’s motorcycling newspaper. You can read more Gabe at his http://gabeunchained.blogspot.com/
Story: Gabe Ets-Hokin
Photos: Bob Stokstad