Ducati answers the call to arms in the heavyweight class with its new 899 Panigale ($14,995). Powered by a fast revving 898cc V-Twin engine that also doubles as a main component of the chassis, this junior Panigale is the Italian brand’s vision for sportbike supremacy.
A visit to the scale shows that the 899 is the heaviest bike in this quartet with a fully-fueled curb weight of 437 pounds. That’s 13 more than the class-leading Ninja and nine pounds more than the next heaviest, the F3 800. In spite of its extra mass, the Panigale feels small, slim and light between the rider’s legs. The position of the controls are track-focused, but not overly so. Still, a couple of our testers took some time to warm-up to the Ducati’s stance.
With wheels spinning the Panigale hurries through turns—tipping in with minimal handlebar or body inputs. There is no denying the chassis’ accuracy, which allows the rider to put it exactly where he or she needs.
“This bike here—they got it right. It surprised me more than any of the other bikes,” says a thoroughly impressed Pridmore. “The performance of the bike is so much greater than the last model [848 EVO].”
Looking at the data, we were surprised by its modest side-to-side flick rate as measured in the quick right-left-right transitions of Turns 8/9 and 11/12 as it felt almost as responsive as the cat-like F3.
“The biggest thing I would like to see keep improving, which we were, is in the fast transitions from right-to-left or left-to-right,” JP explains. “The bike had a little tendency to be a tinge unstable. We kept making it better, so I know if we had another day out here we would continue to make that better.”
Leaned over on the side of the tire, the Ducati felt planted and transmitted a high degree of feel—second only to the MV according to our testers. It also recorded the highest corner speed at the apex of Chuckwalla’s fastest turn (the Turn 13 bowl) along with the second-highest lean angle just 0.1 degree behind the MV Agusta. Curiously, the Panigale wasn’t as quick mid-corner between Turns 4 and 5 (1.6 mph slower than the MV) or Turns 16/17 (1.3 mph slower).
(Top) The 899 Panigale comes equipped from the factory with an electronic quickshifter. And it’s needed in an effort to keep the Ducati’s top-end biased engine on the pipe. (Center) The Ducati’s electronics function well and we appreciate the steady improvements to its traction control. (Bottom) The Ducati’s braking hardware worked well and felt similar to the set-up employed on the MV. It was however, rated one position behind the Ninja.
Both the Showa-sourced fork and shock were rated positively. Both units were responsive and provided excellent road holding as well as damping resistance to chassis pitch during hard braking and acceleration.
“The suspension package was solid,” notes Neuer. “The feedback I got through the controls was very inspiring and I really felt in-tune with what was happening beneath me.”
Our testers were pleased with the Brembo stopping hardware with it feeling nearly identical to the equally top-shelf components employed on the MV. Power and feel were superb but weren’t quite up to par as the ultra-crisp Nissin set-up on the Kawasaki.
Despite the stoppers performing to our liking, the 899 had the lowest maximum braking force entering Turn 1 and Turn 8 (-0.95g and -1.01g). This may be attributed to the Panigale’s extra engine braking (we rode in Level 1—which offers the most engine braking effect), but to be fair it certainly didn’t feel excessive.
Because of its narrow powerband it’s crucial to keep the engine on the boil to get an optimum drive off corners. This forces the rider to constantly work the gearbox. Thankfully the factory-installed quickshifter increases the speed of upshifts but it isn’t a total solution. Since the Ducati offered the least optimum gearing for Chuckwalla’s 17-turn course, it netted the lowest score in the Drivetrain category.
“It requires way too much shifting,” Neuer believes. “Grabbing gears is the name of the game on this bad boy.”
Looking at the dyno graphs confirms our tester’s notepad scribbles. Although it posts the highest torque figure (65.07 lb-ft) it arrives at such a high engine speed (10,200 rpm) that only 1100 revs remain until the rev limiter shuts down the fun.
“If you don’t shift at just the right time you lose power immediately,” gripes Neuer.
It was a similar story in the horsepower department with it pumping out nearly 130 horsepower at 10,700 revs, positioning it just behind the mighty
Preload: 45 (clicks in)
Compression: 0.5 (turns out)
Preload: 15mm (exposed threads)
Power Mode: Race
MV but nearly five ahead of the GSX-R and 15.36 more than the Ninja. Don’t get us wrong, we love how strong the Ducati’s engine is up top—it just makes it more complicated to ride than the other three bikes with their wider powerband.
In the end, its top end-biased powerband hurt the Ducati as it posted the lowest acceleration force numbers off Turns 10 and the bowl (0.39g and 0.21g). Its top speed also lagged behind both the MV and the GSX-R.
“If I didn’t have to do so many shifts on that bike—and the places where I had to shift it—we would have seen the lap times even faster,” reveals Pridmore, who like the author, recorded his slowest lap time of the test during Superpole on the Ducati (1’50.58 vs. Waheed’s 1’53.38).
(Top) It’s been a while since we’ve ridden a new Ducati that’s been this competitive out of the box with it’s quick laps during Superpole. (Center) Pridmore was impressed by the Ducati’s overall package, posting highly competitive lap times on it. (Bottom) The Ducati’s cockpit was well-received but didn’t rank as highly as the more traditional set-up of the Ninja or GSX-R.
“I often felt between gears at certain corners with the engine either revving too high or too low,” agrees the Englishman, Chris Northover. “Get the gearing right and it was fantastic on track.”
We’ve never been big fans of the Ducati’s traction control system on dry asphalt but the latest version performed much better, offering improved calibration over sections of the circuit with camber, especially Turns 8/9/10 and the bowl. Of course traction was in abundance due to the immense grip of the Supercorsa race tires, but it’s still great to know the boys from Bologna are continuing to improve what is now six-year-old TC hardware.
“The new Ducati was head and shoulders better than the 848,” sums up Neuer. “I enjoyed riding the bike, it still had that Ducati feel—it was exhilarating to ride. It has a bitching sound and this bike does everything well. Its overall package is solid.”
It’s been years since we’ve ridden a Ducati that’s been this competitive out of the box. In spite of its hefty rolling weight we were stunned by its agility—recording lap times within fractions of the competition. On a faster circuit, where a rider could take better advantage of its punchy engine and precise steering characteristics, the Ducati would likely rank higher. However, short gear ratios and a narrow powerband made it tricky to ride at Chuckwalla. So in this battle the red bike finishes fourth, a mere seven points behind third-place.
- Ripping fast top-end power
- Excellent suspension and chassis balance
- Agile and precise handling
- Very narrow powerband demands lots of shifting
- Could be lighter