Some motorcycles speak to the soul, and when they’re done talking, you’ll never need to hear another word from any other. The Panigale R from Ducati is like that.
By Bertrand Gahel
It’s been about a year and a half now since Ducati unveiled its new Superbike platform, the “frameless” 1199 Panigale, and I still can’t get over the bike’s beauty. I was having dinner during some new model launch last fall with the chief designer of one of the big brands, and for some reason the discussion veered toward the Panigale’s look. Trying to comment on it, the guy, who was articulate up to that point, paused, made a few grimaces, started uttering a sequence of “wows” and “mans” and finally ended, in near frustration, with “Damn that bike is beautiful. Damn.” He could have been talking about an incomprehensibly beautiful woman, and his reaction definitely echoes mine. The Panigale’s seemingly perfect proportions, striking yet simple beauty and elegant aggressiveness make it impossible for me to stop gawking at it.
Fitted with various carbon fibre parts and dressed with a subtle yet sexy new red and silver bare metal paint scheme, the new for 2013 Panigale R is one (surprise) gorgeous machine.
Ducati R models are traditionally highly upgraded and much pricier versions of the base versions, but this one is a bit of an exception. At $31,995, it’s only a couple grand more than the S Tricolore version and although both bikes are very close technically with their fabulous three-spoke Marchesini wheels, Öhlins suspension and multiple power, traction control, and ABS modes, the R is well worth the extra cost.
Because World Superbike rules specify certain parts like crank and connecting rods must remain stock, Ducati is using the Panigale R as a homologation version. It comes stock with titanium connecting rods and a lightened crankshaft, mods that shave almost a kilo and a half off the Panigale’s already feather weight and allow for a 12,000 rpm rev limit (500 rpm higher). The bike weighs 165 kg (363 lb.) dry (about 24 kg more wet) and produces 195 hp (same as all the other versions), both fantastic figures.
To take full advantage of the faster spinning engine allowed by those mods the rear sprocket, larger by two teeth, lowers final gearing to maximize acceleration. An adjustable swingarm pivot is also part of the R’s upgrades.
The Panigale R is a rocket. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that a production V-Twin can be made this powerful. The way it generates speed is both effortless and majestic. You always have to be careful with statements like these, but I doubt anything stock accelerates harder. BMW’s S1000RR is probably close in outright speed, but I’m positive the ability of the Ducati to accelerate hard from mid-revs is unequaled. Coming out of the Circuit of the America’s multiple hairpin-like turns, the R could be left in second gear at very low revs and would pull cleanly and strongly. An inline-four would have had to be brought back in first. Same story with a series of slow turns where second gear would have normally been used, but where the Panigale R’s shorter gearing and quicker revving engine would allow using third without any drive penalty at corner exits. The lower revs actually made exits smoother, power more manageable, and simplified corners by saving one shift entering and one shift exiting.
One of the bonuses, with the Panigale R, is that all these moments are accompanied by the sweet booming note of the racetrack-only Termignoni exhaust that is part of the model’s accessory package. Another, is the full gas, clutchless shifts allowed by the electronic shifter, a feature I really got to appreciate the faster I went.
The Panigale R’s handling is just as impressive as its power. Unlike Ducati’s previous generation Superbike, the 1198, which demanded you adapt your riding style to it, the Panigale instantly works with you and feels as natural and easy to ride as a 600 Supersport. It might not be quite as light and flickable as a 600, but the simple fact this sort of comparison can be brought up tells a whole lot about the machine.
Clichés such as intuitive steering and surgical precision are totally deserved by the Panigale R, but there’s something more about the model’s handling. How hard it can be trail-braked deep into corners, how it doesn’t show the slightest hint of movement while slightly leaned on the long 290 kmh bend that is CotA’s back straight or how traction control allows corner exits to be maximized all make you realize this is a special one.
With a few rare exceptions, I’ve had the chance to ride every production sportbike for this “job” of mine. This one is it for me.