Ducati is a company that values tradition, and for more than three decades, tradition has dictated the Italian manufacturer’s sportbikes have a desmodromic, 90-degree V-twin, tubular-steel trellis frame and rattling, dry clutch. The formula’s effectiveness is indisputable, as the Borgo Panigale-based firm has won no fewer than 14 World Superbike Championships. With such a successful formula, why would Ducati even think of changing it?
Rumors of the 1199 Panigale started circulating in 2011, painting pictures of a radically reconfigured superbike. Spy photos substantiated the gossip, revealing the kind of revolutionary, giant-leap-forward engineering not seen since the introduction of the original 851 in 1988. When the 1199 debuted at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi this spring, it was nothing short of spectacular. The Panigale doesn’t just break the mold—it pulverizes it!
Ducati’s first all-new sportbike in nearly 25 years is unlike anything that came before it, and a complete departure from the previous 1198. The signature trellis frame—a constant since the late-’70s Pantahs—is gone, replaced by … nothing. Like the legendary Britten V1100 and the Vincent Black Shadow before it, the Panigale’s supporting structures bolt directly to the engine’s cylinder heads and crankcase. The new 1199cc engine still splays its cylinders at 90 degrees and operates its valves via desmodromics, but that’s it. The 112mm bore is a full 6mm wider than the 1198’s, while the stroke is more than 7mm shorter. Redline has been raised to 11,500 rpm, making this the highest-revving production V-twin ever. And with 158 bhp and 80 lb.-ft. of torque, it’s the most powerful, too. Cams are turned by roller chains and gears rather than belts, and a wet clutch replaces the old dry one. So long, trademark jingle-jangle rattle and cam-belt changes; hello, smooth engagement and longer service intervals.
The 1199 looks completely different from the 1198 it replaces, and it feels different, too. Where Ducati’s previous superbikes were long and tall, the Panigale resembles an exceptionally narrow 600cc middleweight, with a much more comfortable, almost humane riding position. It handles differently and produces power in a way that’s opposite from the Ducati norm as well.
The Panigale is rife with fresh thinking and cutting-edge technology. The S-model boasts electronically adjustable suspension and adjustable electronic engine-braking control, LED lighting, smaller, more rigid M50 front brake calipers custom-made by Brembo and a MotoGP-derived oil pump that distributes oil and creates a vacuum in the crankcase to reduce pumping losses. The list of features and technology is extensive, if not necessarily all-new. Ducati employed a full-color TFT dash on its 2011 Diavel, and switchable drive modes, TC, ABS and electronic quick-shifters are almost standard fare on sportbikes now. What makes the Panigale so impressive is that it brings all these features together, along with the groundbreaking chassis and engine design, to create what is undeniably the most impressive motorcycle on the market today, regardless of genre.
It took guts for Ducati to build this motorcycle. It was no doubt difficult for the designers and engineers to step away from so many time-honored traditions and set off for entirely new and uncharted territory. But it’s clear that once they did, they never looked back. The result isn’t just an incredible new superbike; it’s a superbike that’s leading Ducati—and the motorcycle industry as a whole—in a new direction.
You could call it cutting-edge, earth-shattering, groundbreaking or revolutionary. We call it our 2012 Motorcycle of the Year.