World’s First Ride: 2014 Ducati 899 Panigale Review

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The 2014 Ducati 899 Panigale doesn’t fit into established motorcycle categories. It’s not eligible for any major international race series. It’s not priced to steal sales from any rivals. Instead, it’s been specifically created to make the Panigale DNA more accessible. We just finished riding the bike on Italy’s Imola Circuit in the pouring rain and this is the first review you’ll see anywhere online.

What’s New
“We wanted a bike that riders will be able to wring the most out of in the canyons,” the 899 Panigale’s project leader, Paul Ventura, told us this morning. Before joining Ducati, he lived in Southern California, so is familiar with realistic sport riding conditions on the road. It’s there that the 899 is designed to work just as well as it will on the track, allowing more riders to access the Panigale’s magic, more of the time.

Instead of starting with the old 848 Evo and working up, Ducati instead started with its 1199 flagship and worked on making it more agile, more broadly applicable, less costly and easier to ride.

Its “Superquadro” V-twin shares the same crankcases as the Ducati 1199 Panigale, but here is fitted with 100 x 57.2 mm cylinders. Less “over square” dimensions make the 848 cc motor’s power more accessible, despite its smaller capacity.

The 148 bhp, 72 lb.-ft. motor is still revvier than a traditional V-twin, but its curves remain a little fatter and lower in the revs than the larger version’s. Power tapers off as revs approach the 12,000 rpm redline.

As on the 1199, the motor remains a central element of the chassis. A cast aluminum front subframe connects the forks to the front cylinder, doubling as an airbox. Out back, the rear subframe is now a cheaper, tubular steel arrangement, but still connects to the rear cylinder in the same manner. Plastic covers hide the lower cost subframe, mimicking the look of the 1199’s cast aluminum affair.

That leaves the double-sided swingarm to be the largest visual differentiator between 899 and 1199. Ducati told us it’s there to help keep costs down. Other savings are found in the form of aluminum, rather than magnesium engine covers, a monotone LCD display instead of the full-color TFT unit and more affordable Showa BPF forks and a Sachs monoshock. None of that sacrifices much in the name of cost-cutting though, the swingarm remains very light and very stiff, the engine covers are light and robust, the display is comprehensive and includes all the switchable riding mode functionality and fully adjustable suspension front and rear.

The 899 is fitted with the same electronic rider aids as the 1199: Traction Control, ABS, Engine Brake Control and Quick Shift. All that is completely user programmable through the dash and all the aid can be switched totally off.

Despite all the less fancy parts, this isn’t simply a watered-down 1199. It actually gains agility over the larger bike thanks to a 11 mm shorter wheelbase, half a degree steeper front suspension and a narrower, 180/60-17 rear tire.

Nor should you be disappointed that the 899 doesn’t gain any huge numbers over the 848. At 372.5 lbs (dry) it may only lose 11 lbs and gain 8 bhp, but that minimal advantage hides the real story: the 899’s standard ABS adds 4.4 lbs (meaning Ducati actually shed nearly 15 lbs) and the motor’s higher revs enable Ducati to fit lower gearing without sacrificing top speed. Thanks to a 44 tooth rear sprocket replacing the 848’s 39 tooth item, thrust at the rear wheel increases by around 20 percent.

2014 Ducati 800 Panigale Review

The Ride
Italy’s Imola Circuit is one of the most historically important race tracks in the world. It’s where Ayrton Senna was killed and is located just 60 kilometers from Ducati’s factory in Bologna. Its short straights and tight, technical corners should also be perfectly suited to a bike that maximizes agility, light weight and accessible power.

Unfortunately, it’s also subject to northern Italy’s unpredictable autumn weather; it’s been raining solid here since we arrived on Sunday. The rain was so bad today that Ducati called it quits after just three track sessions. World Superbike Champion, Carl Fogarty, who was flown in to make us feel bad about our riding abilities on the track, instead chose to intimidate us from the dry confines of the pit garage.

While the 899 is fitted with Pirelli’s excellent Diablo Rosso Corsa road tires, its lack of sipes away from the center and its track oriented side compound (the same as the SC2), necessitated the fitment of race wets today.

