Ducati 1199 Panigale S | First Ride

Not Evolution—Revolution

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Milagro

During a season when many Arab nations were upset by political uprisings, the otherwise stable United Arab Emirates was rocked by a revolution of another kind: the release of Ducati’s 1199 Panigale S at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. Every few decades a bike appears that is so bold, so original and so utterly effective that it can only be called revolutionary. Ducati’s Panigale is that bike.

Not since the original 1985 GSX-R750 have we seen a machine so completely reject conventional sportbike wisdom and blaze off in a new direction. Ducati has done away with the frame entirely, replacing it with a monocoque structure attached directly to the V-twin engine. Inside those structural cases is the most radical production motorcycle engine ever built. The biggest bore, biggest valves and highest engine speed of any sporting V-twin produces a claimed 195 horsepower. A suite of sophisticated technology—including electronically adjustable suspension, plus traction control, race ABS and more—makes the Panigale S more adaptable than any bike before. And it flat-out works, brilliantly. This is what a revolutionary sportbike looks like.

In a segment accustomed to incremental advances—a little more power here, a few less pounds there—the Panigale is a remarkable leap forward. Ducati’s outgoing 1198 was already the lightest superbike. The Panigale is said to weigh 22 lbs. less. The 1198’s 170-horsepower Testastretta engine was singularly strong. The Panigale’s Superquadro twin piles another 25 horsepower on top of that. Ducati believes it has created a new benchmark superbike. After riding it, we’re ready to agree.

Ducati’s superbikes have always been stunning designs, and the Giandrea Fabbropenned Panigale is the best one yet. It maintains the 1198’s land-shark silhouette (also by Fabbro), but a sharper nose and tail make it more sinister. Compact, all-LED lighting—an industry first—let head- and taillights disappear almost entirely into the fairing vents, so the Panigale looks like a pure racebike from many angles. Details like the see-through tailsection tunnels, peekaboo exhaust routing and sculptural swingarm make the Panigale pure pleasure for the eyes.

Aside from red paint and a few vestigial styling cues, nothing carries over from the previous generation—not a single part. The Panigale is a clean-sheet design, and Ducati’s first truly all-new Superbike since the 851 was built 25 years ago. Just a few fundamentals like the 90-degree V-twin, desmodromic valvetrain and the essential Ducati sound and character were retained. Everything else was reimagined. The result is unmistakably Ducati, yet utterly unlike any Ducati that has come before.

The riding position is the first sign that the blueprint has changed. The old torture-rack position, with a high, flat seat and low,close-set bars, is banished. The saddle has been pushed forward 30mm and the handlebars raised 10mm and set 32mm further apart, creating a more upright riding position that opens your upper body and gives you a commanding sense of control. It’s smaller than before, not quite tiny but probably tight for anyone over 6 feet tall. The new position is much more comfortable for average-sized riders, however, and makes the bike far easier to ride than before.

Thumb the starter for more new sensations. The thunderous Superquadro is instantly identifiable as a desmo twin, but it sounds deeper at idle and nastier when revved. And with a bore/stroke ratio of 1.84:1—more aggressive than any other production bike, by far—the Superquadro loves to be revved out. According to Ducati supplied dyno charts, the 98.1-lb.ft. torque peak matches the Testastretta but arrives 1500 rpm later, at 9000 rpm. The Superquadro’s horsepower trace, however, towers over its forebear everywhere above 8000 rpm. Where the Testastretta ran out of steam at 9750 rpm, the Superquadro produces thrust right up to 11,000 and barely falls off before the 11,500-rpm redline, which is 1000 revs higher than before.

Such a milestone machine deserves a magnificent debut, which is how we ended up at Abu Dhabi’s exclusive, perfectly manicured Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit. The 3.4-mile, 21-turn layout—including a wide-open, .7-mile back straight that puts you deep into sixth gear—was the perfect showcase for the Panigale’s many attributes. Even an ill-timed sandstorm with 30-mph winds dumping a fine layer of Arabian silt over the track surface couldn’t conceal the Panigale’s pure performance prowess.

