We’ve just stepped off the latest Ducati. . . and are itching to get on again. Yes, our first impression of Ducati’s all-new flagship – the 1199 Panigale – after riding it at Abu Dhabi’s sprawling Yas Marina racing facility is a lasting impression.
Named after the region that is Ducati home ground in Bologna, the compact 1199 Panigale joins a select lot of the most seductive-looking production motorcycles on the planet. The aggressive race track-bred lines and fairing cloak a bike that pushes the envelope in terms of technology, performance and handling. The 1199 rides on darkened, slim spoke alloy rims. Twin silencer boxes exit the fairing belly sides, keeping the motorcycle’s centre of gravity close to the deck. The rear cylinder exhaust pipe coils under the split seat, while part of the forward cylinder exhaust pipe peeps through a slit in the fairing. The Panigale gets all-LED lighting, and Ducati-typical top-drawer grips, switches and levers. And the functional mirrors allow decent rear view.
The 1199 Panigale does not use Ducati’s traditional trellis tubular frame, instead deploying a monocoque chassis as on the factory’s MotoGP bike. The engine bolts in as an integral, stressed member of the frame. In the front, adjustable upside-down front forks run up to the tastefully cut-out and machined steering clamp, from where the frame reaches to the engine, a massive, alloy single-side swingarm and near-horizontal rear suspension.
This bike is equipped with almost every conceivable electronic riding aid, with state-of-the-art Riding Modes controlling the Ducati Traction Control, DTC and ABS brakes. The sporty, full colour, digital instruments are a central command centre, displaying all a rider needs to know, including the latest-generation Ducati Data Analyzer system.
The revolutionary four-stroke, 1198cc, 90deg L-twin, liquid-cooled engine named Superquadro is radically over-square: bore and stroke measures 112mm x 60.8mm. Power output is an insane-on-a-motorcycle 195bhp delivered at 10750rpm, just under the 11500rpm rev limiter, making this the world’s most powerful twin-cylinder motorcycle engine, with 13.5kgm of peak torque at 9000rpm.
Large diameter titanium inlet valves are standard for the Desmodromic valvetrain, pushed by Polymeric-Like Carbon (PLC) treated, ‘super-finished’ rocker arms.
The camshafts are powered by an unconventional chain and gear drive arrangement. The oval throttle body is a massive 67.5mm, and Ride-by-Wire throttle control is standard on this fuel-injected motorcycle. Large diameter gears transmit the 1199’s prodigious power and a wet-type, slipper clutch is standard.
Much of the Superquadro’s engine casing is lightweight magnesium alloy cast. The sturdy, vacuum die-cast crankcases save weight, offering consistent wall thickness. The Superquadro uses Nikasil-coated, aluminium wet-liners inbuilt into its crankcase tops, allowing secure fastening of the cylinder head directly to the crankcase.
We can confirm this Ducati provides a light clutch-feel at the lever. The slipper clutch system functions perfectly, never allowing engine deceleration to rob the motorcycle of any stability despite hammering down the gearbox under hard braking. The six gears are well spaced, the ratios tall enough to allow the powerful new engine to unleash its full potential. The Panigale twin exhausts sound glorious when giving the bike some whip, goading the rider to rev the bike high and hard. And Ducati’s Riding Modes help deliver all the 1199’s mega power to the tarmac, appropriately mapping the engine to suit individual riding styles in every riding condition.
The 1199 is a blisteringly quick motorcycle that had us routinely hurtling down the long straight at Yas Marina, effortlessly achieving speeds of around 250kph, with loads of power in reserve! The front wheel refused to stay firmly grounded in the first three gears, and it took a good deal of concentration and expert throttle modulation to keep the bike from lunging into power wheelies until post 200kph. There’s fearsome performance on tap at all times, in every gear – this clearly isn’t a bike for the fainthearted. The power band is wide, with cracking throttle response, a seamless surge of brute force beginning from just over idle, reaching all the way up to the limiter and never farther away than a flick of the wrist. The 1199 blasts out of corners with gusto, the L-twin making stressful demands from the rear tyre and putting its traction control system to good use.
The lengthy single-side swingarm promotes forward weight distribution on the bantamweight 1199. This along with the new frame, optimised chassis geometry and top-drawer, ultra-sticky Pirelli rubber front and rear allow Ducati’s latest superbike to out-handle all its predecessors and match even its most seasoned Japanese rivals. The Panigale isn’t a comfortable motorcycle to pilot, its riding position being outright sporty with a track-perfect lean-forward-into-the-handlebars stance that puts significant stress on the rider’s wrists and keeps as much rider weight forward as possible. However, the steering damped, true clip-on handlebars feel reassuringly wide, always a good thing on a powerful motorcycle like this. You won’t believe this is a full-grown 1198cc motorcycle considering the Panigale feels so amazingly light, provides reassuring handling and amazes with its track manners.
The ABS brakes work like a treat, with radial-mounted calipers biting into the twin 330mm discs in the front. A couple of fingers to squeeze the front brake lever were adequate to effectively bring the Panigale down from 200kph-plus speeds on our cautious laps on a wind swept Yas Marina circuit.
Set for its Indian debut in a few months, the 1199 has little worthy competition. There are very few chinks in this fiercely quick motorcycle’s armour but even skilled riders could find it a struggle to take this potent machine close to its full capabilities. Don’t expect comfort though, and don’t buy a 1199 Panigale if massive doses of speed aren’t quite your thing. This top-class supersports motorcycle makes a perfect machine for Indian riders scouting for a supremely talented track-day companion.
Look out for the full ride story in our upcoming April 2012 issue.