Those were aided by Ducati’s comprehensive electronic rider aids. During the first two sessions, full-on wet mode (restricting power to 100 hp and maximizing TC and ABS while minimizing engine braking) kept me upright as I learned the track. Later, MCN’s Adam Child helped me find a custom setup perfectly suited to the conditions — full power, just tamed by maximum traction control and ABS. It speaks to the system’s efficacy that no journalists went down at any point today, even with experience levels running from former professional racers down to road riders. Even the pros were leaning on ABS and TC to make things safe and predictable.

Also helping was the 899’s power delivery. In contrast to the larger bike’s positively violent nature, the 848cc Superquadro is smooth, predictable and linear. It gains revs very quickly, accelerating with urgency rather than exploding in your face like the 1199. It retains much of the character of the larger motor, drives hard out of corners through its mid-range and, most importantly, sounds just as good as the larger bike.

That performance is complimented by the suspension, which is more compliant than the 1199’s, with excellent damping control. Feel is excellent front and rear, making pushing the front relatively hard into corners and accelerating relatively early — much harder riding than you’d expect to be possible in these conditions — a fairly straightforward thing to do.

Accessibility doesn’t mean watering the experience down, it means making that experience easier to reach.

2014 ducati 899 panigale Review

What’s Good
Near identical looks to the 1199, both bikes easily look 10 years ahead of any other on sale right now.

The 899’s seat has been revised with a new shape and more padding, without increasing its seat height. The suede cover is much grippier than the 1199’s item, while the shape makes it even easier to hang off. Comfort felt excellent on this short test.

In fact, the 899’s overall ergonomic packaged (identical to the 1199) is spacious, comfortable and facilitates both easy transitions and good body position.

The electronic rider aids are as effective as they claim to be. I slipped off the peg during one corner entry, the resulting body movement causing me to grab much more brake than I meant to be using. Without ABS, that would absolutely have caused a crash. With ABS, it was a minor hiccup.

Despite the lower capacity, the engine retains the big V-twin boom. You’ll never mistake Ducati’s sound for anything else.

The engine is fast, but friendly. It’s easy to find full throttle, but hard to want any more. As the capacity would suggest, its curves feel much fuller than a 600, but don’t get as violent as the 1199’s.

2014 ducati 899 panigale Review

What’s Bad
Even now, Ducati still fits the world’s most slippery foot pegs to its otherwise near perfect motorcycles. In today’s rain, they were positively treacherous. Every single rider complained of slipping off of them and doing so was probably as close to crashing as anyone came.

Some of the cost cutting from 1199 to 899 is too strongly in visual evidence. While the swingarm isn’t quite as bad in real life as it first looked to be in the press photos, other components like the rear brake caliper mounts, the rear subframe and the non-adjustable steering damper simply feel cheap.

The menus in Ducati’s dash remain obtuse and are difficult to understand and use. Poaching a UX designer from Apple (or borrowing expertise from parent company Volkswagen) should be an immediate priority.

The Price
This is where the 899 runs into trouble. While it may be $3,000 cheaper than the base Ducati 1199 Panigale, at $14,995 ($15,295 in white) it’s $1,000 more expensive than the 999cc Aprilia RSV4 R. And that SBK Championship-winning liter bike arguably wears a more exotic badge.

It’s also $1,500 more than the 2013 Triumph Daytona 675 R, which wears top-shelf Ohlins suspension and much fancier equipment than the Showa/Sachs stuff employed here by Ducati.

Neither of those bikes suffers the same “little brother” stigma that the 899 likely will. Deserved or not.

2014 Ducati 800 Panigale Review

The Verdict
All the design, technology and character of the 1199 in a package that’s more agile, smoother and much easier to ride. On the 899, you’ll spend more time enjoying the ride and less time scared out of your mind. To us, that makes it a superior package whether you’re on the track (even a wet one) or on the road, where the 899 should be genuinely manageable and exploitable, two words you’d never apply to its big brother.

When I climbed off the 1199 R after riding it at COTA in ideal conditions, I felt lucky to be alive. Today, after mastering a wet Imola Circuit, I feel like a hero. That’s what the 899 will give you, too.

