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Ducati 1299 Panigale S (2015) - Review | World First Test

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Bennetts BikeSocial was launched in autumn 2012



1299 at Portimao.

Ducati 1299 Panigale S World First Test and Review
Ducati chose to launch its new 2015 Panigale S at the challenging Portimao Circuit in Portugal. We were one of the first people in the world to swing a leg over the 205bhp V-twin superbike. Here's our full test.

205bhp and 190kg wet on a road bike are some figures. And the new £20,695 Ducati 1299 Panigale S is some bike.

205bhp in a super agile, tiny lightweight monocoque chassis could be terrifying. And it is, if you're not on top of your game. But somehow the new 1299 Panigale calms down the terror and makes it rideable, like a wound-up Rodeo bull that has been sedated. Just ever so slightly. 

You know how when you were younger you always wanted to sleep with the dirty girls, rather than the ones your Mum would like? Well that's what the Ducati is like.

It's as beautiful as any other production motorcycle, even the award-winning 1199 it has evolved from, yet manages to harness that craziness beneath its flowing Italian curves. It will give you one of the most-memorable rides of your life. 

But get on the wrong side of it, and it will test you, treat you mean and keep you on your toes like any high-maintenance and expensive girlfriend.

It also leaves you begging for more. It's full of attitude, accelerates like nothing else you have ever-ridden, stops, goes and turns as well as anything that isn't a full-factory WSB. And you can buy it to ride on the road. Madness. The 1199 Panigale this bike supersedes was hardly a pussycat but this is better in every single way. 

And it makes a claimed 205bhp just in case you hadn't logged that fact already.


I'm old enough to have tested every Ducati model from 916, 996, 998, 999, 1098 etc all the way to the 1199 Panigale and 1299, and been on the world launches of most of them over the last 20-years as a motorcycle journalist.

Each time the assembled group of grateful but spoilt journalists stand around kicking tyres and talking about how there will never be a faster bike than the last one, how can it get any faster etc? Yet in two or three years’ time those bikes get superseded and get another 20bhp. New Ducati sports bike launches are rarely disappointing, but this was off the scale.

Ducati's 2015 1299 Panigale S. We rode it and are still shaking.

This time we were completely mesmerised. Welcome to the 205bhp club.  That's around 55bhp less than a hand built MotoGP bike but on the road. You've never known anything like it. Where will it all end I hear you ask?

Let me give you an idea of the bike on the straight at Portimao where we rode the bike at its world launch, for instance.

Portimao is a difficult beast of a track. It's physical to ride and full of blind curves, drops, crests and off-camber corners. It makes Cadwell Park look easy. And with all those challenging bends, hard braking, and wheelie crests it would give an almost 40-something-year-old like me a workout on a 600. It's 4.7km of heaven.

With this much power it feels like you've done a full Grand Prix after ten laps. 

You join the straight following a four gear fast downhill right-hander with the bike on its side. As it opens out there's a crest and the 1299 Panigale was accelerating so hard over that 150mph crest it wheelies into sixth gear. The noise it makes when you're on it is intoxicating. 

Head down behind the new wider front fairing and higher screen it tops out at 180mph by the end of the straight. Ducati's test riders are showing 186mph.

For the record, they are bred in a laboratory in Bologna using the DNA of Troy Bayliss and only let outside in full race leathers. If they can't get their elbows down by the age of six they are sent to work for Bimota as punishment.

Ducati told me that chief test rider Alessandro Valia (the dude in THAT 1299 promotional video) did a 1m50s lap today on a standard 1299S.

That's just seven seconds off the fastest WSB test time by Eugene Laverty on a full-blown WSB Suzuki at Portimao one year ago. 

But back to the start-finish crest. Ordinarily this kind of 150/160mph wheelie with a sidewind blowing you off course would test the metal of all but the best WSB and MotoGP riders. But on the new Panigale even mere mortals can feel like MotoGP gods. A bit, anyway.

Yes, it waggles its head down the straight after the crest, what sports bike wouldn't? But you know that there's a clever man from Ducati, Ohlins and Bosch that will sort it all out for you. Like he's on board, personally looking after your own personal life insurance.

It's all in the electronics you see. As well as an electric steering damper, which works depending on the work the bike is asking it to do, there's also adjustable wheelie control which Ducati calls DWC.

A 150mph wheelie never gets more scary than just sort of hovering half way down the straight and never letting it get too lairy. If that's your thing then use the plus and minus tabs on your left thumb and set it up from number one to eight, one being almost none, eight stopping any back-wheel antics. Or adjust the traction control on the fly, like a MotoGP rider.

Then there's the Ducati quick shift system which blips the throttle on the down changes and makes the clutch all but redundant apart from for pulling away. Sounds weird, works great. 