The Superquadro doesn’t have the same steam-catapult thrust at lower revs as its predecessor, but more manageable midrange makes it much easier to ride fast. You often had to ride the old bike a gear high, especially at tight tracks, to keep it from stepping out mid-corner or wheelying and running wide. The Superquadro’s less violent midrange helps it off corners, while the manic upper-rev rush delivers ferocious forward motion when the bike is upright. With a claimed lightest-in-class curb weight of just 414.5 lbs. and a power-toweight ratio unmatched by any other super-bike, acceleration is eye-opening. The Panigale wheelies hard through the top of second gear—there is no wheelie control—and the front end dances every time you tap the standard-equipment electronic quick-shifter, all the way to 175 mph.

Lighter makes everything righter, and deleting 22 lbs. improves everything from acceleration to braking to handling and stability. You’d never describe previous Ducatis as neutral or forgiving, but the Panigale is both. It feels almost twitchy at first. High, wide bars give lots of steering leverage, while a low center of gravity and even lower inertial moment make it dart into corners, especially at a slower pace. The chassis can be easy to upset when you move around, so you quickly learn to hang off less and use the ample available lean angle to turn, just like a MotoGP bike. The Panigale is impressively stable even at very deep lean angles, aided by the latest-generation Ducati Traction Control that remains smooth and predictable even in the lowest settings that allow significant tire slip.

Rear end feedback is outstanding. A sausage-sized, 200mm-wide Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP, now with 24 percent more slick area than before, mounts to a longer swingarm supported by a super-responsive Ohlins TTX shock. The rear end feels solid when it’s gripping and progressive and controllable after grip goes away. The front end feedback is just as good. Fork offset has been reduced 6mm (to 30mm) and trail increased 3mm (to 100mm), making the Panigale more responsive to steering input without sacrificing stability. The 1198 could be hard to turn. You had to hang way off and pull the bike down into corners, especially at high speeds. Just a push on the inside bar puts the Panigale right where you want to go.

New Brembo M50 brakes, exclusive to the Panigale, are the best brakes we’ve experienced on a production bike—ever. These are as strong as the BMW S1000RR’s benchmark binders without such an overwhelming initial bite, and even more effective due to the Panigale’s light weight and reduced forward weight transfer. The Panigale sheds an amazing amount of speed in a remarkably short distance, especially when utilizing the optional ($1000) Bosch race ABS. A supremely effective slipper clutch and three-level-adjustable Engine Braking Control combine to make the Panigale unbelievably stable and calm even during the hardest corner entries. Confidence, defined.

The Panigale is a brilliant update of the classic Ducati superbike, smoothing away all the hard edges and adding even more speed and soul. Reinventing an icon was a huge undertaking for Ducati, and an enormous risk. So much could have gone wrong, but the small firm from Borgo Panigale, Bologna’s “Motor Valley,” succeeded in every way. It’s lighter, faster, more capable and more accessible than its predecessor—and likely its competition—and it’s still viscerally, unmistakably a Ducati. The next sportbike revolution starts now, and the 1199 Panigale is leading the way.

DUCATI 1199 PANIGALE S DUCATI 1199 PANIGALE S | Hard Parts Undressing the World's Most Sophisticated Superbike

CHASSIS Like two other iconic V-twin superbikes—the Britten and the Vincent Black Shadow—the Panigale has no frame. The steel trellis, a Ducati signature since the ‘70s, has been replaced by a diecast-aluminum monocoque/ airbox that bolts directly to the cylinder heads, saving a substantial 11 lbs. The diecast aluminum subframe attaches to the rear cylinder head and the single-sided aluminum swingarm, now 39mm longer than before, hangs from the transmission. The 90-degree V-twin has been rotated rearward slightly, allowing it to move 32mm closer to the front wheel. This change, along with switching from underseat to under-engine exhaust and moving the saddle 30mm forward, improves fore/aft weight distribution to 52/48 for more responsive steering. A super-light, 1.3-lb. magnesium fairing bracket further centralizes mass.

