Ducati 1299 Panigale S Review

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale on race track

Everything about the new Ducati Superbike 1299 Panigale S makes my 1199 obsolete.

When I picked up my first-generation 1199 S, I went straight to a racetrack. Having had the 1098 before, the first thing I noticed was the lack of torque from idle to 8000 rpm. On spec, the 1199 shows more horsepower than the 1098, but I was disappointed at the lack of mid-range. It has more horsepower, but it isn’t as manageable.

Ducati moved to the monocoque frame in 2012 with the 1199 Panigale when its engineers realized the trellis frame had reached its limit and a new design was needed. The forward thinking had its challenges, of course.

The 1199’s geometry and electronic suspension was vague. I didn’t get the feedback I was accustomed to with Ducati superbikes for decades — I’ve had at least one in my garage since 1975, and currently have 10 models produced since the early 1990s. All the things that were great for Ducati were missing on the 1199 — midrange power, stability, feedback.

One thing that was right about the 1199, however, was its light weight. It was the lightest street-going bike I had ridden off the showroom floor. The seating position was fine. When I found there were shortcomings, I was hoping one day Ducati would perfect it —it has with the new 1299 Panigale S.

As a racetrack, Autódromo Internacional do Algarve (popularly referred to as Portimão Circuit) is one of the most challenging racetracks I’ve ever been on. It’s a real Grand Prix racetrack. It’s wide. It’s fast. It has plenty of runoffs.

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale leanWhat’s most challenging are the elevation changes — dramatic steep hillclimbs and drops—that I haven’t found at other tracks. It’s very easy to make a mistake because you’re going so fast. You get lost very easily on your first time there; you forget where you are.

You go flying over a rise at 100 mph and you realize, “Oh no, this isn’t the right corner and it comes too quick.” Either it’s right there, or 2000 feet down the road. It took me four or five sessions to get used to where I was going. It is a brave place for Ducati to introduce the 1299 Panigale S.

It is a popular circuit with the crème de la crème of the World Superbike roster. Current World Champion Sylvain Guintoli calls Portimão “a beautiful track and one of my favorites.” Two-time World Superbike Champion Tom Sykes describes Portimão as “quite extreme, especially in the way it changes elevation so fast and so often.” And Eugene Laverty simply says, “Portimão is perhaps my favorite circuit on the calendar.” If only I could ride like those three.

I never knew the elevation changes were that dramatic from watching on TV or YouTube. You don’t see the depth and height. You just see them up and down a little bit, and that is it. You don’t realize how steep it is until you get to the hill, and it’s going straight up. Or you come over the top, and it’s a straight drop down.

With Pirelli Supercorsa tires — SC1 front; SC2 rear — mounted on the S-only Marchesini forged aluminum wheels for track-appropriate performance, replacing the excellent street-going Diablo Supercorsa SP rubber, it was time to take on Portimão Circuit and compare the 1299 S to earlier Panigales.

The ergonomics of the 1299 are the best of the European superbikes. You are closer to the handlebars. The front is not so low, and you sit in the bike. The gas tank is a little shorter, so you feel closer to the bars. For my 5′ 8″ height, the new grippier footpegs sit in just the right position, and the new Panigale fits me well.

You might expect that increasing the bore by four millimeters to 112 mm, that the power of the 1299 would be top-end focused. But, with new pistons, liners, rods and a new crank with precision steel balancing inserts, plus an elliptical throttle body (twin injectors for each cylinder) and large diameter stainless steel exhaust tubes, Ducati decided to focus on mid-range power.

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale S Review gaugesThe 1299 motor puts out a claimed 205 horsepower at 10,500 rpm, but top end power isn’t where the 1199 was lacking. At the morning warm-up, I immediately noticed the crisp throttle response, and instant torque from the 1285cc Superquadro motor. It’s right there. You can feel the 15-percent increase in torque from 5000 to 8000 rpm. At no point from 4000 rpm on does the 1299 have less torque than the 1199.

Acclimating myself to the Portimão Circuit, I spent some time familiarizing myself with the array of electronics, which includes a Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), which gives you a lean-angle readout on the full-color computer monitor- like dash. The 1299 S gives you three Riding Modes—Race, Sport, Wet—that set seven parameters to certain presets.

Each mode presets for power output, traction control, wheelie control, clutchless shifting, ABS cornering, engine- braking control, and on the S only, the electronic suspension adjustment action. Customized changes can be made via up and down controls on the left handlebar. I rode a session in the Sport mode, but the 1299 S overall worked better for me in the Race mode.

The Sport mode offers smoother (but full) power, a bit more traction, wheelie control, and active ABS, plus suspension action that was designed for road work. The quickshifter is on, and the engine braking at a moderate setting. For my riding style, the Sport power delivery was too soft on the track, and the suspension moved too much for aggressive riding. There was too much front end dive under braking, and rear end squat under power.

In Race mode, I firmed up the compression damping on the Öhlins Smart EC NIX30 forks and TTX shock. The semi-active suspension also works with the Öhlins steering damper and Bosch IMU.

