Make no mistake about it: motorcycle racing is at the nucleus of Ducati. Never is this more evident than the release of the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale Superbike. This fifth generation Italian-built sportbike makes use of radical technologies born from success in World Superbike and MotoGP competition. For the full tech analysis read the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale Superbike First Look and 2012 Ducati 1199 Superquadro Engine Info analysis as this review focuses on the hour-long riding impression aboard the up-spec S model ($22,995) from the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Historically Ducati sportbikes have demanded an awkward riding position, but that ends with the Panigale. In fact, the interaction between rider and machine is one area of substantial improvement.
Grab a hold of the handlebars and the riding position is more ‘Japanese’ than ever before. It’s still one of the slimmest feeling literbikes around, but the lofty seat, elongated handlebar reach and sky-high foot controls have been repositioned more traditionally allowing for enhanced freedom of movement.
This increased rider comfort will be welcome for those that ride on the street. But despite the lower feeling (and non-adjustable) foot controls, ground clearance is still high and the footpegs continue to offer inadequate grip which can cause the rider’s feet to slip off during spirited maneuvers.
(Top) The 1199 Panigale offers very neutral and linear feeling handling. It steers with much less effort than previous models. (Bottom) As always the Ducati serves up a high-level of feel and mid-corner stability.
External dimensions have also been reduced and the Panigale feels more compact from front-to-back despite gaining 7mm of wheelbase. My six-foot-tall frame still fit adequately, but those that are taller might encounter difficulties achieving a clean tuck. As before, the Ducati feels light between the rider’s legs and there is little doubt that it offers the lowest curb weight in its class (claimed at 415 pounds even with a larger 4.5-gallon fuel load). Another plus is its reduced top heaviness at low speeds.
Flip the key (thankfully, the 1199 retains the simplicity of a metal ignition key), thumb the starter button and the engine roars to life in a faster, more responsive manner due to the re-engineered starting/engine decompression system. Although the classic rattle of the dry clutch has vanished, we didn’t miss it especially considering the effectiveness of the oil-bathed unit. The exhaust note proves to be more ear pleasing and we were also impressed with the spot-on fuel-injection settings attributing to a crisp running motor.
Ducatis are renowned for robust bottom-to-mid engine performance, but the new oversquare motor offers a vastly different experience. The powerband is more conventional in application, similar to that of an Inline Four. Low end thrust has been reduced but the engine spools up explosively fast for a Twin. Mid-range power is strong but still not quite as stout as before. Keep feeding RPM and you’ll be greeted with a rich, far reaching top-end power surge that feels more Inline than Twin.
Where the old bike needed to be short shifted and ridden a gear high, the new Superquadro mill responds optimally with revs. Power remains strong and doesn’t fall off until upwards of 11,000 rpm. If you’ve ever spent any time at the controls of previous generation machinery you have to modify your riding approach—it’s that different (good thing).
The Panigale 1199 offers a robust top-end with a powerband that is similar in application to an Inline Four.
The six-speed gearbox has a tighter feel and there is less play at the shift lever. Finding neutral still isn’t as simple as it should be, yet it is better. For the first-time all 1199s come equipped with a electronic quick-shifter allowing for full throttle upshifts. This complements acceleration performance and helps reduce the fraction of a second it takes to upshift. Clutch lever action has been improved tremendously and no longer requires a firm left hand. Feel and response is up too, and the bike is generally easier to launch and control at parking lot speeds.
Based on its results last season in MotoGP there was a lot of speculation in
(From full stiff)
regard to the performance of the new ‘frameless’ chassis concept, but we’re pleased to report that handling is yet another area of advancement.
The Panigale steers with little effort. Not only that, it has a reassuring level of feel with no dead zones through all points of the turn – from straight up and down to maximum lean. Side-to-side flickability was good too, and the bike doesn’t require anywhere near the amount of muscle as before for immediate direction changes. Steering precision is great, and the bike goes exactly where the rider commands.
The 1199’s ergonomics and rider interface is one area of significant improvement.
Attitude of the chassis is more level at all speeds – on and off the throttle (a benefit of the Engine Braking Control) and stability is at a premium too. The S model we rode was fitted with electronically adjustable Ohlins suspension front and rear. With a push of a button the rider can adjust preload, compression and rebound settings without having to get off the bike.
Calibration of the suspension proved to be good and the chassis resisted the urge to pitch fore or aft under heavy application of throttle or brakes. The bowling ball alley smooth circuit we rode at didn’t feature any bumps, so suspension performance on a rough track is still an unknown. We were also pleased with how effective the rear suspension is at putting power to the ground.
A fully integrated electronics package is a standard feature on every Panigale. It consists of the engine ride-by-wire throttle control, traction control, quick-shifter and engine brake control. Perhaps what’s most impressive about the electronics is the synergy between all functions. The new ride-by-wire throttle offers near perfect calibration in both Sport and Race modes. It offers immediate response without it being overly sensitive which makes the bike easier to ride. Both modes allow full access to engine power but the Sport mode provides a smoother application when more delicate throttle response is required.
The Panigale comes equipped with a full electronics package that provides great balance in multiple ride modes.
The 1199’s traction control system continues to use independent wheel speed sensors to determine when the rear tire is spinning. The updated version of the system employs eight levels of intervention based on information developed by the Ducati Corse racing arm. While we applaud Ducati at making the feature standard we continue to experience inconsistent results with it. With Level 3 selected it intervenes aggressively at times under requested throttle application, and at other times it doesn’t activate when the rider feels the back tire spinning excessively.
Though we experienced mixed results with the traction control we’re completely sold on the three-way adjustable engine braking functionality. The system is designed to enhance chassis stability during corner entry by continuing to feed a small amount of fuel into the engine when decelerating.
It’s hard to improve on the 1198’s braking package but the new 1199 does just that. Brembo steps up with its new M50 monobloc caliper that’s based on the racing caliper used on World Superbike and MotoGP machinery. Not only is it lighter but it provides more power and smoother actuation. The brakes continue to be plenty powerful but inital brake bite isn’t quite is strong (good thing) which makes the brakes easier to manipulate. Anti-lock is now an option and the bikes we rode had it, but we never rode the bike at a fast enough pace to experience ABS intervention.
The Panigale gives a new experience with a Ducati sportbike as engineers have neutralized some of the rough characteristics.
In summary, the the new Panigale is a much easier motorcycle to ride than before. Ducati has neutralized some of the historically quirky traits without compromising the feel or fundamental character that is at the heart of the Italian brand. While it didn’t blow us away with its acceleration performance or functionality of the traction control, the bike as a total package is impressive and should be a better platform come Superbike Smackdown time.
* For even more info on Ducati’s superbike, be sure to check out Adam’s response to reader’s questions in his blog Ducati 1199 Panigale Answers and read about his first thoughts in his Ducati 1199 Panigale Superbike Impressions.