RideApart Review: Ducati 1199 Panigale S

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Who’s most qualified to review the Ducati 1199 Panigale S? A racer? A journalist? How about the guy who departed on a 15,000-mile, seven-month, coast-to-coast (and back) road trip the day he bought one? Over to you, Dennis. — Ed.

I’d always dreamed of going on a long motorcycle trip without an end-date. Looking back I see I had more than a few opportunities to make it happen, but prudence and responsibility always interfered: college, work, a mortgage, the cable guy coming on the 16th. But everyone eventually hits a moment in their life when the reckless ambitions of their youth begin to turn into adulthood regrets. And when that moment finally came for me, I said, “fuck it”, bought a 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale S, threw some gear into a backpack, hit the starter button and roared out of Los Angeles. My only plan was to get to the Atlantic prior to turning around.

Why
I did 1,036 miles in one day on the Panigale, so it can’t be that bad of a touring bike now, can it? That sentiment of ‘why that bike?’ was expressed quite a bit during my trip, though, and a lot of people I met in gas stations or on the side of the road didn’t believe how far I’d come on it until they saw my license plate. I think the issue wasn’t with my choice to ride the bike I love — it’s that our lives have become so comfortable and cozy that what we consider challenges today probably wouldn’t even classify as inconveniences a generation or two ago. Show up for a ride with Steve McQueen in 1972 complaining about the switch for your heated grips only having three settings and you’re going to catch a boot to the hairy gumballs. Our ability to adapt is greatly underestimated, which is why I think so many people end up choosing what seems to make sense instead of the going with bike they lust after. I knew the Panigale would test me, but that was part of the allure. Coping with demanding situations and overcoming adversity produces a tremendous feeling of private, personal power that luxury and security can never provide—isn’t this, the internal satisfaction that comes from doing things our own way (despite the added difficulty), one of the reasons why we ride motorcycles?

The Ride
The biggest challenge of the trip was to walk out the door, get on the bike, and ride. Physically it might have been the easiest part of the trip, but mentally it’s the most difficult. It was self-expulsion from a life I liked quite a bit. But you don’t learn much and you don’t grow—and you surely don’t discover new places and people and things—unless you hit the reset button every now and then.

Once on the road it’s perpetual off-balance that probably gets to you the most. The lack of familiarity can be frustrating and stressful, too (being lost, not knowing where I’d be sleeping the following day, running on fumes with no gas station in sight, ending up in sketchy areas of town). But things like a pressing need to find a new home for a few nights can lead down all sorts of roads and paths—often it led me into the lives of some of the most authentic, genuine and interesting people I’ve ever met in my life. “Lifeboat worthy” people, as one of the coolest guys I met on the trip would say. And as you’d expect, I got to see some pretty cool parts of the country. I witnessed fireflies flickering above cornfields while sharing a couple bottles of wine with artists living on a farm in Claypool, Indiana, learned quite a bit about the underworld in more than a few cities, experienced post-apocalyptic Detroit, (which during the day is absolutely stunning, but can be quite terrifying at night) and saw fall colors for the first time. Also got a chance to take the Panigale on several off-road adventures!

What’s good
The law of diminishing returns might apply to most things in the world, but the experience of piloting a Panigale is never unexciting, uninspiring or dull. The 1,502nd ride is just as thrilling as the 1st. Part of that is a result of the thunderous music the Superquadro twin makes. And part of that is a result of brutal, raging and merciless power the 1199 makes. 192hp and 407lbs results in an experience that was accessible only to those with a World Superbike Racing license just a few years ago.

Durability was stellar. The fact that nothing ever left me stranded or wondering “what’s that clicking noise?” while riding through 35 states was a marvel in tight quality control and durability. All the miles in the gravel and dirt also demonstrates you don’t need a 1200 Adventure and panniers to get where you want to go (TC and ABS help, though!).

One of the most unexpected features of the bike that’s not mentioned in any sales brochures or discussed in any comparo tests is the effect the bike has on the general population. To women it’s a snarling bouquet of roses, kids think it’s some sort of alien technology and hell—even police had a hard time resisting its charm (not one moving violation the entire trip, despite my best attempts). You might meet the nicest people on a Honda, but you meet the most interesting on a Ducati.

