The first Ducati 1199 Panigale rolled off the assembly line at Ducati’s Borgo Panigale factory today, officially starting production of the Italian company’s flagship model. While maybe the the production of the first Panigale is not the most newsworthy of subjects, make no mistake at how important this motorcycle is for both Ducati and sport bikes in general going into the future. Featuring a new step in production motorcycle chassis design, we’ve also already talked at length about the number of firsts that the 1199 Panigale is bringing to the production motorcycle market.
With a hybrid chain/gear-driven camshaft, titanium valves, a wet slipper clutch, a ride-by-wire throttle, rider-selectable “riding mode” system, and 15,000 mile major service intervals, the Superquadro v-twin motor alone is a major step for Ducati with its Superbike engine design. And, if you add in the first full-LED headlight on a produciton motorcycle, the first electronically-adjustable suspension on a sport bike, the first motorcycle engine braking control system, as well as the first GPS-assisted data acquisition system for a production motorcycle, the total package of the 1199 redefines the word “superbike” and takes the next logical technological step forward in this market segment.
However features aside, what will truly be the most important aspect of the Ducati 1199 Panigale is whether or not the flagship model can live up to the hype that has been generated around the machine. While most of the attention to-date regarding the Panigale has centered on whether Ducati’s monocoque chassis design can work on the production motorcycle, after it has failed so miserably in MotoGP, the real issue for the Italian brand has nothing at all to do with the 1199’s race track prowess.
If you had told me a few years ago that Ducati would build a cruiser-segment motorcycle, I probably would have called you a couple cylinders short of a v-twin. Up until recently, mentioning the thought of the Bologna brand chasing after Harley-Davidson riders would have invited fisticuffs in most Italian motorcycle cafés. And even despite the launch of the Ducati Diavel, you can start a heated debate among loyal Ducatisti by bringing up Italy’s latest power cruiser.
Make no mistake, the 2011 Ducati Diavel is a controversial motorcycle…and that’s putting things lightly (at worst it’s a complete dilution of the Ducati brand). If the Diavel is Ducati’s deal with the Devil, then let me play the Devil’s advocate for a moment, and put forth the business case about why this motorcycle had to be built, and what it means to the Ducati brand — minus the pandering to the Ducati faithful.