East meets West

Ex-showroom, both cost the same. On the road, however, they are as far apart from each other as Italy and Japan. Adhish Alawani swings his leg first over the Suzuki GSX-R1000 and then over the Ducati 848 to find out which of the two better suits the Indian customer’s tastes
Photography: Sanjay Raikar

Really speaking, it’s not been long since I last rode to my heart’s content. But, I just don’t seem to get enough. So, on what was a typical morning for other mortals, I decided to have some more fun than usual. I had the Suzuki GSX-R1000 standing outside my house and my head abuzz with ideas for an interesting ride since the evening before. Hmmmm… How about asking someone to give me company? No, no, how about asking someone ‘good’ with something ‘better’ for company? A call went through to a commodore and like-minded two-wheel disciple, Yatin. “Lavasa?” Promptly came the reply, “Gimme 15 minutes.”

So the scene was set with the two of us riding two big machines. Both the GSX-R1000 and the 848 cost approximately Rs 15 lakh on road in Pune, but are extremely different entities. While an inline four engine powers the Japanese motorcycle, its Italian companion comes with a 90-degree V-Twin (also called an L-Twin). One is a litre-class race bike while the other is just a hypersport that doesn’t fit in any international race class. The GSX-R1000 signifies evolution over the years while the 848 is a young project. Indeed, the curiosity about the difference in the characteristics of these two machines was greater than the excitement of riding them. How can two sportsbikes priced so closely be so different?

I have ridden the GSX-R enough in the past and I am quite familiar with it. This litre-class bike comes loaded with insane power – as much as 185 PS. It’s not just the power that drives you crazy. The colossal peak torque (117 Nm) is enough to give a greenhorn on a litre bike the fright of his life. Add to this the bulk of the bike and you are in for serious trouble in case you overestimate your abilities. All this made me believe how impracticable a litre-class machine can be for frequent city riding. At least that is what I thought until I got on to the Ducati.

That the 848 is a typical Ducati is what I had read since its launch in late 2007. But what is a typical Ducati? That was still the question. To start with, it’s a beautifully crafted machine, made by designers who know how to translate aggression from concept into production. The fierce look of the motorcycle is enough to tell us that it means business, serious business. Sharp angles, minimal curves, shark-like fairing nose and absolutely no graphics are a testimony to the no-nonsense stuff on offer. An aggressive character goes along with the Italian badging. Getting on to the saddle revealed a lot more. The seat is a thin sheet of high-density foam offering minimum necessary padding. Clip-ons are low and placed far away. The tank is wide on top and narrows down suddenly at the bottom, creating a perfect hollow to protect the rider’s thighs and knees from the wind-blast. Foot pegs are high and the riding posture is extremely racy. From the pilot’s seat, you get to see the dash that Casey Stoner must have looked at on his GP8 and GP9 bikes.

Compared to the Ducati, the Suzuki now felt a little relaxed and less aggressive with its clip-ons not too far away, foot-pegs not too high up, the seat not too hard and the riding position not too extreme.

The Ducati’s L-Twin is much lower on power and torque as compared to the Suzuki’s inline four. At 135 PS peak power and 96 Nm peak torque, I thought that the Ducati was going to be tamer than the Suzuki. With the first gear red-lined, I was not doing more than 104 km/h on the speedo as compared to the scary 145ish km/h on the GSXR. Further, getting to 160 km/h on the Ducati meant shifting into the third cog whereas it meant shifting into just the second one on the Suzuki. Both bikes deliver extremely linear power. However, the bulky GSXR’s front end kept the bike planted even with the throttle whacked open all the way until the red line.

On the Ducati, it was a different case with the lightweight machine’s front end floating as the revs built up and hit the limiter. I shifted into second and pinned the throttle for the second wheelie in running. More fun on the Italian, I must say! Even with less power, the rawness of the 848’s motor makes it feel much more aggressive.

In a country like ours less power is better in view of the limited driveability in terrible traffic. That made me believe that the Ducati would turn out to be more practical. That, however, was not the case. The problem with the 848 is the twin cylinder engine that needs to be kept spinning all the time to avoid snatching. Even in the second gear, at speeds below 40 km/h, the bike will grumble to move without snatching. That was the biggest issue with the 848. As against this, while the litre-class machine has helluva power to be dealt with, it still allows one to ride at low speeds owing to its inline four powerplant. Another problem with the 848 is its hydraulic clutch that needs herculean efforts to operate. As they say, the Italians have never really managed to make clutches that are as easy to operate as the Japanese have.

Coming down to handling, the Ducati is the thing – light, nimble and great chassis-suspension to have fun with. The additional benefit comes from the narrower 5.5-inch alloy with 180-mm section rubber on the 848 as against the six-inch rim with 190-mm section rubber on the Gixxer. It gives the bike better agility that helps a lot while quickly changing direction and the ability to negotiate corners with ease and confidence. The suspension on the Ducati is stiffer, offering more feedback round corners than the slightly softer Gixxer. Overall, the Ducati is definitely more focused round corners with loads of aggression.

At the end of it all, both the bikes were analysed and ridden hard. While one was extreme and aggressive, the other was rideable, smooth and soft.

The question now was, had I been a lot richer, whixh would I buy? Not an easy question to answer considering that each bike has a special something to offer while lacking in some respects. For those who want more of an all-rounder that can do the exciting Sunday rides (though not as aggressively as the Italian) without nit becoming a pain in the city, they can surely go for the much softer Gixxer.

However strange as it may sound, I would go with the Italian for a number of reasons. It’s focused, hardcore, light, nimble, aggressive and without doubt the sexiest looking machine I have seen so far. Sorry, Japs, my loyalties have changed. You might be making more practical bikes, but who cares when I have to ride it just on weekends and get the knee down – I prefer riding something a little less practical yet a hell lot more exotic. Wait, Doc, here I come too!


Bike India Team – who has written posts on Bike India.

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