The Ducati 848 Dark - An Evolution Of The Species
For this test I will be looking at the evolution from 748 to 749 to 848. I will, at times, be comparing the 848 to my 10 year-old but still iconic and going strong 748, albeit a little out-paced by fresher machinery.
The Story of Evolution.
The evolution of the 748 to the 848 went via the 749, which in my opinion was a slightly unsuccessful restyling of an already near perfect design.
If you glance at the technical sheet of the 749, you can see there is very little difference between it and the 748; but little nuances can make huge changes to sports bikes . Changes are not always for the best though as one area may be improved to the detriment of another. Nearly all of us at some point will buy a newer motorcycle thinking this version will better than the last and at some point feel slightly let down or been left wondering, “Why? Have I let myself become a victim of fashion?”
What changed from the 748 to the 749? A slightly less radical riding position: 10mm lower seat height, 10mm longer wheel base, 0.5º increase on rake, down 2mm on front and rear wheel travel, and 8kg lighter in dry weight. Without wishing to offend 749 owners, perhaps this is the reason I never considered one - slower steering for comfort and stability? Not for me.
In the engine department the 749 went up 2mm in bore, down 2.7mm in stroke with capacity staying at 748cc. Compression went up by 0.2, throttle bodies up by 4mm and it incorporated the Testastretta designed cylinder head (Testastretta meaning narrow head).
This gave a net result of an increase of power by 8.5Kw for around 1000rpm less, and torque up by 8Nm for 500rpm less.
The gearbox remained the same – it was and continues to be perfect – and the clutch remained dry.
For me though, the 749 didn’t float my boat in any area; sure it was faster, more punchy and a touch more comfortable but it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. And in a very short space of time, three and half years, the 848 superceded it.
The Pick Up.
I arrived in Coventry to return the 1200 Multistrada I had been testing (see Ducati Multistrada Road Test) to quite literally jump onto the 848.
As I was preparing to set off, Jinx (Ducati Coventry technician) said with a slightly evil smile: “I’ll give you 10 minutes on that and you’ll be begging to be back on the Multistrada.”
To be honest, it was indeed a real shock to be switching from one to the other. I had just done 3000+ miles on the Strada and not touched my 748 in a fortnight, and to set off through Coventry on the 848 with what felt like my backside being higher than my head, was a little disconcerting to say the least.
In actual fact, the seat height of the 848 is some 40mm higher than a 748, thus 50mm higher than the 749 (ah, now we are going back in the right direction with ride height, position and aggressive sports geometry). Riding through the town, everything felt stiff, hard and twitchy, but then, I had been spoilt by the comfort and grace of the previous bike.
On The Road v The 748
Once free of the urban streets, I start to stretch the 848’s legs and the bike growled along A roads with ease, the tone of the exhaust reminding me that I was back on a ‘real’ Ducati. After two miles of sensible A road driving with lots of corners to brake heavily for, drop into and power out of, I was again used to the radical riding position of a Ducati sports bike, and any thoughts of wanting to be back on the cosseting Multistrada were rapidly becoming a distant memory.
So how does this current model compare to the 748? The ride height is greater, but so is the wheelbase, longer by 20mm, and the rake is 0.5º greater. Even with these changes the riding position feels very similar but the results are very different. Whilst the handling on the 748 is sharp and precise, the 848 retorts with handling as precise as laser surgery. Look at where you want to go and you go. A corner becomes your utopia: the front wheel will take you there; the rear will drive you out with massive amounts of grunt.
The steering on this bike is fast but sure-footed; you can hold some very tight lines around corners despite being 20mm longer than the 748. The space available for the rider on the saddle is much greater too, making tucking in behind the screen and moving around much easier and more comfortable (for a large unit like myself, that’s a good thing). Moving around doesn’t upset the bike, allowing you to make adjustments mid-corner confidently, knowing that the bike won’t start wallowing around and trying to do its own thing.
Braking into bends and powering out was so enjoyable that I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t on a track. And this is possibly where the bike has a flaw: you just want to go faster and faster; where is the limit? I didn’t want to find out, well not on any road at least.
It's All About The Drive
The engine has a similar sort of punch as a 998, although the motor still retains the free revving integrity of the 748 and not the lumpy rumblings of its bigger brother, which is a blessing in the city.
The difference is obvious in comparison to the 748 and 749, the 848’s capacity is 100cc bigger, the bore and stroke are 6mm and 3mm larger respectively; in turn this pushes the compression ratio up to 12:1. All of which means more punch than its smaller engine predecessor.
On the road this means an engine with all the legendary qualities of Ducati V twins; lots of low down grunt and drive, giving a smooth power delivery right up to the point where … bang, at 7000rpm in third you get a massive inrush of power: adrenalin and engine being fed by Marelli elliptical throttle bodies. This mid-range thump is a great advantage as I found while rapidly progressing along A roads, needing to overtake traffic that most inconsiderately got in the way.
