Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve surely been inundated with all manner of hype and hysteria surrounding the new Ducati 1199 Panigale. And of the three Panigale versions available, it’s specifically the S model that’s been grabbing all the attention, with its Öhlins electronically adjustable suspension, lightweight forged aluminum wheels, traction control, and ABS (yes, the Tricolore version has all that plus more, but at $28K, it’s more of a boutique edition within the reach of only a select few).
Of course, we’ve already covered the majority of the Panigale’s technical details, both during its initial introduction (Late Braking, March 2012) and its international press launch at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, where associate editor Bradley Adams gave us his first-hand account of its performance there (“New Beginnings”, June 2012). Thus, no need to rehash all of the what and why of the 1199’s design brief here, and besides, you’ve probably been bombarded with so much of that information for the past few months that it’s made your head spin.
So now that we got the opportunity to live with the 1199 Panigale S for a month on our own real-world street and racetrack pavement back here in the good ol’ USA, how about we just dive straight in to what it’s like to ride, shall we?
Life With A Supermodel
It usually takes a few cranks of the slow-sounding starter to light the 1199’s engine whether hot or cold, but once the very oversquare superquadro grumbles to life, you’re immediately met with an exhaust note that seems surprisingly loud for a stock unit. Throttle response is fairly crisp, and the bike can be ridden off quickly with little time for warmup.
The rear cylinder header pipe...
The rear cylinder header pipe has a huge cover over it, but it does little to shield your butt and thighs from the intense heat emanating from the pipe if you get stuck in traffic.
The electronically adjustable...
The electronically adjustable �hlins TTX36 rear shock utilizes a unique mounting setup (the top shock mount bolts to the engine cases, and the shock rides just inside your left leg), but suffice it to say it works well.
The Panigale’s LED headlights...
The Panigale’s LED headlights are a first for a production motorcycle, and work well, providing a good beam spread at night with the whiter color intensity of HID.
As noted by Bradley in his first ride story, the Panigale’s ergos are a far cry from the previous Marquis de Sade catalog versions of the past. The seat is lower in relation to the bars, and the reach to those bars is shorter, meaning your arms and wrists won’t feel like you’ve been doing pushups all day long. The seat-to-peg distance seems a little shorter though, and the seat — while nicely shaped and fairly roomy — is made more for rear tire feedback than comfort, so your lower half might still complain on longer rides.
Two big improvements in the Ducati’s cockpit are the TFT (Thin Film Transistor) display instrument panel and the mirrors. The TFT panel not only displays in color, its resolution and contrast are miles better than the previous dull grey LCD panel. While we still dislike the bar-graph tachometer, it’s a bit easier than most to read at a glance because when the rpm reaches each 1000 rpm increment, the single or double digit representing that level enlarges (i.e., when the tach reaches 8000 rpm, the numeral 8 on the bar graph becomes bigger than the others, making it easier to notice). The display also switches to a dark background at night to make it easier on your eyes. And lo and behold, the mirrors on the 1199 are actually functional, allowing a decent rearward view instead of being little more than a styling accessory.
Although it doesn’t look like...
Although it doesn’t look like it in this photo, the TFT color display actually has good contrast in daylight. Info is well organized, but daylight reflections can obscure the lower portion.
The combination of 330mm discs...
The combination of 330mm discs and Brembo’s new M50 four-piston monobloc calipers add up to the best production sportbike front brakes we have ever tested, bar none.
Take a bow, Erik Buell. It...
Take a bow, Erik Buell. It seems more and more sportbikes are moving toward the underengine exhaust design. The Panigale's exhaust note is rather loud for a stock muffler.
Speaking of nighttime riding, the Ducati’s LED headlights — a first for a production motorcycle — offer an excellent beam pattern at night, with the higher “temperature” light intensity (similar to an HID headlamp color) providing improved visibility. The longer life and better reliability of the LED lamps over conventional halogen bulbs are also a plus.
One minor problem with the TFT instrument panel is that daylight reflections can obscure the bottom portion, making it difficult to see the section that displays your engine mode, DTC (Ducati Traction Control), EBC (Engine Brake Control), and ABS levels, and whether the DQS (Ducati Quick Shifter) is on. This forces you to lean your head one way or the other in order to read that portion of the display if you’re not in an aggressive riding position.
Snick the 1199 into gear and let out the light-effort clutch, and you quickly discover this isn’t your buddy’s 1198. While the superquadro engine revs quicker, there’s a distinct lack of bottom end and midrange torque compared to the previous testastretta powerplant, requiring you to feed in more rpm than you’d expect to take off smartly from a stop. Luckily, the Ducati’s definite lack of heft — our test bike scaled in at 426 pounds wet with a full tank, significantly lighter than any other literbike — and the quick-revving engine make up some of that deficit (but not all…more on that later).
Another reason you’ll know you’re not riding your buddy’s 1198 is because if you ever encounter slow traffic for longer than a few minutes, the heat roasting your butt and thighs on the Panigale will make you wish you were. Despite a huge shield covering the rear cylinder header pipe, the heat emanating from the pipe can quickly become more than annoying; it got so bad at times in traffic that we’d look back to make sure the tailpiece or our butts weren’t actually on fire. And it takes more than a minute of riding above 50 mph before the heat dissipates and you feel any cooling effect.
Because the three riding modes (Race, Sport, and Rain) are all completely customizable — you can change the engine power, throttle response, suspension, etc., to any level — our initial idea was to have the Rain mode’s suspension setup very plush for highway commuting duties. We softened up the suspension via the very intuitive menu on the dash display thinking we’d have a Gold Wing ride on the way to being able to firm everything up at the push of a button once we hit the twisties, but it didn’t work out that way. Because the Ducati is so light and the suspension is biased on the firm side from the start, even dialing back the rebound and compression to max soft still resulted in a slightly choppy ride.