We rode Ducati’s flagship superbike on the street to see if ordinary humans could live with one. The results may surprise you.
The word “Panigale” was first introduced by Ducati in 2011, when the original 1199 Panigale was announced. The name comes from Ducati’s hometown (Borgo Panigale in Italy), so it’s no surprise that the Panigale lineage has extremely close ties to Ducati’s very ethos. At Ducati’s manufacturing plant, a separate assembly line with dedicated staff was created to assemble the Superquadro motor, the heart of all Panigales (yes, even the smaller 899 and 959 variants), putting into practice all that Ducati has learned over its multiple years of racing in Moto GP and WSBK.
When you throw a leg over the bike and thumb the starter though, none of that matters any more and the focus shifts to what Ducati has actually delivered.
The first impression you get from the 1299 Panigale S is that it’s light, lean and means business. The cockpit is dominated by the large, color screen which is easily visible, in this case because it’s shaded by the fairing (on other bikes, such as the Monster 1200S, the gorgeous screen is useless in broad daylight due to the glare). The clip-ons are low but not overly aggressive. Mirrors offer average visibility when parked and little visibility at speed (due to vibrations).
Once underway, the Panigale is remarkably civilized, at least from a fueling point of view. There’s no mistaking this V-twin for an inline 4 (or V4) but it has come a long way from the lumpy 1098/1198 lineage, with spot-on fueling and good rideability. Using the “wet” mode with stock parameters, one could conceivably ride this bike at a moderate pace…if it wasn’t for the heat.
Heat, you see, is the Panigale’s achilles heel. On a 25 degree (celcius) day, the bike began emitting noticeable heat after about 15 minutes of slow paced riding around town. At stoplights, the temp gauge began to climb at steady increments and my inner thighs began to roast. Wearing thick kevlar denim did little to postpone the scorching phenomenon and I found myself trying to “will” stoplights to change, just so I could get some air moving over that big motor. Heat on the Panigale has been a well-documented issue and owners have done everything from heat-wrapping exhaust pipes to ceramic-coating them, in an attempt to subdue the fire-breaking beast. Although there is likely some relief to be had with aftermarket mods, the reality remains that this machine was made to be on the move and anything but will be a compromise. At speed, I could still feel the heat so full leathers and a racetrack with 20 minute lapping sessions is likely the best remedy.
Switching through the ride modes, the expected increase in throttle response was evident, but it’s only once I reached the open roads of the countryside that the 1299 began to make sense. There, once traffic and stoplights dissipated, roads began to twist and elevations changed, the Panigale was in its element. In this environment, heat was less of an issue and I was able to enjoy the Panigale’s qualities: its light weight and flickability, its telepathic suspension (thanks in part to the S model’s semi-active Ohlins suspension) and of course, it’s power.
The motor pulls hard everywhere and in true Ducati fashion, becomes more exciting, the higher you rev it. It doesn’t offer the low end grunt of the similar displacement KTM 1290 Super Duke R but makes up for it with a longer rev range and stronger top end. Out of the electronics suite, I experimented with wheelie control in particular and it was very effective at keeping the front end down during hard acceleration. What was evident after a few hours is that everything about the Panigale is made to go fast (not to do wheelies) and the electronics play an important part in that since this is an inherently challenging bike to manage without them.
My favorite part of the Panigale were the brakes. A combination of Brembo’s top-spec hardware (the M50 monobloc calipers), combined with the Panigale’s light weight and fantastic suspension resulted in physics-defying braking ability. This is a welcome feature on such a fast machine and something that would encourage deep trail braking at the race track -something I wish upon any 1299 Panigale owner.
To say that Panigale is overkill as a street bike is an understatement -it’s capabilities so high that they are difficult to exploit in any civilized environment. Unless you live in a part of the world where law enforcement is blind to red, 200HP exotics screaming on twisty roads, a bike like the 1299 Panigale S may be more show than go and that’s a fact some people are OK with. As a rider’s bike however, I can tell you that the Panigale would be a fantastic track bike but that its use as a street bike (even for week-end back road duty) is limited as one cannot even begin to exploit its capabilities. In the end, the Panigale is excess and whether or not that is desirable for you as a rider is as subjective a matter as any. One thing is for certain: Ducati has created a bike that exceeds most mere mortals’ abilities and for some, that alone is worth the price of admission.
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