Once you're away, just let the clutch out and then just push the gear lever up or down with your foot and the revs blip themselves as the gear kicks in on the upchange. It's what the WSB boys use.

At the end of the straight for instance, you brake hard from 180mph to scrub off speed for a third gear right-hander knowing that the cornering ABS has your back, close the throttle then tap the lever down and it blips and changes, no stress, no fuss, no drama.

I used it twice before it felt completely natural and wondered why we've been using a clutch lever for so long. It will only work when the gas is closed and not above 10,000rpm. There's a slight nudge from the rear as it happens but you soon get used to it.


But it's not just at high-speed the downshift works, it also worked perfectly in pit lane changing down from second gear to first gear. Away from the track it's going to sound brilliant as the big V-twin blips itself at the traffic lights. On the upchange the quickshifter leaves a lovely pop and bang.

There's adjustable engine braking too, which I found best on setting two. It let me get the bike into the corner faster, making it feel slightly loser at the rear but enabling me to tighten my line and get to the apex.

And we haven't even started with the Ohlins Smart EC suspension. It's semi-active and can be adjusted from the handlebar controls. Engage the race setting and the suspension stiffens up to a pre-determined setting and reacts to what the bike is doing. Ohlins and Ducati call it 'event based suspension'.

So it will stiffen under braking, soften off for the apex when you want some feel from the front-end and then harden up the rear when you get on the gas. Everything from compression, rebound and preload can be adjusted using the electronics on the 50mm upside down forks. The standard Panigale uses a Sachs rear and Ohlins front forks without electronics.

On the track it's incredible and flattens out bumps, but is also designed to make the bike much more rideable on the road too. I can't wait to try it on a bumpy back-road. 

What all of those incredible electronics do is allow a normal human being motorcyclist to stay on a snarling 205bhp motor that makes 102.5bhp per cylinder. Without them it would surely be almost un-rideable. Yet in this latest form the Ducati always makes you concentrate 110%, to nick a phrase from X-Factor.

The Superquadro engine is not just a thing of technical brilliance and incredibly compact, but it transforms the way the Ducati makes power compared to the 1199 Panigale.

Whereas the 1199 had a bit of a powerband at the top end and occasionally left you waiting in the mid-range before hitting you with an explosion, this 1285cc version never leaves you begging. 

On early sessions at low-revs when I was learning the track, the bike pulled cleanly from as low as 4000rpm gently shaking and shuddering away.

From 5000-8000rpm it's making 15% more torque than the 1199 and then it's just keeps on going until the 11,500rpm redline and shift light. In truth I rarely revved it that hard all day. 

You simply don't need to. It's always there, fuels perfectly and has the best connection to the back tyre out of any bike I've ridden on track for a very long time.

In sport mode the bike gives you full horsepower but a slightly less aggressive fuel map. It will be great for general fast road riding but it kicked in with too much traction control on the track.

The Race setting gives a slightly more aggressive fuel map, but considering what you are trying to harness when you get on the gas it never feels too much.

The motor sounds mint too. It has that trademark rumble but needs to be heard at full chat to be believed. Though it is perhaps a bit too loud, if ever that's is possible. Track day fans may need to bung the noise man next time they're planning a session in the fast group. But one thing is for sure, not much will hassle you once you've got it set-up to your liking.

As standard the bike comes on Pirelli's Diablo Supercorsa SP tyres, running a 200/55 x 17 inch rear wheel, and a 120/70 x 17 inch front. That is the road version of the tyre used in World Supersport and World Superstock.

However, because the temperatures for the track test were a bit low, Pirelli chose to run us out on a race version of that tyre - the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SC on a hard SC2 compound.

It is exactly the tyre used the World Superstock championship and unsurprisingly works great on this bike.

There was always loads of feel from the front tyre, and I saw more than one rider elbow-down (not me though!). 

On the rear on the standard Race suspension settings you could make the rear tyre slide slightly and for my weight I stiffened up the suspension to 'Hardest' setting to stop some rear shock pumping. Dial in more traction control to your preference.

The 'hardest' suspension setting was never harsh though but made me feel more connected to the rear tyre. On the road I would expect the standard settings to be pretty much bang-on. 

It may be that the settings, all the different options and screens would baffle some people but for techno nerds like me it just deepens your relationship with the bike. It's not alone of course, Aprilia, Yamaha and BMW all have incredible electronic packages on their new superbikes.

It may look familiar when parked and you can see the line evolving from the 1199 and even shades of the 916 in its lines, but it is in fact all new. 

