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km : First Ride

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6 October 2009

Ducati says its new 2010 Streetfighter has the soul of a superbike. We say that’s far too modest a statement. The Streetfighter doesn’t just have superbike pretensions or merely a touch of the 1098′s DNA; it’s a new superbike all on its own. Race-proven chassis — check. Powerful engine — check. Monobloc Brembos, forged Marchesini wheels, fully adjustable Ohlins suspension — all there. But if you still think it sounds more palooka than prizefighter, let’s step outside for a minute.



To say the Streetfighter is just a 1098 without fairings is like calling it an Armani suit with the sleeves ripped off—it’s a clever description, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. To understand this bike, let’s first get into the origins of the “streetfighter” concept. Born out of necessity rather than styling reasons, certain riders realized that it was quite expensive to completely repair their crashed full-fairing sportbikes. Instead, they figured, why not keep all the performance of the sportbike, but leave the bodywork off? So motocross triple-clamps with wide handlebar perches, exposed engines, and single (or double, if you like the bug-eyed look) generic headlamps were fitted, and the “streetfighter” was born.



Wanting their cut of this trend, manufacturers started stripping their sportbikes “naked” and marketing them as ready-made streetfighters. Unfortunately, the factory ‘fighters were almost always stripped of what made them great sportbikes, and owners were often left feeling they’d bought a watered-down wanna-be. Not so with the Ducati Streetfighter, a true “naked superbike” with all of the performance and none of the compromises.



Rather than giving their bad-boy naked bike a clever name like B-King, Brutale, Fazer, or Tuono, Ducati has opted simply to own the classification. Like calling their sportbikes SUPERBIKES, they’ve now trademarked the name STREETFIGHTER—never mind that they’re arriving last to the party.



Our Streetfighter party started at a track. Ironic when you consider that it’s built not for track duty—where full fairings would actually offer benefit—but for serious street riding and canyon carving. The more we discovered the bike, however, the more it made sense. On the track, the Streetfighter loves to show off its road racing roots.



The engine is a direct carryover from a 1098 superbike—no “tuned for street use” apologies here. It pulls strongly below 5,000 rpm like you’d expect from a 1099cc V-twin, but then you’re surprised with a huge swell of torque and horsepower up to the 10,700-rpm redline. It’s as if the bike is holding back the onslaught just long enough for you to feel comfortable before unleashing full power. Ducati engineers tell us the 155-hp rating (versus 160-hp in the 1098 Superbike) is solely attributed to decreased airbox volume since there’s no fairing to house longer intake runners. To the power-hungry, Ducati Performance is offering an air-runner kit (in carbon fiber, naturally) that returns those few extra ponies.



The brakes aren’t leftover parts from previous models, either. Full-spec, straight-off-a-D16RR-MotoGP-replica braking power is limited not mechanically, but by the rider’s bravery. Phrases like “one finger braking” are tossed around the cycling world as often as cars are alleged to have “go-kart handling,” but use more than a pair of digits and you’ll be thankful that Ducati put a less aggressive pad compound in the Streetfighter than in the 1198.



Simply using 1098 chassis geometry with the Streetfighter’s higher handlebars would be suicidal, so the front-end has been pushed out from the traditional Superbike rake of 24.5 degrees to 25.6 and has been given another 20mm of trail to slow down the steering a bit. The swing-arm has also been lengthened by 35mm to give the Streetfighter a longer wheelbase. Typical street-ifying like this slows down steering and dulls the experience, but even with this tamer set-up, the bike still turns in like a Superbike and gives unparalleled front-end feedback mid-corner. Headshake is controlled with a steering damper that surprised us by being the same non-adjustable unit on both the standard and S models. Experience tells us that Ducati was probably trying to keep costs down; nevertheless, three rounds on the track later have us convinced the chassis is set up so well that adjustments aren’t really necessary.



The bike’s traction control is truly the star of the show. With eight settings (nine if you count “off”), just about anyone can ride this bike quickly. Mind you, if your last name isn’t Bayliss, Stoner or The Almighty, then we don’t recommend anything under level 2 for your settings. Level 6 works well in low-traction but kills some of the fun in the dry, while level 8 is for your grandmother. By the third on-track session, we found that level 4 is just about perfect for leaving black semi-circles out of tight apexes.



The Streetfighter’s performance equals that of a 1098 superbike in every aspect but aerodynamics, yet we’re still not fully convinced that a lower drag coefficient would yield significantly faster lap times. Like the 1098, the capabilities of the Streetfighter are at a level attainable only by the most talented drivers.



