By Tony Markovich (@T_Marko)
"The Ferrari of motorcycles." That's what I overheard a random passer-by say to himself as he checked out the fleet of Ducatis strategically lined up in front of Savona's Trattoria in Kingston, N.Y. We weren't exactly the usual lunch crowd in the smaller river town, so we got a fair amount of attention from the locals. Hearing that guy say that only added to the serious weight that the name Ducati carries.
Let me be completely transparent again and remind you that I'm still pretty new to bikes. I got my license last summer, and I've only been on a select few so far. But, like I've been wanting to drive a Ferrari since I knew what a Ferrari was (yet to happen), I've been wanting to try a Duc since even before I was legally allowed to ride. They're easily some of the sexiest motorcycles made (Italy, duh), and it's one of the overall most iconic brands of anything with wheels, in part thanks to its long racing history.
So, as you can imagine, I was pretty giddy when I got an invite to head upstate (where there are legitimately good and beautiful riding roads in New York) and have my pick of the litter. The company went all out and brought just about every bike in the lineup all the way from cali. They came out in that sweet semi you see above, which, unfortunately, wasn't an option in the list of what I could drive. My set list for the day looked like this: Monster 796, Streetfighter 848, Hypermotard, Diavel, 1199 Panigale. I only rode each for maybe 20-30 minutes, which isn't really enough time to test out every goodie. That's why this is basically just a raw journal of my notes on each bike. Here we go:
Monster 796 (From $9,295)
Driving this bike first wasn't a coincidence. I wanted to work my way up, starting with the lower end and the lower power, just to make sure I had my bearings. This was going to be my first time out this year, and I was absolutely thrilled it was on the Monster. When I hopped on, it was kind of weird how little it felt to me. I'm 6'2", but this was a very compact bike. Once I got going, it basically just felt like it was an extension of my limbs. I felt quite comfortable sliding into position, not cramped at all. The sound on this thing was fantastic. It had a sort of snarling growl, almost a bark. It was actually my favorite note of all the bikes I drove that day.
This might be one of the lower-powered Ducs, technically, but there wasn't any point on any of these bikes that I was like, "where is the power?" Well, kinda on the final bike, but I'll explain that later. The acceleration was great, especially with that soundtrack, and it had solid throttle response at high or low RPMs. Both this and the next bike, the Streetfighter, are extremely raw experiences.
It has direct, easy steering. The seat and suspension aren't very cushy, so if I ever tried to take this on a really long drive, I'm sure my rear would have some issues. Some of the other guys who were on 1200 Monster actually said they didn't like it as much. I didn't get to try that one out, but I'm glad I had the 796. It seemed like a perfect bike that you could drive to work everyday, but then go have some fun blasting through a winding road. It's the kind of bike that you really feel what you're driving and experience every tick up the speedo, every shift, every bump in the road. It's a sensual and wonderful feeling. This was my favorite of the day.
Streetfighter 848 (From $13,495)
I spent the least amount of time on this and the Hypermotard. I thought I'd like the Streetfighter, because it's sort of seems like a beefier brother to the Monster, but this was actually my least favorite of the day. It had an extremely unique sound. I felt like I was listening to wind blow through a screen door, then it turned into a woodpeckery gurgle, and eventually smoothed out as I drove faster. It was weird, and I couldn't really decide if I liked it.
Like I said before, if you like a mechanical, raw feel, you'd probably like this bike. The upped power gave a little bit of a jumpy feel, as the clutch was slightly catchy. It was still really quick, and you could have a lot of fun whipping this around, but my butt didn't like it. The seat was super hard. And I can't imagine it'd be much better for the person on that tiny rear pad either.
Hypermotard (From $11,995)
I think the only exchange more drastic than going from the Streetfighter to the Hypermotard would have been from the Streetfighter to the Diavel. This was really a polar opposite to the SF. It's been said before, people were all saying it at the event, and that's because it's true: This feels like you're riding a dirt bike. I heard somebody say it's the only Duc that you drive and want to jump off ramps and do tricks, and that's because it's such an upright ride.
