On Road: Ride To The Races On Ducati’s 899 Panigale
What is a race bike? It is certainly not comfort or convenience or common. Anything that doesn’t make it faster or handle better or brake better isn’t included in the design. Thus the Ducati 899 Panigale, a slightly smaller version of the now-ended Panigale 1199 and all-new 1299 Panigale, has only the barest few concessions to make it a road bike.
With its felid good looks, the 899 Panigale isn’t so much breaking new design ground as it is refining and perfecting it with elegant Italian flair. As usual, everything appears aesthetically correct because, when Ducati makes a part, they make a beautiful part. This makes for a multitude of really good angles.
The 899 is so super narrow, that straddling it makes you think of bikes from the 60’s. Nothing here that doesn’t need to be. A la MotoGP, the tail section is becoming more and more vestigial with each generation. Down below, the under slung exhaust is mostly hidden from view although the exposed pipe coiled under the seat slow roasts you unless you are moving fast enough to strip the heat off it.
A long time race fan commented that it used to be “Here’s my exhaust!” – big cans prominently displayed – and now it’s “Where’s my exhaust?”
Turn the key on. As the bike initializes and does its system checks, every light within the panel turns on while it counts up to and back down from 300kph … crazy lights and colors flash, the tach dances around spastically from left to right and then it all goes back to the start screen. This would not be at all out of place if you were playing Hang Off. Take it as a warning to get your mind right before you leave for your ride.
The 899’s two-chambered heart is cutting edge technology by anyone’s standards. In this age, where we are now, it isn’t making open class power, but that is a very relative and very jaded opinion. Not very long ago, it would have. It definitely wants to be revved hard, but being a v-twin, it doesn’t have to be for normal street riding. In a gamut of street riding, it returned 36-44 mpg. Not that those numbers would enter your mind if you purchased this bike.
At 148hp, the 899 is getting into the higher echelons of stock motorcycle engine performance. Not unlike most new high performance motorcycles, the 899 has power modes (“Race”, “Sport”, “Wet”). Mode selection of how much power you get is one way to make riding safer for all the riders who may possibly purchase this machine, whether they are worthy jockeys or not.
The three modes change the power output but also have specifically chosen settings for how much dynamic electronic intervention will be metered out in that mode. “Race”, as you can imagine is all max power and furious anger with the least intervention. “Wet” is neutered considerably with the least power and the most ABS and traction control intervention. “Sport” is somewhere in the middle. Should these modes not do it for you exactly, all three are customizable to make the mode configuration perfect for your intended riding style, skill level or riding conditions.
Super light and precise shifting is a given on a machine as advanced as this. So it is.
Aligning with the Panigale’s maximum performance angle, it comes with Ducati Quick Shift (DQS). This allows full throttle, clutch-less upshifts. This cumulatively shaves precious tenths per lap. Lots of people can do clutch-less upshifts, but if you have even a modicum of mechanical sensitivity, you don’t do WFO clutch-less upshifts. After years of doing it the old way, it is very hard to get your brain not to break power by rolling off and clutching, but the effort is worth it. You may think that you shift fast, but this is different. Because you can be at full throttle, the rev drop between gears is almost inperceptible. It’s a much higher level of shifting acceleration, as there is almost no mental respite from the rapidly increasing power like there is with regular shifting. Banging gears, the 899 sounds like a MotoGP machine.
But I digress. The 899 gave off an impression of insouciance on the street. Never exhibiting insolent behavior ever, it was wholly underwhelmed, to the point of obliviousness, by my presence on it while traveling at posted speeds.
Not just a racing toy, DQS is great as a street application, as well. Trolling around surface streets within the city, when all of the drive lash is bound up, rolling off from neutral throttle and pulling the clutch in to shift could normally cause a jerky lurch. Instead, on the 899, just tap the shift lever, no throttle movement necessary, and roll on – smooth as glass.
The whole bike rewards a light touch. Many times, I used too much effort with control inputs and was rewarded with too much reaction. At less than 400 lbs. wet, there is not much to move.
Top shelf brakes coupled with highly evolved ABS means you are braking hero of the world, even if, you are so not even close to being a braking hero of anything. Just pull that lever and trust the wonders of technology.
There is almost nothing on this bike that is not focused on making you faster. In the tradition of Ducati, it is a laser-sharp, focused, pure thoroughbred of the highest degree. As such, riding it on the street is like having your cake and only being able to take one bite.
You do, at all speeds, get a feeling that the 899 is raw. There is nothing extraneous. Nothing is bloated. It is immediate and pure in all its ride-by-wire, alphabet soup digital actions and responses.
If you do aspire to race, the optional Ducati Data Analyzer (DDA) is essentially a data-logging tool like you would use if you were a paid racer. It can track the bike’s trajectory, throttle position, speed, rpm, gear, and whether traction control is being activated. An actual, Ducati-shirted Data Analyst from Bologna is not included.
