2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale First Ride Review + Video

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

A beastlier beast from the maker of Monsters

The final corner of the Autodromo Internacional Algarve is a wickedly fast downhill sweeper that launches riders onto the track’s front straight at 120-plus mph. Not long after bringing a bike upright is a mild hill that’s taken at full throttle. At its crest, the front wheel of Ducati‘s latest Panigale sensationally begins pointing skyward while traveling upward of 140 mph. The 1299 Panigale is indeed something special, boasting more power than any other widely available motorcycle ever to see a public road.

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale

Editor Score: 91.5%
Engine 20.0/20
Suspension/Handling 14.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.5/10
Brakes 10.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 7.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 9.5/10
Value 7.0/10
Overall Score91.5/100

Americans are sometimes derided elsewhere around the globe for our bigger-is-better mentality. It appears that Ducati, the Italian OEM which has just launched this 1285cc superbike, has no issues with that philosophy.

2014 EICMA: 2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale Preview

Ironically, it was Ducati which, at one time, raced an 851cc machine in a class that allowed V-Twins up to 1000cc. But today, the boys from Bologna are proffering an engine too large to fit into the rules for Superbikes.

The concept is similar to Kawasaki‘s 2003-2006 ZX-6R that offered 636cc of displacement. The ZX-6RR provided the basis for meeting 600cc supersport rules, while the 6R was offered to street riders who had no such size restrictions. In Ducati’s case, the existing 1198cc Panigale R continues to be the platform to fit Superbike rules, while the new 1299 gives street and trackday riders more displacement – and more power – to play with.

The 1299’s face is familiar but different. Greater wind protection is offered by a wider nose and a taller windscreen, while larger air intakes supply the big V-Twin’s lungs with necessary oxygen. Mirror stalks are slightly shorter. Revised side fairings aren’t normally warted with cameras and duct tape.
The 1299’s pistons are a ginormous 4.57 inches across, a larger diameter than anything ever fitted to a production motorcycle. New connecting rods and a revised crankshaft hold them together inside steel cylinder liners that replace the 1199’s aluminum sleeves which would’ve been too thin to safely support the wider bore. The larger-diameter tubing of its stainless-steel exhaust helps it breathe. (Photo by Duke.)

And it’s a big power play. The newest Panigale boasts a lofty 205-horsepower rating at its crankshaft, but that’s only a fraction of the story. Torque output is where the 1299 dominates any discussion of sportbike power, flaunting a stellar 106.7 lb-ft. at its 8750-rpm peak. Yamaha‘s latest R1 is purported to produce a shining 200 hp, just a few horses shy of the Duc, but its torque rating is a relatively limp 83 lb-ft. The only sporty bike at a comparable torque level is KTM’s Super Duke R that claims 106 lb-ft. of twist.

2013 Ducati 1199 Panigale R Review + Video

To create the 1299’s powerplant, Ducati hogged out the cylinders by an extra 4mm over the already highly oversquare 1199, now up to 116mm. Employing a longer stroke would seem to be a more logical way to get extra cubes, but the 1199’s crankcases wouldn’t allow additional vertical movement.

It’s definitely the extra power from the Superquadro V-Twin that impressed most while lapping the wonderfully challenging circuit near Portimao, Portugal, where Ducati hosted the global launch of the 1299 Panigale. The previous 1199 wasn’t short on power, but it was surprisingly peaky for a 1.2-liter V-Twin.

This latest version supplies the midrange grunt expected from such a motor but is then supersized into a robustly torquey animal unlike any sportbike ever made. Ducati says the 1299 twists out an extra 15% of torque from 5000-8000 rpm, and that claim feels entirely believable after even a short time in the Panigale’s new and marginally more comfortable saddle.

