Ducati Panigale 899 : A more civilized 1199

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Wet mode really helped Costa to push the bike without it all going CMG.
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Words: Costa Mouzouris. Pics: Milagro/Ducati

WHAT’S NEW

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Ducati took a radical departure in its supersport bike design when it introduced the Panigale 1199. You won’t find a conventional frame under the bodywork, but instead you’ll see a cast aluminum box that has a steering yoke on one end, and is bolted to the front of the 1,198 cc Superquadro engine at the other. A cast aluminum subframe is bolted at the rear, and a single-sided swingarm attached below that.

The frame-less bike is nothing new; BMW has been doing it for years, and Vincent did it decades before that, utilizing the inherent structural strength of the large motor as the main part of the chassis. And why not?

The 2014 Panigale 899, introduced to the motorcycling press at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, in Imola, Italy, will replace the 848 Evo and is a more affordable version than the 1199. 

The 899 is very similar to the 1199 but with some cost cutting and taming measures.
The 899 is very similar to the 1199 but with some cost cutting and taming measures.

Its basic architecture is the same as the Panigale 1199, though there are some changes which Ducati claims not only make the bike more focused towards the street rider, but make it a less demanding, more manageable bike, as well as a less expensive one too. And that could be a good thing as the 1199R I rode at Circuit of the Americas last March was a demanding machine to ride, delivering its monstrous power with brutish authority.

New motor uses 1199 architecture with smaller barrels and heads.
New motor uses 1199 architecture with smaller barrels and heads.

The 899 (actual capacity of 898 cc) uses a smaller-displacement version of the 1199’s Superquadro twin, with the same crankcase but with new cylinder heads with smaller ports and valves. It claims a maximum of 148 hp and 73 lb-ft of torque, eight horsepower more than the 848, though 47 less than the 1199. This puts the 899 in direct competition with the all-new, 148 hp MV Agusta F3 800, and the Suzuki GSX-R750 at around 145 hp.

The engine is a short-stroke design that revs to 11,500 rpm, 500 more revs than the 848. It uses ride-by-wire throttle control and huge elliptical throttle bodies that measure 62 mm at their widest point. Fuel capacity is 17 litres, an increase of 1.5 litres compared to the 848

Double sided swingarm is one of the few visual clues that it is a 899, not an 1199.
Double sided swingarm is one of the few visual clues that it is a 899, not an 1199.

Cost-cutting measures include going from the 1199’s aluminum fuel tank to a steel one, and the clutch, valve and sump covers are made from aluminum, instead of magnesium. The 899 also uses a tubular steel subframe, whereas the 1199’s is cast aluminum. Visually, the biggest change from the 1199 is the use of a double-sided swingarm, which is also 10 mm shorter.

Braking specs are down slightly.
Braking specs are down slightly.

The Showa BPF fork and Sachs shock are adjustable for compression and rebound damping, and spring preload. The fork is easily adjustable, as both rebound and compression adjusters are located up top. There’s also a Sachs steering damper mounted horizontally just ahead of and below the top triple clamp. 

The seating position is identical to the 1199, but compared to the 848, the clip-ons are 10 mm higher and the seat is 30 mm closer to them.

Other changes include using a half-inch-narrower rear wheel, now measuring 5.5 in., and the rear tire size is 180/60, down from the 200/55 on the 1199. Most supersports use a 55-series rear tire; the 899’s 60-series rear tire is the norm on World Supersport race bikes.

Steering geometry is even more aggressive than the 1199, with a half-degree steeper rake angle, at 24 degrees, and a 10 mm shorter wheelbase, at 1,426 mm due to the shorter swingarm.

Finally, the brake components are slightly different than on the 1199. Front disc size has been reduced by 10 mm to 320 mm, and more common Brembo M4.32 calipers are used, as opposed to the higher-spec M50 calipers used on the 1199. Adjustable ABS is standard.

THE RIDE

Rain tires really helped with the track conditions.
Rain tires really helped with the track conditions.

“Please, you must-a watch for the asphalt,” Beppe Gualini tells us in a pre-ride briefing. “When you enter Rivazza the pavement is old, and it looks dry but it is slippery.”

The Italians are very patriotic when it comes to track markings.
The Italians are very patriotic when it comes to track markings.

“Also, when you arrive to the newer pavement,” continued Gualini, Ducati’s lead rider, “it will look wet but the grip is better – but watch for water running across the track. And there was car racing last weekend, so there is a lot of rubber on the ground.”

Because of all these “alsos” and “buts”, I won’t be able tell you if Ducati’s claim that the 899 is designed to be a better street bike is true. There were ample caveats to this track test, none of them inspiring confidence, especially the rain, which didn’t let up all night and continued into the morning of our ride.

One confidence-inspiring thing Ducati did was to replace the stock Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tires with Pirelli rain tires. Although not DOT approved, they provided the grip necessary to make a potentially disastrous situation (come on, releasing a bunch of hacks on a wet track can’t end well) manageable – and I’m very glad to report there were no mishaps on the track.

