World’s first ride on Ducati 998S

Published: 04 February 2002

This is what I always hoped a Ducati 998 would be like. First-look suggests there is only one little change from the standard machine – the letter " S " on the end of the numbers. But what a difference that makes…

The S is the latest addition to the Ducati superbike family and closer in position to the old SPS than anything else. It’s priced at £13,150, but is loads more powerful than previous Ducatis at similar prices. This one makes over 130 scintillating bhp.

It comes with a pillion seat and pegs and in yellow or red, like the 998.But look closer and you’ll notice it says Termignoni on the pipes. The noise isn’t too painful in a fuzz-irritating way, but rather pleasing in a rev-it-as-you-leave-the-car-park boom. People will know you’re riding a big-bore Ducati.

The other key word on the side of this – and all 998s – is Testastretta. That lets you know that this has the " narrow head " engine in it, the latest in a very long family line of race-developed V-twins.

The seating position is familiar to 916/996/998 owners everywhere. High seat, low clip-ons, though the pegs aren’t in the horrendous cramped-up-under-your-butt position you expect. It’s a riding layout that makes more sense the faster you go.

Nobody aimed this at the in-town sector of the bike market. This is for the open road and, more than the stock bike, for the race track. OK, there is an " R " in the line-up too, but with seriously limited production of that, you’d be very lucky to get hold of one of those.

Hit the starter, it whirrs those massive pistons up and down a few times, starts to fire, fires properly and there it is, ticking over at 2,500 revs on the choke. Put the stand down while you close the garage and it cuts out. Yup, got the same sidestand cut-out switch as before.

But finally it’s hot, you’re ready to roll and you get out onto a well-known stretch of Tarmac. This is where the bike comes alive – and it is far more alive than the stock machine.

On standard settings, the stock bike takes a fair amount of shoulder work to get it to turn. It’s amazingly stable and holds line perfectly once you get it there, but pulling it over and holding it takes noticeable effort.

The 998S needs no such work. It’s more like the Aprilia RSV-R – look where you want to go, and you go there. This is how race bikes handle, and the lack of effort means that tracks become a far easier prospect. You don’t get so tired, your concentration stays high and you last the distance better. That’s good news for track day enthusiasts.

On the road, there is a pay-off. The speedy turning has reduced the straight line stability by an equal amount. What was once an almost indeflectable bike, that swallowed bumps and ruts with ease, is now much more flighty and twitchy.

Most of the time that won’t be a problem, as it amounts to little more than a bit of a loose shake at the bars as you accelerate over the bumps. Now and then it can develop into a more radical tank-slapper, though, when worked hard over the roughest bumps. It’s all controlled by an Ohlins steering damper.

The chassis and suspension offer a refined ride which lets you really feel for tyre grip and movement, without being thrown about in the seat. It’s a set-up that gives riders a lot of confidence.

Overall, the 998S is a bike for experienced riders. It delivers a rewarding experience, but one that is more in your face than the stock bike. Everything happens that bit quicker than on the stock bike. You’ll love it, but make sure you respect it too.

THERE’S MORE ON THIS IN MCN, OUT ON FEBRUARY 13, 2002.