Last week, I crashed a Ducati Superbike. How I reacted to this unfortunate event taught me a lot about myself.
A few weeks ago I bought a Ducati 1098S.
After half a year of riding the BMW R1200S, I found out something interesting about myself: a) I liked the sports riding position, and b) there’s nothing quite like a Ducati.
I was surprised to see how much I liked the sports riding position. At the age of 40, it still doesn’t hurt my back or wrists. My right hand goes numb, but that’s mostly a function of nerves and fear — if I relax my grip on the throttle, it is a lot easier to manage.
I knew there’s nothing like a Ducati because people kept telling me the R1200S “looks like a Ducati” (it has under-tail exhausts, and does pass a resemblance styling-wise) and much worse, “sounds like a Ducati” (it really doesn’t). Both those times reminded me that as great as any individual motorcycle is, there was still something lust-worthy about a Ducati. For me, anyway.
So when a Ducati 1098S came up for sale I bought it the same day it was listed. The price was right, the seller seemed honest, and I knew what I was getting myself into.
Or so I thought.
Riding the Hardest Bike to Ride in the World
The Ducati 1098S is just that. It’s the hardest bike to ride I’ve ever ridden.
It’s the polar opposite of the Harley Davidson LiveWire, an electric motorcycle with a twist-and-go throttle, and a six-axis IMU (known as “Cornering ABS”) to prevent it from crashing.
The Ducati 1098S is hard to ride because
- It doesn’t go slow. It is geared so that in first gear, below 20 km/h, it is lumpy to the point of stalling.
- It gets hot quickly. Even though I don’t ride in traffic, I do sometimes end up at a traffic light. It gets hot near my legs FAST.
- The position is aggressive. It’s not the most aggressive sportsbike ever — there’s always some other bike to take that mantle (e.g. any earlier Ducati superbike). But still, there’s no “upright” position on the 1098.
- There are no rider aids. There’s no ABS, just brakes that bite hard and fast. There’s no traction control, nor rider modes. There’s not even a slipper clutch!
- Huge torque-to-weight: It produces 100+ Nm (75+ ft-lb) of torque for anything above 3,000 rpm (peaking at over 120 Nm/90 ft-lb), and weighs under 200kg (440lb) wet. That’s a LOT of torque. It produces more torque than a Harley Davidson Dyna for most of the rev range but weighs 2/3 as much.
In other words, the Ducati 1098S is a highly unbalanced machine. It’s geared and built to be raced.
A few ways in which it’s built to be raced
- It’s extremely easy to remove the mirrors and the fairings (to swap them out)
- It likes to rev all the way to the redline, and doesn’t really like sitting below 3,000 rpm
- The throttle doesn’t like to stay constant. It’s always either accelerating or braking
All this means that doing daily stuff is quite hard. For example, I find it quite hard to go around roundabouts. Going around a roundabout means maintaining a relatively constant throttle as I lean, going slowly. The two problems with this are that a) it doesn’t go slow and b) it doesn’t hold a constant throttle. So I run wide every time I try to go around a roundabout. I feel like an idiot.
But maybe I am an idiot.
First Reactions to Crashing
My first thought, after crashing the Ducati 1098S, was that “well, it’s mine, now.” And that brought me a strange sense of peace.
Wait, you’re probably wondering how I crashed it, right? It was easy. I was coming down the road right out of my driveway, heading towards a T-intersection. I was 20M from my house. I flipped down the visor of my helmet. In that moment, a car crossed the T-intersection in a place that I almost never, ever see cars. I was spooked, grabbed the brake, and the bike went sliding.
Damage report: Main thing was a broken fairing
- Major: Broken fairing. Bought a second-hand one for $200.
- Stuff I fixed: Clip-on was turned (fixed this by turning it back, and re-torquing), bent foot pedal (I bent it back into shape), mirrors (glued back on).
- Stuff a mechanic will fix: Bending frame tabs back into place, for the rear set.
- Stuff I won’t fix: scraped brake lever, bar-end, and foot pedal.
- Scraped aftermarket bar-end weight on the clip-on. $5–10 damage.
Oh, and I’m OK, too. I was wearing full gear, and only tore my jeans slightly. Armor cushioned my knee, so it just bruised a bit. The funny thing is I can’t even remember my leg touching the ground. The brain protects you in strange ways.