Despite its plus-size motor, the 1299 is as flickable as any literbike. The full LED headlighting seen in this photo reveals this as the S model, which includes niceties like forged aluminum wheels, a carbon front fender and handlebar switches that allow on-the-fly rider-aid adjustments. It also includes Öhlins Smart Suspension, which adjusts damping levels automatically to riding conditions or can be set to remain static. It retails in America for $24,995. The base 1299 doesn’t include the items listed above and uses a fully adjustable Marzocchi/Sachs suspension. It lists at just $19,295.

The meatier midrange response results in a wonderfully deep well of power that yanks the big Panigale hard each time the ride-by-wire throttle is opened. Riding a gear high is now a viable option. The plentiful torque is always ready to rotate the 1299 and hoik up its front wheel.

With so much power on tap, it’s reassuring to know that Ducati continues to advance its gamut of electronic rider aids. In addition to the ride modes, traction control and a quickshifter expected on a contemporary sportbike, the 1299 now adds a specific wheelie-control function, Cornering ABS and a clutchless downshift feature to its menu of electronic crutches to lean on.

I was happy to lean on Ducati’s rider aids, including adjustable Engine Brake Control and the new quickshifter function that makes the clutch lever superfluous after leaving pit lane. It was initially quite odd to tap down on a gearshift lever without manipulating the clutch, but its seamless performance made for easy adaptation. Machined footrests with a knurled surface from the Superleggera replace the frustratingly slippery pegs of the 1199. Keen eyes might notice the 1299’s new tailsection that splits the sides and increases the size of the flow-through air gaps.

The electronic brain behind this technology is a new 3-axis Inertial Measurement Unit from Bosch that monitors speed, acceleration, lean angle and longitudinal pitch. The 9.1MP IMU replaces the previous 9ME that was about 2 pounds heavier and didn’t include Cornering ABS functionality. All of the electronic rider aids can be switched off, but the adjustability and seamlessness of the 1299’s e-aids makes disengaging them a foolhardy option.

There are eight levels of Ducati Traction Control, ranging from crossed-up power slides to nearly impossible to crash. Ducati Wheelie Control also has eight levels with a similar amount of control as DTC. My favorite was DWC 3, which still allowed generous wheelies. Another rider had set DWC to level 8 (maximum) before one of my sessions, and the gauges’ DWC intervention lamp blazed pretty much the entire lap!

DWC also helps calm a flightiness when hard on the gas. There is so much power that the front tire is always trying to leave the ground, causing the handlebars to twitch despite a steering damper. It never got into a tank-slapper, but it’s a little less stable than the 1199.

Color TFT instruments are a pleasure to read and feature screens optimized for each of the three ride modes: Rain, Sport, Race. In each, the lower part of the panel displays the selected settings for Ride Mode, DQS, DTC, EBC, DWC and ABS. New to the 1299 is an available lean-angle display. Wires at the top of the fork tubes reveal this to be a 1299 S, which features Öhlins electronic suspension.

There are so many electronic gadgets onboard that I couldn’t adequately test all of them – riding a 200-pony superbike around the tricky Portimao circuit kept me plenty busy. Cornering ABS, which takes into account lean angle, seemed to work, but I never summoned the courage to jam on the brakes while leaned over. When Race mode is selected, ABS works only on the front wheel and disables the Cornering ABS function.

There are three levels of Engine Brake Control, which subtly lifts the throttle plates to alleviate undesirable amounts of rear-wheel slowing. Level 3 works so well that having a slipper clutch, as the 1299 does, seems to be a needless expense (cost and weight) on future ride-by-wire engines.

The Panigale 1299 retains the phenomenally good Brembo M50 monoblock brake calipers and 330mm discs. They deliver massive amounts of stopping power which can be doled out in fine increments. My biggest complaint about the Panigale? A sidestand nearly impossible to deploy while wearing heel-armored race boots like these Sidi Mag-1s.

Sidi Mag-1 Boot Review

The next most noticeable revision to the 1299 after the additional stonk from its motor is a couple of seemingly small tweaks to the Panigale’s chassis specs. A steering head cup borrowed from the 899 Panigale reduces rake by half a degree to 24.0 degrees and condenses the trail number by 4mm to 96mm. And, importantly, the 1299’s swingarm pivot location was lowered by 4mm, which, based on Ducati’s recent racing experience, significantly increases grip at the rear tire.

