Ride Review: Ducati 1199 Panigale R

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New for 2013, Ducati has added another model to its Superbike range, the long awaited Ducati 1199 Panigale R. Asphalt & Rubber was first to break the news on the “R” version of Borgo Panigale’s namesake, so it is fitting that we were one of the first publications to ride this homologation-special — taking part in Ducati’s international press launch at the new, and very technical, Circuit of the Americas race course outside Austin, Texas.

A purpose-built facility for the Formula 1 Championship, the Circuit of the Americas also has a ten-year contract with motorcycling’s premier class, the MotoGP Championship. This means three races will be held in the United States of America this year, which makes America MotoGP’s second-most visited countries in 2013. That distinction seems fitting, as the United States has also officially become Ducati’s number one market, not just for superbike sales, but in overall bikes sold.

Seeing a shift not only in the Italian company’s DNA, as it explores lines like the Hypermotard, Multistrada, and Diavel with great sales success, Ducati is also moving beyond being just a boutique Italian brand, into a truly global motorcycle company — being recently acquired by the Audi Group doesn’t hurt things either.

With so much change occurring at the foundation of the Ducati brand, bikes like the Panigale are extremely important to the Bologna Brand, as they anchor the company’s racing and performance heritage. Worry not loyal Ducatisti, the race-ready Ducati 1199 Panigale R lives up to the high-expectations, and is quite simply the finest machine to come from Ducati Motor Holding. We review it, after the jump.

The Ducati 1199 Panigale R comes to us a year after the original Panigale launch, and coincides with Ducati’s factory re-entry into the World Superbike Championship. Make no mistake, the purpose of the “R” machine is to give race teams a purpose-built racing platform that caters to the strict rule books of international racing, and thus caters not to the feedback of road-going consumers, but instead from the input of racers, and to a lesser-extent, motorcyclists with serious track day addictions.

Traditionally, Ducati’s R-spec machines have been essentially race bikes with license plates and running gear attached. Built in exclusive quantities, these superbikes had price tags to match. All of this can still be said of the Ducati 1199 Panigale R, though to a lesser extent.

Ducati has added only a handful of serious revisions to the Panigale R, and its production run will be larger than R-spec machines in the past, so accordingly it comes with a $30,000 price tag, which is only a “modest” $2,000 more than the Ducati 1199 Panigale S Tricolore.


So What is New with the Ducati 1199 Panigale R?

The big enhancements of the Panigale R over its predecessors are actually pretty limited in number, and are comprised of a four-way adjustable swingarm pivot, titanium con-rods, a lightened flywheel (600 grams), a diamond-like-coating on the engine rockers, and 500 more revolutions per minute up top.

Add in some carbon fiber, 15/41 tooth sprockets front and back, a race seat cover, a taller windscreen, a unique red livery, and the simple fact that the Ducati 1199 Panigale R is not only the most powerful motorcycle to come from Borgo Panigale (201+ hp with included race exhaust) but also the lightest (165 kg / 364 lbs dry). Tech-spec paper racers, you can just top reading here. Fresh pants are in the closet.

Talking of the changes made to the Panigale R, Ducati General Manager Claudio Domenicali explained that the adjustable swingarm pivot and higher/quicker revving motor were the clear targets for Ducati’s engineering team, and that these changes were necessary to allow the Ducati 1199 Panigale RS13 (the racer-only version of the Panigale) to be homologated for international and national road racing.


Addressing the previously peaky power delivery of the Panigale, Ducati also coaxed some more midrange out of the Superquadro engine for the Panigale R, but in reality it is the revised ride-by-wire (RbW) programing, which above 3,000 rpm’s delivers significantly more fuel relative to throttle position on the handlebar, that accounts for the added grunt to the Panigale’s midrange — a modification that is being retrofitted to 2012 model year base model and “S” machines.

Add to the mix the new shorter final gear ratios, and the Ducati 1199 Panigale becomes a wheel-lifting monster with noticeably more rear-wheel thrust than its predecessors — all the way to its new 12,000 rpm redline. Between the shorter gears and the higher redline, Ducati cleverly has managed to keep the Vmax of the Ducati 1199 Panigale R the same as the base and “S” models.

