The proof of any bike is in the riding; Ducati's new 1098 L-twin is absolutely stunning - it just looks totally right from any angle, even more beautiful in the metal and plastic than in any pictures I've seen.

But a road review is all about riding - long hours in the saddle and, especially in the case of a Italian sportbike such as Ducati's new flagship, lots of corners.

I'll admit I was intimidated; everyone I spoke to before I rode the 1098 told scary tales of its explosive mid-range power, hair-trigger brakes and propensity for serious headshakes under hard acceleration.

Ducati Cape Town dealer principal Ashley Baud made me promise to treat the twist grip with respect before he would give me the key for the test bike - not that I blame him.

This was an irreplaceable pre-production machine, fresh from the World launch at Kyalami and privately owned; both our kneecaps would have been at risk if I'd thrown it down the road.

He also insisted on giving it a full service before letting me loose on it, which was just as well - with 2385km on the (LCD) clock it was on its second set of tyres and the rear brake pads were down to the metal, which is a good indication of the thrashing the launch bikes got at the hands of the world's media.

All the more credit to the test machine, then, that its engine ran sweetly, idled evenly once warm and picked up crisply on the throttle despite running distinctly lean because it was still set for Kyalami's altitude, with no more than the usual Ducati ration of dry-clutch clatter.

The delay, however, meant I rode this track-focused superbike for the first time in the thick of Cape Town's evening rush hour; I didn't even get it out of second until I was halfway home.

The 1099cc L-twin proved surprisingly tractable, however, grumbling through the traffic like a caged lion with as little as 2500rpm showing on the liquid-crystal, bar-graph rev counter and refusing to overheat, while the dry multiplate clutch took up sweetly and predictably even though I could smell the fibre plates overheating.

The bike's response was a little shuddery but crisp and unhesitating and its steering lock unexpectedly generous. The 1098 is also impressively slim for a big twin, allowing it to thread its way through the gridlock with aplomb.

The same could not be said of its rider, though; the riding position, although much more compact than that of the 999 it replaces, throws a lot of weight on the wrists, while the mirrors, true to Italian sportbike tradition, give you nothing more than a splendid view of your own forearms.

The ride home was a sequence of contortions as I looked constantly over my shoulders, under my elbows, even taking one hand off the 'bars sometimes so I could get a decent idea of what was behind me.

Ferocious initial bite

I was also worried about the brakes after reading horror stories from the World media launch about their ferocious initial bite and consequent tendency to lock when injudiciously applied.

But in fact they're no more powerful than on other machines equipped with Brembo's class-leading monobloc callipers. The difference is that there is absolutely no take-up, thanks to small-diameter, braided stainless-steel hoses and a grand prix-style, radial master cylinder.

Their response to the slightest caress of your fingertips on the brake lever is instantaneous and absolutely linear; sure, grab a handful and you'll go up the road on your bum, but once you learn how little effort you need and just how immediate the effect is, you can modulate your braking to the millimetre, pick (and change!) your apexes at will, and use the brakes to change the bike's attitude going into a corner just as Troy Bayliss does on Sunday afternoons.

Part of how World Superbike and MotoGP riders brake so late, using the brakes to turn in, is the incredibly linear response afforded by this level of componentry - and this bike will teach you how to do it.

In traffic I found myself using all four fingers to stroke the brake lever, with no need to steer - the bike simply goes where you look. It's like using a surgical scalpel to carve the Sunday roast; you have to be careful not to overdo it but the results are impressive.

Substance behind superlatives

The next day I got the Ducati out on motoring.co.za's usual test route and started finding out how this bike has earned its reputation.

Its acceleration is awe-inspiring; in the first four gears there seems to be a direct connection between the twist grip and the rear wheel, so instant and muscular is the response.

Grab a careless handful in first or second and the front wheel will come up by itself - I was careful to keep it on the ground but even at half-throttle I once got an unexpected bump from the front end when the front wheel came down during a second-third change.

The engine smoothes out above 4500rpm as the power comes on strong - strong enough to disorientate your depth perception - but immensely controllable in a way few four-cylinder bikes can rival.

Flat, angry drone

Then, as the bar-graph begins to fill in the blanks to the right of the "7" in the middle of instrument panel, you start getting a flat, angry drone from the air box that'll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up the first time you hear it, a high-frequency, second-degree vibration sets your teeth on edge and, for as long as you have the nerve to keep the throttle against the pin, you're no more than a passenger.

Only the very brave (and very skilled) would try to steer in anything but a straight line with this much stress being applied to the ultra-soft 190/55 rear Pirelli and the stories about this bike high-siding riders who crack it open too quickly coming out of slow corners suddenly become very believable.

