Rishad Cooper drives the stylish and well-equipped supersports 1199 Panigale S in the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi to find out how good it feels in the real world
Named after the region of Ducati's home ground in Bologna, the compact 1199 Panigale ranks among the most seductively styled production motorcycles on the planet. The eyeball-grabbing Ducati is unmistakably Italian with a generous helping of the company's DNA. Twin silencers smartly exit the 1199's belly fairing, their location helping to keep the bike's centre of gravity low.
A digital, colour instrument bay doubles up as a central command centre for the motorcycle, displaying all its rider needs to know. It comes loaded to the gills with electronic riding aids. Its power output, traction control, Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) and ABS braking systems are all synced to the state-of-the-art Ducati Riding Modes, controlled from the left-side switchgear.
As with all modern day supersports bikes, the 1199 pushes most of its mass low and forward, the slim rider seat reaching backwards into a sleek, hollowed-out tail section. Overall quality and fit-and-finish are at lofty levels expected from a Ducati flagship.
An all-new, four-stroke, 90-degree L-twin (a Ducati trademark), liquid-cooled engine powers the 1199 Panigale. With 194.4bhp developed at 10750rpm this is the most powerful Ducati ever. 13.5kgm of peak torque is churned out at 9000rpm.
The Superquadro uses 112mm pistons with race-derived ribs under their crowns to reduce friction. Shell-type main bearings support the crankshaft, these being force-lubricated. Excess oil is rapidly scavenged down to the sump thanks to the Panigale using a MotoGP-bike-style vacuum pump. 46.8mm-diameter titanium inlet valves are standard within the Desmodromic — mechanically actuated valves that open and shut without relying on springs — head, alongside 38.2mm exhaust valves. Operation is via Polymeric-Like Carbon (PLC) treated, ‘super-finished' rocker arms, while drive comes to the camshafts through a chain and gear arrangement. The Superquadro relies on auto decompression for easy starts. A Ride-by-Wire throttle is standard, with twin throttle bodies feeding one pair of fuel injectors per cylinder.
A wet-type clutch is standard, which feels lighter and relatively more comfy to use. Three riding modes are available on the 1199, Race (194.4bhp, immediate delivery), Sport (still 194.4bhp, smoother delivery) and Wet (120bhp, with a softened blow) to help lay down all that power while appropriately mapping the engine to suit individual riding styles in a changing environment. I spent my time around Yas Marina stuck in Sport mode, never feeling a need to switch up into Race, with the fierce motorcycle packing a violent enough punch, even in this subdued state, to more than satisfy my limited track riding abilities. The Panigale's twin exhausts emit a loud, bass-rich growl when gassing the bike, always encouraging higher revs. You've got to concentrate to monitor throttle inputs for the 1199 effortlessly lightens its front end in the first three gears, easily lifting the front wheel in power wheelies. The bike blasts out of corners with gusto, the L-twin making traumatic demands of its rear tyre and putting its flawless traction control system to good use. Razor-sharp throttle response is always just a flick of the wrist away, and revs rise so sharply when pushing, it's easy to find yourself lodged atop the limiter before your mind can respond to the flashing shift light. The quick shifter works like a dream.
The six-speed gearbox shifts with a positive, well-weighted feel. Tall, well-spaced ratios allow the powerful Superquadro to unleash its potential.
The 1199 Panigale S doesn't use a traditional Ducati trellis tubular frame, but instead a monocoque chassis as on the factory's MotoGP bike. The engine sits bolted in as an integral member of the frame. In the front, fully adjustable upside-down front forks fit the tastefully cut-out and machined steering clamp. Hereafter, the frame reaches down to the engine, massive, alloy single-side swingarm and the unconventionally mounted, near-horizontal adjustable rear monoshock.
The long, alloy and single-side swingarm is a key factor that allows good forward weight distribution on the bantamweight (188kg) 1199 S. Although the Panigale provides enough room for even six-footers, this isn't a comfortable motorcycle, the sporty riding position being so singularly track-focused. A pronounced lean forward into the handlebars keeps rider weight forward, but does end up stressing the wrists. The steering-damped, true clip-on handlebars feel reassuringly wide, always good on a powerful motorcycle like the 1199. It's hard to believe the Panigale is a full blown 1200cc supersports bike, for it can feel so amazingly light, and provides such nimble handling. This bike goes exactly where you want it to, willingly changing directions, calling for minimal effort and steering with a neutral feel. Few motorcycles go around corners as well as the Ducati 1199, and it is surely amongst the very best production bikes to be astride on a track day. The ABS-enabled, linked brakes work like a dream too, radial-mounted calipers biting into twin 330mm discs in the front.
Ducati is on a roll, strengthening our growing conviction that the European manufacturers are slowly trying to beat the Japanese giants in the superbike segment.
Leaving just one fly in such a magical ointment; deficient sales and after-sales service in India sorely fail to support Ducati's brilliant motorcycles, as a direct result of which sales for the famous bike-maker are suffering here. Get this right, and the 1199 Panigale S is simply the best supersports bike for India.