- Electronics make it easier to ride on slick roads
- Accommodating, well-balanced ergonomics
- Light, predicable handling
- Rider footpegs are dangerously slippery
- Experienced the occasional false neutral
- Lost its signature V-Twin bottom end torque
Not every rider needs a 200 horsepower Superbike on the street. That’s why Ducati created the 899 Panigale. With a more manageable engine size and attractive price tag (starting at $14,995), the 899 opens up the Ducati superbike experience to a bigger audience. But can the Junior Panigale deliver the thrilling experience of its bigger Twin?
It’s obvious by the way it looks that the 899 shares a lot in common with its bolder brother. So much so that it’s easier to note the differences than to write about the new features. (If you’re not up to speed on the Panigale platform’s tech details check out the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale First Look and the Ducati 1199 Panigale Superquadro Engine Info. Another great reference is the 2014 Ducati 899 Panigale First Look article).
Starting with the engine the 899 gets its name via a narrower cylinder bore (100mm) and shorter stroke (57.2mm) netting a displacement of 898cc. For reference that’s 4mm wider and 4mm shorter compared to the bike it replaces, the 848 EVO. The two pistons still gobble up fuel in a 90-degree orientation with a compression ratio of 12.5:1 which is 0.8 less than the EVO.
Correspondingly, the porting of the cylinder heads and valve sizes were tweaked and the engine is fueled through a pair of smaller throttle bodies with a single fuel injector per cylinder instead of two. The 899’s motor uses aluminum engine covers instead of the more costly to manufacture magnesium pieces on the 1199. It’s also missing slipper action functionality inside the clutch mechanism. Fortunately, Ducati has an electronic work around with its adjustable Electronic Braking Control (EBC) that continues to feed the engine with fuel after the throttle is closed thereby helping reducing rear wheel instability during aggressive deceleration. Lastly, it gets a five-tooth larger rear sprocket (44) to help it accelerate better in each of its six forward quickshift-enabled gears.
(Top) The 899 Panigale sans bodywork. Note how the Engine serves as the physical link between the front and rear suspension. (Center) Although the 899 gets a pair of less expensive, but still monobloc-style Brembo calipers they performed without flaw. We are especially fond of the ABS system and the ability to disable it, if desired. (Below) The 899 Panigale gets a more conventional double-sided swingarm fabricated from cast aluminum. This was done as a cost saving measure and to differentiate it from premium 1199.
The 899 shares the forward portion of the Panigale’s monocoque-style aluminum frame in which the front and rear suspension are linked via the engine cases, though the 899’s steering head angle is 0.5-degree sharper (24 degrees) with 4mm less trail. At the rear it employs a conventional-looking double-sided swingarm fabricated from aluminum opposed to a single-sided piece. This was done to save cost and to distinguish it from the premium Ducati superbike. Wheelbase is listed at 56.14 in. (0.16 in. shorter than the 848 EVO). Other differences include the use of a steel subframe and the presence of Showa’s latest big piston fork design, contrary to the Marzocchi or Ohlins units used on the 1199 standard and S model. The wheels and tires are also different with 899 using less costly aluminum wheels shod with Pirelli’s Diablo Rosso Corsa sport rubber in sizes 120/70-17 front and 180/60-17 at the rear.
The 899 Panigale uses a gas-charged shock sourced from Sachs. It seemed to perform well during our limited riding time on a wet track.
Like the standard 1199 the 899’s gas-charged shock is sourced from Sachs, but operates within a non-adjustable and street-riding friendly progressive-rate link. The fuel tank still gives 4.5-gallons of capacity but is made from steel instead of the 1199’s plastic fuel cell and the front braking calipers are Brembo’s lower-spec M4 calipers. It is important to note however that the M4’s are still machined from a solid piece of aluminum making them of higher quality than the two-piece calipers that the original generation 848 used. Lastly the 899 gets a slightly thicker rider seat and a more basic-looking, one-color instrument display. Although the 899 is approximately 10 pounds less than the machine it replaces it’s also around 11 pounds more than the standard 1199 at a claimed 426 pounds with fuel, ready to ride.
PANIGALE FUN SIZED
For the test ride Ducati shipped us out to its home base of Bologna, Italy to have a go on its latest sportbike at the nearby and history-rich Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari – otherwise known as Imola. Fall weather can be hit or miss in north-central Italy and this time we were subject to cool, wet conditions. We had assumed that he test would be canceled, but Ducati had the foresight to bring Pirelli Diablo Rain tires that were fitted instead of the street rubber allowing us to ride with a remarkable level of control on rain soaked pavement.
