Ducati’s Panigale and History’s Most Innovative Motorcycles

Chris Hunter on the novelty of the new Ducati Panigale and other groundbreaking bikes.

Road travel is no longer a visceral experience. Even the fastest commercial supercars are sanitized; there’s little relationship between your Ferrari or Mercedes and the Formula 1 missiles driven by professional drivers.

But motorcycling is different. The fastest road-going superbikes already share DNA with the race bikes ridden by Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi. And this week Ducati has closed the gap even further, with an outlandish projectile dubbed the “Panigale.”

Unveiled at the EICMA motor show in Milan, the 1199 Panigale is the new king of the motorcycle horsepower race. Pronounced “Pan-ee-gah-lee,” it’s the first Ducati superbike to get a name as well as a number, which highlights the significance of its new baby. The distinction is deserved. It offers riders an astonishing—or terrifying, depending on your perspective—195 hp with which to play. Just as important, it weighs a mere 362 pounds (sans fluids). That’s the highest power-to-weight ratio of any production motorcycle.

Its intricate, jewel-like engine, known as the “Superquadro,” is an engineer’s wet dream. The engine is slung from a small aluminum subframe, and hangs on by the cylinder heads. With a massively over-square shape and wide and flat pistons that travel only a short distance, it’s a surefire recipe for high revs.

To enable control, Ducati has packed its new superbike with groundbreaking electronic aids, many of which are derived from the same technology used in bikes in the sport’s premier racing league, MotoGP. Riders get traction control, electronic suspension adjustment, and a ride-by-wire throttle. As well, there are several “riding modes,” so you can change the suspension and power settings from mild to wild. Even engine braking is managed by a black box: if you come off the gas too fast, the rear wheel won’t skip out of line too much. Anti-lock braking, which can be less effective on motorcycles than cars, is an option.

You can have the base model in your garage for a very reasonable $17,995. Ducati dealers are taking orders now, and deliveries of the 1199 Panigale will start in early 2012. But take it easy for the first few miles, OK?