Electronic rider aids have changed the face of the sportbike world, and never was that made clearer than during the recently held Ducati 899 Panigale press launch at a wet Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Ferrari circuit near Imola, Italy. Introduced as a more accessible superbike, the 899 Panigale features all the same safety nets that cloak the 1199—three independent riding modes, engine brake control, ABS, and traction control. Add styling cues identical to what you’d see on the bigger Panigale, a smaller price tag, and softer suspension, and you have a bike that’s less intimidating but also more appealing to a wider consumer base. Has Ducati’s reshuffling of components and price-tag figures paid dividends? Let’s just say that the electronics weren't all we came to appreciate while circulating one of Italy’s most famous racetracks in conditions that would have otherwise left us huddled up in our hotel room.
Ducati's R&D Director,...
Ducati's R&D Director, Andrea Forni, introduces the $15,295 899 Panigale in white silk with red wheels. A Ducati red model with black wheels will retail for $300 less.
Drawing comparisons between the 1199 and 899 makes it is easy to forget that the newer Panigale is a direct replacement for the Ducati 848 EVO and EVO Corse SE. With a claimed 148 horsepower at 10,750 rpm and 73 foot-pounds of torque at 9,000 rpm, the 899 offers 8 more horsepower than the outgoing model in addition to a 2.5 pound weight advantage when filled with fluids and deemed ready to ride. It’ll compete closely with MV Agusta’s new F3 800 and Suzuki’s GSX-R750, with some consumers even drawing comparisons between it and Triumph’s charismatic Daytona 675 R, which retails for $1,496 less and comes with Öhlins suspension but less to speak of in terms of styling and, you guessed it…electronic rider aids.
The smaller Panigale’s power advantages stem from a Superquadro engine with 1199-culled crankcases and a 1.75 bore x stroke ratio, the latter of which is less radical than the liter-plus bike’s 1.84 ratio but generated by a 100mm bore and 57.2mm stroke. “We tried to find a good balance between V-twin character and higher revving engine,” says Marco Sairu, the Technical Project Manager in charge of developing the Superquadro powerplant. Further up there are reshaped ports, retooled camshafts, a single fuel injector per cylinder, and a secondary air system for engine smoothness. The 41.8mm intake and 34mm exhaust valves are resized and made of steel rather than titanium, plus the clutch, valve, and sump cover are made from aluminum instead of magnesium for cost savings. Major services are divided by 15,000 miles.
The 899 Panigale uses new gear ratios and a 15/44 sprocket setup that works with the new engine configuration to provide a 19-25 percent increase in power and torque in first, third, and sixth gear. Just as they are on the 1199, the 899’s cylinders are rotated backwards over the crankcases and allow the engine to be mounted further forward for better weight distribution. Updated figures include a 52/48 front-to-rear weight bias, which differs slightly from the 848’s 50/50 numbers.
The Superquadro engine is a stressed member of the chassis and mounts directly to an aluminum monocoque component which holds the steering head bearings and doubles as the airbox. Out back mounts a steel-trellis subframe that’s disguised cleverly by plastic side panels and made to look like the 1199’s highly impressive aluminum component. Its looks have less an impact on the 899’s design than the newly finished 10-spoke wheels and double-sided swingarm, the latter of which was probably used to separate the 1199 from the 899 on showroom floors. Scratch that, Ducati says that the double-sided swingarm has, “excellent torsional stiffness.” It's also shorter, and probably cost less to manufacture.
The compact 899 Panigale weighs...
The compact 899 Panigale weighs 2.5 pounds less than the 848 EVO when fully faired and filled with fuel. This despite a .4 gallon larger fuel tank and standard ABS.
The 899’s spec sheet suggests that it’ll steer quicker than the already agile 1199 and is headlined by 24 degrees of rake, a 1426mm wheelbase, and 180/60-17 tire with higher crown profile. Compare that to the 1199, which come standard with 24.5 degrees of rake, a 1437mm wheelbase, and 200/55-17 tire option. The 899 will also come with a Showa Big Piston Fork—the first to come standard on a Ducati—instead of Marzocchi or Öhlins components. Out back there’s a nondescript Sachs shock that works off of a progressive linkage. Both ends are fully adjustable and paired to a non-adjustable steering damper that mounts to the monocoque piece.
Ducati has attempted to save money wherever it could but you’ll have to look closely to find all of its cost cutting measures. Front and rear brakes come from Brembo for example, but on the 899 you get M4-32 front calipers rather than the high-dollar—and ultra-impressive—M50 stoppers. A three-level Bosch ABS 9MP unit manages traction in various conditions and uses lift-up detection in Levels 2 and 3. More interesting is that the 2.5 pound weight advantage that the 899 holds over the 848 EVO takes the 899’s ABS into account. The 848 was devoid of said rider aid.
And so just like that we’re back to where we started, at the electronics. And it’s here where the 899 loses less ground to the 1199; or perhaps it gains ground since it comes standard with anti-lock brakes, whereas that’s a $1000 option on the Bosch 9ME-equipped 1199 and 1199 S. It also comes with Wet, Sport, and Race riding modes, all of which are developed around the 899’s Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Ducati Quick Shift (DQS), and Engine Brake Control (EBC) systems. Adjustments for each system are made through a black-on-white LCD display that replaces the 1199’s color-rich Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen.
The 899's double-sided swingarm...
The 899's double-sided swingarm has "excellent torsional stiffness," Ducati says. We think it's real purpose is to help set the 899 apart from the 1199, as its design is the same otherwise.