For our uses at COTA, this meant 2nd gear cornering on the Texan track’s five hairpin turns, and a mad dash that just touches sixth-gear on the 175+ mph top speed down COTA’s one-kilometer-long back straight (Formula 1 cars clocked 199 mph here last year, for reference).


Thoughts from the Track:

While the peppier Superquadro motor is surely the highlight for many superbike fans, finding our zen moment while on the Panigale R was all about the chassis. As you can imagine, dropping from 175 mph down the back straight to the 35 mph apex of Turn 12 takes a considerable amount of braking and chassis stability, but the Ducati 1199 Panigale does it with ease. Brembo’s M50 calipers, in conjunction with Pirelli’s Diablo Supercorsa SC tires, are a dream up front, and constantly encourage you to find the real limits to COTA’s deceiving braking points (hint: it is more than halfway up the hill for the intimidating entry into T1).

With the Bosch’s 9ME ABS system engaged, riders can be confident in loading the front wheel to its absolute maximum, assuming you have the physical fortitude to find those limits on the race track. Similarly for street riders, the system ensures the powerful brakes won’t tuck the front when going over questionable surfaces. Quite honestly, Bosch’s dual-channel ABS system, like the one found on the Ducati 1199 Panigale R, should end the debate about the technology’s application to sport bikes. Motorcycling Luddites are either going to have to see the light, or get over it — we suggest the prior.

With a firmly planted front tire, one of the more simple joys of the Ducati 1199 Panigale R involves letting the rear tire kick loose at these high-speed braking points. Between the Superquadro’s slipper clutch, and Ducati’s engine brake control (EBC) system, matching engine rev’s on downshifts becomes an outdated riding technique, as the mechanical and electronic systems keep the rear tire squarely in a happy place that is neither Stalinist authority nor Mardi Gras debauchery.

Of course, one cannot talk about the Ducati 1199 Panigale R without talking about Ducati’s “frameless” chassis design. A pox on the company’s MotoGP efforts, the Panigale’s chassis, which unconventionally builds off the cylinder heads of the 1,198cc v-twin motor, simply works on the production motorcycle. Giving confidence in the turns, our only real complaint about the chassis is its stability at high speeds.

A symptom that is likely a combination of chassis geometry and the rear-wheel torque produced by the motor and gear ratios, the Panigale R has noticeably less stability than its lower-spec counterparts. Flying down COTA’s kilometer-long back straight, where strong gusts were present, the Ducati 1199 Panigale perceptibly wobbled while hard on the gas, which you can clearly see from the on-board footage of our flying lap around the Circuit of the Americas track during the press launch.

Riding on the stock “0” swingarm pivot setting, I would have liked to try the Panigale R at “-2” or “-4” at the pivot during the test, to see if  the increased squat would tame the wobbles. However, with the modification taking 30 minutes, and the one bike pre-setup with the “-4” setting out of commission with a mechanical in the final session of the day, I was unable to try the Ducati 1199 Panigale R in a different swingarm pivot position.


In Comparison:

The Ducati 1199 Panigale R marks the fourth bike in Ducati’s arsenal to carry the “Panigale” name, making the superbike category a crowded space for the company’s flagship model. Getting a race exhaust, DDA+  data acquisition with GPS, a quick-shifter, electronically adjustable Öhlins suspension, and traction control, the Ducati 1199 Panigale R shares many features with the Ducati 1199 Panigale S Tricolore. With only a $2,000 price difference between the two machines, the Panigale R looks like a venerable bargain, with its engine modifications, when compared to the previous top-of-the-line model.

Similarly when compared against the Ducati 1199 Panigale S, the Panigale R again has an attractive allure, considering how many “S” owners will opt for the $3,500 full-exhaust system by Termignoni, and the bevy of Ducati Performance parts that come standard on the “R” model. With the engine and chassis options left to command only a few thousand dollars in a price premium, we have no trouble believing that Ducati will find owners willing to pay for the exclusivity of the Ducati 1199 Panigale R.

