Is the Ducati 1098S Superbike good as a daily rider motorcycle? No. But some people, like me, do it anyway. This is what it's like.

My black Ducati 1098S

In Australia, speed limits are very low β€” usually 100-110 km/h (55-60 mph), and only higher up in Northern Territory, on roads where you might hit a water buffalo anyway (well, if you ride at dusk).

On top of that, police are aggressive in Australia. So it's not a great place to ride motorcycles fast, unlike Europe or the US.

But even though that's the case, there's something special about riding an outrageous superbike.

It's uncomfortable. Every bump hits me in the balls.

It gets hot, even in the modestly cold Queensland winter.

It is loud, not terribly reliable (the fuel warning light is broken!), and did I mention it's uncomfortable?

But it's quintessentially a Ducati β€” everything about it is character β€” and I was in love from within 5 minutes of getting on it.

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Buying the Ducati 1098S

First, a word on how I got to the 1098S. I wasn't specifically looking for a superbike because I know they're all the above β€” expensive, difficult to ride, and so on.

Nonetheless, I have an alert in various motorcycle sales websites for the word "Termignoni".

Basically if a Ducati motorcycle is advertised with Termignoni pipes and it's reasonably priced, I want to know about it. Especially if β€” like in this case β€” it comes with a fully tuned ECU (this one has a Race ECU) or something like a Dynojet Power Commander.

The 1098S was advertised low enough for me to realise this was an almost insta-buy. I could sell it the next day for $1,000 more. So, why not?

There was one caveat: it had been low-sided. The plastic on the left hand fairing had been damaged and the lower triple tree had been cracked.

I did a bit of searching for the right parts, realised I could buy them and get the bike fixed for about $1,000, and so took the plunge without thinking too much more about it.

That's how the 1098S became mine.

A quick word on finding obscure parts for Ducati motorcycles

This deserves its own article, but I want to mention it briefly.

There's three ways to buy a part for a Ducati motorcycle.

The first, terrible way, is to try to buy them new. A triple tree would cost over A$1,000 new.

The second way is to buy an aftermarket piece. This is possible with things like controls, exhausts, and fairings. It's harder with structural components like the triple tree.

The third, and my favourite way, is to buy one from someone wrecking another Ducati bike. But there are rarely many of the exact same bike being wrecked. So the trick is to find the same part on a different motorbike.

To do that, you have to consult parts diagrams, find all the motorcycles with the equivalent part, and then look for all of them on eBay.

For me, this meant:

  1. Finding out that the relevant part was a 34220331A
  2. Discovering that this had been superseded by the 34220332A
  3. Finding all the motorcycles this was on. It included the 1098S, 1098R, 1198S, 1198R, and a couple of other variants.
  4. Looking for those parts on eBay, Gumtree, and Facebook marketplace

I found the part I wanted off an 1198R, confirmed it was the same part, and ordered it for $350. Bam! This, plus $250 of labour, plus whatever it would cost to replace the fairing (turns out this was $350 too), would net me a fully operational 1098S.

So I bought it.

Finding out a little more about the 1098S

I knew about the 1098S in theory. I knew that the 1098 had a Testastretta Evoluzione engine with 12,000km service intervals, and that the S model had Ohlins suspension, lightened wheels, and a race ECU coupled with Termignoni exhaust (not sure if that's standard, but a lot of them have it).

What I didn't know was what the controls and rear-sets should look like. It turns out that the rear-sets had been chewed up in the low-speed crash and had been replaced with cheap Chinese ones. OK - no problem.

It also turned out that the mirrors were replaced at some point. I can't actually tell what with. It doesn't matter so much. They're useless, but from reading threads online, the stock 1098 mirrors are also useless.

The left fairing is seemingly a red fairing that someone spray painted black. That was BEFORE the crash. And some of the bolts weren't quite the right bolt, and one was missing.

In general, what I'd recommend anyone do before they buy a 1098 (or any Ducati Superbike): Look at pictures of the bike from Ducati. Compare those pictures to what's in front of you. Observe differences.

A few things you should really pay attention to when buying a Ducati superbike:

  • What colour combinations did it come in, exactly? I.e. not just black, but was it matt black? Gloss black?
  • What do the controls look like β€” bars, bar-ends, levers and pedals, shifters, and rear-sets?
  • What should the display say on startup? For example should it give a warning about the next service?

In general you might find differences in the things that break most often β€” mirrors, controls, fairings, and the exhaust. If anything has changed, then there must be a story behind it.