A note on ATGATT: I am crazy about this. Just minutes before leaving, I had thought “I’m just going to the mechanic… maybe I’ll just wear jeans and sneakers. Then I thought “don’t be stupid, Dana; you’re jinxing yourself” and changed into my riding pants and boots. If I hadn’t changed done that, I’d have major gravel rash, have broken the phone in my pocket, and maybe re-twisted my ankle. None of that happened. ATGATT for life.
Anyway, I pushed/rode the bike the 20m back home. I looked at that huge tear in the panel in the side, the broken mirrors, the twisted clip-on and realised that it would have instantly lost a couple of thousand dollars in resale value, unless I was very convincing.
The thing that I realised immediately was that I wouldn’t write the 1098S off; I’d fix it, and keep it, and love it.
Because I’m happy with the Ducati 1098S. The first time I rode it I fell in love hard and fast. Just fifteen minutes after getting into the uncomfortable saddle and nervously throttling myself down the road, I arrived at the vehicle registrations office a changed person. Palms sweaty, heart racing, I thought: this is it. This is the feeling I’ve been missing from nearly every motorcycle I’ve owned.
So I have no questions that the 1098S (or any other rare and strange beast that can awaken the same feelings inside me; maybe I’d trade down to an 899 so I get ABS?) would be mine for a while and that I would be happy. But if this relationship were to work, I’d need to learn to ride it better.
My second thought, realising how hard the 1098S was to ride, was that I needed to get a different sports motorcycle to ride to learn on — something smaller like a Ninja ZX-6R 636 (still very fast, but a total doddle to ride in comparison), or a KTM RC390 (still fast enough).
However, all of those meant a huge investment in machinery. I could buy an RC390 for about $3K. I could transfer the title and pay for six months registration and be out $500 for it. Then maybe I could sell it for the same, or worst case, $500 less for $2.5K.
But should I upgrade my motorcycle… or upgrade the rider?
Upgrade the Rider, Not the Ride
My other reaction was: Maybe now, finally, is time for me to become a better motorcyclist.
I’ve always known I’m not a great motorcyclist. I know this from forums, where people say things like “there’s no way you can get the full potential out of motorcycles on public roads” and chastise new riders for being squids, for having “chicken strips”, or not knowing how to lean, do wheelies/stoppies, or otherwise control their giant machines.
Everyone has an opinion. So I usually ignore most of them and just think if I’m happy, then I’m happy.
But I’m aware of my limitations. I don’t want to wheelie or stoppie, but I want to know how (so I can just stop short). I’d like to sharpen my reactions, be more agile in traffic, and move my body better.
In the past, I’ve had excellent coaches for a number of things. I learned Chinese only thanks to the greatest teacher in the world, Feng Laoshi. I got astronomically better at mobility and weightlifting thanks to my coach Marc Sloan in San Francisco. So I know the benefit of a good coach.
There are ways other than coaches to improve rider technique. You can read books (here are my favourite books on motorcycling technique). A common recommendation is to go to a track day.
But getting started on track days isn’t easy, either! You have to have leathers, a motorcycle that’s suitable for a track day (that you’re willing to perhaps crash!), and pay the associated fees.
I thought about the prices of coaching, about the cost of upgrading my bike and thought (not to mention the time expense), and thought: I like the option of learning how to ride on my own bikes — or even better, someone else’s.
I remember that in California, in 2016, I had to re-take basic rider training to get my riders permit there — you can’t just bring in an international driver’s license, it turned out. I thought the course would be easy. It was, but I was surprised how many times the instructors correct me. “Chin up!” “Look through the turn!”. I realised just how much more I had to learn.
So, being in SE Queensland at the moment, I gave Sunshine Coast Motorcycle School a call and arranged 2 hours of rider training with one of their instructors, Mark.
I gave it to them straight. “I have bought a bike that’s out of my league and I need someone to teach me the basics.” They have some Kawasaki Ninja 300 bikes which frankly I’ve always wanted to try anyway.
Maybe it’s because I’m about to turn 40, but I’m pretty proud of myself for reacting to crashing by thinking “maybe I need to learn more”.
Let’s see how much more I can learn. Sky’s the limit!
Originally published at https://hooshmand.net on June 3, 2020.