But then there is the base model Ducati 1199 Panigale, which at nearly half the price, is only a few percentage points off the performance of the Panigale R. It doesn’t have all the bullet-point technical features, nor the bragging rights of being the lightest, fastest, and most exclusive model from Ducati, but with a modest amount of kit, could be nearly as potent of a weapon on the track.

Looking outside of Ducati’s range, the Ducati 1199 Panigale R has potent competition in the new Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC ABS and BMW HP4. Both of these bike’s predecessors gave the Ducati 1199 Panigale S a run for its money in last year’s superbike shootouts, with many publications agreeing that the RSV4 still reigned supreme in the liter-bike category, when it came to on-track performance.

Most of those shootouts were done before the ride-by-wire update to the Panigale however, which in of itself could be enough to topple the competition. But then again, it is not like Aprilia and BMW have been resting on their laurels, having made updates to their superbike platforms as well. As we are so fond of saying, time will tell on this one. Thankfully, with many of the Ducati 1199 Panigale R bikes from the launch staying in the USA, we should get a few chances for head-to-head comparisons. Stay tuned for that A&R readers.


The Final Word:

My ultimate take on the Ducati 1199 Panigale R is dichotomous. My opening summary at the top of the review was not hyperbole (nor was it a catch line for Ducati to publish over and over again…as is so often the case with these reviews). Straight-fact: the Ducati 1199 Panigale R is the best superbike Ducati has produced, hands down, don’t need to think twice about it, feed me a cookie.

The “but” that follows that statement however is that much of what makes the Panigale R such a supreme machine, compared to when we rode the Panigale S roughly nine months ago, is the ride-by-wire update and the shorter gear ratio on the rear sprocket. Many of the laurels that one can place at the feet of the Panigale R, can in-turn be given to the “S” and base model, which for a price-conscious buyer, will likely be plenty of machine for their motorcycling tastes.

In motorcycles, like in economics, there is always the issue of a diminishing returns. How much extra are you willing to pay for a fraction more performance? And the more performance you want, the more it is going to cost you. Compared to its predecessors, the Ducati 1199 Panigale R is a bargain at $29,995, and even compared to the Panigale S Tricolore it is fairly easy for the well-funded to justify the extra couple thousand dollars in MSRP. You would be a fool not, I say.

The faster-revving and yet surprisingly smooth engine on the Panigale R provides for real enjoyment at both ends of the speed spectrum, which is really saying something considering the stumbles Ducati v-twins always seem to have at slower speeds. Similarly, the brute force thrust that lofts the front wheel with third-gear power wheelies appeals to my inner-child, and is a reminder that truthfully the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.

For my money, I would opt for buying a Ducati 1199 Panigale base model instead, and build it up with the performance parts that were going to contribute the most to my lap times — like any rational human being who has bills to pay and eight years of higher education to payback to lenders. Yes, I am after all a motorcycle blogger (the lowest form of journalist, if you were to take a straw poll in the motorcycle industry), which by definition means I eat ramen noodles and live in my mother’s basement.

But you see, Ducati didn’t make the Panigale R for people who eat ramen noodles for dinner and drive a Honda Civic (it’s just a car, man). No, the men and women of Borgo Panigale, they made it for people who eat big fat 22 oz. steak ribeyes with au jus seeping from the corners of their mouth. They made the Panigale R for the very small percentage of the riding population who want the very, very, very best — the most technologically advanced superbike available on the market, in its most distilled and potent form, with its racing pedigree in-hand, and that machine is the Ducati 1199 Panigale R.

If you have the means, we highly recommend picking one up — just don’t bother trying to explain it to your accountant or financial advisor. They won’t understand.




Photos: Milagro, Scott Jones Photography, & Andrew Wheeler

Helmet: AGV Grid – Giacomo Agostini Replica; Leathers: Dainese Laguna Seca; Boots: Dainese Axial Pro In; Gloves: Dainese 4-Stroke