What’s bad
A few bodywork bolts rattled themselves free, the neutral sensor needed replacement, the bike had (and still has) some starting problems that requires a bit of the throttle at times (addressed, but not cured with a software update), but mechanically the Panigale was near perfect. In servicing, twice the techs overfilled the oil during a change (once by almost a liter, requiring some roadside siphoning) and during my 15,000 mile service Ducati Newport Beach discovered that the chain had worn through the swingarm protector and dug into the metal. That’s something Ducati should have caught during the several times I brought it in for servicing, new tires and chain adjustments along the way.

Under-seat heat is an ergonomic trouble spot. There were times during my trip that I actually thought my right leg was on fire. But when temps dipped into the 30s and 40s I really appreciated the furnace-like qualities of the motor. Ducati has addressed the situation with a new heat shield (covered under warranty), but my rear pipe is wrapped now, so it’s not much of an issue.

Oh and Ducati needs to fire the guy responsible for designing their super slippery, ‘self-lubricating’ footpegs. $50 Rizomas and ten minutes solved the problem, so it’s rather baffling how something so simple to get right was overlooked.

Would you do it again if you know what you know now?
Absolutely. I’m actually having difficulty stopping myself from doing it again. For six months I lived a very peculiar type of life and the thought of adapting to a ‘normal’ world makes me nervous. I grew accustomed to the unfamiliar, to waking up and having no idea where I was, of being bombarded by new cities, strange roads and new people. Instead of the mundane ‘point-a to point-b’ routine of our normal lives, there was an energy — an anticipatory excitement that might be impossible to achieve in normal life. It’s as if for 180 days there was no yesterday, only a series of today and tomorrows. And despite the stress of travel, there’s a tranquility and peace to constantly being in motion. How does one transition from a state of constant apprehension and ceaseless expectation to a repetitive, monotonous routine? I don’t know. I still don’t know. The day after the trip ‘officially’ ended, I got into my truck and headed back out on the road. So I suppose I am doing it again and I can’t stop thinking about the next trip. Asia? Europe?

A coyote admires Dennis’ Kriega US-20 tailpack.

The Verdict
While staying at a horse farm in Virginia, I met a tough-as-nails, ex-RAF British gentleman who’d previously owned a huge collection of motorbikes (one of his Vincents is now in Jay Leno’s collection). He was a bit incredulous when I first showed up to his ranch, mentioning how my choice in cross-country bikes could stand some improvement. Having ridden just about every bike made except a Ducati (and still riding bikes in his 70s), I tossed him the key. 30 minutes later he returned with a huge grin on his face, confessing: “That was the most fun I’ve ever had on a motorbike.” After a moment the smile draped away, he looked me directly in the eye and confided, “I will never forget that ride as long as I live.”
Is there a better summary possible?

RideApart Rating: 9/10

You can read more about Dennis’ adventure on ADVRider and Ducati.ms.

Related Links:
Video:
Dennis Matson’s Ducati 1199 Panigale Adventure

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisjzahner Chris Zahner

    Dennis. India. Royal Enfield Bullet. This would be the other side of the coin compared to this trip, but the same token. Time to up your anti. You’ll never go back to “real” life. I can promise you that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stempere Sean Tempère

      My dream trip, one way ticket to India and then buying a new Bullet at the factory and doing Chennai to Paris on it. An approximatly 12 to 13 000 km trip, taking into acount you don’t take the most direct one, you know crossing Pakistan (or Afghanistan) and Iran…
      One day.

  • Isambard

    That’s how you do it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Sweeney/501437288 Scott Sweeney

    This guy’s whole trip is on ADV rider too!

    • http://twitter.com/Groomez shaun

      I love how it got picked up

    • Dux

      I thought this looked familiar. Quite worthy of publication

  • OlaMarvin

    Perfect. Well done on everything.

  • James Foley

    I kept up with this on ADV and it was a great read, but the posts are worth checking out for the photography as well. I am very glad to see this here and I’d love to hear from some more adventurers from time to time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.sagaci Jason Sagaci

    Amazing, cool, the Dream. Where to captain?
    ‘Out there, warp factor 10.”

