A formula one car, at 640 kg (1,411 lbs) and about 800 horsepower, has a power-to-weight ratio around 1.25 horsepower per kilogram (2.2 lbs). The new 1199 Panigale, with 195 horsepower and 164 kg (361.5 lbs), has a ratio of 1.19 horsepower per kilogram. Granted, that figure changes significantly if you add my porky badonkadonk and a full tank to the equation ... but regardless, this roaring L-twin beast is not only the new power-to-weight champion of the production motorcycle world, it's a ground-up reinvention of the Ducati superbike that has reportedly been in development since the venerable 1098 first hit showroom floors in 2007. Even without factory support, the 1198 won this year's World Superbike championship ... and absolutely everything about the Panigale looks significantly better, including Troy Bayliss' lap times. Let's take a closer look at what is easily the most desirable supersports bike of 2012.
A tough launchDucati hasn't exactly had the best lead-up to the Panigale's debut - the pressure's really on. The Italian company dropped factory support for its World Superbike team this year to focus on its MotoGP effort, having signed the highest-wattage star in the motorcycle universe, Valentino Rossi.
Of course, things haven't gone to plan. While Carlos Checa romped to WSBK championship victory aboard the Althea Racing Ducati 1198, Rossi has very publicly struggled to get his head around the Desmosedici GP11. Rossi's miserable 7th place championship finish in 2011 was a blight on an otherwise near perfect career - his previous worst results being two third places in 2007 and 2010. Everything else has been championships and a few second places all the way back to 1997.
It was the worst advertising Ducati could have hoped for - with the man many believe to be the world's greatest racer on board, the problem wasn't the rider - it was the bike. And specifically, it was the carbon-fiber monocoque frame.
At extreme lean angles, a motorcycle's suspension system becomes more or less useless. At an elbow-dragging 60 degrees, a fork or shock's plane of compression is so far from vertical that it's just not effective at soaking up vertical bumps to keep a tire planted to the ground.
This is where frame flex comes in - most MotoGP bikes have an aluminum twin-spar or double wishbone frame that allows a certain degree of sideways flex. At full lean, the bike can twist to help it deal with bumps. But the Ducati GP11 was a different beast. In search of an edge in airflow, weight distribution and chassis tuning, Ducati ran with a monocoque design that more or less did away with the frame altogether. The headstock connected to the front engine cylinders via a small carbon fiber unit, and the swingarm and seat unit came off the back of the engine, too. Carbon fiber's incredibly light weight, strength and almost limitless flex tuning ability were expected to deliver big results.
Great in theory, but in reality the carbon-framed Ducatis proved more or less unrideable to anyone but Australia's Casey Stoner. Outside Stoner's garage, the carbon-framed bikes became a graveyard of champions, more or less ending the GP career of Marco Melandri, relegating ex-champ Nicky Hayden to the back of the pack, and completely stumping Rossi to the point where it looks like Ducati is going to try redesigning the Desmosedici around an aluminum frame just to give its big star a chance in 2012. Here's a much more in-depth look at the GP11 and its carbon frame, if you're interested.
Why is this relevant? Because Ducati had bigger plans for the monocoque "frameless" chassis design. Plans that start with the 1199 Panigale that has just debuted at EICMA. That's right: Ducati's new flagship consumer sportsbike is going to market with an aluminum version of the monocoque frame that made Valentino Rossi look like he couldn't ride.
You couldn't script a worse marketing coup - Rossi has certainly cost the factory megabucks to hire, and Ducati has thrown the kitchen sink at the GP11 and 11.1 trying to spend their way to the pointy end of the field, but instead of a cupboard full of silverware, they're left with a bike and a frame concept that's reputedly unrideable, and no doubt a great deal of regret that they didn't hang on to Stoner while they had the chance.
So, with this bit of history in mind, as well as the runaway success of the previous model - the 1198 - let's examine the new 1199 Panigale and see if it can rise above such a difficult birth.
Ducati 1199 Panigale - Superquadrata engineThe new Panigale (named for the western quarter of Bologna where the Ducati factory is located) may be impressive to look at, but its spec sheet is where the pulse really starts racing.
