Ducati’s Panigale is one of the most desirable sportbikes on the road today. Even the smallest Panigale, the new 959, is sexy and fast, and there’s plenty more where that comes from in the forms of the monstrously powered 1299 and wickedly exotic 1199R. But what do you do when those levels of sexy and fast and exotic just ain’t enough anymore?
There’s just one step up to make and it’s a steep one. Presenting the Panigale Superleggera, a moto moon shot that stretches the bounds of what’s possible from a production sportbike. Its name is Italian for super light, and Ducati has employed every possible weight-saving tactic to create a 1200cc motorcycle claimed to scale in at a barely believable 342 pounds dry. Combined with a hot-rodded version of the already-exotic 1199R engine, the Superleggera has the highest power-to-weight ratio of any street-legal motorcycle.
As noted in the article linked above, lightweight components – especially structural ones – always cost more than heavier ones. From iron to steel to aluminum to magnesium and titanium and carbon fiber, lighter stuff simply costs more. In the case of the Superleggera, the cost is a rather exorbitant $65,000 if you can find one. Just 500 Superleggeras were built, and we understand there’s less than a handful remaining at North American dealers.
Ducati has long been a purveyor of lightweight components on its high-end models, but the SL takes this to a loftier level. The regular Panigale’s aluminum frame member supporting the steering head of the monocoque chassis has been traded for an expensive and lighter magnesium unit scaling in at just 6.6 lbs – a motorcycle chassis with a frame member weighing less than 7 pounds! Lightweight forged-aluminum wheels are swapped for lighter forged-magnesium hoops for a significant 2.2-lb reduction in unsprung weight. A carbon-fiber subframe replaces an aluminum one, reducing weight by more than half. Many dozens of titanium fasteners replace humble steel bolts for more grams pared.
The 1198cc V-Twin from the 1199R superbike homologation special also receives the Weight Watchers treatment, even though the R-spec Panigale already boasts pricey titanium rods and intake valves. The SL adds ti exhaust valves and a crankshaft lightened by a full pound, plus lighter pistons that squeeze harder (from 12.5:1 to 13.2:1). The redline of the freer-spinning engine jumps 500 revs to a soaring 12,500 rpm.
Ducati claims “>200” crankshaft horsepower from this engine, which seemed entirely believable when twisting its throttle at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. The Superleggera we tested was borrowed from our good friend Kaming Ko, so we didn’t get a chance to dyno it, but an SL with the included Race Kit consisting of Akrapovic titanium exhaust (cutting another 2.5 lbs) and optimized fuel map produced a walloping 188 hp and 92 lb-ft of torque when dyno tested by EDR Performance.
The acceleration forces are sensational, amplified by the scarcity of weight to drag around – about 393 lbs full of fluids, including the stuff poured into its 4.5-gallon aluminum fuel tank. That’s a stunning 27-lb reduction from the already-feathery 1199R. The Superleggera was the first Ducati with a dedicated wheelie-control system when it was released in 2014, and it works overtime here – wheelies occur with zero provocation and astounding frequency.
The wheelie-control system can be adjusted among eight settings, and its lower levels allow modest wheelies without muting acceleration too badly. Chuckwalla’s strong crosswinds threatened to blow the SL off course when its front wheel was in the air, so employing WC had the net effect of lowering lap times. Thumb/finger levers on the left clip-on can adjust WC on the fly when in Race mode. Another nice feature bred on racetracks is the adjuster on the left clip-on that allows altering the front brakes lever span while riding.
Chuckwalla is too tightly wound to fully explore wide-open throttle from a 200-horse motorcycle, but its compact layout of 17 turns in 2.7 miles provides ample opportunity to test handling. The lesser Panigales, especially the S and R models, were already quick to steer, but the Superleggera sets a lofty new standard of agility for a 1200cc sportbike.
With our testing of the Superleggera limited to sessions within the confines of Chuckwalla, where speeds barely topped 130 mph, the ultimate Duc’s ultimate speed wasn’t approached. However, we discovered an interesting video on Youtube in which Autocar compared a Superleggera in acceleration against two of the fastest supercars ever built: a McLaren P1 and Porsche 918. Even though the P1 costs $1.1 million and is packed with 903 hp, and the Porsche retails for $845k and has 887 hp, the Superleggera got to the end of a mile-long dragrace the quickest.
The Porsche’s all-wheel drive saw it sprint quickest to 60 mph, followed by the wheelie-prone Duc then the McLaren. But once past 60, the motorbike embarrassed the mega-pricey automobiles, jetting to 150 mph more than one second quicker than the cars. It’s only at the extreme top end where a motorcycle’s relatively unaerodynamic drag coefficient puts up an invisible hand to slow it down. The Superleggera maxed out at 191 mph, while both cars eventually topped 200 mph.
So, the Superleggera’s $65k price tag might seem otherworldly to us riders, but it’s less than 10% of the cost of a supercar which can’t outrun the bike in a mile. (And which one do you suppose does better wheelies?) Put another way, it’s half the price and has twice the horsepower of a Honda RC213V-S. Almost a bargain…
The Superleggera is indeed an exceedingly special motorcycle, and we’re grateful our buddy Kaming gave us a chance to sample this rare and exotic machine. While it’s difficult to imagine the Superleggera is scads faster around a racetrack than an 1199R or even a 1299S, there is no question which Ducati we’d most like to ride again on a racetrack.