The 1098 continues to accelerate way past 220km/h like a big four at city speeds; it howled up to 292km/h, with the first of the four shift lights flickering at 10 200rpm in top gear, before it had used even a third of our six kilometre test straight.

As fast as it is, the 1098 is actually undergeared; with a bigger front sprocket, no indicators or mirrors, a long run and a much braver rider than yours truly, I believe a genuine 322km/h (200mph in the old terms, Cyril) could be within reach.

Crisp as breaking glass

The gearbox is a honey; the changes are firm and positive (if a little vocal) around town but ultra-crisp, with or without the clutch.

At high speed the effortless power of the brakes is welcome; it's reassuring to be able to shave off 100km/h quicker than it takes to say it without having to squeeze the lever hard enough to affect the steering.

That was when I discovered that the upper panel of the fairing has a reinforced shelf on either side at shin level so that you can support yourself under hard braking without having to lean on the 'bars.

The test bike was the "cooking" 1098 version with Showa suspension rather than the (R41 400 more expensive) 1098s with Öhlins tackle but it handled our bumpy test track without a problem.

Not unexpectedly, the ride was on the harsh side of firm but the wheels stayed in contact with the road over all but the nastiest bumps and the bike stayed on line through the worst of the corners - although I'll admit I kept the revs under 5000 through this section to avoid stressing the tyres any more than I had to.

Lazy headshakes

What surprised me was that the bike never shook its head; in fact the only wiggles I got during the test ride were a few lazy headshakes changing up at high revs. Most short-coupled sportbikes are prone to that, however, due to the relationship between front wheel and road being somewhat casual under those conditions.

The 1098's handling is, as expected, nothing short of phenomenal; this is, after all, a Ducati. The steering is light and precise; once settled into a line, the bike feels like it's on a rail.

Most of the time it simply goes where you look - there's no actual steering involved - and its roadholding is astonishing, especially at the front, which felt securely planted even on poor surfaces.

Yet the bike's dynamics are not quite as instinctive as I thought they would be; I found the steering was just a heartbeat behind where I was aiming on quick changes of direction, especially with the power on hard, and soon learned to apply a little countersteer to quicken the Ducati's "rate of change" when I needed real agility.

Insistent warning

Once I'd learned when and how much effort to apply I found it reassuring, as if the bike was acknowledging the rider's input. Given this machine's inherent capacity for getting you into trouble, the slightly lazy steering is in fact its most user-friendly characteristic - especially for older users such as myself.

The fuel light came on during performance testing and by the time I got to a garage the trip data computer was lit up like the fourth of July, insistently warning me that I had less than 10km's worth of fuel left.

Given that the bike's fuel consumption over the course of the review was 7.8 litres/100km that means there was less than a litre of fuel in the tank - but 10.9 litres later it was full to the brim.

Despite Ducati's claim that the tank has a 15.5-litre capacity, it will actually hold no more than 12 - and that's being charitable.

But the tank is beautifully sculpted, ergonomically superb and lends not a little to the 1098's surprising comfort. Once you're out of town and maintaining the sort of speed at which the Ducati is intended to run the seating position is perfectly balanced.

The rider's weight is evenly distributed between hands, bum and feet for perfect control whether you ride in the saddle like me or climb all over the bike like a MotoGP racer.

Fresh and uncramped

I spent most of a day on the 1098, much of it at brutally illegal speeds and stopping only for fuel, yet I was fresh and uncramped at the end of it - a stunning tribute to a motorcycle that's designed purely for performance.

The bike's instrument pod is clearly and concisely laid out, with a wealth of information that's easy to find, but I found have always found slimline Italian lettering difficult to read in a hurry; Japanese and British bikes use a chunkier font with no diagonal stroke on the zero which is much easier to read at a glance.

Build quality is impeccable - at this price level it had better be - and everything fits and works perfectly; but the lasting impression is of how every line and curve, every plane and surface flows seamlessly into the next.

The 1098's designers went back to the 916 for inspiration and they have catapulted Massimo Tamburini's iconic design into the new century in a way that makes everything else look a little outdated.

The sad part is that this bike has at one stroke destroyed the resale value of every 999 out there because, as capable a sportbike as it is, the 999 is simply outclassed in the looks department - and as any Italian will tell you, when it comes to bikes, cars and clothing, ugly just doesn't cut it.

Bottom line

The 1098 is a huge step forward for Ducati in terms of rideability and power; this machine will be the standard by which large-capacity sportbikes are measured for years to come; that it is as gorgeous is a bonus.

  • Test bike from Ducati Cape Town.

    Price: R166 500.