This review is extremely subjective. None of it is meant to represent the views of anyone except myself, and sometimes not even myself.
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war...
— William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
I used to think that my 1996 Ducati Monster M900 was the most appropriate Ducati for an urban rider. It wasn't. With a paltry 75 hp, it was neither fast nor protected enough for the highways, and wasn't quiet enough for the suburbs.
I did love my Monster 900. Of course, I only realised how much I loved it when I heard the guy who bought it ride it away. Hearing the booming exhaust echo between the low buildings of a sketchier part of San Francisco, where I was living at the time, I damn near shed a tear.
Since selling that Monster, I never quite re-captured the same feeling. I've had other Ducati motorcycles, other standards, other twins... nothing was quite like it. I was starting to worry I'd never get that feeling back. Can you ever recapture the glory of a first love?
I also used to think that a SV1000S that I briefly owned was a poor man's Ducati sport bike. It wasn't. It was sedate (though loud), and also kind of falling apart at 90,000 kms.
In my time as a rider, I've mostly meandered between sport touring and standard bikes, thinking that sport bikes would be uncomfortable.
Then I bought a BMW R1200S. It was beautiful, and a wonderful bike. I moved it on because it was a little too "gentlemanly" for me, and at a stubborn 40 I'm still a bit too young in spirit to feel like enough of a gentleman for a BMW oilhead.
But riding the R1200S, with its clip ons and high-ish rear sets, gave me an inkling of what it was like to ride a sport bike. I liked it. The position felt natural for me. I wanted that, but more. By "more", I mean I realised I wanted a bike that was the R1200S but more:
- Light, and
The Ducati 1098S was all those things... and more. Especially more.
How I bought the 1098S
I vowed a while ago to never again buy a Ducati motorbike that didn't have a Termignogni exhaust. Those things cost thousands! So I set up an alert for "Termignoni" in Gumtree.
I assumed I wouldn't be able to afford anything newer than 2010. So I first went and looked at an absolutely pristine 999S that a guy had advertised for $14K, and from which he didn't come down much.
I fell in love with that 999S. The owner tried to convince me a two-sided swing-arm was better because of torsional strength, which I don't believe (the various racing victories for which the 1098R has been the vehicle are argument against pretty much anything). I do like the 999's style, though I know it's controversial. And I'm controversial.
But nonetheless, the asking price was just too much for me. And I didn't want a pristine bike. There's too much risk I'll drop it! (Which I exactly did with the 1098S. More on that later.)
At that inspection, I also learned the difference between the 999 and 999S, which is the same as the difference between the 1098 and the 1098S — lighter wheels, Ohlins suspension, and some other carbon fibre bits. Also, a lot of new S buyers added Termignoni exhausts and a race ECU, because they were loaded (or were, until they forked out the $20+K for a Ducati and its demanding service schedule).
So I got to thining: wouldn't it be nice if I could get something like that 1098S... but with the classic single-sided swingarm look that I love?
I wasn't quite in Panigale budget territory, as much as I like saying that word, mustering up my rusty Italian. So I wasn't too sad that he didn't lower the price down to my level.
Suddenly, a week later, a "slightly dropped" 1098S came up just 40 minutes away from me. I drove over. I inspected the broken fairing, the Chinese clip-ons, the cracked triple tree and did some mental math and thought... this thing is mine.
Well to be frank, I thought:
"Zomg. It's so beautiful. Keep cool, Dana. I'll ride it a bit, fix it, and sell it, probably for a small profit. And that's one goals bike down."
(As a little bonus, the guy forgot the price he had offered and accidentally gave me a $500 discount, which he must have negotiated with someone else. Done!)
Then I rode it to the Queensland Roads office. Just fifteen minutes riding... but that fifteen minute commute was transformative.
I got to Queensland Roads and my palms were sweaty, my heart was racing, and I couldn't stop staring at the machine I had bought.
I was in love.
This was the feeling I had been trying to re-capture since the Monster 900. This was it.
Riding to the Gates of Hell
I've ridden some fast bikes before, and many engine configurations.
Last week, for example, I test rode a Hayabusa. A terrible idea, because it's a wonderful bike that is not wonderful for me. I'd hate myself every time I got to a dirt road (happens a lot in SE Queensland, just following Google maps) or rode past a white van with markings I'd only notice too late. (Damn you Waze! Aren't we on the same team??). And yet, despite myself, I might end up with one.
"Throttle on" on the Hayabusa in third or fourth gear is a bit like a jet plane taking off, if you can remember what that feels like pre-pandemic. It complies and urges you forwards into hyperspace. Eventually, you dare look down at the speedo, panic, and back off. An accelerating Hayabusa seems to say "Yes sir! Jets on full; prepare to enter orbit."
Winding on the throttle on a Ducati air-cooled twin (like on my former M900 or on my recently departed 900SS), there's a thunderous commotion, a series of huge gasps from the intake, and a cantankerous, if somewhat reluctant and unsteady, arrival of torque. A throttle-on Ducati air-cooled twin seems to be saying "Fire in the hole!", as giant shells land everywhere. It's not fast, but it definitely lets you (and everyone around you) know it's there.
But throttle-on on the 1098S is quite different. It's like a batallion of giant attack helicopters all firing at once. It's like a thousand thunderstorms in impossible synchrony. You get the idea, I hope. Basically, the moment you pass 40 km/h — even if you're just gently accelerating in an urban back-street — the engine's lumpiness transforms into an urgent roar. The clutch stops sounding clackety-clacky and sounds more like deliberate, even machine gun fire. A throttle-on Ducati 1098S seems to be yelling: "LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR, AND TAKE US TO THE GATES OF HELL!!"