The bike's styling has also been subtly restyled from the 1199 but features all new bodywork and now has a new monocoque chassis evolved from its predecessor. The aerodynamics have been improved and the tail unit is the most obvious change. It is simply stunning in the metal/plastic.

Frame-wise, it uses a monocoque chassis similar to the old one but now has a 24-degree head angle (24.5 on the 1199). There's a 4mm lower swing arm pivot taken from the 1199R and footrests from the Superleggera. All-in-all it means the bike is more eager to get into a turn, holds a tighter line to incredible angles of lean and is way more agile through chicanes and quick turns than the old bike. It's not a revolution but is definitely sharper. And it will lean as far as you dare, is stable mid-corner too.

And that just about sums up the 1299 Panigale S.

Yes, it's a hell of a lot of money, but what price for exotica of this ability? As a motorcycle it's now firmly one of my favourites, and as an experience to heighten your senses nothing this side of the Desmosedici RR road bike comes close.

Will it be better than the BMW S1000RR or the new Yamaha R1? Will it better the MV Agusta or Aprilia, if anyone actually buys one of its even rarer Italian rivals?

Only a group test will decide that for sure, but you could never be anything but blown away by the 1299 Panigale S and what it is capable of.

It is one of the most exciting motorcycles I have even been fortunate enough to swing a leg over and makes you feel alive.

It's easier to ride than the old one, will be great on the road and even has a 20mm higher screen, comfier seat and wider top-fairing for better wind protection, so it's more practical too.

Ultimately it's hard to think of any bike sexier than this to park in your garage in production right now. There are even great finance deals through TriOptions.

It's available in red with black wheels from Ducati dealers.

Go and see them and tell them who sent you. 

The Panigale is available for £179 a month and Panigale S for just £235 with Ducati's TriOptions scheme. Click here for more info.



 1285cc, Superquadro L-Twin, 4 Desmodromically actuated valves per cylinder, liquid cooled, six-speed gearbox with slipper clutch


 Monocoque Aluminium


 Front: 3-spoke forged light alloy 3.50" x 17"

 Rear: 3 spoke forged light alloy 6.00" x 17"


 Front: Fully adjustable Ohlins TTX36 unit. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with semi-active mode, 120 mm travel

 Rear: Adjustable linkage: Progressive/flat. Aluminium single-sided swingarm. 130mm travel


 Front: 2 x 330mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo Monobloc M50 4-piston calipers with cornering ABS as standard equipment

 Rear: 245mm disc, 2-piston caliper with cornering ABS as standard equipment


 Wheelbase: 1437mm (56.6in)

 Seat height


 Fuel tank capacity

 17 litres

 Wet Weight

 190.5kg (166.5kg dry weight)


 205bhp @ 10,500rpm


 106.7 ft-lb @ 8750rpm

 Other equipment

 Riding Modes, Power Modes, Cornering ABS, DTC, DQS up/down, DWC, EBC, Fully RbW, Auto tyre calibration, Full LED lighting, Ohlins Smart EC with semi-active steering damper, Auxiliary adjustment buttons, DDA+ with GPS-ready set-up.


 24 months unlimited mileage

 Service intervals:

 7500 miles
 Valve clearance check at 15,000 miles


Ducati UK:  


When it comes to rivals for Ducati's 1299 there are plenty. And all of them have such incredible ablity it makes my knee sliders twitch just thinking about them.

Yamaha has launched a new R1 with what is claimed to be the most advanced electronics fitted to any production motorcycle. It looks like the bike to beat, but we'll have to wait until next month for its world launch in Sydney to find out. 

Then there's Aprilia's updated RSV-4RR, again with a new electronics package and even more power. And, last but not least is BMW's S1000RR. It has been king of the 1000cc sports bikes since its launch in 2009.

Now in its third incarnation the S1000RR is still the bike to beat. Is it better than the Ducati or the R1? Only a group test would be able to answer that age-old question. One thing;s for sure though. Any thousand cc sports bike, even the ageing CBR1000RR Fireblade, or Suzuki GSX-R1000 will blow your mind if you try and open the throttle fully-open in the first three gears. Book a test ride, give it a go. I dare you.

For your delight and delectation here's the scores on the doors for the 1000cc sports bikes. And before you ask, no, I havent included the new Kawasaki H2, instead including the more sports bike focussed ZX-10R.



 Power (Claimed)

 Weight (wet)

Ducati 1299 Panigale/S




Yamaha YZF-R1/R1M








Kawasaki ZX-10R 

£12,199 std/£13,199 
with ABS

197 bhp


Aprilia RSV-4RR 

£ tbc


180kg (NOTE: Dry weight as Aprilia don’t quote wet weight.

Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade 




Suzuki GSX-R1000 MotoGP/ABS

£10,899/£11,299 with ABS




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