What's the Ducati 1098S like to ride as a daily driver?

Firstly, the 1098S doesn't like to go slow. It requires a lot of finesse with the throttle to keep it at sedate low speeds. Which I take as a fun challenge!

I've ridden a lot of bikes, from slow to fast. While the 1098S is a more high-power one than most, it's not stratospherically higher β€” a few bikes had similarly high torque figures, they just didn't rev as high.

The 1098S is geared in a way that it is really twitchy below about 20 km/h (15 mph). This is partly the engine, that lurches a little down low, and partly related to the gearing (the sprockets).

Some people modify the gearing to make it more suitable for the city. This comes at a cost of making it use a little more fuel in top gears. People often like to change the front sprocket down to 14T, although some people like to do more comprehensive changes. (See my article on gearing options for the Ducati 1098 for more discussion.)

But before doing any gearing changes, I really had to re-learn how to ride. After low-siding it at low speed (thankfully), I even went back to riding school, and learned about the wonders of two-fingered braking while downshifting.

Once I got more comfortable at managing the very aggressive brakes and the very sensitive throttle, it became easier to ride slowly in the city. I'd highly recommend anyone not accustomed to finicky superbikes to do the same thing. It's easy to ride a fast bike fast, but it's quite hard to ride them slow. (But since when do we ride bikes because it's easy?)

Secondly, the 1098S is quite impractical to ride as a daily rider β€” for four reasons.

  1. The 1098 can't carry luggage easily. I might be able to strap something to the rear pillion seat, but ... not much. The rear subframe doesn't inspire me with a lot of confidence.
  2. The 1098 gets hot. In stop-and-start traffic, it regularly reaches 100 degrees celsius, which for those in America means "bloody feckin' hot". When you're cruising even at moderate speeds this comes down to low levels, though. So, it'd be awful to ride in traffic. (Something I rarely do in my daily life if I can avoid it.)
  3. The 1098 has a terrible turning circle. This isn't unique to this bike, it's more of a superbike/sports bike thing. Mid-size Japanese sport bikes do have better turning circles than this, though!
  4. The power delivery is not linear. If you look at the torque curve of a street bike like the XSR900, you'll marvel at how the torque curve is this amazing flat plateau. Not so with the 1098S.
  5. Finally, the ride is uncomfortable. The position, coupled with the jarring suspension, mean that I get kicked in the groin about once every 15 minutes. That's an infinite time more than I used to before riding the 1098!

Have a look at this dyno chart of a 1098S (which shares the same engine as the 1098, by the way).

Torque curve of the Ducati 1098 and 1098S
Torque curve of the Ducati 1098 and 1098S

There are two things to note.

Firstly, the torque doesn't really come on until 3,000 rpm. That's fine. But big cruisers and modern streetbikes have usable torque from 2,000 rpm, and sometimes β€” for bikes tuned really down low β€” from 1,500 rpm. They're really easy to ride on the street. They're basically impossible to stall. This just means you can't lug it in second gear in city streets (it feels unpleasant).

Secondly, there is a big flat spot between 4,000 and 6,000 rpm. Many other riders of the 1098 superbikes will confirm this. Granted, this flat spot is most obvious with wide-open throttle, which you probably won't be using in city streets!

Probably the saving grace of the 1098 as a daily motorcycle is that it's not too loud. I've owned a few very loud Ducatis, particularly older ones. The one I bought has Termignoni mufflers with the baffles still in. It has a great noise β€” mechanical, throaty, and yet muted enough to not wake all the neighbours.

So I really can't recommend the 1098 (or the S) as a daily rider. Why do I ride it anyway? Because it's amazing to ride.

Why the 1098S is amazing to ride

There are three things that make the 1098S amazing to ride β€” the light weight, the easy handling, and the raw, incredible sound.

Firstly, the light weight. It's not the lightest bike in the world, but according to the only real-world measurement I can find (I haven't done one), with an 80% tank of gas, the Ducati 1098S weighs 192kg (423 lbs).

For contrast, this is just a few more pounds than a Yamaha R6. Which, while an incredible bike, is just quite different.

Being a fairly compact bike, the Ducati 1098S keeps its weight quite low. Between my legs and with the controls in my hands it feels like a toy, it's so easy to move around. I don't chase power, but I do chase lightness, like Tadao Baba did with the FireBlade β€”Β why I'm after a CBR954RR β€” it's the lightest FireBlade out there (but I digress).

Suffice it to say that if you have ridden other superbikes (or even just 600cc supersports), you won't be disappointed with the weight of the 1098S.