For starters, 195 horsepower is an incredibly impressive number for a high-revving 4-cylinder bike, let alone the big fat pistons of a V-Twin. The Superquadro engine hits this huge figure at just 9000 rpm, where by comparison the BMW S1000RR is spinning at a crazy 14,200 rpm to make its peak of 193 horses.
The 1199's power output is a stunning 25 ponies stronger than the magnificent Ducati 1198 it replaces. That's a huge jump.
They've done it by pretty much redefining the concept of "oversquare" (or "Superquadro" in Italian) with a massive cylinder bore of 112 mm and an ultra-short stroke of 60.8 mm. A shorter stroke means quicker revving, and the larger bore allows significantly larger diameter valves in the cylinder head. There has been almost no torque penalty from the reduced stroke; the Panigale pounds out 98.1 lb-ft of torque, just 1 lb-ft less than the 1198.
The higher redline of the 1199 Panigale makes Ducati's famous gear-activated desmodromic valve actuation more important than ever - it opens and closes the valves extremely precisely through mechanical actuation instead of waiting for springs to effect the closure.
Ducati wasn't prepared to take the reliability risk of using a cam belt to run the desmo system, however, so the Panigale runs a cam chain and gear-drive setup like the Desmosedici GP racers, complete with +/- calibration options on the intake and outlet camshafts to allow precise adjustment.
One major visual change to the engine is the lack of the twin underseat exhausts that have graced every Ducati superbike since the famous 916. The Panigale's exhaust is almost integrated into the fairings, exiting just in front of the rear wheel and looking just about as if there's no pipe at all, if it wasn't for the rear cylinder's exhaust tubing winding around beneath the shock unit. No doubt it's heavy in stock form, but the exhaust system looks fantastic.
The much-maligned monocoque chassisThe famous Ducati L-Twin engine configuration is looking more like a V-Twin than ever before; the cylinders are still 90 degrees apart, but the L shape has been tilted back a further 6 degrees, so it's now 21 degrees from horizontal.
That has allowed the whole engine to move 32 mm forward in the bike - which reaps benefits in rear wheel suspension action, as you can extend the swingarm - but it also puts the front cylinder head nice and close to the headstock. The tiny, aluminum monocoque frame simply joins the headstock to the front cylinder head, and then back to the rear cylinder head in a triangle arrangement. The swingarm pivot point mounts off the crankcase and rear cylinder, making the engine a fully stressed member in the frame. It's a rare and very progressive chassis configuration that's closer to the remarkable Britten V1000 than to any sportsbike on the market.
Check out some technical drawings showing how the Ducati 1199 Panigale frame attaches to the engine.
The new engine location helps to keep weight over the front wheel to improve handling, but it also shortens the bike from a rider's perspective, with some 3 cm (1.18 in) shorter reach to the handlebars. The swingarm has been extended by nearly 4 cm (1.57 in), to the point that the 1199 Panigale will actually run a 7.6 mm longer wheelbase than the 1198, despite the fact that the rest of the bike is much more compact.
The elimination of a traditional trellis frame has helped Ducati shave a whopping 10 kg (22 lbs) off the total weight of the bike - and its predecessor was already the lightest bike in its category. Fully fueled with 17 liters (4.5 US gallons) of premium and ready to roll, the Panigale's claimed weight is just 188 kg (414.5 lbs). The BMW S1000RR, by comparison, weighs in at 204 kg (450 lbs) wet, and the Honda CBR600RR supersports bike weighs 187 kg (412 lbs). Extraordinary.
Panigale ElectronicsI've been banging on about Ducati's dashes for some time - the dash from the 1098/1198 and now the Multistrada is absolutely fantastic, having been developed from the dash used on the Desmosedici GP bikes. It's been the best dash on the market in my opinion for some years now - but it's gone straight out the window on the Panigale, which pushes the concept of a motorcycle dash forward by a long margin.
The new dash is a full color, high resolution TFT display. It's moving toward computer screen territory, which seems appropriate given the abundance of electronics this bike packs in. Check out a video of the dash for more information.
