Most motorcyclists spend the majority of their time dreaming about extremes: cruiser fan-boys fantasize about gliding from coast to coast, adventure riders imagine tackling the harshest of terrain, and wannabe knee-draggers superimpose themselves on a screaming rocket negotiating one of MotoGP’s 18 world circuits. So you can imagine my palpitations when I found myself astride a pulsing 2014 Ducati 1199 Panigale R in pitlane of the newly minted Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX; bestill my racing, speed-loving, pre-adolescent heart.
On the surface, Ducati’s latest land missile looks like a boy-racer version of its flagship superbike, with obligatory carbon fiber bits, snazzy white stripes and a clearcoated bare aluminum tank. But your hard-earned $29995 (a $7000 premium over the S model) mainly goes towards the bike’s mechanicals, whose primary purpose is to beat the field in World Superbike Racing.
The 1198cc L-twin produces the same 195hp as its more affordable stablemate, but peak power comes 500rpm higher, with maximum revs attained at a bellowing 12000rpm. Ducati also claims the R version returns 18% more torque during full-throttle acceleration from 124mph.
New titanium connecting rods and a lighter flywheel trim nearly 3 lb, while a diamond-like coating on the rocker arms ensures safe operation as the famous Desmodromically actuated valves do their business at the top end.
Revised ECU settings boost midrange torque, which resolves with a peak of 98.1 lb-ft. Two extra teeth at the rear sprocket effectively shortens the six-speed’s ratios, balanced with the higher redline to yield the same top speed as the S model.
Other race-ready tweaks include a bubblier windscreen for high-speed aerodynamics, an aero piece added to the fairing, and an adjustable swingarm to optimize grip or maneuverability. Included with your purchase is a free-breathing, track-only Termignoni exhaust system.
Which brings us back to Circuit of the Americas, where the Panigale R’s rumbling big-twin feels lusty, alive, and eager to pounce on any and every apex it encounters. Yours truly? Well, sometimes it seems the best thing to do at a new track on a fire-breathing bike is kick up the sidestand, click into gear, and go with the 195hp flow. But with MotoGP rider Nicky Hayden in attendance and running some demonstration laps, the pressure was definitely on.
Pitlane is the perfect place for a first taste of the Panigale R: this lonely uphill straight is quickly conquered after easing into first gear, which is engaged via a relatively light release of the slipper clutch-enabled left lever.
Set to “Race” mode, throttle response is heightened yet smooth, thanks to the re-mapped injectors. First gear is exploited faster than you can say “redline”, and the bike’s quick shifter enables you to tap up to the next gear instantaneously, without bothersome and time-consuming clutch-pulling rigmarole.
The 417 lb Duc leans into the first corner with an inherent sense of surefootedness, and the über-sticky Pirelli Supercorsa SC tires – chosen specifically for this track due to its relatively virgin tarmac – convey enough steering feel to encourage ballsier entry speeds than you initially thought possible.
Upon exit, ginger throttle application is normal (after all, who wants to be that guy?), but as confidence mounts, a healthier dose of throttle twist reveals inspiring grip from the 200mm rubber mounted to the forged rear Marchesini wheel.
Gradually quickening the pace around the course requires vigilance and self-control; after all, it’s seductively easy to go in over your head on the high speed, decreasing radius sections like turns 3 through 5, where F1 cars enter at a mind-bending 181mph, and exit at a mere 120mph.
Dial in a touch more throttle, and the Panigale voraciously chomps at the pavement ahead; grab the right brake lever, and dual 330mm Brembo front discs shrink speed while slamming your man parts against the tank.
Although it roars its way through space, managing this crimson Italian is a delicate business, even with the electronic safety net – from traction control to electronically adjustable damper settings and ABS – lurking in the background, promising to save your bacon.
Is Ducati’s 1199 Panigale R the right ride for any well-heeled Tom, Dick or Harry to spend thirty large on? Sure, it’s a high-priced slap in the face to (perfectly capable) road racers like Hondas $13800 CBR1000RR, Yamaha’s $14490 YZF-R1, Suzuki’s $13799 GSX-R1000 and Kawasaki’s $14299 ZX-10R. But the R’s magic lies in knowing you’re straddling some of the most cutting edge mechanical artistry this side of a World Superbike.
It may be expensive and will eventually expire into obsolescence like last year’s Paris couture, but as an unfettered expression of Italian speed and style, the Ducati 1199 Panigale R is one hell of a way to embrace the maximum.
2014 Ducati 1199 Panigale R
Engine 1198cc L-twin, 8v, Desmodromic valves
Transmission six-speed manual with wet, multi-plate slipper clutch, chain final-drive
Brakes four-piston Brembo monobloc caliper, twin 330mm semi-floating radially mounted rotors f, two-piston Brembo, single 245mm rotor r, ABS
Suspension Öhlins NIX30 43mm inverted fork f, Öhlins TTX36 shock r, electronic compression and rebound
Wheels & Tires 17x3.5" f, 17x6" r, 120/70 ZR17 f, 200/55 ZR17 r
Exterior LED lighting
Power 195hp at 10750rpm
Torque 98.1 lb-ft at 9000rpm
0-60 mph N/A
Top Speed N/A
Weight 417 lb
Fuel Economy N/A