The gearing on this bike is one tooth up on the front sprocket and three teeth on the rear over the older model which does make the power much more accessible. The gear box is the same as both its predecessors, and it still delivers the very smooth gear-changing characteristics that have made the Ducati gear box a legend in its own lifetime.
When riding at speed and overtaking was required, a simple tap of the throttle would be sufficient to safely propel the bike past offending vehicles. When on-coming traffic required you to drop back in line, backing off the throttle would produce sufficient engine braking, accompanied by a popping burbling sound from the exhaust (music to some) and with a dab on the powerful radial Brembo calipers, just to ensure that I wouldn’t be joining the rear seat passengers of the car in front.
Living With The 848
My experience on the bike was evenly split between London riding, town riding (two very different things in my mind) and out of town riding: A & B roads, country lanes etc.
Comparing the 848 to the 748 for town riding, I’d have to say that the 848 feels more nervous on the front than the 748, possibly due to the difference to ride height (+40mm) even though the rake is +0.5º; this was something I got used to quite quickly, but I can see how it might alarm some riders at first. The power characteristics are very similar to the 748, only bucket loads more of it so everything happens much quicker. The motor is very easy to use around town and doesn’t feel at all lumpy for a big V twin, it spins up nicely just as the 748, only it delivers a huge punch of power higher up the rev range, very useful for the odd occasion you need to quickly and safely pass a cyclist. Again, the only problem I found was the need to remind myself that I was not on track but in town.
Be warned: you could become a kleptomaniac of points very easily on this bike, there is no screaming motor to say you’re going too fast, just a fantastic exhaust note, even from standard pipes, urging you on. Thanks to the superb brakes and engine braking characteristics, the surprise of an occasional speed camera or unexpected event is dealt with safely and firmly. The ride position is a little more radical than the 748, but not uncomfortable; there is a lot more space to move around on the saddle and because of this I found it easier to manage than my 748.
On one of my ride outs I had a run down to Sussex and the weather was typically English summer, wet and dry all the way. The roads were a mixture of A & Bs with the occasional country lane thrown in for good measure; most were covered in damp patches under the trees and some had a little flooding. The tyres (Pirelli Super Corsa III’s ) dealt with the damp patches well, but struggled to give me confident feedback on the more prolonged stretches of water logged tarmac – no surprise there as these are barely legal race tyres.
However, when there was the opportunity to push the bike between showers and downpours, the Pirellis gave massive grip and confidence. The suspension soaked up the bumps of the A & B roads well, and allowed me to enjoy some fast following corners (one of those times when you and machine are at one). I really liked climbing around this bike and throwing into corners. It never felt out of control and or that it would bite back.
But bumpy country lanes are not great and without stopping to reset the suspension you have to back off and soak up the rough ride. Only once did I nearly lose it. That was on my return to Coventry, after yet another torrential downpour when at high speed I tapped the throttle and the back started to spin up, fish tailing the bike down the road. Yup, that was a real clean underwear moment, and yup I was at fault, I simply was asking way too much from the rear tyre in the prevailing conditions.
Have We Moved On?
Ok, I know, I’ve said this before in earlier write ups, but this is a true sports bike: it’s agile, light, 28kg (!!) lighter than the 748, and is plenty powerful enough for any UK or European road.
Sure there are machines out there that are faster, but can you really use all that power on the road? With this bike you can use nearly all of its resources and still feel like you’ve got more. In fact I’m sure most people would enjoy this bike more on a track day than some of its “faster” rivals. At no point was I left feeling wanting, apart from wanting more roads and time.
Only two and one is a personal thing. Firstly the fuel tank is 1.5 litres smaller and with a thirsty motor and itchy trigger hand you need to stop quite frequently. Secondly, the clutch ….. it’s wet! I know some of you will rejoice at the news that the tambourine has gone, but I like it. That being said, the clutch is very nice, light and smooth, but so is my 748’s: it’s just a little noisier.
But garages are a chance to get off and admire the bike yes? So perhaps it's not a downside, just an inconvenience!
The 848 is longer, taller, lighter, faster, sharper and sleeker than its predecessors. In the current Evo specification (which replaced the this stock version recently) you get an extra dollop of torque and horsepower plus a steering damper and Brembo mono-block calipers (from the 1198) to further spice up an already exciting brew.
For a stock 848 or indeed the Dark version you'll either be lucky and find a new one in a dealership somewhere or be scouring the second hand market which is already seeing some 848s for sale at around the £8k mark - a real steal. I wonder how much my 748 is worth now......?
As our Editor said in the last Ducati test ‘We’ll have our sportsbikes full fat please’. I like that this bike is full fat.
So once again I and LB thank Alan Jones and Ducati UK for allowing us to test this bike.
Check out all the stats on the 848 at Ducati's website.