2013 Ducati 1199 Panigale R | First Ride

The Panigale Gets Prepped For World Superbike

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Andrew Wheeler, Milagro

In addition to the hardware changes, Ducati engineers also made some ergonomic adjustments on the R model to improve both aerodynamics and rider comfort, especially beyond triple-digit speeds. Included "wind wings" attach to the upper fairing to reroute airflow around the rider's hands and shoulders while an optional taller race windscreen (which should be considered mandatory) creates a larger bubble of still air than the marginal protection afforded by the stock piece. Also, a special saddle with a firmer pad and a toothier cover improve the rider's primary point of contact. Still, the Panigale remains a very small bike, with a tiny waist and a short front-to-center distance that will make anyone over six feet feel cramped. Such is the price of speed.

Improved aerodynamics are especially appreciated on COTA's super-long back straight where, if you get a good drive out of Turn 11, you can watch the speed readout on the easy to decipher thin-film-transistor (TFT) instrument display go blank after it passes 186 mph. (MotoGP rider Nicky Hayden, who also attended the launch and who presumably gets an even better drive out of T11, tells us the Panigale R continues to accelerate even after the screen goes blank, suggesting that Ducati has opted out of the gentleman's agreement that electronically limits top-speed to 300 kph, or 186 mph.)

"Seems fast enough for any streetbike," Hayden says, and we agree. The Panigale was already frightfully fast, but the revvier R version with quicker crankshaft acceleration and even shorter gearing absolutely rips through the rev range. Thankfully, there's an electronic quickshifter-in fact, there's not a single racing gadget the R isn't equipped with-so you don't have to bother the clutch for upshifts. Instead, you can concentrate on gripping the wide, flat clip-on handlebars to keep your weight forward in a vain attempt to keep the front wheel in contact with the ground. Thankfully, there's also an adjustable Öhlins steering damper to manage the slight headshake that accompanies any bike this light, this stiff, and with such a tenuous relationship between front tire and tarmac.

What would any exclusive, R-model Ducati be without some added bling? We're wild for the brushed-metal "graphics" on the fuel tank, fabricated here from super-light aluminum. And of course the R has been fed a steady diet of weight-saving carbon fiber, in the form of fenders (front and rear), inner fairing panels, the ignition surround, rear shock guard, heel guards, and a large swingarm cover. Also made from carbon fiber is the new and now-much-larger exhaust heat shield, which will hopefully alleviate some of the punishing radiant heat that plagued riders of last year's bikes (for which this new shield is an available retrofit). And, if you're going to the track, know the Ducati Data Analyzer + (DDA+, with GPS functionality for automatic lap timing and circuit mapping) is standard equipment here.

And the racetrack is really where this bike shines. Sleek, responsive, blistering fast, and uncannily stable even at footpeg-dragging lean angles, the 1199 Panigale R feels more like a dedicated racebike than any other production bike we've ridden. If its World Superbike debut this season at Philip Island is any indication-Carlos Checa qualified on the pole and turned a lap time (on qualifying tires) fast enough to place him on the front row of the last year's MotoGP race-Ducati has hit its mark with this bike.

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