As we meandered out of an autumnal Hull city centre, I was pondering a visit to the local hospital to have my wrists examined. You see, as many of you who have ridden a 916 or 748 will comprehend, they’re grossly uncomfortable in an everyday environment and don’t respond well to introverted inputs. Like any Ducati of this era, the 748 was destined for silken race tracks, not Lincolnshire roads or industrial city centres. But it’s okay though, as what I lost in incapacitation, I gained in attention: the Ducati is an instant right swipe. The other three on test dwindle into the backdrop like spare parts.
Not only does the 748 mirror the 916/996’s gorgeous lines, the majority of the bike is also identical – save for the smaller engine and narrower rear wheel. This S model was treated to Marchesini five-spoke wheels, TiN-coated forks, and a Biposto or racier single seat option. It’s certainly the most diminutive of the testing quartet leaving larger/ heavier pilots to often dwarf its sexy lines.
He ain’t heavy. Actually, a 748 is heavy. Everything about the 748 is heavy: a heavy-hitting, lethargic V-twin, a heavy throttle, a heavy dry clutch action and heavy gearbox execution. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve ridden a 748, there’s still a childish penchant for engaging and disengaging the clutch at traffic lights, and revelling in its metallic soundtrack. All of the above – plus a stupidly tall first gear – mean it’s a pig in urban climes, but that’s like criticising Usain Bolt for his marathon ability.
Like the CBR, you can expect 90-ish horsepower in stock trim. Add a few more with Termis and the corresponding chip. But the difference over the Honda is a Bologna-inspired involvement, noise (especially with these Termis) and character that’ll get any level of rider giddy. The epitome of fashion over form, the 748 is impossible not to love and much of that is down to the motor, which loves to be thrashed. I hate using ‘character’ or ‘charisma’ but it’s a default adjective saved for these Noughty Ducatis.
You still expect a little more go to match the show, and the delivery is quite languid at first. It feels at its most premium between 7,000rpm and 10,000rpm, with no tangible redline to aim for and gear selection is vital to maintain momentum. Less power and violence over the 916/996 means a chassis that behaves slightly better. I say slightly better, because there’s no escaping its racing DNA.
An extremely stiff chassis coupled with firm, racy suspension mean that anything less than billiard-smooth surfaces can become hard work at staunch speeds. As the going got rough, the Ducati couldn’t match the surefootedness of the Japanese trio. Bumps and iffy surfaces bring a tendency to run wide as the suspension struggles with what’s beneath.
But all can be forgiven when peachy A-roads arise. It’s not as dexterous in change of direction as its Japanese counterparts but makes up for it with mid-corner prowess that fills you full of confidence. It’s far from neutral during turn-in but the same steel trellis frame as its bigger brother brags a sublime nosey posture to swivel on.
Of course, it’s over 15 years old, but the brakes have always been an area for improvement on a 748. I had more than a few stain-inducing moments when its desire for corner speed outweighed its stopping power. And in terms of practical amenities, look elsewhere. The mirrors offer nothing more than blurry rear-view vision and I’ve worked with less vibey jackhammers. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a 748.
It just makes you want to drool...
Old school cool.