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 Sorry, Ducatisti, the new 1199 Panigale is endowed with a monocoque frame similar to the now outdated GP11 (although the unit is constructed from aluminum rather than carbon fiber).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.
A world-class entrant
The Panigale’s TFT display...
The Panigale’s TFT display isn’t affected by direct sunlight and is extremely easy to navigate. The readout varies depending on which mode is selected. In Race mode, for instance, the tachometer readout puts more emphasis on the higher revs, and the lap timer becomes the primary focus.
Ergonomics are atypical for the Italian manufacturer, and are surprisingly formidable. Contributing to this feel is the new seat, which has been pushed 30mm forward to shorten the reach to the clip-ons. Those clip-ons now sit some 10mm higher too, plus stretch 16mm wider at each end. The result is less weight on your wrists and a surprising amount of leg room.
My first chance to throw a leg over the Panigale S was at the bike’s recently held World Launch in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The launch was track-oriented, with no street ride to help decipher how the redesigned Panigale will handle the daily grind. Based on how well the 1199 worked while lapping the scenic Yas Marina Circuit however, we have few reasons to believe the bike will fall short in any environment.
The 1199cc Panigale engine...
The 1199cc Panigale engine uses the same 90-degree V-twin configuration and desmodromic valve system as previous Ducatis, but everything else is new. The massively oversquare engine is full of innovations and offers up 25 additional horsepower over the 1198cc engine it replaces.
What sets the Panigale apart most from its predecessors is its engine; no V-twin (aside from a WSBK-spec machine, perhaps) has ever felt the way this new Superquadro engine does. That surplus of torque down low that had the 1198 in a wheelie out of every corner is noticeably gone. There’s just enough of it left to get a decent drive out of hairpin corners, but power doesn’t really ramp up until the tachometer climbs past the 7000 rpm mark. From there up to the bike’s 11,500 rpm rev limiter, power comes in abundance. According to Ducati, the Panigale makes 195 horsepower at 10,750 rpm (at the crank). Compare that to the 2011 Ducati 1198 we tested last year (“The Empire Strikes Back," July ’11), which spun our
SuperFlow dyno to the tune of 147 horsepower at 9600 rpm.
The concern most people have with the Panigale is not with its power, but rather its monocoque construction. After all, the concept was debunked in 2012 by the MotoGP team. I can tell you though, after spending an hour lapping the demanding Yas Marina Circuit, that the differences between the monocoque design and trellis frame are minimal. In fact, if you were to hop onto the Panigale blindfolded (without looking at the …err… chassis), you’d likely never realize there was no frame beneath you. Feedback from the front is superb on the brakes, and while it feels like the aluminum headstock binds briefly off the throttle, that distinct feel disappears as you get back on the gas.
The base model’s Sachs rear...
The base model’s Sachs rear shock is replaced by an Öhlins TTX36 shock that also utilizes Ducati’s Electronic Suspension (DES) system.
The Panigale is hands down the most agile mass-production Ducati ever built; this despite the fact that geometry is relatively similar to the 1198’s. The wheelbase measures 1437mm (versus 1430 on the 1198), whereas rake measures an identical (to the 1198) 24.5 degrees. Trail conversely climbs from 97mm to 100mm. The biggest advantage, however, is those 22 pounds that separate the Panigale from the 1198. The result is effortless transitions from left to right and vice versa.
As impressive as the new engine and chassis are, it’s the new electronics that really impressed me. Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Engine Brake Control (EBC) and Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) all come standard on the base model Panigale. ABS is a $1000 option on the base and S model, but comes standard on the more up-spec Tricolore model. The S model also has the aforesaid Ducati Electronic Suspension, and the Tricolore comes standard with Ducati Data Analyser + (DDA+). Each system works superbly, without hindering the ride. The EBC is perhaps my favorite addition for 2012 however, and I messed with the system for two different on-track sessions. When turned to “Off,” the bike reacts more like the 1198 when entering a corner, with tons of engine braking. Levels two and three conversely provide the feel of a Japanese four-cylinder. What this equates to is a motorcycle that can almost perfectly be tuned to suit the rider’s needs.
More to come…
A 50mm pressurized Marzocchi...
A 50mm pressurized Marzocchi fork comes standard on the base model Panigale, but is replaced by an electronically adjustable Öhlins NIX30 fork on the S or Tricolore model. New Brembo monobloc calipers bite on enormous 330mm discs; ABS is a $1000 option on either the base or standard model.
I don’t think there has ever before been a production motorcycle that feels as refined as the new Panigale. Granted, the technology and performance comes at a cost; MSRP for the standard Panigale is set at $17,995, whereas the S model will set you back an additional $5000, at $22,995. And the more heavily equipped Tricolore model? That rings in at $27,995. Price aside however, the Ducati Panigale is the bike we’ve long been waiting for.
For a full first ride report on the 1199 Panigale, look for the June ’12 issue of Sport Rider Magazine.
As impressive as the new engine and chassis are, it’s the new electronics that really impressed me "