Ducati 1199 Panigale Review

$24k superbike tested by Patrick Littlejohn at Yas Marina

By Patrick Littlejohn

Ducati have unleashed their next generation 1199 Panigale Superbike to the world’s media here in Abu Dhabi on the fantastic Formula One circuit at Yas Marina. With some 21 corners set over 5.5km and the longest straight in F1 at 1.2km Ducati have brought several dozen Panigale S along with special edition performance versions.

The circuit is an unforgiving proving ground with long straights, hairpins and chicanes with both off-camber and on camber turns for the bike and it shows Ducati’s confidence in choosing the location for the first rides of this brand new superbike.

Ducati’s previous top of the range superbike the 1198 has run it’s production course and has gradually been overtaken by it’s competition, namely the BMW S1000RR and Kawasaki ZX10R two bikes that have been lauded in the last couple of years as breaking new ground in performance, traction control and power.

The 1198 was certainly not tame, I previously compared it to an angry raging bull, extremely quick and with decent traction control when it was released though highly aggressive the road rider had to be extremely careful where to plant the animal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlDJTsDEZu0?rel=0

Ducati released its new 1199 Panigale superbike to the world at the end of last year but we’ve had to wait until now to find out how it performs. On first look the specs of this bike are extremely impressive, 195hp with a dry weight of 164kg put’s this Ducati back at the top of the power to weight tables.
Ducati have managed to make significant weight savings as well as redesigning their signature L Twin Desmodromic motor boosting the output by a further 25hp over it’s previous generation 1198.

The bike has been redesigned from the ground up and Ducati say with a blank canvas for the engineers, retaining the L Twin cylinder setup which produces such a unique exhaust note, deep and throaty over the high pitched whine of the 4 cylinder Japanese.

However the engine has been tilted a few degrees to improve the centre of gravity and to allow the engine to become effectively the frame of the bike. Using this ‘Monocoque’ frame technique which no other current motorcycle manufacturer uses for production bikes has allowed Ducati to save significant weight as there is now no tubular frame to hold the engine in place and chassis to connect all the other parts of the bike.

What’s curious is that despite the less than successful use of the Monocoque frame in Moto GP Ducati have stuck with the idea for the 1199 and indeed in testing I and other biking journalists have little to complain about, indeed quite the opposite. On interrogation the technical guys as Ducati suggest that the Moto GP complaints of loss of front end feel were more down to the design of the Bridgestone tires than any other factor.

Instead of a traditional frame the front fork headers connect via the cleverly incorporated airbox now part of the engine casing to allow further weight reduction, to the top of the horizontal cylinder while the single sided swingarm connects directly to the rear of the engine.

The new ‘Superquadro’ engine in comparison to it’s 1198 cousin has shorter but squarer cylinders to allow for increased internal efficiency and a higher RPM limit, magnesium alloy has been used to reduce weight in engine casings with titanium on the valves to allow for the increase in engine forces.

The compact exhaust has been designed to sit under the bike in front of the rear wheel which both saves weight in piping and a lower centre of gravity. In the overall design of the new Panigale Ducati have extensively used their experience, design and production techniques from their MotoGP bikes.

This is clear from the increased power output of 195hp which is quite an achievement to weight savings everywhere in areas like the airbox, starter system, forks and design. Additionally the service interval has been extended to 24,000km in the main due to the use of a timing chain over belts in order to cope with the increased power, a first for Ducati.

The Panigale is undoubtedly a good looking bike with clean lines, curves and a well proportioned appearance. In the flesh it’s small for a litre class bike, the front it fairy wide in appearance as the back is extremely thin.

The riders position is snug, forward and the seat fairly low for a superbike which results in less pressure on the forearms while riding. A bright colour TFT dash screen means that depending on riding mode the display is configured to the riders needs, putting an emphasis on road speed in wet and road modes while in race mode on lap time.

