Give ‘Er The Berries…
Of course, most of those gripes fade into the distance once you do encounter curvy pavement. As Bradley noted during the Abu Dhabi press launch, there aren’t many 600s that steer as easily as the Panigale. Sure, the taller and wider bars assist with more leverage, and the Ducati’s light weight helps, but it’s easy to tell that the mass is more centralized and placed better on the 1199, especially in switchbacks where you’re flicking the bike from one side to the other. No longer are you required to perform gymnastics to accomplish a major directional change. Steering is sharp and precise with the stock Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires, and grip is plentiful.
The Ducati likes its suspension set up on the firm side. Attempting to dial out some of the harshness over bumps by softening up the suspension only results in the handling becoming sloppy. Keep things firm and ride the 1199 hard, and you’re rewarded with a racebike feel, but bumpy roads can get a bit busy.
You’ll have to ride the bike hard to keep the engine spun up, because the dearth of midrange torque compared to the 1198 really makes itself known in the tighter canyons. Dial up some throttle at 5000 rpm expecting the usual Ducati midrange hit, and you’ll be left wondering if a spark plug cap came off; the Panigale doesn’t start making serious steam until 7500 rpm…and then when it does come alive, it hits hard. It gobbles up rpm and ground like no other Ducati (save perhaps the Desmosedici RR) all the way to just before the soft rev limiter at 11,000 rpm; unlike the old engine whose flat torque curve generated speed deceptively, the 1199’s powerband is about as subtle as a two-by-four to the forehead.
Ducati has finally recognized...
Ducati has finally recognized that mirrors on a sportbike can be functional as well as stylish. Fairing in this photo is without the extensions that are claimed to help top-end speed.
The 1199 has a well-shaped...
The 1199 has a well-shaped and supportive seat, albeit a little short on padding. The bike comes with passenger pegs and a tiny pillion pad if your significant other is willing.
Rear brake return spring setup...
Rear brake return spring setup is straight off a racebike. Footpegs are new, but still nowhere near grippy enough.
But the engine’s pipey nature means it’s not as easy to carry corner speed through a bend and utilize the midrange torque as before. Like a true racebike, the 1199 demands aggressive and precise riding to get the most performance.
Seguing to the high-speed confines of Buttonwillow Raceway where that type of riding feels safer and easier, it’s easy to see that the Panigale is more in its element. The top-end-weighted powerband is less of a liability on the track where you have more freedom to alter your corner entry and exit lines and speeds, and given that liberty to really cut loose, everything on the 1199 seems to fall into place. Dyno chart mavens may be scoffing at the 156-horsepower reading, but make no mistake — the Panigale charges off the corners with the steam of bikes putting out 15 horsepower more (we have the feeling that EPA restrictions may have blunted the U.S. version’s power).
We ran the default TC setting for the Race engine mode which is level 2, and found it to work well for various levels of grip available. Unlike the previous generation TC, the Panigale’s system is very transparent, with smooth slides and no jerky ignition cutouts; Level 2 allowed a strong enough drive off the corners that you’d never know the TC was active if you didn’t see the yellow light atop the dash flashing.
After some experimentation, we ended up using close to the default Race mode suspension settings at the track as well. As previously mentioned, the Panigale likes to be set up fairly stiff; the window for softening up the suspension before too much chassis pitch begins to intrude on the handling is rather small. The ride tends to be on the harsh side because of that unless you are charging hard at a 10/10ths pace, and even then some of the sharper bumps at Buttonwillow would get the chassis wound up a bit — but nothing alarming. When really pushed hard however, we were still noticing that the chassis would take a moment to settle into the corner once the bike was turned in, a trait that Bradley commented on in his world press launch story.
The Ducati’s Engine Brake Control is definitely a handy addition, allowing a good measure of adjustment with engine braking that permits much quicker corner entries than would normally be possible. Even on the street, we found level 1 to be intrusive, allowing so much engine braking that even the slipper clutch had problems keeping the rear wheel from slithering around when hard on the brakes (we can’t imagine what it must be like with the system turned off). At both the street and track, level 2 offered just the right amount of freewheel into the corners for swift and precise corner entries.
And speaking of corner entries, Bradley’s praise of the 1199’s brakes at the world press launch certainly wasn’t hyperbole. In any situation we encountered, the Panigale’s new Brembos provided outstanding stopping power, with unmatched feel and progression that continually bolstered confidence. Interestingly, we never once felt the ABS activate despite repeated banzai corner entries; whether that was from system transparency — which we find difficult to believe — or high threshold will require more time and investigation.
There are still a couple of minor gripes that surfaced at the track, though. The Ducati Quick Shifter’s ignition cut times could be dialed in a bit better in our opinion, especially in the lower gears; the first-to-second and second-to-third shifts felt pretty harsh unless you were at full throttle/high rpm. And despite a new design, the Panigale’s footpegs are still in need of some sharper teeth; we found our feet slipping off the pegs more than few times, especially with how stiff the Ducati rides as well as its supreme braking power.
Is It The Answer?
There’s no doubt that the 1199 Panigale has a lot riding on its success. This is the sportbike that will carry Ducati’s superbike racing ambitions — as well as its corporate reputation — for the foreseeable future. It breaks new technological ground on several fronts, and coming up short in any one of those areas could be a serious blemish on the brand’s lineage.
Ducati’s engineers and corporate brass can relax — the 1199 Panigale S is definitely a major step upward in performance from the previous generation 1198. Yes, it has a few minor issues here and there (what supermodel doesn’t?), but the performance of its electronics advancements make those gripes fade into the background. It took some baldanza to completely redesign its flagship sportbike, but the new Panigale serves notice that the V-twin desmo isn’t going to fade away from the literbike class anytime soon. SR