Sports ABS and The Ducati Traction Control (DTS) systems are just the beginning here - through the dash you can also fully adjust your suspension settings (presumably only on S models) via the Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) system, as well as your Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) setup, choose your engine mapping and power output characteristics, and even adjust the amount of engine braking on a trailing throttle with Engine Braking Control (EBC). The engine braking system makes use of the Panigale's fly-by-wire motorized throttle system to feed a little air into the throttle bodies under deceleration, reducing compression braking and effectively making the 1199 feel even more like a freewheeling race bike on corner entry. Oh, and that's in addition to the slipper clutch fitted to the brand new gearbox.
All these settings are manageable individually, or you can trust the Ducati engineers by going with one of three preset riding modes - Race, Sport and Wet. As usual, the key metric here is the power curve - in Wet mode you get 120 horsepower and a gentle throttle map, in Sport mode you get the full 195 horsepower but with a softish throttle response, and race mode goes all out with full power on a hair trigger, quarter turn throttle.
Further information about this wealth of electronica will emerge as time goes by, but with an unrivaled list of electronic adjustment opportunities, the Panigale goes straight to the head of the class as the most electronically advanced sportsbike on the planet ... for now!
Braking and SuspensionThe Panigale makes use of the very latest Brembo 4-piston monobloc radial brakes, gripping 320 mm discs at the front. With a wider fork spacing than usual, the discs get more airflow than ever before to keep them cool under extreme conditions at the racetrack.
ABS will be a welcome addition to the 1199 - while Brembo's road gear is generally quite progressive, it's also massively powerful. One ham-fisted panic grab on cold tires can easily lock up the front wheel - or flip you over the handlebars if the tire is up to temperature.
ABS appears to be standard on all 1199 Panigale models - and while all we know about it is that it is a brand new sports ABS system, it's likely to include some sort of stoppie management system as well as simple prevention of wheel lockups. Whether it's a full fledged race-ready system like the one on the BMW S1000RR is yet to be seen, but either way you're able to turn it off and tune it at will.
The rear wheel apparently has a brake too ... but this is a sportsbike, folks. Who needs it?
As for suspension, the S and S Tricolore models will wear the very latest electronically adjustable units from Ohlins, where the standard model will make do with the typical Marzocchi 50 mm fork and Sachs rear shock setup.
The new bike's geometry and thick single-sided swingarm necessitate an odd-looking shock placement at an angle slightly past horizontal. It may look strange, bit it's certainly going to be easier to adjust than some more vertical shock placements.
That slightly elevated shock position gives a progressive action on the rear shock - handy for the road. But if you want a flatter and more linear shock response for racetrack riding, you can quickly change a couple of bolts on the shock mount to reposition it. It'll be interesting to see how much that changes the suspension feel.
Cornering and HandlingReduced weight, extended swingarm, underslung exhausts and all the electrickery in Christendom combine to make the Panigale a cornering beast - but this is aided by the new, more front-heavy geometry, the riding position and a wider set of handlebars to give extra leverage on changes of direction.
Any fear that the monocoque chassis might make it unrideable at extreme angles were dispelled by a single tweet from Ducati's legendary retired SBK champion and now test rider Troy Bayliss, who took the Panigale to Mugello and immediately went half a second faster on it than any bike he's ever ridden before. That was in superbike spec - and as Bayliss put it, "in street form, nothing will come close."
From the looks of things, folks, the 1199 Panigale seems like a good bet to smash the superbike class apart in the same way the BMW S1000RR did on its release a couple of years ago. It's lost so much weight, gained so much power, and packed in so many new technical innovations that it simply looks unrivaled in the class - I mean, it's got the horsepower to destroy most of its inline 4 competition at the racetrack, but combined with a lethal v-twin torque assault and some 15 kilos (33 lbs) less weight.
Power to weight is sky high, the onboard electronics are as advanced as they get on any motorcycle anywhere, and in early development models it's already proving itself on the racetrack. Every few years, a motorcycle totally redefines the sportsbike market. The 1992 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade. The 1998 Yamaha YZF-R1. The 2005 Suzuki GSX-R1000. The 2009 BMW S1000RR. Now, it looks like it's Ducati's turn. The king is dead. Long live the king.
Take a look through our staggering image gallery, with no less than 96 different views of the new bike.View gallery - 99 images