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.
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
The Panigale has a much shorter...
The Panigale has a much shorter reach to the bars, putting the rider’s torso in a much less aggressive position than before. Your wrists will thank Ducati.
Suggested Suspension Settings
|2012 DUCATI 1199 PANIGALE S|
|+ Groundbreaking electronics|
|+ Beefy V-twin engine|
|+ Best brakes in the business|
|- Lost its midrange hit|
|- Rear exhaust heat in traffic|
|- Slippery footpegs|
|x This is like no V-twin you’ve ever ridden…|
Front: Spring preload — 12 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping — (Sport) 21/(Race) 12; compression damping — (Sport) 20/(Race) 14
Rear: Spring preload — 6mm thread showing on shock body; rebound damping — (Sport) 20/(Race) 8; compression damping — (Sport) 22/(Race) 6
2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S
The Panigale has obviously...
The Panigale has obviously traded Ducati’s trademark midrange punch for superior top end. Although the torque curve is still pretty flat, there’s a wide valley between 4500 – 7500 rpm before the very oversquare superquadro engine comes alive.
Type: Liquid-cooled, 90-degree DOHC V-twin
Valve arrangement: four valves/cyl., desmodromic actuation
Bore x stroke: 112 x 60.8mm
Compression ratio: 12.5:1
Induction: Mitsubishi EFI, elliptical throttle bodies equivalent to 67.5mm diameter, dual injectors/cyl.
Front suspension: Öhlins NIX30 43mm inverted fork, electronically adjustable for rebound and compression damping, manual spring preload
Rear suspension: Öhlins TTX36 rear shock, electronically adjustable for rebound and compression damping, manual spring preload
Front brake: Dual 330mm discs with Brembo M50 monobloc radial-mount four-piston calipers
Rear brake: Single 245mm disc with two-piston caliper
Front wheel: Forged aluminum alloy, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear wheel: Forged aluminum alloy, 6.00 x 17 in.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rear tire: 200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail: 24.5 deg./3.9 in. (100mm)
Wheelbase: 56.6 in. (1437mm)
Seat height: 32.5 in. (825mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal. (17L)
Weight: 426 pounds (193kg) wet (full fuel tank, all fluids); 399 pounds (181kg) dry (no fuel, all fluids)
Instruments: Multi-function TFT display with digital speedometer, tachometer, gear position, clock, odometer, dual tripmeter, fuel tripmeter, engine coolant temperature, current/average fuel consumption, average speed, trip time, ambient air temperature, riding mode, DTC level, EBC level, DQS on/off, ABS level, lap time, DES adjustment; warning lights for neutral, ABS, high beam, turn signals, oil pressure, low fuel, engine warning, shift indicator, DTC indicator
Quarter-mile: 10.03 sec. @ 144.55 mph
Top speed: NA
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/2.60 sec.; 80-100 mph/3.30 sec.
Fuel consumption: 30 – 36 mpg, 34 mpg average
The Ducati 1199 Panigale S impressed just about everyone who rode it during the bike’s official launch a few months back. First impressions aren’t everything though, and a few minutes spent roasting in LA traffic illustrated what we’d missed while running laps around the putting-green-smooth Yas Marina circuit, ear-to-ear grin and all. The bike’s Achilles’ heel is the exhaust heat near the seat that threatens your to-come kin. If you can bear the boil and the better — but still not perfect — ergonomics, then the Ducati will slowly begin to win you over.
The Panigale never did fully win me over on the street however, and it wasn’t until we got it back out on the racetrack that I remembered how impressive the bike is; it’s 600cc-light in transitions, a menace off the corners (keep that tach needle over 7500 rpm!), unbelievable on the brakes and comes equipped with an electronics suite that’s faultless in terms of its ability to fit the bike to your preferences. In the end, we definitely found some flaws in the Panigale’s otherwise flawless armor. But what’s a supermodel with a few blemishes? Still a supermodel.
After hearing Bradley gushing about the Ducati 1199 Panigale S, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on our first test bike. I took off for home after wiping off all the drool at the Sport Rider shop…and promptly toasted my butt and thighs medium well once I hit rush hour traffic. My teeth fillings and internal organs got a bit of a workout from the pounding they endured from the stiff suspension over the less-than-perfect pavement on the way to the canyons.
But once we hit the canyons — and especially the racetrack — all was forgotten. While I kind of miss the midrange hit of the old engine, the quick-revving top-end surge of the superquadro makes up for that loss. The chassis and suspension work better the harder you ride it, and it’s so adjustable that you can custom-tailor everything to your tastes. The Panigale will run rings around the old generation bikes, but like always, it requires full commitment. So what else is new?