Owning a Ducati 1198 nearly ruined me – but it was so worth it

Is the last of the long-stroke Ducati superbikes as fearsome to run as to ride? Here’s my experience

Ducati 1198 - front

We didn’t know it at the time, but when Ducati unveiled the 1198 back in November 2008 we were witnessing the end of an era for the Bolognan brand – the days of the long-stroke, rip-your-arms out torquey L-twin superbikes were numbered. Within three years the 1198 had been replaced by the 1199 Panigale. The new bike ditched the iconic trellis frame, threw timing belts into the bin (hooray!) and introduced a new future for Ducati: one that thrives on revs. 

The 1199’s subsequent press launch left journalists a little perplexed. It was undoubtedly faster, stiffer and more high-tech than any Ducati superbike before it, but it lacked the low-down shove and mid-range lunacy that had so long been a trademark of the brand.

And so it was I found myself eyeing the classifieds in the summer of 2018, on the hunt for an 1198. My other half was pregnant with our first kid and I wanted a truly silly bike to do one last European tour on. Something that would carry a few pairs of pants and tear up the Bavarian Tarmac in one last-ditch hoon before I became a shareholder in Pampers.

And then it all went wrong

Perhaps I rushed my search, but I soon bought an 1198 from a multi-franchise dealer in Essex and rode it straight to my local Ducati experts for a quick confirmation that I had, in fact, bought the cleanest 1198 they’d ever seen. One that would need no remedial work whatsoever. On the way I convinced myself that its habit of stalling at every set of traffic lights was just an 1198 ‘thing’. And that the orange engine light was just character.

“Well, it’s definitely been on the floor. Probably more than once,” came the chipper voice of Pete at Pro Twins. “It’ll need a new headlight fairing bracket. And a new idle stepper motor.” 

Brilliant. I’d bought a pup. And so began a 24-month lesson in how owning a Ducati of this era can ruin you even faster than childcare costs. I was three days into ownership and the bike had already thrown up £1,200 in bills, half of which I managed to palm off onto the supplying dealer.

Too much torque

Work done, I headed to Europe for a week with some mates. I besmirched the 1198’s gorgeous lines with a Kriega US-20 as a tank bag*, bolted a Garmin to the top of a fork tube and set off for Berlin, via the Vosges, Black Forest and Harz Mountains. It performed flawlessly, and despite carting a six-foot three-inch oaf on its paper-thin saddle, it wasn’t even that uncomfortable. At a cruise, you’d be lucky to see 100 miles before the fuel light, but I’d normally stop about then anyway to neck a bottle of Spezi. 

It hit an indicated 165mph on the Autobahn (faster explorations were discouraged by the tankbag stopping me from tucking in), but it was the way the 1198 tackled a twisty road that’ll stay with me. It was a little slow to turn in (but nowhere near as ponderous as old reviews would have you believe), but once leant over it felt incredibly confidence-inspiring chewing up the rim of a Michelin Power RS. 

Corner exit brought on heaps of bum-clenched nervous giggling – it simply had quite a bit too much torque. The front would explode off the floor in second and third gears, and the cat-free Termi end-cans made a window-shaking bellow that made Pavarotti sound like Baby Shark. It was simply a big, loud and mildly terrifying event to ride. It was brilliant.

A better connection

Riding one in the context of modern bikes, the most startling difference is the throttle connection. On the 1198 you could almost feel every power pulse of the engine smearing the rear tyre into the floor, and you could make tiny adjustments through the throttle tube. It was beautiful. 

It was also unruly. Ducati knew this, and so endowed it with one of the world’s first standard-fit traction control systems. It worked by looking for a difference in front and rear wheel speeds, and once it spotted one, it diligently slammed your genitals into the fuel tank. Over and over again. Times have changed, thankfully, and years later it would prove flawed as a method of contraception when my second child appeared. That time, I bought a KTM which never went wrong**.

The total cost of running a Ducati 1198

Two years into ownership I put the 1198 up for sale. My luck continued and it fell over in a strong breeze before I could flog it, resulting in a cracked nose fairing and bracket (again), as well as a few other broken bits. Ducati plastics are apparently made of unobtainium, and so I was landed with a £2,000 bill. 

Add in the £620 belt service I had (every two years used to be the recommendation), fork seal replacements (it wheelies lots and the Ohlins forks leak like Edward Snowden) and in two years my 1198 had cost me £4,800 to run, including insurance and tyres. That’s £200 per month excluding the purchase of the damn thing.

Would I do it again? 

In a heartbeat. The Ducati 1198 is fast slipping into modern classic territory, yet they’re still useable, enjoyable and more than quick enough to thrill. Just be prepared for some equally exotic bills…

*The 1198 has a plastic tank that doesn’t play well with modern Ethanol-laced fuel. It expands over time and can get to the stage where you won’t be able to remove it. Luckily replacement aluminium tanks are available from Japan for a mere £1,400 before import duty. Christ.
** Actually not a joke