Ducati pushed the envelope with its 1199 Panigale establishing a new standard of what we expect from a twin-cylinder sportbike. Although it impressed in some areas, the Ducati didn’t elicit the final result many had hoped. This year it gets a shot at redemption with this new R-spec Superbike ($29,995).
The new Panigale R is based off the S model we rode during the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale First Ride. It features a variety of hardware and software updates outlined in the 2013 Ducati 1199 Panigale R First Look. This narrative focuses on the riding impression from the freshly paved 20-turn Circuit of the America’s Formula One course in Austin, Texas.
Hop into the seat and the 1199 R is Ducati’s most accommodating Superbike to date. Engineers continue to refine the way the rider interacts with the controls. After all, the more comfortable you are, the faster you can go. Although the seat height continues to measure 32.5 in., it feels closer to the ground than we remember.
Thumb the starter button and it whirs to life firing the engine immediately without the occasional hesitation or hiccup we experienced on the 2012 machines. Drop the shift lever down into first gear, flip down your visor and its time to ride.
Escaping the pits is a simpler exercise due to the lower final drive gearing. Engineers fitted a two-tooth larger rear sprocket (41) enhancing acceleration in each of the six gears. It also reduces the amount of clutch slip required during launches. The added velocity doesn’t come at the expense of top speed due to engine’s higher 12,000 rpm ceiling (more on that later). Initial feel and lever action from the wet-style (clutch plates lubricated in engine oil) is superior to the previous generation’s dry-clutch set-up, even if it doesn’t emit that nostalgic racy sounding clank-clank-clank rattle. We never had the opportunity to give it an aggressive, high-rpm racing-style launch so we’re curious if the 1199 R’s drivetrain has what it takes to break into the nine-second range through the quarter mile.
The lap begins at the end of the fifth-gear front straightaway. Exiting pit lane you travel uphill preparing for Turn 1, a tight, off-camber left taken in second gear. Let the bike drift to the candy cane-painted curbing, put your head down and pin the throttle.
The 1199 R comes outfitted with an electronic quickshifter enabling split-second, full throttle upshifts. Motion the shift lever up twice and point toward the outside of the track before diving into Turn 2, a downhill off-camber right—continuing to accelerate with your knee on deck. Here the chassis is planted and there is a good degree of feel from the front end. Aim for the right side of the track before cutting across and tapping the brake during entry to the most demanding section of this 3.41-mile circuit: The Esses.
Here the ability to maneuver the motorcycle from side-to-side is critical, and a definite strong point of the R-spec Panigale. With a curb weight of just 417 pounds the Ducati is easily the lightest literbike in the class—and it feels that way. The Marchesini forged wheels further aiding direction changes. The ergonomics and flat, skinny tank profile allow the rider to ply their body off either side of the bike without any hang-ups. Our only complaint is that the pegs don’t offer adequate grip and occasionally our feet would slip off when standing or applying lots of foot pressure. This isn’t new and a gripe we’ve had for the last few years.
The Brembo braking set-up is sharp but not overly so making it easier to modulate entering turns.
Ducati’s latest brake pad/caliper set-up works fantastic offering the most degree of feel and ease of use from its Superbikes.
The Ducati 1199 R still lacks authentic wheelie control functionality which necessitates short shifts off the powerband to avoid excessive front wheel lift.
The transmission is precise and doesn’t have the sloppy, mystery feel between gears—an annoying trait of the previous 1098/1198 bikes. This is a big plus when sneaking in a clutch-less downshift (into third gear) while turning between Turns 5 and 6. With the throttle pinned aim toward the left edge of the asphalt and wait to turn-in to carry maximum momentum through the uphill Turn 7. Hard on the gas, point to the outside before swinging both bike and body in one motion and clip the apex of Turn 8. Although the engine is spinning low in the revs it spools up quickly as the pavement drops. Short shift into fourth gear, hold your breath and dive into the blind Turn 10 kink. The Panigale motor piles on revs quickly—akin to the voracity of a modern four-cylinder rather than a Twin (thanks in part to the engine’s titanium connecting rods and lighter flywheel) as the red warning lights illuminate signaling it’s time to upshift. Instead hold the gear and prepare to brake for the Turn 11 hairpin.
1199 Panigale R Settings
- Preload: 6mm (From full stiff)
- Compression: 10
- Rebound: 4
- Preload: Standard
- Compression: 6
- Rebound: 8
- Swingarm Pivot: Stock (zero)
- Link: Flat
- Power Mode: Race
- DTC: 2
- EBC: 1
- ABS: 1
A firm two-finger pull on the front brake lever sheds speed with authoritative feel. The Ohlins fork compresses into its stroke with control, sharpening the steering angle and increasing turning response. Although the fork settings were toward the softer/faster side of the spectrum, adjusting compression or rebound damping is as simple as a few pushes of a button using the handlebar mounted controls at a stop. Spring preload, however, is still adjusted the old fashioned way with hand tools.
