So far this year, no motorcycle launch has generated a buzz quite like the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale
. A leading contender for the ''Bike of the Year'' award, this Italian thoroughbred has definitely made a stronger first impression than any other model out there thanks to gorgeous styling, phenomenal power, and advanced technology.
Once again, Ducati has managed to squeeze every last drop of power out of its signature L-twin engine while significantly reducing the overall weight. Tipping the scales at 188 kg, the new 1199 Panigale delivers 195 hp at 10,700 rpm, equal to 0.964 kg/hp. Very few vehicles boast a similar power-to-weight ratio, be it on land, water or air.
Slender like no other
Unsurprisingly, the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale is super-slender with track-focused ergonomics. The narrow fuel tank fits nicely between the rider's thighs, the ultra-thin, non-slipping seat is flush with the tank to help you shift your body like Moto2 racers, the half-handlebars are wide and low, and the footpegs sit far back and high. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more exquisite combination of styling, engineering and craftsmanship.
With breathtaking lines, remarkable fit and finish, and equipment levels on par with WSBK machines, the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale hits the road and the track like no other. And thank God for the brand's electronic assist system which does one heck of a job harnessing the spirited character of the exuberant Italian steed.
The 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale really is on the cutting edge of technology with Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Ducati Quick Shift (DQS), Engine Brake Control (EBC), race ABS, three riding modes (Race, Sport, and Wet), and Ducati Data Analyzer (DDA+) -- everything you need to feel like a GP rider... or overwhelmed by the abundance of settings. Clearly, the 1199 Panigale is not designed for beginners, let alone road-only riders.
Like any good Ducati, this one requires a certain level of experience and skill. On the track, you have to stay extremely poised and focused to make the most of the machine. Riding aggressively on a tight track like Autodrome St. Eustache gives the impression of straddling and spurring a horse that's just been tamed. Granted, my tester suffered from a bad fork whose damping characteristics kept deteriorating lap after lap. Ducati representatives assured me that it was an isolated problem and that closer inspections will follow.
Loud, explosive, thrilling
|On the track, you have to stay extremely poised and focused to make the most of the machine.(Photo: France Ouellet)
The bloodcurdling power delivery and sound effects at full throttle makes riding the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale similar to doing a bungee jump right into a philharmonic orchestra. Believe me, there are very few bikes that can induce such thrills. Forget about a leisurely ride and just bring your A-game because the 1199 Panigale leaves no room for guesswork; you need to know exactly where you're going. A pure track star for seasoned riders only.
Oddly, for the first time on a Ducati motorcycle, low-end gusto is somewhat missing. The liquid-cooled, 1198cc L-twin engine sends a quick and clear warning that it prefers to play at higher revs. So don't hesitate to crank it up, and you'll be rewarded with rocket-like acceleration into another dimension.
Doing away with the venerable trellis frame, the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale benefits from a new monocoque structure in cast aluminium that uses the engine as a structural element. This frame weighs a mere 4.3 kg and immediately inspires confidence in corners, together with an ultra-precise and responsive steering that provides clear feedback on front-wheel grip.
Stability around the apex remains excellent, even in tight, bumpy corners; however, the machine comes out of there a bit shaken and unbalanced. Similar to a wild horse, the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale squirms as the electronic systems do their best to handle the mood swings of the raging powerplant. DTC struggles to rein in all the power being put to the ground, often leading to wheelies. What's more, the slippery footpegs can sometimes give the rider a good scare.
All in all, it's a lot of work, but when done right, the adrenaline rush totally makes up for it.
The 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale brilliantly demonstrates the difference-making role of electronic riding aids with a machine that's so demanding and challenging. At least anyone not named Valentino Rossi will understand. Ducati aficionados will be thrilled with this fearsome new superbike that gets the better of Average Joes, yet ranks among the fastest and sharpest in the world when one gains full control of it.
|So far this year, no motorcycle launch has generated a buzz quite like the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale. (Photo: Sébastien D'Amour)
Precision and responsiveness, particularly up front
Styling, fit and finish, and equipment levels
Lack of balance when coming out of corners at full throttle