Three weeks after our introduction to the S, a base-model Streetfighter arrived at our office. As impressive as the Streetfighter was on the track, it really lives up to its stated purpose on public roads. It’s brutally powerful, with 85 lb-ft of torque to loft second-gear wheelies with ease. The Desmosedici-spec brakes will pull stoppies with one finger, and the DTC will let you back it in and powerslide around on the street like a ‘motard rider.



While the DTC is fantastic on the track, on the street it really serves a different purpose. On a low enough setting, the DTC engages once the front wheel gets about eighteen inches off the ground. This is particularly valuable if you don’t want to loop your shiny new toy while honing your hooligan skills. And after the thrill of a ride home in some light rain, we’ll be sending the Ducati Corse engineers a hand-written thank you note for designing a tool to reign in those 155 horses.



Of course the dirty looks you’ll get from car drivers are also worth the price of admission. You can try to use it as a daily commuter, but you’re not fooling anyone. This bike has one purpose: to cause mayhem wherever and whenever possible.



A word of warning to the timid and the wanna-be stunnaz: If you hop on a Streetfighter expecting it to be a Ducati Monster or any other type of hooligan bike with lots of lazy bottom-end, wheelie-inducing grunt, you’ll not only be disappointed, but you’d be doing this bike a huge disservice. To fully flex this ‘fighter’s muscles, you have to ride it like you’re up to no good. If you get carried away, and Adam-12 is on your six, simply grab the next gear and its quite civil. Ride it like you’re pissed, however, and you’ll be rewarded with the most law enforcement-taunting antics ever to be produced on two (or just one) wheels.



While more ergonomically suited for most humans than a superbike, there are some annoying traits in the Streetfighter’s design. The dash is so low and forward, and the riding position so upright, that a full-face helmet requires you to move your head and take your eyes off the road in order to determine by how much you’ve exceeded the speed limit. The mirrors give a crystal-clear view of your elbows unless you’re in a full-tuck, which then moves the view to your shoulders. The right side heat-shield on the exhaust system gets in the way of your heel, leaving your boot precariously perched on the end of the footpeg. And the start button—designed to look like a trigger with its safety catch switch that swings out of the way—is very trick, unless of course you’re wearing gloves, in which case it’s just tricky. Low-speed turns can be a bit sketchy as well; despite the modifications, the front-end is still very superbike-like, wanting to fall over during parking lot maneuvers.



We didn’t notice any hiccups on either our standard or S-model test bikes, but Streetfighter owners have reported some mid-range stuttering issues. Ducati has a service bulletin out that reflashes the ECU to help smooth things out a bit. Overall we’re noticing this more and more now that motorcycles are required to have catalytic converters and meet emissions regs.



The Streetfighter is not a particularly pretty motorcycle, at least in conventional terms. With the Italians, you tend to think sexy and sleek. Never before has a motorcycle’s image been best described as a sneer. The huge over-under mufflers are as inconspicuous as the stacked twin radiators, with the plumbing between them left out for all to see. The headlight has a pair of angry LED eyes and the color-matched belly pan don’t so much hint at its Superbike lineage as show off the big V-twin engine. Like an L.A. gangster, this ‘fighter also isn’t afraid to show you what it’s packing.



It was never the plan for the Streetfighter to be a beauty queen; that would be the 1198, the supermodel of the line-up who will also require a sizable bank account balance if you expect to bring her home. The Streetfighter is the hot, dangerous bartender that doesn’t care what color your credit card is, has no problem telling you to piss off when she catches you staring at her tattoos but will give you a ride worth bragging about if only you approach her with the right mix of confidence and respect.



The fun comes in two forms. The base Streetfighter boasts a 155-hp engine, fully adjustable Showa suspension, Brembo Monobloc calipers, and Enkei aluminum wheels for $14,995. But if you have an extra $4k to spend, we recommend the S model with a full Ohlins suspension, Marchesini forged aluminum wheels, carbon fiber trim pieces, and DTC.



Who is the Streetfighter supposed to appeal to? Ducati’s North American sales director, Jason Chinnock, explained it as such: “The guy who bought a 916 in his mid 20′s is now pushing 40.” Not that aging speed freaks are the only ones who’ll appreciate its better qualities; it certainly represents enough of an improvement over the current superbike ergonomics to appeal to that guy, but more importantly, it’s also for the superbike rider who actually wants to ride.


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