Ducati Panigale 1199: a serious look

Ducati, the famed Italian motorcycle company, has recently released the Panigale 1199. Their 5th generation super bike, which they say is a “check mate” to the competition.

When looking at the facts on paper it sure reads that way. Boasting the highest power to weight and torque to weight figure of any production bike with 195 hp at 10,750 rpm and 98.1 lb-ft at 9000 rpm and a dry weight of 361.5 lbs.

“Without doubt, this has been the most ambitious project in Ducati’s history and underlines our engineering excellence and ‘product emotion,’ an aspect of our brand which, in such a competitive market place, has become more important than ever.” Says Ducati’s president Ducati President Gabriele Del Torchio. Those aren’t just words for the press either. The Panigale has done away with the Ducati signature tubular A-frame and gone with a monocoque chassis. To top it off Ducati has also bolted the engine’s cylinder heads directly to the frame making them a stressed component on the frame. They didn’t stop there though. The airbox is integrated into the frame and the swing arm is bolted directly to the back of the engine block, all this for weight saving sake. Ducati claims 22 lbs are shaved off, which is biblical in the motorcycle world.

The Panigale matches its mechanical innovations with its electronic wizardry. Utilizing systems such as ABS, traction control, electronic suspension, different riding modes and Ducati’s quick shift system (allows wide open throttle up-shifts), the Panigale becomes the most electronically sophisticated bike on the road. But sophistication has a price. The 1199 is tagged upwards of 20k.

That’s on paper, what is it like on the road? The ergonomics were altered to accommodate for the time spent off the track. The foot pegs are lowered, yet still relatively high and the handle bar reach isn’t as stretched. With all the electronic controls at you finger tips the inspiration for confidence is ripe and ready.

Having been to the UK press launch of the Panigale 1199 and followed reviews of first rides and so on I can’t help but shake a thought. After I admire the sleek simplicity and the sharp beautiful lines I think, “ if that’s not Italian I don’t know what is”. But I’m reminded of a poster I once saw of an old Ducati and underneath it captioned “ Ducati. Making mechanics out of riders since 1946”. That’s when I start to look past the PR sweet talk and the amazing rider-reviews and wonder what is it like to live with when maintenance becomes an issue.

I have dropped the engine out of my ’96 Kawasaki zx-11 to split the crank case to change the connecting rod…twice (In the bike’s defense the bike had 50k+ miles on it and in my defense I was young and stupid). It’s not a fun task. Engineers don’t think of the rider, they think of how to put the bike together and never about how to take it apart. Now factor in Italian engineering. Dropping the engine on the Panigale also requires the detachment of the swing arm as well. Attaching the swing arm to the engine block and putting the air-box as part of the frame works on the track but not in my garage and certainly not on my patience. If I had an army of Italians to maintain my Panigale 1199 I wouldn’t mind buying one at all. But I don’t… so I won’t

And there you have it. Its expensive, bright red, loud, loads of power, beautiful to look at and mechanically impractical for every day life… Traditionally Italian. By being innovative and steering away from tradition Ducati haven’t changed a damn thing.