  • Speedo007

    Awesome.

  • George Roberts

    There’s a quote about adventure being defined as doing the improbable on machines ill-suited to the task… any help?

  • Matt C

    “I did 1,036 miles in one day on the Panigale”. Damn, that’s impressive.

    • http://www.facebook.com/OMG.Awesome Clint Keener

      I’ve done 800 in a car. Barely. That is crazy!

    • David L. Whitlow III

      Probably only took 5 hours too.

  • Matthew Mason

    I plan to work all next year to blow all my money on a trip 1/10th as epic as this. This story is like every rider’s dream.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.methia Steve Methia

    Dennis is more than just the rider on this incredible journey! I had the pleasure to spend a little time with him when he rode through my little part of the world. He truly is the most interesting and genuine person I know. It’s my pleasure to call him a friend.
    He could use some help to continue his “quest”
    If you’d like you should check out his ebook and coffee table book on Blurb
    The photos are outstanding!!
    Ride on, buddy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/goddi1129 John Goddard

    Is this not the quint essential essence of riding motorcycles? No plan and whatever floats your boat on two wheels.

  • http://twitter.com/NewsIsRad Dustin Coury

    I also kept up with Dennis’s travels on ADV. Thank you for letting us live vicariously through your journey, Dennis. I test rode the Panigale over at Beverly Hills Ducati. That bike is incredible. It feels like an ice skate on fresh ice with a jetpack attached.

  • Matt

    Added that to the bucket list. Excellent writeup.

  • DukeXTC

    You hear so much about road trips. Think of the number of films there are. But a solo motorcycle trip is surely the purest form. These experiences are the rider’s and his alone, no friends or family to colour his memories. He will remember them exactly as they were and will take them to his grave unadulterated. What bliss. I can’t wait for my trip to the South of France and back later this year. It’s only a week but it’s MY week. Now I just have to decide whether to take the Monster or the touring bike. After reading this, I know the answer. Inspiring and inspired.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scottpargett Scott Pargett

    Wondering how many speeding tickets he racked up on that trip.

    • Damian Jordan

      “not one moving violation the entire trip, despite my best attempts”

  • TP

    I love you HFL. Great OC

  • http://twitter.com/Adventure1199 AntiHero

    Thanks for all the positive comments and different perspectives on what a trip like this means. I’d say it’s a “once-in-a-lifetime” adventure, but now that I’ve done it once all I can think about is doing it again (on a different continent, but on the same bike).

    • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

      You, sir. Bravo. Find yourself in Boston, MA, and there is some scotch with your name on it.

    • http://twitter.com/RodMillington Rod Millington

      I can totally understand what this trip means. In the beginning of 2012 I flew into Vietnam with no plan as to what I was going to be doing for 3.5 months until I flew out of Laos. In Hanoi I met a British guy and we got to talking and decided to buy a motorbike each and ride from the northern most point to the southern most point.

      Why? Because if you go north then you have to go south! We did just under 3500 miles in about 35 days all up but you have to appreciate that with a 100cc bike on the roads here if you have a good day you can do maybe 300 miles in 10 hours.

      But I had the best time of my life doing it and it’s something I’d recommend others to do too (just don’t do it in winter when the northern mountains are so cold).

      150cc bikes are the max in Vietnam though…

  • jon h

    I sent the link for this article to my friend Gary France who’s done a similar trip on a Harley and written a book about it (http://www.garysfrance.com/france-in-america/) and, having first hand experience of the realities of such a life changing event, he pointed out bit of a discrepancy…15,000 mile service at the end of the trip, right? 180 day duration, right? 1036 miles in one day, OK? Then for the rest of the trip he was averaging 77 odd miles per day? Also if you take the ziggy-zaggiest route from coast to coast and back that’s only about 10K miles and at an average 350 miles per day would only take 30 odd days. What was he doing for the other 5 months? Even if he rode every other day that’s only 150 miles per day. Perhaps as he only “threw some stuff in a backpack” he had to stop and wash his grollies every other day? :)

    • http://twitter.com/Adventure1199 AntiHero

      Gary’s got it right. I didn’t want to just visit cities and states, I wanted to live in as many places as I could (for short durations) to get a better feel for what it would be like to be an inhabitant. Sometimes I’d stay somewhere for a couple of days and sometimes I’d stay for 3 weeks. I didn’t want to just be a spectator or a tourist in the places I visited.