The 1199 Panigale was already an incredibly nimble machine for a liter-sized sportbike, and the mods to the 1299’s rake/trail numbers deliver even greater agility that is fantastical for a motorcycle with a 1.3-liter engine. Ducati says the 1299 weighs 396 lbs with its 4.5-gallon aluminum tank empty; 420 lbs fully fueled.

These engine and chassis changes add up to a shockingly large performance increase. Ducati’s test rider, Alessandro Valia, told me he lapped Italy’s Mugello circuit a massive 2.5 seconds quicker on the 1299 than he did on the 11.

Alessandro Valia (left) says he circulated Mugello on a stock 1299 with race-compound tires at a time of 1:55.3, which is less than 8 seconds slower than the lap record set on a million-dollar MotoGP bike by world champ Marc Marquez. On the right is Claudio Domenicali, Ducati’s CEO. It’s a fair bet to say he rides faster than any CEO of a major corporation.

I had one session aboard a 1299 outfitted with several pieces from the Ducati Performance catalog, including a titanium Akrapovic exhaust which releases even more power. I saw 295 kph (183 mph) on its speedo at the end of Portimao’s front straight, which was higher than indicated on the stock bike. The Akra pipe unleashes copious amounts of Ducati thunder that, relatively speaking, made the stock bike’s exhaust note sound thin. Although it was equipped with a fuel map to suit the pipe, low-rpm fueling was a little rougher.

The Ducati Performance bike was also equipped with a taller windscreen that dramatically improved wind protection at speed. The stock windscreen created massive turbulence at helmet level as speeds exceeded 150 mph.

My time with Ducati’s super-duper-bike makes me wonder how a sporting motorcycle could possibly get much better. Caveats about the 1299 Panigale are few and minor, at least during racetrack use and abuse.

But 2015 is offering up what looks to be the golden era of liter-size sportbikes, with a plethora of all-new or significantly updated models ready to vie for your dollars. Besting the revised 2015 BMW S1000RR will be tough, and then there’s Aprilia’s significantly updated RSV4. Perhaps the greatest challenge will come from Yamaha’s ground-up re-do of its R1, which we’ll get to ride in just a few weeks.

2015 Literbike Spec Chart Comparo

But it’s difficult to imagine a rider being anything less than thrilled by this supremely powerful, exotically sexy and technologically advanced tour de force from Italy. The 1299 Panigale is that good.