RideApart Rating: 9/10

Gear:
Leathers: Icon Overlord Prime Race Suit (N/A, Custom)
Gloves: Racer R-Safe ($260, Highly Recommended)
Boots: Alpinestars Supertech R ($450, Highly Recommended)
Back Protector: Dainese Manis ($100, Highly Recommended)
Armor: Dainese Norsorex ($120 Vest, $100 Shorts, Highly Recommended)
Underoos: Alpinestars Summer Tech ($90 Shirt, $60 Pants, Highly Recommended)

Related Links:
Fastest Bike In The World: 2013 Ducati 1199 Panigale R

Even More Road-Oriented: 2013 Ducati Hyperstrada Review

Something Cheaper: Aprilia RSV4 Video Review

  • Jay Hartley

    Excellent review as always Wes, and great job getting it out so quick. I was looking forward to hearing about the 899, since I’ll be considering it in a few years when I move up from my (current) CBR250 and (future) RC390. :-)

  • HellomynameisAG

    I love the look of rain tires on superbikes (saw it on Instagram). Nice job on the review. Where are the pics of you riding in the rain? And do they always put a plate on test bikes at the track?

    • engageit

      I don’t see any plates. Just the plate holder.

      • HellomynameisAG

        hahaha – they changed up all the pics… Its now Wes, with no plates. Before it was somebody else.
        Cool. Thanks.

  • Eric Shay

    Yeah, but can it do wheelies?

  • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi

    I don’t understand why they used steel for the swingarm. I understand the point was to shave costs, but this bike would be an absolute ripper with an aluminum, two-sided swingarm. If ducati decided to change the engine, frame geometry and went to an aluminium doubled sided swingarm whole leaving the other parts the same, this bike would make prince 1199 look like the inept son on any track other than those with long straights and high gear sweepers. Sibling rivalry be damned.

    • Aaron

      I think the swingarm is aluminum.

    • Corey Cook

      Dude, the swingarm is definitely made of cast aluminum, just like every other sportbike on the market. It’s not a Harley…

    • Gomer Pyle

      Jorn,,,you have reading comprehension problems,,,,,,the article stated that the SUB-FRAME was steel [the part under the seat]……the swingarm is still aluminum

    • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi

      Wow guys, sorry. Thanks to all three of you for saying the same thing and thank you, gomer Pyle, for specifically using the phrase ‘reading comprehension’ in a comment section.

      This place is looking more and more like a motorcycle subreddit everyday.

  • http://instagram.com/real_jason_ip Jason Ip

    Nice exclusive Wes. OK. So, keeping in mind your unfortunate weather conditions, which is better in your opinion: Triumph Daytona 675R or the Duc 899?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      899.

      • James Battaglia

        High praise indeed especially considering that it is $1500 more. Then again for me it would be worth it.

  • Aaron

    Nice Rf1200!

    • Mitchel Durnell

      Hah, good eye – I thought he just had a plain X12 on. Looks like it’s gonna be called the NXR (not sure about North America though.) There’s an announcement vid on Vimeo about it.

  • Jason 1199

    I was a little jealous reading this. A street friendly mini-1199!

    It’s true that I often feel my bike is a total waste in the city. It runs hot, it’s too fast, it’s not practical and stop/go is uncomfortable. Then maybe once or twice a week I hit the sea to sky highway to whistler and it all comes together. I f*cking love this bike, quirks and all. That’s what were all after anyways.

    I ride a (real) supermoto for the city why try to force a round peg in a square hole.

    And I echo the foot pegs of death, they escape logic. Good on Ducati for making this though

  • engageit

    Thanks for the info guys. That’s quite a scoop you boys got there, you’ve really hit the big time!

    This is the first Ducati I’ve had any interest in buying in 15 years! I’ve already put my name in at the local dealer for them to keep me posted about prices and dates. They said they are expecting them in in November. Can’t wait to see on in person. I’ll have to wait until next spring to ride one though.

  • Guzzto

    Ride apart, more scoops than a gelataria!

  • Dan

    A ducati with no trellis frame, a double-sided swingarm, gear-driven cams and a humane riding position? How could this be?!

    Just kidding. 6,000 mile service intervals are for suckers, and this bike looks the business. Now they just need it in black.

    • nick2ny

      People ride Ducatis 6000 miles?