Despite not appearing that much smaller on paper, the 899 Panigale is considerably smaller when seated in the saddle compared to the outgoing 848. The reach to the handlebars isn’t nearly a stretch and the rider triangle is more neutral akin to that of a modern Japanese sportbike. It’s still plenty narrow due to its L-Twin engine configuration and doesn’t feel any heavier than the superbike version in spite of its modest weight increase.
(Top) The Panigale’s electronic rider aids made it easier to get up to speed on a wet, unfamiliar circuit. (Below) The 899 Panigale’s cockpit is more open and isn’t nearly as demanding as the previous generation bike. Yet it’s still track ready, but a lot more comfortable.
Having never ridden on rain tires or at Imola for that matter, we set off on the 899 in Wet mode. This electronically limits engine power and also modifies throttle response making it less sensitive when twisted. By default it also selects a wheel spin restrictive traction control setting, and more invasive anti-lock braking program. However each setting can be tuned via a switch on the left handlebar, but the motorcycle must be stopped to do so. Curiously, the menu system isn’t nearly as slick as the 1199’s and require some time and button fumbling to understand its controls.
We’ve never been big fans of Ducati’s traction control, on dry tracks anyways, but in the rain its functionality was impeccable. It allowed for immediate bike control in foreign conditions without having to worry if the rear end was going to come around during acceleration. Of course, a very large sum of credit goes to Pirelli’s fantastic wet weather tires with their deep and abundant tread grooves, but the traction control setting in wet mode (DTC 7) gave us just the confidence to fully lean on it, pinning the throttle off corners with a moderate degree of lean. When, and if, the rear tire couldn’t maintain traction with the road a yellow light would start flicking on the instrument display but the level of electronic intrusion was refined and didn’t feel at all snatchy as we’ve occasionally experienced on dry tracks. It’s an excellent safety feature and one that will be welcome by any riders that get caught out riding in the rain.
899 Panigale Settings
- Preload: 5mm (From full stiff)
- Compression: 7
- Rebound: 5.5
- Compression: 2.5
- Rebound: 12
- Power Mode: Sport
- DTC: 7
- EBC: 1
- ABS: 2
In terms of braking the ABS 2 setting seemed to be the ticket initially though it could catch you off guard by cycling/pulsating through the lever if you weren’t smooth with initial front brake application. Considering the high grip of the Pirelli rain tires a lower ABS setting might have netted a more positive result but we simply didn’t have the time to try it as our riding was limited to just 30 minutes.
We did, however, get a taste of the engine’s power in Sport mode, which gives full access to the engine’s power with a gentler throttle response as compared to the Race setting. As expected the 898cc motor has an appetite for revs. This can make it slightly more challenging to ride as you really have to have the engine spinning in the upper two-thirds of the rpm range for it to accelerate optimally. Gone are the days where you could run a Ducati sportbike a gear high and let the wave of torque pull you out. Its powerband is more four-cylinder like than ever before which could be a good thing, or a bad thing depending on what you like and where you ride.
Oddly enough, riding the 899 in the wet really showcased its electronics and turned what would normally be a sketchy ride into something that was actually fun and relatively safe. We’re pleased with how friendly the 899 is to ride and look forward to spending more time in the saddle on dry tarmac where we can really put it through its paces.
(Left) The Panigale’s rider footpegs are some of the slickest (not a good thing) ever fit on a sportbike. When wet they make riding downright sketchy. (Center) Only a keen eye will be able to spot the differences between the more affordable 899 and the bigger 1199 Superbike. (Right) The 899’s powerband continues to be more top-end biased than the previous 848 generation bike.
Racing an Ducati 899 Panigale
Although Ducati prides itself on being a racing brand this 898cc-powered Panigale isn’t actually eligible for competition in the World Supersport series. However in America, the platform can be raced in WERA, AFM and many other regional clubs in various Heavyweight and Twins classes. Ducati North America is also working with the AMA in an effort of getting the 899 Panigale approved for the Daytona Sportbike class next season.
Pirelli Diablo Rain Competition Tires
Racing doesn’t stop for inclimate weather. That is if you’re competing onPirelli Diablo Rain tires. Homologated for World Supersport and Superbike racing the Diablo Rain tire is designed for use in full wet conditions when there is standing water puddles on track. With its deep tread groves and chewing-gum soft rubber these tires are capable of knee-dragging lean angles on water drenched roads. Unfortunately due to DOT-rules the tires are competition-only and can’t be used on public roads.