The 899's clutch, valve, and...
The 899's clutch, valve, and sump cover are made from aluminum instead of magnesium for cost savings
A steel-trellis subframe replaces...
A steel-trellis subframe replaces the 1199's aluminum component but is disguised by side panels and a seat with 5mm of added padding.
Ducati has based the 899’s ergonomics almost entirely around the 1199’s riding triangle. Significant changes include clip-ons that are 10mm taller than they are on the 848 EVO and also 30mm closer to the saddle. The seat is 5mm thicker than the 1199’s cushion (we use the term “cushion” lightly), and also wrapped in a material with more grip, à la 1199 R. That few millimeters of padding are the only differences between the 899 and 1199’s ergonomics, meaning also that Ducati’s claim regarding added street performance is left wholly on the shoulders of the suspension and engine.
More interesting is that Ducati’s emphasis on street performance wasn’t followed up by a road-oriented test ride. Instead we’d spend half a day at the Imola race circuit putting Pirelli’s ultra-sticky rain rubber to the test. Look for a street review of the 899 Panigale in a future issue, in which we’ll also put Ducati’s “Your road to the track,” expression to the test.
Ducati’s Wet riding mode is typically used for about as long as it takes us to cycle over to one of the bike’s less restrictive modes, but on the 899 we left the safety-net-laden Wet mode alone. That we—and every other journalist, some of which had never ridden in the rain—returned to the pits with the bike still in one piece is a testament to that mode’s capabilities. As a matter of fact, it feels like it’d be impossible to crash the bike in Wet mode; the electronics—fueling, ABS, TC, and engine brake control—are that intuitive and smooth when activated. It doesn’t hurt either that you’re now dealing with “just” 100 horsepower, as power output is heavily curtailed in Wet mode.
Sport mode offers a “sporty RbW setting,” as well as access to all of the 899’s 148 horsepower. Its preset settings leave the ABS at level 2 for moderate lift-up prevention, EBC at level 1, and DTC at level 5, although we modified the riding mode by bumping the traction control system to level 6 and engine brake control to level 2 (less engine braking). The first of those two changes felt advantageous since we weren’t trying to cut quick laps, although you could tell that the system was keeping our forward momentum in check. The EBC system didn’t feel as smooth through the entrance of the corner when toggled over to level 2, and we could feel the electronics trying to free the bike up a bit with the butterflies. We’d later switch to level 1, and while this setting did cause the bike to wiggle through the brake markers, it felt more constant in its control. Ducati’s test rider and engineers later agreed that level 1 was what they relied on during the development process.
We tried the Bosch ABS in levels 1 and 2, thinking that the more invasive setting would provide the security blanket we needed on this cold, wet day in Italy, but level 2 was overly obtrusive and would take too much pressure off the pads when trying to get slowed down. If we were super smooth with lever actuation we could ride around the system, but when trying to outbrake another rider excessive cycling made it nearly impossible to manage the gap between he and us. Level 1 is much smoother and doesn't fight to keep the rear tire planted to the ground, leading us to believe that level 2 is best for street riding and level 1 for the track.
The M4-32 Monobloc calipers that are linked to the Bosch ABS have an unintimidating initial bite and enough stopping power to get the featherweight Panigale stopped without hassle. Outright power and feel isn’t what it is on the 1199, but we’ve always said that the bigger bike has the best binders in the business, so the less-expensive 899 entered that comparison at a disadvantage. Braking performance is still nothing to scoff at.
World Superbike/Supersport-spec rain tires provided plenty of grip in the wet. Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tires will come standard.
Where the two Panigales feel more similar is in a transition, and it’s here that the 899 holds its biggest advantage over the 848 EVO; the 899 practically falls into a corner, and it’s impressively light as you flick it from one side to the other. Trail braking is less a chore too, and thanks to that new rake/weight bias combo it doesn’t feel like you need to weight the inside peg and clip-on the way you did on the 848. The 899 is without doubt a less physically demanding bike to ride, and its suspension action feels very linear. The Showa BPF’s outright performance will be better judged on dry roads, however.
The 899’s Superquadro engine is equally as advantageous as its newfound steering characteristics and provides more excitement as you get into the upper end up the rev range. Past 8000 rpm things start to get especially good, and you have to keep an eye on the digital tachometer because revs build quickly once you're into the 899’s sweet spot. Another thing we noticed is that the power curve doesn’t feel as linear at really high rpms, but we wouldn’t be surprised if that were due to the bike having a single injector per cylinder.
Thanks to reworked gear ratios and a new final drive the 899 feels less like it’s between gears than the 848 is, and we could carry second gear through the majority of Imola’s tight chicanes. The seat is more comfortable too, and the only thing we couldn’t really stand was the wretchedly designed footpegs that’d have our feet feeling like they were lathered in oil. There’s also the fact that the 899 doesn’t have the lavish finish we’ve come to expect from Ducati and its Panigale lineup; the bike was built with a price point in mind, and it shows in a few different places. That’s all okay so long as the bike delivers on Ducati’s promise of added accessibility. And we feel that the $15,295 ($14,995 when purchased in Ducati red with black wheels) 899 could definitely do that in the right conditions.
Look for a full report in the January 2014 issue of Sport Rider Magazine, and keep your eyes peeled for a comparison between it, the Suzuki GSX-R750, and MV Agusta F3 800 in a later issue.