Sportbike of the Year Winner: Ducati 899
The hallmark of a good sporting motorcycle is one that instills supreme confidence in its rider to comfortably push their abilities. And if the motorcycle also is able to turn heads in the process, then all the better. Of all the new sportbikes we’ve ridden in the past year, none have felt as sure-footed and confidence-inspiring as the Ducati 899 Panigale, Motorcycle.com’s Sportbike of the Year. It doesn’t hurt that the 899 is a sexy object of desire, to boot.
The baby Panigale’s 898cc Superquadro engine is its central talking point. It’s high-strung for a V-Twin, requiring the rider to stay in tune with its shift points and rev it to the moon to extract all its power. It handsomely rewards riding it with aggression, and its high-tech electronics suite will do its best to rein you in if you get too greedy. Once finished with your track session or canyon ride, park the bike and watch the flock of admirers come gawking.
As if that weren’t enough, the 899’s ergos are comfy (in sportbike terms), even for taller folks. Not too long ago, no one would equate a Ducati sportbike with comfort. So think of the 899 Panigale as the complete package – killer track performance, good looks and reasonable comfort, all rolled into one. It’s a stunning combination that leads to confidence on the track and a damn good time on the street.
Moreover, the 899 Panigale makes a good case for a sub-liter-class sportbike. Doing a trackday on a 1200cc V-Twin or a four-cylinder literbike can be frustrating because time at full throttle is so brief. And that’s on a closed course, never mind the limitations on public roads. There were definitely strong contenders in this arena, like BMW’s omnipotent but pricey HP4 (last year’s sportbike winner) and MV Agusta’s enticing F3 800. But the 899 edged out the MV (and Suzuki GSX-R750) in our Super-Middleweight Sportbike shootout. We judged the Panigale 899 as having the best balance of performance and desirability of any sportbike in 2014.
Honorable Mention: Erik Buell Racing 1190RX
The revival of Erik Buell is an all-American feel-good story if there ever was one. But this story is made all the more inspiring by the fact that Erik hasn’t just made a comeback, he’s kicking ass and taking names. Case in point: the EBR 1190RX. Remember the bit above in the Ducati piece about inspiring confidence? Yeah, the EBR’s chassis has that. It flicks so quick and handles so well, you’re tempted to do your best Marc Marquez impression and touch that elbow down. This is the kind of confidence that makes a sportbike special.
Of course we can’t forget the monstrous 1190cc V-Twin, which EBR has completely re-engineered since purchasing the rights to the engine from Rotax. It’s a beast, with a torque spread that feels as flat as a pancake from top to bottom, unlike the peakier Ducati Panigale 1199. But, make no mistake: this is not a motorcycle for the inexperienced.
The EBR 1190RX is an amazingly good sportbike. Compared to the lusty Panigale 1199, the RX is more agile and boasts a more accessible powerband. The EBR is comfier, too, with adjustable pegs and levers to allow custom tailoring. The RX was even considered for top sportbike honors this year, but its real-world capabilities haven’t yet been measured against its class rivals (KTM simply doesn’t have an RC8R to provide us, and Ducati flat out refused to provide a 1199 Panigale). But even before conducting the shootout, we’re confident the 1190RX will perform well against its contemporaries. Regardless, we can’t hide the pride we feel to have an American-made and -engineered sportbike that can run with the world’s best.