By David Soderholm
On Track: Less is More With the Ducati 899 Panigale
“Just to be sure… tell me again what this thing has on it,” I requested one last time for reassurance, listening carefully for his reply. John from Motoprimo looked at me, “Well, it’s got eight-level traction control, racing anti-lock braking, multi engine maps – which we have in Race mode – engine brake control and a quick-shifter.”
“So you’re saying I can just punch the throttle and spin it up without worrying about corner exits, grab gears without using the clutch or closing the throttle, and grab a handful of Brembos on corner entry?” I asked. He couldn’t see me smile from within my helmet.
“Exactly,” he said, tapping me on the helmet while grinning widely. With that, I snapped the face shield shut and rode down Brainerd’s pit lane on the 2014 Ducati Panigale 899. Sometimes life is really good.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “less is more,” and in the case of Ducati’s ‘lil Panigale, I think that is an appropriate description. The Panigale line came in two flavors in 2014. The older and bigger brother came with a 1199cc “Superquadro” V-twin. The younger brother and the focus of our track review is the one with the 898cc “Superquadro” engine. The name refers to the hugely over square piston dimensions, meaning really big bores and really short strokes. Both bikes feature an aluminum monocoque chassis that utilizes the engine as a frame part. They are both stunning to look at and awesomely thrilling to ride. But, at $14,995, the 899 is five grand cheaper and much friendlier to pilot. Less is more indeed!
I feel like I got the better end of this deal in comparison to Ben, who is writing the other half of this review. I had the privilege of riding the 899 multiple times at two different track locations and didn’t have one foot of street time on it. Everything I did with the Panigale was on-track. Good thing for me, because I’ll tell you straight away that this thing is absolutely brilliant as a track bike. I’ve ridden a lot of miles on the track on many different motorcycles and without a doubt this 899 Panigale trumps them all.
Besides being a beautiful and solid all around track package (which I’ll get to in a bit), the great thing about the Panigale is its collection of fabulously non-intrusive electronic safety nets. In the “old” days, when you rode high performance motorcycles on the track, there was always reluctance to go just that little bit faster because of fear of spinning up and high-siding or washing the front out on the brakes and falling down. To really find “the edge,” you had to step over it and maybe crash. With the Panigale, the electronics find the edge for you and allow you to exist in it and keep riding. I took two laps to get familiar with the feel of the 899 and on lap three let it rip.
Coming into turn three at Brainerd, I got HARD on the brakes. Like lock’em up kind of hard. The 899 just sort of shrugged and made it a non-event, allowing me to slow quickly and just concentrate on the turn. Leaning way over at the apex of three and looking at turn four, I just grabbed a handful of throttle. I felt the rear end drift out of line and stay there, the engine held a rev range and I rocketed off the turn with the front end wagging a few inches in the air with that amazing Superquadro-twin bark in my ears.
WOW! I felt like a hero. Throughout the rest of that session, it was rinse and repeat. I came into the pits feeling like Troy Bayliss.
The session after lunch really showed the safety aspect of this bike’s electronics. During lunch the temperature had dropped and it rained pretty hard. I was track instructing and felt obligated to head out on the cool, wet track. No one else had gone out when I pulled out of the pits. (Keep in mind I hate track riding in the wet – it’s just too unpredictable.) But there I was – heading timidly towards turn one. As the session wore on, I got more and more comfortable with the conditions and the 899. The track conditions went from full wet to wet in spots to full dry. Guess what? The same electronics that made me a hero in the dry did the same in the wet and changing conditions, but to a MUCH greater degree. Entering or exiting wet patches didn’t matter. I just kept on twisting it and the electronics kept me on the edge and upright. Bloody brilliant, and likely a boon to those using this bike on the street in cold or wet riding conditions.
The rest of the bike attached to the electronics is equally impressive. The Superquadro engine revs quicker than any V-twin I’ve ever ridden. It charges to redline to the tune of 148hp and 73 lb-ft of torque. Plenty stout for a “middleweight.” Fuel injection response is excellent, as is the quick shifter and the engine brake control – which acts like a slipper clutch. The Showa BPF forks and Sachs rear shock aren’t Ohlins like the big brother R model, but out on track I didn’t care – they still worked great. The dash is fully electronic and reminds me of a real MotoGP dash, with bright red lights converging in the middle of the panel and flashing toward redline. A super cool high tech touch.
As a track weapon, I can’t believe it gets better than this right now. Much less brutal and less expensive than its 1199 sibling, I’d take the 899 any day. Against the Japanese super sports, the exotic Ducati with its advanced electronics and easy rideability is an easy choice. Honestly I nicknamed this thing “The Hero Bike,” because every time you get off of it that’s how you feel.
Thanks to John Ames and Motoprimo for the 899 track time. You guys are awesome.