When BMW launched the S 1000 RR back in 2009, a new benchmark was set for the literbike class. And since its release, we’ve impatiently waited for a production motorcycle that could parallel the Bavarian brawler’s outright performance. With the release of the Ducati 1199 Panigale, it looks as though that wait is over.
How though, has Ducati gone from being an underdog in the literbike class to a contender for the crown? Three words tell the story: clean-sheet design.
Light is right
Ducati’s Superquadro engine is the star of the show, not only because it acts as an integral part of the chassis, but because of the additional 25 horsepower it provides over the 1198cc platform it replaces. That added horsepower wasn’t easy to attain, and necessitated a massively over-square bore and stroke ratio. Massive is almost an understatement; the bore now measures 112mm (versus 106mm on the 1198) and the stroke 60.8mm (versus 67.9mm). The gigantean pistons permitted larger 38.2 exhaust valves, and bigger 46.8mm intake valves. Those intake valves are now made from titanium too, notably for weight savings and added durability.
Larger oval throttle bodies with an equivalent 67.5mm diameter replace the already enormous 63.9mm throttle bodies found on the 1198 and allowed Ducati engineers to make the most of those large intake valves. Twin injectors now grace each cylinder, one below the butterfly and one above. And Ride-by-Wire throttle bodies permit the use of variant ride modes; a Race, Sport and Wet are pre-programmed with specific settings.
Each other innovation is as groundbreaking as the last; a hybrid chain/gear cam drive system replaces the belt-drive system that previously controlled the desmodromic valve system. And at the end of each exhaust cam now rests a centrifugal flyweight that increases valve lift momentarily during start-up, alleviating the need for a large starter and battery. Further down, aluminum wet liners eliminate the cylinders that previously separated the crankcase from each cylinder head. Fewer and smaller parts mean less weight.
Speaking of weight, the 1199 Panigale is 22 pounds lighter than the 1198, with a wet weight of 414.5 pounds. Some of that weight loss is due to the new engine, although the bulk of it is owed to the new chassis – or lack thereof. That’s right, no more trellis frame. Sorry, Ducatisti, the new 1199 Panigale is endowed with a monocoque frame similar to the now outdated GP11 (although the unit is constructed from aluminum rather than carbon fiber). The monocoque headstock attaches directly to the front cylinder head then, and acts not only as a mount for the steering head, but also as the airbox. A newly shaped aluminum fuel tank doubles as a seal for said airbox. Again, fewer parts mean less weight.
A 39mm-longer aluminum swingarm (11.2 pounds) attaches directly to the rear of the engine in a similar fashion, as does the aluminum rear subframe (4.6 pounds). Off to the left of the bike, mounted via a two-way-adjustable link, rests the shock. That shock comes direct from Sachs on the standard model. An up-spec S model Panigale is available however, and comes with electronically controlled Öhlins suspenders front and rear – among other upgrades, like three-spoke forged and machined Marchesini wheels.
Adjusting the Öhlins NIX30 fork and TTX36 shock on the S model is done via a user-friendly switch on the left clip-on that helps you navigate the newly designed TFT display (think iPhone). With that same switch, you can modify the settings of each aforementioned mode (Race, Sport and Wet). Set the new Engine Brake Control (EBC) system between off and level three, for instance, or the reworked Ducati Traction Control (DTC) system between off and level eight.