As the 2012 MotoGP and World Superbike seasons run their final laps, the buzz surrounding Ducati has been less about bikes and more about the boardroom: Earlier this year, Audi purchased the premium Italian motorcycle manufacturer for $1.2 billion. And while fans of both brands are busy speculating about future collaborations, Ducati's current lineup already boasts one of the most jaw-dropping impressive superbikes on the market: the all-new 1199 Panigale.
"The 1098 and 1198 both shared parts from the past – the engine and chassis were year-over-year evolutions, some of the tech or engineering was carried over – but the 1199 is built from the ground up," says Dominique Cheraki, Ducati's General Manager for North America. "We said [to the engineers]: 'Create a new generation with a new engine, increase power and torque, reduce weight and maintenance costs, and increase handling and usability.'"
Achieving any of those objectives individually is fairly straightforward, but advancing one typically comes at the expense of others. In other words, to hit all goals with the top-of-the-line 1199 Panigale required serious feats of engineering. And yet the bike, developed with Ducati's formidable Corse racing division, is in every way an elevation over its predecessors.
The dry weight of just 362 pounds, the 195-horsepower, and 98.1 lb-ft of torque not only represent categorical improvements, but also the best power-to-weight and torque-to-weight ratios available in any bike, anywhere. The trellis frame is gone, replaced with a cast aluminum monocoque skeleton that incorporates the 1200cc Superquadro L-twin engine as a fully stressed member of the chassis (with rear and front sub-frames fixed to the engine and monocoque, respectively, for even more structural rigidity throughout every component). High-tech goodies include traction control, ABS, three distinct riding modes, electronic suspension, ride-by-wire, and Engine Brake Control for greater stability in hard braking.
Amazingly, the fire-breathing, sex-on-wheels performance aspect may be less remarkable than the bike's focus on ergonomics and daily usability, which means you can still do your best Valentino Rossi impression while taking a quick ride to the store. "Many of our customers not only use the bike on the track, but on the street as well," Cheraki says. "Part of the goal is to take the very real race DNA in this bike, the incredible performance, and package it in a bike that is very manageable for everyday riding." [1199panigale.ducati.com]