  • jng1226

    Excellent review. Well balanced with positives and negatives. In the pre-TC days, it used to be that the smaller displacement versions of the same model were more confidence inspiring because the lower output and friendlier curves meant throttle could be more liberally applied at corner exit, with less chance of a high-side, and therefore, less fear and anxiety. However, in the age of TC, I wonder how the 1199 and 899 would have felt back to back with similar rider aid settings? With the 1199 in “195 Low” (full power with mild throttle response), maximum TC and street ABS, would it be any less rideable than the 899 you tested? The rider has to bear some responsibility with his/her throttle hand, so if the big HP/TQ numbers of the 1199 are intimidating, the less-than-expert rider could simply short shift and achieve the same “rideablility.” Then, as the skills grow and the power becomes less intimidating, the TC numbers can come down, throttle response go up, etc., and the rider can “mature” into the full glory that is a Termi-equipped and up-mapped 1199.

    As a very happy 2012 1199 owner, I don’t really see an advantage for the 899 except entry price if a nothing but a new bike will do. In the real world, I would look for a clean, low-mileage, fully-TSB-updated 1199 for the same money.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Know how you still have to be super careful on the 1199′s throttle? It’s like setting off a stick of dynamite. On the 899, you can actually grab a handful without blowing yourself up. The consensus among journalists here is that the 899 is more enjoyable to ride as a result.

      • Jay Hartley

        This brings up a question I’ve been wondering about: With more sportbikes allowing you to adjust the power level (and even throttle sensitivity), does this allow a less experienced rider to buy one of these bikes sooner than would normally be recommended, because you can ride it first in Low Power mode and then “grow” with the bike and jump to High Power when you’re ready later? This would save some $$ by avoiding the need to buy “intermediate” bikes — for example, if I start on a CBR250 (25 hp) and ride it for a few thousand miles, buy an RC390 (~45 hp) next year and ride that for a few thousand miles and some track days in the beginner group, ordinarily the next step would be a 600, but could I jump up instead to an 899 or F3 800 (~100 hp in Low Power mode)? I haven’t seen any reviews that mention this possibility — perhaps it’s still not advisable for other reasons, like overly strong brakes and stiff suspension? But even there I’d think it’d still be manageable (and possibly even advisable) given that you typically gain adjustable suspension and ABS by stepping up.

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          Short answer: no.

          What makes a bike difficult to ride isn’t just the power, it’s all the stuff the power necessitates: crazy strong brakes, razor sharp handling,etc etc etc. All that stuff is actually harder to use than the throttle and is most of the reason why we recommend starting on a small bike and working your way up when, and only when, you truly outgrow its performance.

          • Jay Hartley

            Thanks for killing my dream…I mean, clearing that up, Wes.
            Actually, I hope the RC390 is so fun that I really don’t care about “upgrading” (assuming it makes it to the US next year).

  • Mitchel Durnell

    Similarly, I think Ducati’s plain, ugly exhaust cans demand an almost mandatory upgrade to aftermarket slipons.

  • GarrettK

    Looking good Sir Wesley!!! How do the ergonomics compare to the 848EVO? I’m guessing identical position to the 1199?

  • Manos

    For that kind of coin, I’d rather buy an Aprillia RSV4 R and use the $1,000 dollars I saved for an exhaust system.

  • Manos

    I’d rather buy an Aprillia RSV4 R and use the $1,000 dollars to buy an exhaust system. This bike appears better than the 848EVO, but there are other better options at this price point.

  • Aaron

    so my helmet comment got deleted…does that mean I was right? do I get any points for calling it? hahaha

  • Reid

    That is probably the best-looking sportbike I’ve ever seen. Somebody earned their paycheck. It looks like a hawk about to swoop down on a rabbit.

    • Manos

      Ducati has always hit the mark in the aesthetics department (916, 996, 998, 1098) save for the abysmal Ducati 999. This bike is very beautiful to look at no doubt, but so are some of the Triumph’s and Norton’s. The main issue I have is the price. The 899 Panigale is in motorcycle “no-man’s land”. If you’re dead set on buying Ducati, you can pay a little more and get the 1199 Panigale or you can get the big bore Aprillia RSV4 R and save $1,000. To me the hp gains on the 899 vs. the 848EVO are just too small to entice me to look at this seriously. However, it is very pleasing to the eye.

