One Monday afternoon, about lunchtime, I was handed the keys to a 2016 Ducati 1299 Panigale base with 7 miles on it. I didn’t realise it then, but the next few weeks and 570 miles would blow apart everything i thought i knew about big capacity sportsbikes and modern motorcycles in general.
Let’s sort the bad out quickly:
1) Price: No getting around the fact that £17k for a bike is obscene, and too much for any sensible person to invest in a vehicle that can’t carry any other members of your family in standard trim. But, I guess that’s why PCP exists. So us youngsters can carry on saving for obscene house deposits whilst still being able to swing a leg over a machine like this. My Dad hates PCP, but then his 4 bedroom house cost him £15k.
2) Heat: It’s less than the 1199, equal to the 899. Lovely in late autumn and winter. It’s fine when you are moving but, if you sit still a lot in traffic you will sweat.
Ok, so the good:
For me, bikes are an emotional thing. Yes, I can rationalise aspects of their performance and put them into words. But for me bikes have always conjured up feelings and possibly bizarrely, music in my head. Whilst I’m riding I genuinely hear music in my head. Like a soundtrack to each and every ride. Maybe that makes me a dick and it’s a bit wanky, but hey, I’ll try and illustrate for you what the 1299 conjured up in my head. Play the song when prompted at point nine.
1) Looks: The bike looks incredible; stunningly beautiful. The finish is a step above the 899/1199. Little touches like the shiny decals under the lacquer, thicker paint and the little rubber cable holders, instead of cable ties. It smells incredible when brand new and when you start it up the noise is unreal. I would even go as far to say offensive. But, offensive in that way you are drawn in by it. There’s some of the old Ducati rattle back in there at tick over. It’s really flipping loud with OEM cans, really loud! Not sure how it will get on trackdays to be honest.
2) Ergonomics: When you sit on it, it feels taught, solid, poised. The bars feel narrower than the 899 and the grips feel like they have more girth to them. It all adds up to the feeling that you are sitting on an actual live, muscle-bound, snarling beast. Not Raa Raa the Lion, more like those ferocious, snarling lions a Roman Emperor would have. Just like the start of an MGM movie.
3) Equipment: The dash is great. Bright and colourful, with loads of info. Settings are displayed for Ducati quickshifter up and down, traction control, engine braking control, wheelie control and ABS. All are easy to adjust via the menus. In RACE mode you get a lap timer and lean angle indicator as default.
4) The Ride: It feels solid. Firm, but somehow compliant. I imagine it’s on standard settings from the factory. I’ve had no real desire to change the suspension so far. It feels superb. A quick look online at the base model manual left me surprised to see Ducati don’t list recommended comfort settings. I’ve since ridden the S on the road and it doesn’t perform any better than the base. Maybe on track when really turned up a notch it comes into its own but, the base is fine.
5) Fuelling: It’s monumental. Better than my 899, better than any bike I have ever ridden. Each mode is smooth from the off and easy to filter through traffic. When you are getting a lick on and roll off the throttle there’s nothing but buttery smooth motion keeping the bike completely composed. The WET mode is not too dissimilar to riding an 899 in SPORT I would say. The fuelling withstood the multi-storey car park climb and descent test without any chugging or hunting. The clutch is also lighter than on the 899 and 1199. I’m nearly certain the 1299 may be easier to commute on than the 899.
6) Engine: The 1285CC Superquadro L-Twin. What can I say other than wow! It’s completely unnecessary for any public road, on any given day. But, at the same time it’s an absolute joy to experience. The torque in the lower gears, the explosion of speed could probably rip the lacquer off your helmet. It’s something you need to experience at least once.
7) Gearbox, Slipper Clutch, Quickshifter/ Auto Blipper: This needs it’s own section. I used to be in awe of my 899 gearbox. The gearbox on the 1299 is a class above and beyond. Simply put, beautiful. How they have made it so smooth when it’s housed in that snarling beast of an engine is beyond me. Shifting up through the gears in RACE mode with the throttle pinned and letting wheelie control just hover the front, is probably one of the biggest thrills I’ve had on a sportsbike. Ever!
You then won’t believe the joy you experience when you shut the throttle and stamp down through the gears. How good are you at blipping and changing down? Not as good as the 1299 auto blipper I bet. I could practice for years and never get this smooth, this composed. If you ride one, go seek out a string of roundabouts and feel for yourself. The slipper clutch adds to the composure and within about 40 miles of riding familiar roads I was braking way later, changing down smoothly and quickly, before carving round the corners. People still bemoan the advance of electronics; hell they even nearly killed me on the 899. But being able to ride, brake hard and change down in an instant without the bike twitching or protesting, means you can pick a good line, concentrate on braking and ride through corners smoothly, before thundering to the next one. In essence it gives you more time to concentrate on going around the corner.
8) A quick word on tyres: Pirelli Supercorsa SPs. Brand new on a £17k bike, twisty roads, damp patches, normally sphincter tightening, if you believe what bike forums tell you. I think Pirelli have done some work on these bad boys since I last had them on a 2013 Triumph Daytona 675R. The feedback even when new is stunning, just stunning. Better grip everywhere. Over damp patches, no twitches, no protests, just that beautiful glued to the ground feeling. That was even early morning coming over misty roads with dew on the ground.
And now the really good bit.
9) Monocoque Aluminium Chassis: Around the 56th mile mark I did a few laps of 3 connected roundabouts to warm the tyres, before I headed off into the twisty moor roads ahead of me. I accelerated off up the road. You can start the song now.
You are now probably listening to The Legend of Ashitaka thinking, what is this numpty on? What you are hearing is the sound of a 1299 in my head. You hear those ominous cellos and oboes? That’s the 1299 accelerating to light speed (or thereabouts). Me thinking shit this is fast! Now, you’re 40 seconds in just as the rest of the strings come in. This is the warm feeling of astonishment that washed over me as I braked; stamped down through the gears and tipped into the first of a 6-mile series of twisty and flip flop bends. Those string rises? That’s me falling in love with the chassis of this bike. Nothing I’ve ever ridden turns in quite like this, nothing is as composed as this at lean, and at this speed. Left, right, left. Open the throttle you’re flying, this bike cannot be this good? Can it?
2 minutes in, that’s me oblivious to the explosion of revs and noise around me, feeling absolutely relaxed. Pondering what I’ve just done, what I’m doing as I’m flying towards the next set of bends. Riding this bike must look and sound so violent to the outside world. People must look on thinking: that is insane. In reality it’s calm, serene, Jesus it’s even beautiful!
2 minutes 58 seconds that’s the realisation that I can literally feel the road surface through my hands, feet and buttocks. 3 minutes 44 that’s the tight, right hand 90 degree bend approaching and the ferocious brembo brakes pulling this thing back to 1st gear from 5th. No protests, no holding of breath. I decide to turn in later than on my 899, I flop it over, 48 degrees of lean on the dash. This bike is insanely good. I open the throttle and its rampages away.
The trumpet fanfare that’s me realising Ducati have packaged all the theatre, all the insanity, all the quirks they are known for, into this one machine and made it flipping rideable. It’s now about 4 minutes 35 seconds and I’m riding over the top straight slowing down, bewildered inside my helmet. Special. Really, really, really special.
Astonishing. Is this what happens when a human and machine just ‘click’?
I’m buying one. It’s ridiculous. Nobody needs this for the road. But everyone should at the very least experience riding one. If this bike was £15k they would sell them by the boat load and if the new 959 is this bike with a little less top end it will be a weapon on the road. Seriously, go and ride one.