ENGINE The name says it all. “Superquadro” refers to radically oversquare, 112 x 60.8mm engine geometry that makes this the most powerful, highest-revving production V-twin ever made. The massive bore means massive valve area—titanium intake valves now measure 46.8mm across, and exhaust valves are 38.2mm—for huge gains in volumetric efficiency. Precise desmodromic valve actuation remains, but this is the first modern-era Ducati without belt-driven cams. Higher revs and bigger valves demand a shift from belts to a stronger chain drive, with the added benefit of increased service intervals and reduced maintenance costs. New pistons are WSBK-spec, made from the same super-light RR58 alloy as race-kit pieces. Innovation abounds: a dual oil pump design developed for MotoGP lubricates the engine and keeps the crankcase under vacuum to reduce pumping losses, and a clever centrifugal decompressor on each exhaust cam dramatically reduces compression resistance during start-up, allowing a miniscule starter and tiny battery that together save seven pounds. High-tech polymer plastic oil- and water-pump drive gears save even more weight, as do magnesium clutch covers, cylinder head covers and oil pan. New oval-section, dual-injector throttle bodies measure a gaping 67.5mm, up from an already-huge 63.9mm. The new under-engine exhaust system is a work of industrial art. Tapered stainless headers enter a three-chamber silencer from the rear, and an architecturally complex muffler provides clearance for the deep-sump engine, lean angle and adequate exhaust volume in minimal space. The six-speed gearbox is all new with larger-diameter cogs for increased durability, and dry clutch is gone—no more tell-tale rattle— replaced with a wet unit that incorporates a progressive torque-assist to reduce lever effort.

SUSPENSION The 1199 Panigale S is the first production sportbike equipped with electronically adjustable suspension. The Öhlins NIX30 inverted fork and side-mounted Öhlins TTX36 mono-shock are fit with Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) that uses stepper motors to instantly alter compression and rebound damping at the push of a button. No more searching for extra-long screwdrivers or lying on the ground and fiddling with tiny hex keys—you don’t even have to leave the saddle to toggle between 28 levels of damping, all displayed on the Panigale’s cutting-edge, full-color Thin Film Transistor (TFT) dash. Manually adjustable rear suspension linkage offers two configurations: progressive action for street riding and flat-rate action for track use.

BRAKES Brembo M50 Monobloc calipers—developed exclusively for the 1199 Panigale—are extremely compact and more rigid, too. Optional race-grade ABS, developed by Bosch, operates on two channels and uses four sensors (one for each caliper and master cylinder) for exceptional sensitivity and response. ABS functionality varies depending on ride mode. Braking is combined (the front lever also activates the rear brake) in Wet and Sport modes, while Race mode separates the front and rear brakes and deactivates the rear ABS circuit. ABS can be switched off completely as well.

ELECTRONICS Ride-by-wire throttle control lets the rider alter power delivery according the three power modes: Race (195 bhp with aggressive delivery); Sport (195 bhp with smooth delivery); or Wet (120 bhp with soft delivery). Changing power mode also changes the parameters of Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Engine Brake Control (EBC), Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) and ABS activation, engaging either default presets or your own customized settings depending on how you’ve programmed the system. DTC offers eight levels of sensitivity. EBC, which cracks the throttle butterflies to increase engine rpm during deceleration, offers three levels of assistance or can be deactivated entirely. Altering DTC, DES and EBC settings is quick and easy via the left switchgear, with options clearly displayed on the intuitively arranged TFT instrument panel.

tech Spec

The first “all-new” Ducati superbike in 25 years, with a monocoque chassis, radical V-twin engine and sophisticated electronics that push the performance envelope in every way.
Aprilia RSV4R, BMW S1000RR, Honda CBR1000RR, Kawasaki ZX-10R, KTM RC8R, Suzuki GSX-R1000, Yamaha YZF-R1

Price $22,995 ($23,995 w/ABS)
Engine type l-c 90-deg. V-twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v
Displacement 1199cc
Bore x stroke 112.0 x 60.8mm
Compression 12.5:1
Fuel system EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 195 bhp @ 10,750 rpm
Claimed torque 98.1 lb.-ft. @ 9000 rpm
Frame Aluminum monocoque
Front suspension Öhlins NIX30 43mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Öhlins TTX36 shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial calipers, 330mm discs
Rear brake Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm disc
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rear tire 200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail 24.5°/3.94 in.
Seat height 32.5 in.
Wheelbase 56.6 in.
Fuel capacity 4.5 gal.
Claimed curb weight 415 lbs.
Color Red
Available Now
Warranty 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact Ducati North America
10443 Bandley Dr.
Cupertino, CA 95014
VERDICT 5 out of 5 stars.

Sexy, soulful, wicked fast and easy to ride? The outstanding 1199 Panigale over-delivers in every way.

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