Our lucky streak was due partly to the tires, but also to the 899’s remarkable electronics. Critics of electronic intervention (“Real riders don’t need no electronic nannies!”) should spend a day riding a high-horsepower bike on a wet track, with no electronic control. Yes, I know we’ve been doing it for decades, but the peace of mind that comes when “WET” displays in the 899’s digital dash is immeasurable. Wet is one of three ride modes, the other two being Sport and Race.

A bunch of hacks on a fast bike and a wet track. What could possibly go wrong?
A bunch of hacks on a fast bike and a wet track. What could possibly go wrong?

Wet mode curbs power to 100 hp, and turns up traction control and ABS intervention (there are eight levels of TC and three ABS settings) to maximum. Each mode can be custom tailored, and our hosts set Wet mode TC control to 7 and ABS to 2, both settings just off their maximum intervention levels.

Wet mode really helped Costa to push the bike without it all going CMG.
Wet mode really helped Costa to push the bike without it all going CMG.

You have to build up the confidence to turn the throttle hard exiting a turn while the rear tire is throwing up a stream of water, but by the third riding session I was twisting the throttle almost as hard as I would on dry pavement, the only indication the bike was watching over me being the flashing yellow TC light mounted high in the dash. From the seat of my leathers, I couldn’t feel anything odd, other than hard acceleration (those Pirelli rains really are impressive).

Sport mode offers up maximum power and places electronic intervention right in the middle of its range (TC level at 5, ABS at 2). Maximum power is also available in Race mode, with TC level at 2 and ABS at 1 (rear ABS is disabled and the rear wheel can lift). ABS and TC can also be turned off. The bike is equipped with an electric quick shifter, allowing open-throttle, clutchless gear changes.

If only the day was like this ...
And this is what it looks like in red, on a sunny day and a dry track …

Braking power was impressive, again a result of the sticky rain tires, at least in part. The ABS never kicked in, though I did get the rear end to hop unintentionally when I watched a rider ahead of me overshoot a tight chicane and almost followed him, too.

Shouldn't all Ducatis be red?
Shouldn’t all Ducatis be red?

The 899 does not have a slipper clutch, but it does have electronically adjustable engine braking that controls the throttle, and I found it a bit intrusive in the default setting; if I dropped an extra gear going into a tight turn it would kick in and the bike freewheeled towards the turn-in point, causing me to pull even harder on the brake lever.

One unanimous complaint everyone had was that the footpegs were slippery, and on several occasions, my feet did slip, not completely off, but they slipped nonetheless. In retrospect, this would mostly be an issue on a wet racetrack, which is the least likely scenario the bike will experience; very few track day riders brave wet conditions and it’s unlikely someone would maintain an aggressive pace on wet back roads either. But, they are slippery.

My plan was to ride in Wet mode in the morning and switch to Sport mode in the afternoon after becoming familiar with the racetrack, but unfortunately the morning’s steady mist and light rain turned to a downpour after our lunch break, and our hosts cancelled the afternoon lapping sessions, probably a blessing since I’d have to pack soaking wet leathers instead of just damp ones.

Happy times
Happy times

CONCLUSION

Alas, the reduced saddle time and no on-road testing makes this more of a first impression than anything nearing a test. Riding on a track, in the rain, on special tires, is very limited exposure to a machine.

xxx
Ducati have a knack of making the smaller versions a better bike.

At $15,995 ($16,295 for red) the Panigale 899 isn’t cheap, but you’ll pocket $5,000 if you choose it over the 1199. It enters a narrow market segment, slotting between less expensive middleweight supersports and open classers. Ducati even coined a new term, calling it a “Supermid” in press literature. As of yet, there are no race classes in which it can compete in Canada, much like the GSX-R750. In that respect, it is a more street-oriented machine.

I’ve ridden other Ducati models that were initially offered with larger engines, with smaller-displacement variations following, and the smaller ones were always the better bikes. They had wider powerbands, more progressive throttle control and more compliant suspensions.

Whether the 899 follows in that vein and is actually a more street friendly machine than the 1199, only a more thorough test in drier conditions will tell.


GALLERY

Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next, or just press play to show in a slideshow.


SPECIFICATIONS

Bike  2013 Ducati Panigale 899 
MSRP  $15,995
Displacement  898 cc
Engine type  Liquid-cooled 90° V-twin, four valves per cylinder, desmodromic valves
Power (crank)*  148 hp @ 10,750 rpm
Torque*  73 ft-lb @ 9,000 rpm
Tank Capacity  17 litres
Carburetion  EFI
Final drive  Chain
Tires, front  120/70 ZR 17
Tires, rear  180/60 ZR 17
Brakes, front  Twin 320mm semi-floating discs with radially mounted Brembo Monobloc four-piston calipers, ABS
Brakes, rear  Single 245mm disc, two-piston caliper, ABS 
Seat height  830 mm
Wheelbase  1426 mm
Wet weight*  193kg
Colours  Red, white
Warranty  Two years
* claimed  

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