It’s been just over a week since official photos of the new Ducati 1199 Panigale have been released to the public, along side its debut at this year’s EICMA motorcycle show in Milano, and already I see the blogs and forums full of adulation for the bike. And rightly so. Ducati have raised the bar again by packing power, technology and style into a bike that is not only faster than its predecessor, it’s lighter too – full 22 pounds lighter!
How do you remove 22 kilos from a design that was already relatively light weight? You start with a blank page. Gone is the tried and true trellis frame that has been a Ducati hallmark for decades. Gone are the iconic under-the-seat twin mufflers, a design cue dating back to the legendary 916. And gone is the rear vertical spring setup too. About the only thing that Ducati retains of its heritage is the 90° L-twin engine layout.
How do you hold a bike together with no frame, you ask? Well Ducati engineers have boiled it down to the lowest common denominator – the engine. You see what they did here was create two unibody aluminum sections; the head stalk, which binds the front forks and the rear, single-sided swingarm. Both pieces bolt directly to the engine which acts as a load bearing member of the motorcycle itself. A third, sub-section extends from a higher engine mounting for the seat support. That’s it. An entire frame reduced to three pieces of aluminum.
Aside// Like in most automotive technology, this unibody or monocoque application derives from racing R&D. In this case, Ducati’s MotoGP program, or the Formula 1 of motorcycle racing, or the greatest show on two wheels on the planet. The Ducati race bike, the GP11, is built on a similar monocoque frame unlike the rest of the Japanese race bikes which use a conventional aluminum twin-spar design. For those of you who’ve been following Ducati’s lackluster performance this year, you may be thinking that using the same design would create for a third rate superbike for the road. That is still to be determined. However the MotoGP bike’s unibody pieces are made from carbon fiber whereas the 1199 is made from aluminum. That makes for inherently different dynamics and riding characteristics which should still exceed the capacities of most experienced track day riders out there.
Where else did they save weight? With the lack of exhaust piping twisting and turning its way to the twin silencers usually located under the seat on all their superbikes. This signature Ducati design has been criticized in the past for its disregard of negative weight and riding characteristics that may be of consequence. For the 1199 then, they have decided to mount the exhaust below the engine, thus saving weight in unnecessary piping while also centralizing mass and lowering the centre of gravity – page taken from Buell motorcycles perhaps? Then you have the Marchesini wheels which to me look extremely light, especially the rear wheel and that lovely 3-spoke design.
Then there’s the engine, the SuperQuadro, which is composed of bespoke magnesium and titanium parts which helps keep the 1199′s weight down. The name SuperQuadro comes from the over-square cyclinder design. Ducati engineers have reduced the stroke of the pistons while increasing the bore of the cylinders. This makes for an engine that willingly revs faster and higher, redlining around 12,000 rpms, and pumping out a mind blowing 195hp! These are numbers usually associated with Japanese inline, 4-cylinder engines, not 1200cc V-twins. Anyway, that’s the hardware.
On the software side, the 1199 is packed with an arsenal of military acronyms like DES, DQS, RbW, DTC, EBC, and DDA+. To you and I, these are just letters that represent functions that are otherwise intangible unless we get to experience a ride on an 1199. In an effort to be thorough though I’ll go through each one individually. Luckily, every acronym starting with a D usually begins with Ducati. So DES then stands for Ducati Electronic Suspension. Pretty self-explanatory, where instead of dialing in the suspension settings manually, a computer and servos do it for you. Next is DTC, which stands for Traction Control. This system has no less than 8 settings presiding over rear wheel spin. Level 8 is the most intrusive/conservative setting while level 1 allows you to get sideways – while on the throttle. Something I wish I had on my bike, DQS, is the Ducati Quick Shift technology. With DQS engaged, a rider can rapidly up-shift through the gears without using the clutch or closing the throttle. Which brings us to our first acronym not beginning with word Ducati, EBC or Engine Braking Control. Ducati states that EBC balances torque forces on the rear tire during severe engine-braking by administering precise throttle input when needed. In other words, it blips the throttle for you during hard down shifts. It manages this by employing an aircraft grade, Ride-by-Wire system. Ride-by-Wire, or RbW means that there’s no mechanical connection between the twist-grip and the throttle bodies. Instead, a sensor measures the amount of throttle opening and the 1199′s ECU delivers the power accordingly. All these technologies, including optional ABS brakes, work in concert with three selectable riding modes: Race, Sport and Wet. Wet being the most techno-intrusive and Race being the least.
Finally, there’s DDA+, Ducati’s second-gen data analysis software which can map the bike’s dynamics in real-time like throttle opening, speed, rpms, engine temperature, and even the amount of traction control intervention. The integrated GPS system that makes all this possible can also recognize when the bike is on a race track and will record lap times each time the rider crosses the start/finish line.
So the bike’s a week old and no media have officially ridden it yet. Can’t make any conclusions without takin’ her for a spin. Or can we? Well there’s still the matter of the styling. Crammed in front of the Ducati stand at EICMA, I heard all sorts of comments from, “E’ spettacolare”, (it’s spectacular) to, “fa cagare”(you can translate that on your own). While I like the use of LEDs as headlights, a first on a production motorcycle, the front end just looks too mean, too aggressive for me. It also reminds me a little bit of a 2008 Honda CBR1000RR. Then there’s the rakish tail section that while striking in it’s own right seems a bit too Aprilia RSV4. Even the fairing adds to the brutish nature of the bike. You can see this where the body panels don’t completely close on either side of the fuel tank, as if this hyper-bike is so juiced up it can’t fit into its own clothes anymore. Down below, we can see the exhaust header protruding the body work like a strained neck vein on a body builder.
My other gripes with this bike are the black plasticky bits scattered all over from the mirrors to the rear wheel fender and that awful exhaust loop. That’s right, awful. A concession for sticking with tradition and the L-twin engine layout I suppose, but that exhaust routing looks like a bad nightmare the designers had no choice but to leave in, then cover it with more shitty plastic. I realize that Ducati would like to up-sell performance parts and carbon fiber bling like the next guy but what I don’t like is that they seemingly under-design parts of their bikes on purpose. The mirrors for one, the exhaust for two. Even though replacing a stock exhaust for a custom one is probably the first modification any self-respecting sports bike owner will make, give it the same attention to detail as the rest of the bike right from the factory, especially on bikes well north of 20k Euro.
The more I think about it, Ducati has clearly taken a page out of the Ferrari handbook for this build. They’ve even adopted Ferrari’s alphanumeric nomenclature like, “599 GTB Fiorano”, and calling it after the town in Bologna where it’s built, Borgo Panigale. I actually think Ducati built their own, two-wheeled version of the Ferrari Enzo, I really do. Like the Enzo, the 1199 is striking but not particularly pretty. It’s a technological tour de force using technology derived from years of R&D in racing applications and just like the Enzo, it’s built around a monocoque chassis. The Panigale then, is the F60 of motorcycles. I’m calling it that anyway.