Once having set-up the 1299 S to my liking — at least as much as you can do in a one-day track test — I began to pick up the pace. The revised chassis geometry made cornering and transitions effortless, which allowed me to focus on the Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) system.

Clutchless downshifting takes time to master for the rider with decades of experience who is accustomed to pulling in the clutch and blipping the throttle. The way the DQS works, you have to have the throttle shut completely while you downshift and let the slipper clutch do its job when you pitch it into a corner.

For my muscle memory, I always want to feather the throttle, keep the engine braking, and get into the corner. So, it’s a challenge for a little while, until you get used to it and trust the system. If you don’t have the throttle in full-shut position, the suspension will modulate and hop around a little bit. But, when you get it right, there’s no wheel hop or skidding, and everything works perfectly. It just takes some time.

My most controversial opinion is regarding the Öhlins Smart EC semi-active suspension. The Smart EC uses what Öhlins calls “event based control”, which constantly monitors conditions and adjusts accordingly. For me, Smart EC works very well on the street, where you see a wide variety of changing conditions throughout the day, yet none of the extremes of the track.

On the racetrack, Smart EC is good, but still requires some improvements, especially at Portimão, where there are a lot of abrupt elevation changes. Because it goes up and down and left and right so much at Portimão, it feels like you’re riding a different bike every few hundred feet.

As Ducati says, “Each situation requires a different suspension setting.” It changes so often that you never have the same feed- back as you did in the last corner or the last straightaway. The 1299 S hooks up in the corner, but with Dynamic suspension, I don’t get the feedback that makes me as comfortable as I’m accustomed to with standard suspension.

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale electronicsFortunately, the Smart EC’s dashboard interface allows you to turn off the event-based semi-active suspension when you’re in the Race mode. When in the Fixed mode, you can fully adjust the compression and rebound damping at both ends, as well as the action of the Öhlins steering damper. This allows the suspension to react in a more predictable and repeatable manner.

Outside of the semi-active suspension, something that is immediately noticeable on the 1299 S is its agility. When you get into corners, the bike turns a lot quicker due to the lowering of the swingarm pivot point four millimeters, and reducing the rake to 24 degrees from 24.5 on the 1199. These are the modifications I had done on my 1199 S, and I found it worked better.

Suspension action aside, the bike’s agility is there. It’s easy to flick in the corner and change direction easily. The 1299 turns flawlessly, and accelerates hard enough out of a turn to trigger the traction control, which was set on 3. I felt the rear start to slide and it kicked in. There’s no doubt that it was working.

With all the electronics and chassis changes, the focus is on the cornering, but the 1299 is also extremely fast on the straights. It pulls stronger from 5000 to redline than you will find in other V-twins. The 1299 pulls past redline and feels like it would go farther if the rev limiter didn’t kick in.

At 160+ mph, the 1299 performs well. They’ve improved the aerodynamics — the fairing is a little wider and the windscreen a bit taller, though track riders will want the even taller performance screen. The mirrors are shorter, so they don’t vibrate like they do on the 1199. At 100 mph you can see the image behind you.

The speedometer stops at 304 kph, but the Superquadro continues pulling. You could be doing 308. If you look at your data logger, it will tell you how fast you actually went. The data logs are very interesting, if you’re a technically savvy guy. You can measure all sorts of things to improve your riding on a track day, so I think it’s a critical part of getting better.

Part of the enjoyment of owning a sport bike is trying different things and the data logger makes the changes measurable. It has a GPS that knows where you are, corner speed, engine speed—very critical for someone who wants to improve his riding.

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale SuspensionGiven the high speeds, excellent brakes are mandatory, and the 1299 has the best braking system I’ve ever felt on a superbike. It doesn’t have the horrible initial bite of the 1098R or the Desmosedici, where, if you touch the front brake lever, you almost go over the handlebars.

The braking from the Brembo M50 front calipers grows progressively as you add pressure. It has the new, lighter Bosch 9.1MP ABS system—probably the best out there, especially in Race mode where it only controls the front and turns off the cornering function.

This test for Ultimate MotorCycling also functioned as a personal test ride. I will be buying a 1299, but it won’t be the S. I’ll mostly ride it on track days, so I plan to buy the standard model and fit non-active Öhlins suspension—saving $5000, less the cost of the suspension upgrade. Most people will not ride their 1299s on the track, of course, and the Öhlins Smart EC suspension suits the market segment that sticks to the highways and canyons.

When Ducati introduced the first Panigale, it was clear that a monocoque design is the future of superbikes. It has the performance and the light weight. With the 1299, they have perfected the chassis.

As for me, while I’m waiting for delivery of my 1299 Panigale, I can dream of the Portimão Circuit. It’s really incredible and I want to go back, for sure. I told my wife, “Next year, let’s take a five-day vacation in Portugal. I’ll work in a track day.”

Riding Style:

  • Helmet: Shoei X-Twelve Trajectory TC-1
  • Suit: Cortech Latigo RR One-Piece
  • Gloves: Cortech Adrenaline II
  • Boots: Cortech Latigo Air Road Race

2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale S Review – Photo Gallery:

Photography by Marco Campelli

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