Ducati 1199 Panigale R
For red-blooded superbike enthusiasts, nothing compares to an R-model Ducati. These are the racing homologation specials, designed specifically for on-track performance. For the Panigale R, this means a superlight aluminum fuel tank—note the bare-metal “graphics”—an adjustable swingarm pivot, and, inside the engine cases, titanium connecting rods and a lighter flywheel to let the Superquadro V-twin rev even higher, now to 12,000 rpm.
We were critical of the over-committed Panigale S during street testing last year, and the R’s track-biased changes only make street riders suffer more. Sensitive throttle activation, and almost no flywheel weight make the R difficult to launch and hard to ride smoothly in stop-and-go traffic. Coupled with an ass-annihilating saddle (firmer for “better feedback”) and excessive heat from the rear header—though less than last year, thanks to revised heat shielding—commuting on the Panigale is a chore, even if the wide, flat bars and ample legroom create an otherwise comfortable cockpit.
Everything changes, however, after you exit I-10 and enter Chuckwalla’s Turn 1. Ducati claims electronic manipulation has increased midrange power. We wouldn’t know—the R rips through the midrange too fast to tell! Thank goodness, then, for the Ducati Quick Shifter (DQS) and an extra-light clutch lever for rowing back downward. It takes a few laps to adapt to the 431-pound Panigale’s handling behavior. The lack of mass makes it more responsive, and more forgiving, too. You can almost always adjust your line, and no matter how hot you think you overcook a corner, the awesome Brembo M50 Monoblocks and flawless race ABS—the best stoppers here—always step up.
The Panigale wasn’t perfect on track, feeling a bit jittery at full lean—perhaps because there’s no frame to dampen lateral loads? And occasionally the traction control and rear suspension argued with each other, causing some pogoing on corner exits. The R-exclusive adjustable swingarm pivot provides two lower positions said to increase rear-end stability under power, but a compressed schedule kept us from altering this setting. Still, no one ever hesitated to jump on the Panigale R for a few laps, it was so rewarding to ride fast.
It’s ironic that Ducati, a company revered for its iconic steel-tube trellis frames, deleted the frame entirely when designing the Panigale, its first new-from-the-ground-up superbike in two decades. Instead of a frame, the Panigale features a monocoque aluminum structure bolted to the front cylinder that locates the steering head and doubles as an airbox; an abbreviated subframe bolts the rear cylinder, while the swingarm pivots on the transmission. Sturdy, vacuum die-cast Vacural engine cases turn the Superquadro V-twin into a very stressed member. In addition to increasing stiffness dramatically, deleting the frame saves 22 lbs. over the previous 1198. Who’s going to miss a rack of tubes with numbers like that?