I'm a decently tall person, and couldn't completely put both of my feet flat on the ground, which I was really surprised by. Compared to the Monster and SF, which are low-sitting bikes, it almost felt like I was a stiff board. And there was this slight feeling that you were sliding toward the front wheel.
However, the ride was anything but stiff. Very comfortable motorcycle Ducati has here. It's a nice and forgiving suspension, the seat was super comfortable, and it shifted smoothly, just an overall pleasurable experience.
The first thing you see on the Diavel website is "don't call me a cruiser," but this is basically the Ducati version of a cruiser. That's just how it is. But that doesn't mean it's just like a cruiser. What cruiser do you know of that looks like that? It has the typical bare bones aspects of Ducs, but when you see the Diavel in person, it just gives off this more sculpted, futuristic vibe.
It has a big, bold presence (the rear wheel on this thing is humongous), and you just feel like a boss when you get onto it. However, my legs also felt a little weird when i got on. Just kind of an awkward, I-wouldn't-voluntarily-put-my-legs-into-this-position feel. Which is strange, because you'd expect a "cruiser" to have fairly forward foot pedals. Not exactly the case on the Diavel. You're still in a pretty relaxing position overall, and my legs did get used to it eventually, but it was odd at first.
The power on the Diavel is hearty (162 hp from that Testastretta 11° Dual Spark engine), which translates wonderfully through smooth shifting and a luxe suspension. I legitimately heard one of the other journalists say it was one of the best motorcycles he's ever driven. I can't go that far, seeing as I haven't driven a ton yet, but that counts for something. And further proven by the beautiful design, complete with those sick 9-spoke wheels and LED lighting, there is no sportiness left on the curb. This thing goes. That's the value of having a cruiser made by Ducati. It's still so fast and you'd have no problem zipping around on it (without a ridiculously loud exhaust). It's an impressive bike for sure. But not as impressive as this ...
So, I kind of made an awful screw up with the 1199 (of course I would do this on THE ULTIMATE bike). I had never been on a motorcycle this powerful, so one of the PR guys suggested that I start on the "wet" drive mode, which takes the horsepower down from 195 to 120, amps up the traction control, softens the suspension a little bit, and just makes the throttle smother in general.
Mistake. I forgot to ever change it back to full power once I got used to it.
The only testament I have to saying that the 195hp is probably good is to talk about how much I enjoyed the bike at only 120hp. Now, remember, this is the bike that serves as the base for the Ducati racing team in MotoGP. That 120 hp is served through a 420-pound package. It's ridiculously light.
There's something about stepping onto a bike that you know is used for racing that just gives you this automatic chest-puffing status. You know you're driving one of the fastest production motorcycles on the planet, and it just makes you feel like a badass, plain and simple. Maybe this makes me sound like a douche, but you just know that approximately 95 percent of all other motorcycles that would pull up next to you are inferior (despite the dumbass driving it forgot to turn it back to full power)
With a sport bike like this, you're going to feel everything on the road. I was on a softened suspension, and it still was super stiff. The maneuverability, with how light the bike is, is awesome. I wasn't skidding knees or anything, but it just felt so controllable. As for the speed, I NEED to try this at full force, because I was impressed with how fast and quick-shifting it was in "wet." You feel like you're one of those old wind-up toys that shoot out of the gate after rolling its wheels back and back and back.
The biggest problem with a bike like this is that you know you have that power. And you want to use that power. But because of laws and other BS things like that, you're kind of stuck at bay. That's why if you own one of these, make sure you get a membership to a track. You're going to need it to get that speed out of your system without putting yourself in danger by speeding in the wild.
We hope to be driving some of these for a little bit longer this summer, so be sure to watch for some more in-depth reviews.