Tested: 2014 Ducati 899 Panigale CycleOnline.com.au

8 Jan 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Tested: 2014 Ducati 899 Panigale CycleOnline.com.au
Ducati Superbike 1098

Tested: 2014 Ducati 899 Panigale

Section: Sports Bikes Post: Rennie Scaysbrook

CycleOnline.com.au samples the mighty Italian middleweight.

Ducati has this innate ability to make great clumps of metal, aluminum and plastic look good to the point of distraction.

Cast your mind back to the original 916 (the most beautiful motorcycle ever made – ever), the Supermono or the 1098R and the uneducated might be forgiven for thinking the Bologna boys were more about style than substance. That, of course, is complete crap.

Each one of those bikes were class and style leaders, decimating racetracks while looking flash in the same way Victoria’s Secret models light up catwalks. And like the good looks that seem hereditary, when Ducati unleashes a new Superbike destroyer on the world, a year or so later they release a baby destroyer that’s more roadbike than circuit slicer (think 916/748, 999/749, 1098/848).

And to add to that list, we now have the exquisitely pretty 899 Panigale to go with the ground-breaking 1199 Panigale released in 2012. Svelte, light and oh-so-Italian, the 899 is the bike mere mortals (like me, and I’m assuming you too) have a chance to master.

Unlike the 1199, which requires a master’s degree in finite motorcycle control to take to the max, those missing 300cc over big daddy Pani make the 899 much more rideable on the road – which is where this bike is aimed, not the racetrack. Because there’s no real class for the 899 to race in.

A few years back Ducati thought it best to free itself from the shackles of supersport class regulations and made the 848, and they’ve continued on this path or self-righteousness to move the goalposts again, this time to 898cc (not 899 as said on the badge).

And thank the spaghetti monster in the sky, because Ducati may have produced one of the best roadbike sports V-twin engines of all-time.

Ducati is claiming 148hp and 99Nm of torque out of the new Superquadro engine (named so due to the engine’s ability to produce strong torque down low as well as high rpm speeds and power). But this doesn’t feel like a traditional Ducati engine.

The bottom-end (below 5000rpm) is pure pussycat territory, and you could ride the baby Pani all day here and feel like you’re on a never-ending trip to buy milk.

Smooth from a closed throttle, completely unlike Ducatis of old, the 899 will happily purr along and with the knife-through-butter feeling of the quickshifter-equipped six-speeder, you feel like you’re riding a fast, and very loud, scooter with clip-ons. But kick it up past 7000rpm, and it’s a different story altogether.

Lucky seven is the number that sees the 899 go from friend to foe. The engine note doesn’t just get louder, it starts screaming, like a four-cylinder supersport bike and you’d better hang on as every one of those 148 metal horses all line up to take their turn at going all Game of Thrones on the rear Pirelli and the engine blasts to redline.

You’re throwing gears at the V-twin, trying to keep up with the surging engine speed. It’s quite astonishing how much power this thing produces, but also how smooth it is. It wasn’t that long ago four-cylinder Japanese Superbikes thought 148hp was pretty sweet. Now Ducati is doing it with 898cc.

And two cylinders less. Wow.

Here you have an engine that can be docile and one that can also pack a mighty punch. It would make an incredible track engine, because you really can use all the power it’s putting out, rather than just trying to figure out how to harness the grunt from an 1199.

We all know Ducati’s rather uninspiring recent MotoGP history, and their ditching of the carbon monocoque chassis at the behest of a rider who wishes he never signed on the red dotted line, but it’s not a total loss, because this technology has thankfully found its way to the production line, first with the 1199 and now the 899.

The monocoque chassis, with the engine as a stressed member, is a delightfully stiff and responsive skeleton that translates into a machine that simply hunts for corners and obliterates them. It feels tight, taught, and will flatter many a rider’s skills (it certainly did mine).

The suspension is worthy of a note in that it comes from Showa, with the Big Piston Fork taking care of the front while a horizontal rear shock does the back-end. I must admit I was a tad curious with the BPF because when they first came out in 2010 on a couple of Japanese bikes they were rubbish – no feel and would plunge to the bottom of a stroke.

Thankfully, after a few years development, the BPFs are now much better and offer excellent feel and roadholding. They are set quite stiff as standard (so is the back), so a bit of fiddling will soften the blow and make for a more comfy ride.

The front calipers are a set down from the 1199’s. Don’t let that fool you because they have an absolute ton of power and when combined with the same master-cylinder as the 1199, feel is never an issue.

As this is a short test I’ll just touch on the electronics. You get all the bells and whistles of big daddy Pani – ABS, DTC (Ducati Traction Control) and EBC (Electronic Braking Control) – but I’ll admit I spent most of my time playing around with the EBC over anything else.

This is a handy function, but being a V-twin I finally left it on number 1 as it gave the most engine braking in the way a traditional Ducati would. The difference in engine braking is not as massive between settings 1-3 as it is between 1-8 of the traction control, but it’s a funky thing to have in your arsenal and another pub argument winner.

My gripe with sportsbikes of late has been that most – not all – manufacturers only release sportsbikes based off racing rules. That’s understandable, after all, what wins on Sunday, sells on Monday. But thinking outside the box for road riders is the real way to win customers who spend their time in traffic, on the twisties, ride in the rain and everywhere in between.

And as far as road, not track, orientated sportsbikes are concerned, the Ducati 899 Panigale takes a lot, a hell of a lot in fact, of beating.

Click here for additional details on the 2014 Ducati 899 Panigale.

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