Secondly, the easy handling. Even though I wouldn't call the 1098S an easy motorcycle to ride, it definitely is one that does what you tell it to do β€”Β once you figure out the language.

It's a bit hard to explain. Basically, you do have to adjust your body language a bit when you ride a sport bike. You can't force it around like you would a dirt bike or super motard (like my Hyperstrada). The throttle and brakes have a lot more impact on how it steers, too, partly because they're so much more powerful and thus sensitive.

But once I adjusted to those, I realised that there's a lot more I can do with the 1098S than I can do with my other bikes.

Even just going around urban roundabouts, I can go lower and faster. Up twisty roads, because I'm lower to the ground, I feel more in control than I have on other motorbikes.

The only place I wouldn't say it's easy to ride would be on a wet road, going downhill... but that's my least favourite thing in the world.

To make one thing clear: there are definitely many easy-handling sport bikes. I don't think the 1098S is better than any of these in my hands on city roads. I'd probalby do better on a CBR600RR, simply because it's easier to deliver the power.

Thirdly, the raw, incredible sound of the 1098 β€” particularly when fitted with a Termignoni exhaust.

I'll have to do a good review of the 1098 with a microphone attached when I get one, one day.

But for now, suffice it to say that the sound of the 1098S is nothing short of invigorating.

It's raspy and mechanical, like an swarm of giant metallic wasps (not bees, which is more that 600cc sound). It is actually kind of docile down low, like a purring lion. But it really wakes up even at limited throttle and 3,000 rpm. I've NEVER heard a motorbike roar this much on limited throttle. It tells you really, really quickly that it means business.

The sound is so amazing that after five minutes my palms were sweating and my heart was beating.

Riding the 1098S and listening to this sound gave me that crazy feeling of connection I first wrote about in my superbikes buying guide.

It must be the hard suspension and great tires, but I also feel more connected to the road than I've ever felt on any bike, sports bike or not. The suspension never dives or leaves me feeling worried.

Common problems & known issues with the Ducati 1098 and 1098S

There are a few things that often go wrong with the 1098. I have to mention them here.

  • Low fuel sensor fails β€” apparently the sensor activates the "low fuel" light goes bad. Sometimes the reserve light comes on when the tank is near full. People replace them often, and repeatedly. The only solution, it seems, is to watch the odometer.
  • Stalling β€” when you slow down to an idle, it sometimes stalls. This was only in 2007. Mine had a race ECU and didn't have this fault.
  • Foggy gauges β€” seals around some of the gauges mean they fog up easily.
  • Plastic tank β€” this is a US-only problem, but the plastic gas tank didn't work well with fuel that contained ethanol (most fuel). Under a class action, many tanks were replacedΒ β€” with the same tank, subject to the same problem.
  • Starter relay and fuel pump relay β€”Β these fail so often it's good to carry a spare, AND to replace them at every service. Starter relay is about US$50 on eBay, and fuel pump relay is about $30 and availabler from dealers.
  • Radiator - a lot of 1098s develop leaks on the left side, with fins separating. The typical solution is to get another radiator from ebay β€” they're about US$120 from China.
  • Spun bearings (with track use) β€” the 1098 has a "tight" motor, I've read, and if you track it heavily, you may break a main engine bearing. This is total engine failure. It doesn't seem to be a problem for those who use them on the street.
  • Weak starter. Also leads to a failed sprag clutch. All Ducatis prior to about 2015 had weak starting. It is painful to hear them turn over when you're used to a Japanese motorbike that fires up right away. The weak starter motor coupled with a lot of cranking can lead to a failed sprag clutch. (At least you can still push it...)

Wrap up β€” would I recommend the 1098S?

I honestly wouldn't recommend it for most people.

Like I mentioned, I bought it because a good deal came up. I'd have bought pretty much anything a good deal came up for that was under $10K or so.

Looking around at superbike reviews, I see a lot of praise for the Ducati 899. Yes it's a "mid-size" bike, but with 150hp and nearly a litre in capacity, it really blurs the lines a bit. The thing that always catches my eyes is that it's described as being easy to ride. It's probably what I'd trade my 1098Sfor... if I wanted to trade.

As for my own future, I see myself going between three possible paths...

  • Owning the 1098S forever
  • Owning it until I destroy it (or it gets stolen)
  • Fixing it a bit and selling it for my dream 2015 Yamaha R1

I don't know which path I'll follow. But it'll be a joy to wander down any of them.