The electronics package varies with models, ABS is optional but was included in our test bikes the Panigale S which also includes the new electronic suspension. All versions come with traction control which include the new EBC ‘Engine Braking Control’ a clever application of a small amount of assisted throttle under heavy breaking, this helps to control the sideways movement from the rear.

Greeted with around 30 new Panigale test bikes the pit garage at Yas Marina was a sea of red, on our test day the weather decided to take a turn for the worse and we were enveloped in a sand storm coating the track in a slippery layer of fine dust. Our bikes were set to race mode, ABS on but the traction control set to a minimum level 1 and at no point during the day did I feel it interfered too much, indeed while the light flickered quite a bit I hardly noticed any difference while riding.

The Panigale’s sound is fantastic and any Ducati fan will appreciate the deep howl that it produces, it sounds like a grunting boar on steroids and reverberates with a small rumble while sitting on the bike. One of the first surprises is how comfortable the bike is to sit on and ride, the next biggest surprise is how smoothly the 195hp is delivered and how easy despite the huge power it is to just get on the bike and go.

Power delivery was on the whole excellent, there is a huge amount of torque and from low revs and low speed out of a corner in a higher gear the Panigale will sling you up to 200kph very quickly and onto 300kph if you wish.

The single biggest issue of the day was however keeping the power in check in 2nd gear, you’d have to be a much heavier rider than me to keep the front end down and this usually resulted in having to short shift up to 3rd.

On the 4th corner after exiting the pit tunnel is a hairpin leading to a 1.2km straight, it’s a 2nd gear corner and the exit is the first chance to really pin the throttle and see what the bike can do. Every single lap I encountered the same front wheel popping issue, sometimes I short shifted and others I let the front come up, when the photographer was snapping of course!

In corners the 1199 is quick and turning is like a 600, quick to turn and on chicanes it proved effortless to flick from one side to the other. The bike is extremely well centred and balanced, in the difficult test conditions I had several ‘moments’ cutting the apex of the turns a little too much.

On a full left hand lean of an off camber corner the front wheel shifted half a meter right, the rear followed but the bike along with it’s excellent Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires corrected itself without so much of a whistle of complaint.
As rider while I’d rather not repeat the experience it left me with a confidence that you can chuck this red blooded Italian into the most unnatural of situations and it’ll come through without braking into a sweat.

The Panigale also showed its composure under heavy breaking, the new brembo brakes are simply fantastic and are very very good at stopping when applying the anchors from a high speed straight into a low speed corner, even with the tail wobbling away behind wanting to overtake the rest everything felt controlled.

I have no idea whether the EBC system kicked in or not though this is exactly the conditions where it should apply the smallest amounts of throttle to keep the bike in check, the rider is left uninterrupted to concentrate on turning into the corner ahead.

Ducati fans and bikers alike will not be disappointed with this latest incarnation from the depths of northern Italy. At a time when bike manufactures are changing their configurations and direction to the smaller engines for the Asian market the Panigale blows caution to the wind and is an exceptionally packaged bike.

It looks amazing, has massive amounts of torque and power on tap, handles and feels like a smaller bike yet performs like a small rocket with poise and plenty of feel. The brakes are incredible and the electronics are unobtrusive and smooth, only once did I actively feel it engage on the exit of a corner reducing the throttle just a bit for a few moments but it didn’t spoil the fun or hinder the rider but really helps in getting the most from the bike.

If I had one complaint or area that could be improved it would be the brutish power delivery in 2nd gear, having said this though I had no issues of control in 2nd gear through corners, roll on of the throttle is smooth. Higher up in third and the whole of 4th gear the acceleration is pure joy and the torque just keeps on pushing you on.

The 1199 Panigale kicks ahead of the competition and brings refinement to the power and performance of its top Superbike. Production for the Panigale started in January with delivery soon, additionally Abu Dhabi will be getting it’s own Ducati showroom opening shortly which will shorten the trek considerably for those in the capital.

In the UAE Prices for the Panigale start from 87,900AED ($23,950)
Photos: Ducati / Patrick Littlejohn

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