Ducati continues to refine the Panigale’s electronics packaged based on data gleaned from its World Superbike and MotoGP racing efforts. Crack on the throttle out the hairpin (Turn 11) and it squirts off in a skilled fashion. We rode in the second least restrictive Ducati Traction Control setting (DTC 2) almost entirely, except for the last session of the day. This boosted confidence allowing us to twist the throttle earlier and more assertively as we picked up the bike off corners. Overall the system performs more accurately than before and was a great tool to lean on, especially considering we were learning a new track.
The 1199 R uses a TTX-generation Ohlins gas charged shock that can be adjusted electronically via buttons on the handlebar.
The 1199 R gets a full racing-style exhaust from Termignoni. The pipes not only add character but boost mid-range and top-end engine performance, too.
Although it won’t help you get around corners faster on the track the Panigale has one of the best headlights in terms of beam distance and intensity of any sportbike we’ve tested recently.
For our final outing we switched DTC to ‘off’ and the difference in terms of exit drive was apparent. The Ducati was able to steer through and finish the corner quicker, as well as achieving what felt like a superior drive. It’s important to note though that the grip from the fresh rear Pirelli was excellent and it’s possible we could have experienced a different result if the tire were more worn.
There’s no mistaking the Panigale at a stoplight. This is one of Ducati’s most brilliant and forward-thinking sportbike designs.
Although the bike has wheel spin control it lacks wheelie control functionality. And considering the engine generates nearly 170 horsepower at the back tire (based on results of dyno testing last year, see horsepower charthere) a decent drive equates to a power wheelie in the first three gears. Depending on the circumstances the DTC cuts power during wheel lift or just lets it happen. It’s this kind of inconsistency that makes it troubling, requiring the rider to short-shift out of the powerband to ensure that the front wheel doesn’t climb excessively.
Down the back straightaway the engine spools up fast—requiring constant upshifts (good thing). Thankfully the big red shift lights on the colored instrument display help convey the message if the roaring sound of two coffee can-sized pistons slapping back and forth doesn’t. Ducati has a legacy of building charismatic sportbikes and this Termignoni-equipped Panigale is no different. With the engine zinging on the pipe, it’s easily one of the best sounding production motorcycles built. Once again the ergonomics and larger R-spec windscreen function near perfectly down the back straightaway allowing even this six-foot-tall rider to escape the 170-plus mph windblast.
Lift off the gas, pop from the cocoon-like bubble of the windscreen and begin throttle blimps as you pull back on the front brake lever, downshift four times (into second gear) in preparation for Turn 12. Again the Ducati’s front brakes are outstanding—offering strong power. Initial bite is effective but not overpowering (a big plus for everyday street use) and feel progressively ramps up the deeper you get into the lever. To date this is Ducati’s finest production brake pad/caliper combination. There’s also an anti-lock function but we never manipulated the brakes hard enough for it to activate. Still, it’s nice to know that it’s there just in case…
Run the bike in deep until the rev-limiter flickers, turn-in then keep wide for a moment before continuing the turn clipping the apex of T14. Here you’re carrying a high-degree of lean and throttle angle and the chassis responds nicely, driving forward with great stability. Aim for the inside of the curbing through the kink between Turns 14 and 15 then let the bike drift wide before steering back in.
Refinements to the 1199 R’s handlebar position and seat make it a more accommodating motorcycle to ride on track.
The Ducati changes direction without much effort and is one of the lighter feeling bikes in the Superbike class.
The bike wheelies on exit, signaling it’s time to short-shift into third gear in anticipation of the fast consecutive right-handers of Turns 16-18. Aside from The Esses, this is another challenging segment of the F1 course and an area where you can make up a lot of time. Let the bike run wide and point it toward the green AstroTurf. Right when you realize you’re about to run off track, turn-in. Pin-it as you skim the apex of Turn 18 and the Panigale drives forward with a level of steam reminiscent of a certain pesky propeller-branded German superbike—do it right and you’ll have the engine touching the rev-limiter. Don’t brake too much for the next corner, as it can be taken with a deceptive amount of corner speed, instead focus on where you want to be and let the Ducati’s accurate chassis do the work.
It’s back to the brakes for the final turn… and the harder you stop the better its engine brake control performs. It helps maintain chassis composure and keeps the rear wheel more in line with the front. This is a big plus if you’re suspension is undersprung, or, if the rider has selected too soft of a damping setting. Back on the gas, you’ve just completed a lap of one of the finest racing circuits in the world…
After spending about an hour lapping Ducati’s latest Superbike it’s clear that this is a superior motorcycle: It’s faster, more agile, and the electronics respond with greater accuracy to road conditions and rider input than ever before. This is without a doubt the finest Ducati sportbike ever built. Still, even with its arsenal of rider aids, it remains a high-strung machine that demands a lot from its rider. Get it right though and it delivers all the right sensations few other bikes can.