+ Highs

  • Hand-of-God power
  • Middleweight-like agility
  • Supermodel good looks

– Sighs

  • Difficult-to-access sidestand
  • Ain’t cheap
  • Doesn’t come with its own race track
Ducati 1299 PanigaleDucati 1299 Panigale S
Engine TypeSuperquadro: L-twin cylinder, 4 valve per cylinder, Desmodromic, liquid cooledSuperquadro: L-twin cylinder, 4 valve per cylinder, Desmodromic, liquid cooled
Displacement1,285 cc1,285 cc
Bore x Stroke116 x 60.8 mm116 x 60.8 mm
Compression Ratio12.6:112.6:1
Power205 hp (150.8 kW) @ 10,500 rpm205 hp (150.8 kW) @ 10,500 rpm
Torque106.7 lb-ft (144.6 Nm) @ 8,750 rpm106.7 lb-ft (144.6 Nm) @ 8,750 rpm
Fuel injectionMitsubishi electronic fuel injection system. Twin injectors per cylinder. Full ride-by-wire elliptical throttle bodies.Mitsubishi electronic fuel injection system. Twin injectors per cylinder. Full ride-by-wire elliptical throttle bodies.
Exhaust2-1-2 system with catalytic converter and 2 lambda probes. Twin stainless steel mufflers with alumimum end caps.2-1-2 system with catalytic converter and 2 lambda probes. Twin stainless steel mufflers with alumimum end caps.
EmissionsEuro 3Euro 3
Gearbox6 speed with Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) up/down6 speed with Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) up/down
Ratio1=37/15 2=30/16 3=27/18 4=25/20 5=24/22 6=23/241=37/15 2=30/16 3=27/18 4=25/20 5=24/22 6=23/24
Primary driveStraight cut gears, Ratio 1.77:1Straight cut gears, Ratio 1.77:1
Final driveChain 525; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket 39Chain 525; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket 39
ClutchSlipper and self-servo wet multiplate clutch with hydraulic controlSlipper and self-servo wet multiplate clutch with hydraulic control
FrameMonocoque aluminumMonocoque aluminum
Wheelbase1,437 mm (56.57 in)1,437 mm (56.57 in)
Trail96 mm (3.78 in)96 mm (3.78 in)
Steering lock (total)48°48°
Front suspensionMarzocchi 50 mm pressurized and fully adjustable usd fork with hard anodized aluminum lightweight sliderÖhlins NIX30 43mm fully adjustable USD fork with TiN treatment. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with semi-active mode
Front wheel travel120 mm (4.72 in)120 mm (4.72 in)
Front wheelTri-Y spoke light alloy 3.50″ x 17″3 spoke forged light alloy 3.50″ x 17″
Front tire120/70 ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP120/70 ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Rear suspensionFully adjustable Sachs unit. Adjustable linkage: Progressive/flat. Aluminum single-sided swingarmFully adjustable Öhlins TTX36 unit. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with semi-active mode. Adjustable linkage: Progressive/flat. Aluminum single-sided swingarm
Rear wheel travel130 mm (5.12 in)130 mm (5.12 in)
Rear wheelTri-Y spoke light alloy 6.00″ x 17″3 spoke forged light alloy 6.00″ x 17″
Rear tire200/55 ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP200/55 ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
Front brake2 x 330 mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo Monobloc EVO M50 4-piston callipers with Cornering ABS Bosch 9.1MP2 x 330 mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo Monobloc EVO M50 4-piston callipers with Cornering ABS Bosch 9.1MP
Rear brake245 mm disc, 2-piston calliper with Cornering ABS as standard245 mm disc, 2-piston calliper with Cornering ABS as standard
Fuel tank capacity17 l (4.5 gallon US)17 l (4.5 gallon US)
Dry weight166.5 kg (367 lb)166.5 kg (367 lb)
Wet weight190.5 kg (420 lb)190.5 kg (420 lb)
Seat height830 mm (32.68 in)830 mm (32.68 in)
Max height1130 mm (44.1 in)1130 mm (44.1 in)
Max length2060 mm (81.1 in)2060 mm (81.1 in)
Ducati electronicsDTC, DQS up/down, EBC, Riding Modes, DWC, R-b-W, Cornering ABS, auto tyre and final ratio calibrationDTC, DQS up/down, DES, EBC, Riding Modes, DWC, R-b-W, Cornering ABS, auto tyre and final ratio calibration
Warranty2 years unlimited mileage2 years unlimited mileage
VersionsDual seatDual seat
Additional equipmentAuxiliary adjustment buttons-ready, DDA+ with GPS-readyFull LED lighting, Öhlins Smart EC with semi-active steering damper, Auxiliary adjustment buttons, DDA+ with GPS-ready
Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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2 of 16 comments
  • Busha Busha Busha Busha on Feb 01, 2015

    Nice review and analysis. Looking forward to seeing the street review.

  • Vrooom Vrooom on Feb 05, 2015

    I truly need that power to unleash my potential as a rider, or to die trying. I always thought 100 hp was sufficient for whatever I wanted to do. Bought a Concours 14 last year, which isn't a sweet handler but is crazy fast in a straight line. Other than a Duc 996 still in the garage, this was the fastest bike I'd ridden. 205 hp must be ridiculous.