In other words, riding the 1098S is not a sedate experience. Keeping even throttle needs me to concentrate as much as I can; the first urban roundabouts I attacked nearly sent me to an early grave. At traffic lights, I am pretty sure people around me would wind up their windows. I arrive at every destination with my senses and emotions at 100%: either exhilarated joy at having surfed through winding hills, or unbridled anger at the traffic.
You don't have to ride fast or well to enjoy the 1098S. I don't ride fast. I mean, I'm no saint — I speed; I just don't speed effectively. My cornering lines would make people who analyse cornering lines from their sofas think "You are a terrible person and do not deserve this bike". They'd be right, except that it's just a thing and I bought it with money I have and so in a purely capitalist sense I do deserve it, so they can go to non-capitalist hell.
On an 80 km/h winding road, my throttle is rarely past one quarter. My speed might vary between 60 and 100 km/h. Hey man, you don't like it? You're entitled to. I'm not really proud of it. But I wanted to do it at least once or twice, and I've done it. I might do it again.
Some people describe a symbiotic relationship between wo/man and machine on a great bike. One where both the rider and machine give and get. My relationship with this bike is not like this. I give it throttle; it gives me beans.
But ten minutes later I ride over a bump and it kicks me in the groin. I settle into an urban ride to my grandma's house, and reach for sixth gear. But the gear shift lever, which had wound itself loose from constant vibrations, decides to fall off on a 90 km/h expressway. I wind on to a freeway, ten minutes from home, determined to enjoy this last spurt of adrenaline. But the machine unceremoniously conks out, because the low fuel sensor failed (they tend to fail a lot) and I'm out of fuel. Come on, man.
But the important part, if I ignore the pain, is how I feel in the good times. The Ducati 1098S makes me feel like my knee must be mere millimetres from scraping the surface of the road at all times. In reality, I'm probably as upright as a beanstalk. But not in my mind. In my mind I have searing abs and scrape every corner. That's how I feel. Don't photograph me, please, unless I really am riding like that... which I'm not.
Crashing my first love
Relationships are defined by struggle. Challenges are inevitable. It's what you decide to do when you get to those challenging points that define, I think, how you feel about someone. I mean about a motorcyle.
I wrote a whole article on crashing a Ducati superbike, but let's just say this: I made the ultimate error of being too comfortable just coming down my own driveway. I came down, adjusted my helmet, caught a glimpse of a van out of the corner of my eye, panicked, and grabbed a brake.
I managed to escape pretty much unscathed. I am an ATGATT nerd, sometimes. Even the phone in my pocket survived. But the Ducati lost a right fairing and right mirror, and various other bits needed touching up with black paint.
The most important thing, though, was how I reacted. The first thing I thought was "well, it's mine now." and I felt oddly happy about it. I knew I was going to repair the fairing (never quite got it good — ended up replacing it) and mirrors and keep riding that now-crashed machine.
In the past, after crashing a bike one too many times, I sold the bike and gave up riding. Not this time. I kept the bike, ordered the bits on eBay, and enrolled myself in a refresher course to learn some basic skills. I took the Duc out to some suburban streets for hours and just practiced slow speed manoeuvres, roundabouts, and emergency braking, until I felt comfortable.
Why I can't keep the 1098S
I realised recently that for now, I'd like to be a one-bike guy.
Having two bikes means
- Two chains to keep lubed (or a shaft drive to worry about rusting, maybe)
- Two maintenance schedules to watch
- Two sets of spare parts
- Two sets of special tools (unless they're the same brand)
- Two emergency toolkits
- Twice the registration costs
- Twice the insurance costs (or nearly)
- And twice as much riding!!
It's the last bit (which is obviously not true, as there's only one of me) that made me realise... wait, what the hell am I doing? I still ride (for fun) only about twice a week max. I have so much other stuff to do in my life, even though I don't have a regular day job and work from home. I love riding, but I also enjoy working out, studying foreign languages (I'm learning Korean now), going hiking, and lots of other stuff. I even like garage time.
The 1098S is everything I could want in a bike emotionally. But it really doesn't work for the reality of my life, which is 70% commuting and errands (with a lot of boring highway time), 25% fun times in hills (yay!), although with a little freeway time to get there (boo), and 5% accidental dirt roats that Google Maps takes me on.
When I'm in the hills, I laugh maniacally into my helmet, only occasionally wondering if I'll run out of petrol around the next corner. Did I mention that the low fuel thermistor on the 1098 tends to fail a lot, and so replacing it is almost a waste of money? Well, it bears repeating.
Let's not even talk about riding in the rain or on gravel roads. Riding on a slippery surface on a sport bike with no electronics to save you is quite stressful for me. I know in theory that tyres always grip and I'm probably nowhere near the edge of traction. But in reality, I know it just takes a bit of a slip and then bam, I have thousands of dollars of repairs to my bike and maybe my face.
So, the Ducati has to go. I've listed it for sale, which is the only reason I stopped riding it for long enough to clean it and take the nice photos in this article.
But honestly, I'm not in a rush. I can't get another bike this nice for the price I've listed it — not in today's market.
And even though I know I need something practical that can do everything "pretty well", the bar has been set pretty high for emotional feedback. There will be nothing else quite like it (unless it's another Ducati superbike), that's for sure.
And I know one thing: When I hear the 1098S ride away, I'll almost definitely retreat to my room and let loose a tear.
PS I know this was long. I wrote it in one sitting. If I spent time editing it, I'd never publish it. Thanks for getting to this point. And if you didn't, well, you're missing out on this awesome joke: My dad keeps asking what LGBTQI means, but nobody gives him a straight answer.