      • Reid

        I totally agree with all of that. If it were my money I’d rather have the Triumph. In fact I like “ugly” things, so the adherence to classically good-looking aesthetics don’t matter too much to me when it comes to buying a vehicle. This one just happens to be real real purdy :)

  • Ceol Mor

    Now here’s a question for mere mortals – can I sell a perfectly good VFR that I ride everyday commuting and get this 899 in it’s place? As a family man, but serious sport rider, I can no longer afford owning multiple bikes. I still regret selling my 916 and want to find a compromise (as much as I love the VFR, it just doesn’t cut it)…

    • Manos

      I think ergonomics might be an impediment depending on how big you are and what distances you commute. Personally, I think its not possible to go from a comfortable VFR to a Ducati superbike and you may end up regretting your decision, although I understand what you mean by the VFR not “cutting” it. Japanese will never have the “soul” of a Ducati, no matter how good they are.

      • Ceol Mor

        I hear you. The VFR is a fantastic commuter, but I’m totally bored while riding the bike. The only thing I need to take with me is my lunch and I can carry that in a Kriega. Also, one of the main reasons I bought the VFR was ABS for safety and now that the 899 has it too… Geez, can’t somebody just say “go for it!” ;) Come on Wes, as one of the few who has actually ridden this bike — could it stand up to daily wear and tear?

        • nick2ny

          (disclaimer: I live in New York City)

          Go for it. It’ll stand up to whatever you can dish out. But what you have to think is “what bike would I choose if I had both in the garage?” and get that one. I bet the 899 will be awesome for roads above 70 mph and tiresome in cities beneath that speed. If you’re in a city, just pretend you’re an impatient messenger in London and tear the world apart. But if you’re riding your bloated VFR (if it is the 800) and realizing it can’t cash the checks the looks write, by all means get the Duc. I rode a VFR on backroads from LA to SF last year, and while it was good fun, I couldn’t help but think it would be even better if had more oats, less weight, and no VTEC.

          I think you want something that gets you excited when you walk out the door, but is fun–not just racy–when you’re on it. I have an early R1, and though it has a voracious appetite for the horizon, it isn’t much fun around town. I enjoy it, but caning a supermoto would be more enjoyable than coaxing a sportsbike along cobble stones streets.

          If you told me when I was 18 that one day I’d be that dude who wobbled around on an R1 and got excited to accelerate it once in a while, I’d say “no way, you’re confused, 30 year old me would have a KTM Duke!”

          Also, if you can afford a new 899, why not just get an old 999 and put it alongside your VFR. Maybe you’ll like them both. Maybe you’ll just like one. Maybe you’ll realize that you want the 899.

          But I’ll bet you’ll like having them both.

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          Get a CBR600RR.

    • Spears

      Yes. It will cost you a bomb mind, high mileage is going to destroy the value of one of these harder than a vfr, I imagine the maintenance costs will be significantly higher too.

      Source: Commuting all weathers on a first gen 10r.

  • Bobby Vachon

    I really dont care about the price, its a Ducati so its assumed it will carry a premium and how can you argue with that side profile shot…droool….

  • nick2ny

    I dig it, and think single-sided swingarms are a (beautiful) scam.

    • Mugget

      Hey, they’re not all a scam. They can make for much faster wheel changes!

      And it’s not like anyone would purchase a motorcycle based on appearance. I mean really – who would buy a bike because it looks good?

  • Gerardo Astroball

    Is it 848cc’s or 899cc’s, for the 899 Panigale??

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      848.

      • MrMotoWise

        898

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          Oops, yeah. Jet lag….

  • Julian

    Finally a review ! No surprises it’s on Rideapart.
    Thanks for that.

    But now, the matter is that my Thruxton feels really unsure about her future.
    I have a simple question for you sport bikes riders/pilots (and for Wes too) : is it possible to still chill and enjoy the landscape on a ride or does the urge of dragging the knee takes over every time ?

    I was thinking about getting a RC390 to have my dose of sport and keeping the thruxton, but F…. the 899 is absolute beauty.

  • Mugget

    Sounds like an interesting bike… but all the descriptions of the 1199 still make me want that instead!

  • charlie

    This thing is gorgeous

  • runnermatt

    Ducati uploaded a onboard video of the 899 Panigale to their youtube channel. Here is a link:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cztYXz-ZYjk