      As for the 1000+ miles in one day (Austin to Scottsdale)–just wanted to prove to myself I could do an ‘ironbutt’ on an 1199 (gas receipts and GPS in case anyone called bs). :)

      • jon h

        Hi, thanks for the reply, makes sense now – also between writing and reading your response I picked up the link to AVRider and read more of on your story. Great opportunity well grasped and very nicely written, congrats. Though I’m not sure which impresses me most though the 6 months on the road or the 1000+ miles in one go!

  • http://www.facebook.com/gary.france.77 Gary France

    Okay, worked it out now. He worked during the trip and rode mainly at nights and at weekends. That explains the 15,000 miles in 7 months. Nice one!

  • http://twitter.com/Mr_Paynter Bryan Paynter

    Envy and admiration.

  • http://profiles.google.com/mugget mugget man

    Cool stuff – I’m only part way through the ADV thread. His attitude pretty much sums things up for me as well, get on ‘yer bike & ride!

  • Blixa

    Hmm I knew he sounded familiar – I’ve been following his incredible ride report on advrider. Good job on finding him for this review – If anyone can properly evaluate the Panigale, it’s this guy.

  • http://twitter.com/SSgt93 Steve

    It’s a must to read the entire ride report. It’s well worth it and a good read with excellent photo documentation.

  • Derek Lewis

    This was a joy to read. Haven ridden and worked with these bikes for a year, I never would have thought somebody would ride one cross-country. But now it seems there should be no other choice.

  • KriegaUSA

    ‘Coast to Coast (and back?) with an Italian Supermodel’ is one of the best RRs ever written. Good on you for searching out Dennis to do this review.

  • Robotribe

    I’d like to think this guy is making up for all the lazy-ass riders such as myself.

    Bravo, sir. You win.

  • Tommy Erst

    Well done sir.

  • asdfsad

    Or you could get the S100RR for a much better price.

  • taba

    You rode in jeans and hiking shoes or Doc’s, AntiHero?

    I’d have thought as an athlete you’d want to protect your ankles, knees, and hips; as someone who’d spent time in hospitals, you’d want to avoid that experience again; and as an independent type, you’d wouldn’t want an injury to limit your choices or leave you reliant on others.

    I’d appreciate you sharing your thinking. As a returning rider I’m struggling with what to responsibly wear.

    Thanks.

  • jay black

    Absolutely loved reading this! I’m wanting to get another sport bike for awhile and I finally took the first step by going to the dealership and fell in love with the looks, seating position and sound of the Panigale!!! But with researching this it made me constipated this and opt for my second choice the BMW 1000rr and now after reading your story there is passion which leads to riding which leads to adventure. I’m going with my gut on this one and my heart! I’m going to get myself a 2013 Panigale :) so I guess I should say thank you for sharing your adventure!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mathias.w.grosse Mathias Grosse

    Great, absolutely – essence of biking. Give it a try in Europe, Italy (Trentino i.e.) one of Europeens favorites and meet lots of dedicated people! Regards – M.

  • Racer 97

    in 2009 I bought a GSXR 750 and 300 miles later decided to try an Iron Butt. 1000 in 24. People thought I was nuts. I am, but that’s beside the point.
    I am planning a trip from Maine to Key West to Pleasant Hill CA, After reading this I may do Pleasant Hill to Maine to Key West to Pleasant hill. On a Panigale S.
    I am getting too old to keep saying “One of these days” I have too many friends who are now not seeing “One of these days” ever again.

  • http://elricoshow.com/ Rico Michel

    Great write!

  • David L. Whitlow III

    If I could afford it I would buy it tomorrow. It is a beautiful bike from a distance both with my eyes and ears. Up close it gives me goose pimples. Glad to hear the riding experience is congruent with my assumptions. Also glad to hear you are living life the way it should be lived. Thanks for the inspiration. Love the coyote photo.

  • http://elricoshow.com/ Rico Michel

    Good writing too