Aaaaaand ... as soon as Yamaha caught up to Ducati’s Panigale with the release of its new 2015 R1, the Italians announced they’d shifted the goalposts again on their home turf at the EICMA motorcycle show in Milan. The new Panigale 1299 is a fairly major makeover for the flagship Italian superbike, with a power boost up to 205 horses due to a bored-out, larger engine. It’s also about the smartest superbike we’ve ever seen, with an electronics suite that outguns both the R1 and BMW’s 2015 S1000RR by including lean angle-sensitive Cornering ABS, among other things. Interestingly, the frameless design stays the same, and visually you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 2015 bike and the previous generation. But then, there was never anything wrong with the Panigale’s looks.
Ducati unveiled its next-gen Panigale superbike this morning at EICMA – the 1299, in standard, S and R versions. Interestingly, the new bike is split off into road and race variants, with the roadgoing standard and S models getting an engine capacity boost up to 1285cc, while the World Superbike homologation R model stays back at 1198cc to keep it within WSBK rules.
While both engine variants make the same peak of 205 horsepower, they go about it in different ways. The R version revs higher, making its peak at 11,500 rpm and makes 136.2 Nm (110.5 lb.ft) of torque at 10,250 rpm. The road versions are much torquier, and make their power lower, the max torque is 144.6 Nm (106.7 lb.ft) at just 8,750 rpm and the peak power also arrives 1,000 rpm earlier at 10,500.
The Superquadro L-twin street engine boosts its capacity with a wider bore, giving it two monster 116 mm diameter pistons the likes of which have never been seen in a supersport bike before. It’ll be fascinating to see how she rides. There’s absolutely no reason why manufacturers should need to keep their street bikes under World Superbike engine size regulations; the larger size and torquier character of the 1285cc engine could make it a much better road bike than the peaky race version. It certainly stomps the EBR 1190RX back into second place as the torquiest superbike on the market, beating it out by some 6.5 Nm (4.8 lb.ft), even if it’s cheating a bit.
Like the brand new 2015 Yamaha R1, the new Ducati has an integrated Inertial Measurement Unit that records a huge amount of data in real time, including X, Y and Z-axis acceleration, pitch, roll and yaw. This feeds an incredibly smart computer system that controls the following features:
- 8-stage, lean angle sensitive Ducati Traction Control
- Quickshifter for both upshifts and downshifts
- 8-stage, lean angle sensitive wheelie control
- 3-stage engine brake control, to tone down the big twin’s savage bite on high-rpm downshifts
- Lean angle sensitive Cornering ABS braking, which allows maximum stopping power while leaned over
- three different riding modes, which alter the parameters of power delivery as well as all the above gadgets
The S model also gets the same active electronic Ohlins suspension as the Yamaha R1M, which constantly reads the road and how you’re riding, and continually adjusts the damping at the forks, the shock and the steering damper to suit the way you’re riding it.
There’s also the Ducati Data Analyzer, complete with GPS, which is standard on the R model, but optional on the other two, and which allows you to download a ton of data about your latest ride or track session to a computer for analysis.
Chassis-wise, there’s not a huge change. The Panigale keeps its controversial "frameless" design, which has been the bane of Ducati’s MotoGP team, but has performed perfectly well on the road in the hands of mortals. The steering head is sharpened up by half a degree to 24 degrees, and the trail on the front wheel is reduced by 4 mm to 96 mm (0.16 - 3.78 in), in the interests of speeding up the steering a little.
Brakes are beastly Brembo radial monoblocs, grabbing 330 mm (13 in) discs, and they should provide absolutely insane stopping power with an extra helping of "I can’t believe I can pull up this easily in a corner" thanks to the Bosch Cornering ABS, which we’d hope will become the new standard ABS within a few years for all bikes. It works extraordinarily well and does a lot to make your ride safer. Or faster. For some of us, it’ll just make us go faster.
As for the looks of the thing, you’d hardly notice it’s such a significant upgrade. The body shape is almost identical to the previous generation 1199 model, not that there was ever anything wrong with that.
The eagle-eyed will notice a slightly straighter middle vent in the side fairings, infinitesimally deeper air intakes beside the headlights, a different, circular exit on the exhaust and slightly different rims. And yet this is a significant upgrade where it counts.
To put this bike into perspective, let’s look back to 10 years ago, when first, second and third places in the 2004 World Superbike Championship all went to Ducati 998 riders.
That bike, the last of the beautiful 916 series Ducatis, made 123 horsepower in road trim. The new one is almost exactly two thirds more powerful, and weighs some 10 kilograms less fully fueled than the 998 did with no fluids in it whatsoever. We’re riding in a gilded age, folks, where you and I can buy a machine so comically overpowered, and yet so beautifully controlled as to feel somehow safe and relevant on the road.
If only the nut between the seat and the handlebars could be upgraded at such a speed.