A performance bike equipped...
A performance bike equipped with a Termignoni exhaust, taller windscreen and Ducati’s “aero kit,” is even more a performer than the stock Panigale, with improved aerodynamics that increased our top speed down the straights, more midrange power and an even throatier exhaust note.
It’s nearly impossible to overstate how important the 1199 Panigale is to Ducati. Not only does the bike represent the Italian manufacturer’s first attempt at a completely reworked superbike, but it also marks the first time Ducati engineers have done away with the time-honored technology that long made its line of superbikes so distinct. As if the pressure wasn’t already on, the release of the 1199 Panigale directly succeeded the very public failure of Ducati’s similarly constructed GP11 MotoGP bike. Put simply, Ducati engineers need the Panigale to work; if not to put the manufacturer at the top of the literbike class, then to at least reassure it that the time and money invested in developing a monocoque chassis was worthwhile.
It’s not just the bike’s monocoque chassis that separates the Panigale from its 1198 predecessor; rather a slew of technological updates and engine revisions — the 1199 is the epitome of a clean-sheet design. The only engineering concepts that have been carried over, for instance, are Ducati’s 90-degree L-twin engine configuration and proven desmodromic valvetrain. We’ve covered the mass of technical updates in previous issues (Late Braking, January ’12 and March ’12), plus you’ve likely already gone cross-eyed from reading the spec sheet elsewhere, so straight to the important part: what it’s like to ride the Panigale. In case you missed both of our tech-based stories of course, the tech sidebar on page 34 will bring you up to speed.
Important to note is that the 1199 Panigale comes in three versions: a standard model ($17,995), S model ($22,995) and S Tricolore model ($27,995). Differentiating the S model from the standard model is an electronically adjustable 43mm Öhlins front fork, similarly electronic TTX36 shock and forged Marchesini wheels. The S model is also shipped with an “aero kit,” which consists of two front-fairing attachments that increase aerodynamics. The S Tricolore Panigale features all the aforementioned updates, plus comes standard with ABS, Ducati Data Analyzer + (DDA+) and a one-off Italian livery. Depending on the country, it will also be shipped with a titanium racing muffler kit (something tells us U.S. customers won’t be so lucky as to get this, although we haven’t received official word). ABS can be added to either the standard model or S model, but costs an extra $1000.
My first chance to throw a leg over the Panigale came at Ducati’s international press launch, held at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The provided bikes were Bosch ABS-equipped S models. Convenient, especially considering a 25-mph windstorm was simultaneously battering the track as we lapped. Even when covered with a thin layer of sand, the Formula 1 circuit impressed; its 21-turn layout features everything from tight hairpin corners to a .7-mile main straight that put the Panigale deep in sixth gear.
In years past, Ducati superbike models have gained a reputation for being uncomfortable and downright abusive on a rider’s back. Forget everything you thought you knew about Ducati ergonomics however, because the 1199 Panigale feels like none of its predecessors from the helm. The seat has been pushed forward 30mm, resulting in a shorter reach to the clip-ons. And those clip-ons are now 10mm higher, plus very flat and 16mm wider at each end. The seat feels more recessed, meaning you sit in the bike rather than on top of it — this despite an increase in seat height from 32.2 inches to 32.5 inches. The riding position is similar — but more comfortable — to the Aprilia RSV4’s. That’s to say things are a touch on the tight side for riders over the six-foot mark, but comfortable for the average-sized rider.
Even with the centrifugal flyweight on the exhaust cam acting as a compression release, the Superquadro engine fires up on the slow side — a trait all Ducati engines have had since day one. Once the engine finally barks to life, your ears are met with an exhaust note that’s much more gruff, but still very Ducati-esque. Blip the throttle in the pits and you’ll realize the Panigale is much hungrier for revs, a direct result of the outlandish 1.84:1 bore/stroke ratio that puts the Panigale at the pinnacle of V-twin sportbikes.
On the track, the 1199 is even more unlike its predecessor. The biggest difference is that the 195-horsepower Superquadro engine is more about peak power rather than bottom-end grunt. So whereas the 1198 would wheelie out of corners and force you to ride the tight stuff in a gear higher, the Panigale is much more manageable. By no means is the Panigale a slouch out of hairpin corners though; there’s still enough power from 7000 rpm to warrant exceptional drives. Power builds insatiably from 7500 rpm up to the bike’s 11,500 rpm rev limiter. And while I’d like to hold off on making any direct comparisons to the S 1000 RR, I’ll say now that the Panigale feels equally as strong as the BMW up top.
The 22 pounds that Ducati claims to have cut (wet weight is said to be a scant 414.5 pounds) make the 1199 a much more nimble motorcycle at any speed. On the track, the bike goes exactly where you want it to. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a 600cc machine that steers as quickly as the Panigale, which certainly benefits from the taller, wider handlebars. Past turn-in the Panigale feels much more planted than the 1198, a sure result of the bike’s new 52/48 weight distribution numbers that are identical to Carlos Checa’s World Superbike-spec 1198. Feedback from the chassis is sufficient, although the monocoque chassis feels inevitably different than Ducati’s trellis frame. I noticed the most disparity through the Yas Marina circuit’s fast right-hand turn three, where the chassis seemed to twist just slightly off the throttle entering the turn, then realign as I got back hard on the gas. Whether the feeling is just a trait of the chassis or a concern will be determined upon further testing. For now, I’d say it’s not alarming. And by no means do I feel the Panigale will suffer the same fate as Rossi’s GP11.
The TFT screen is crystal...
The TFT screen is crystal clear and by far the most intuitive of any Ducati models. Adjustments to any mode can be made in mere seconds, plus the display provides varying information in order of importance depending on what mode you’re in. In race mode, for instance, the primary display is lap times.
The DES screen (above), makes...
The DES screen (above), makes suspension adjustments a breeze—what screwdriver?
Even in stock trim the Panigale...
Even in stock trim the Panigale looks like a racebike, mostly because of its sharper tail section and LED headlights that are tucked deep into the front fairing vents.
With the seat pushed 30mm...
With the seat pushed 30mm further forward, the reach to the clip-ons is much more pleasant. The overall seating position is best compared to the Aprilia RSV4, although it feels like you sit more in the Panigale rather than on it.
In terms of suspension the standard Panigale is no slouch, but the extra $5000 spent on the Panigale S model’s electronic Öhlins suspenders (and other upgrades) may be worthwhile. Put simply, the fork and shock work flawlessly. And making changes via the TFT display can be done anywhere, no matter if you have a screwdriver handy or not. Out back, the two-way adjustable shock linkage provides extremely linear action that enables the rider to put the Panigale’s power to the ground in a smooth fashion.
Brembo’s new M50 calipers are 6.5-percent lighter than the 1198’s units and clamp onto identical 330mm semi-floating discs. They’ve been mounted 15mm further out to increase cooling performance and run smaller pistons (30mm vs. 34mm). Hands down, these Brembo binders are the best production brakes I have ever tested, with tons of consistent power and no overwhelming initial bite. Even when clamping hard on the binders, the Panigale remains completely stable, a trait Ducati engineers attribute to the bike’s increased trail (100mm vs. 97mm) and longer wheelbase (1437mm vs. 1430mm). Surprisingly, I never once felt the ABS system activate, even when braking hard for the chicane succeeding the Yas Marina circuit’s 182-mph main straight.