The Sportbike Progression: Everyman’s Path To Panigale


Category: How To

No matter where you are in your riding career, you want more, right? More speed, more skill, more safety and more riding. If you’re into going fast, this article is for you; consider it your guide to getting more out of motorcycling. It’s the sportbike progression.

The Theory
Riding a motorcycle is a sport. Yeah, you can sorta opt out of it and just cruise around, but because this is not simply a means of transportation but rather a passion, people who participate in it want to get better and use that increased skill to do better things. It might not be a reasonable goal to think you’re working on becoming the next Marc Marquez, but with time and patience, anyone can develop the skills to fully exploit even the fastest bike currently on-sale, the Ducati 1199 Panigale.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on sport riding. Don’t worry, we think dirt bikes and supermotos are awesome too, we’re just addressing one particular aspect of motorcycle riding here: sportbikes.

And, because this is a sport, you’ll need to apply the same process of learning as you would in any other skill. Malcom Smith didn’t walk onto the field for the first time last night and get lucky, he invested a lifetime in learning how to play that good. Riding fast isn’t about what bike you’re able to buy; it’s about how well you ride it. And when it comes to the fastest bikes, learning how to ride them well will take a lifetime. This article will show you how to invest that time wisely.

The Basics
To play a sport, you need the right equipment. In the case of motorcycles, that’s riding gear. Consider it as fundamental a part of motorcycling as the motorcycle itself and budget accordingly.

To play a sport, you also need to take lessons. There’s a ton of tuition available, starting relatively cheap and going on up to obscenely expensive. Use it, it works. When you find a school you like, go back and go back often.

Riding fast on the road is dangerous. You can do it and you can do it safely, but it takes some unique skills. And you’ll never learn to ride properly if you’re not taking it to the track, don’t fool yourself.

The Progression
Consider a bike a tool. One which you use to learn stuff on. And, like any tool, there’s a right one for any job, and a wrong one. Start too big and you won’t learn anything, you’ll just scare yourself. As motorcycles go up in performance, the envelope in which they work becomes narrower. Where something like a Kawasaki Ninja 650 is exploitable and useable and at home in environments ranging from city commuting to light track riding, that Panigale only works on a mountain road mostly composed of 3rd and 4th gear corners at temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees, in the dry. Or on a track. And only in the hands of a skilled rider. Use it for anything else and it will just try to throw you off.

Think of a simple 1-10 scale, with 1 being a straight road in the middle of nowhere and no traffic and 10 being a good track on a good day. A good mountain road on an ideal day would be around number 7 or 8. That Ninja 650 will be an ideal tool for the job from numbers 1 to 7. The Panigale only works at 11. No learning occurs at 11, only do or die.

But, bikes are cheap, so it’s relatively easy to just decide you want to do this and put whichever bike is king at this moment on your credit card. Doing so is a mistake. This isn’t a pastime you can buy into, it’s something you have to learn to do. That’s where this progression figures in. Identify where you are in it and what your next step should be, with the ultimate goal of actually deserving and being able to ride that ultimate motorcycle.

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