‘The Du­cati Corse paintjob, ti­ta­nium-coloured engine cov­ers and forged alu­minium March­esini wheels el­e­vate the al­ready beau­ti­ful Panigale to su­per­model sta­tus’

Michael Neeves, MCN Se­nior Tester on the new Anniversario

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - MICHAEL NEEVES MCN ROAD TESTER michael.neeves@mo­tor­cy­cle­news.com

Slap bang in the mid­dle of Rock­ing­ham’s Na­tional cir­cuit is a se­quence of left- han­ders that pun­ishes rear tyres. From the Pif Paf all the way through the blind left of Grace­lands (the Northamp­ton track’s an­swer to Phillip Is­land’s Lukey Heights), Du­cati’s new £23,995, lim­ited-edi­tion, 1299 Panigale S Anniversario is banked at full lean for a dizzy­ing 22 sec­onds.

Mid-sum­mer sun has baked the track sur­face to over 35°C. In these con­di­tions even a rac­ing slick turns to grease through these anti-clock­wise turns af­ter a hand­ful of hot laps. So squirm­ing on the edge of its 200-sec­tion Pirelli Di­ablo Su­per­corsa SP rear track­day tyre, with the hori­zon at full tilt, the Anniversario twists and slides each time you grit your teeth to squeeze the throt­tle.

With an iden­ti­cal mo­tor to the stan­dard 1299 Panigale S, the Anniversario has a claimed 205bhp and a skip-full of torque. The last time we put a 1299 S on a dyno it made 196.39bhp at the rear wheel, mak­ing it the most pow­er­ful su­per­bike MCN has ever tested.

No bones about it, the Anniversario is knee-wob­blingly pretty, but it’s also an an­gry, ag­gres­sive, sav­agely fast mo­tor­cy­cle. It’s crammed with the same power as the Panigale R (al­beit 1000rpm fur­ther up the revs) and erupts at the mer­est sug­ges­tion of throt­tle. Quick­shift­ing up through the gear­box and au­to­blip­ping on the way back down again, the Du­cati spits, bangs and gur­gles with venom.

If you want a fast, friendly Panigale, the sweet-han­dling 959 is the bike for you, but big Pani­gales are bru­tal. They leave you gasp­ing in wide-eyed amaze­ment af­ter ev­ery en­counter.

With such a torrent of grunt at your right wrist, you ei­ther need the skill of Panigale-rid­ing, BSB leg­end Shane Byrne to get through Rock­ing­ham’s ruth­less lefts, or some­thing Shakey and his ri­vals have had to do with­out for the past few years: trac­tion con­trol.

Trac­tion con­trol on road-go­ing su­per­bikes has come a long way re­cently, thanks to rapid de­vel­op­ment of elec­tron­ics tech­nol­ogy. The most ad­vanced sys­tems, as seen on the cur­rent R1, ZX-10R and Panigale 1299 not only keep you safe when you get on the throt­tle in a cor­ner, but they also let you hold a slide in com­plete safety, with­out need­ing the skill of a BSB champ.

Du­cati fit­ted swish new trac­tion con­trol and anti-wheelie to the cur­rent Panigale when their flag­ship su­per­bike mor­phed from an 1199 to 1299 last year. It turned the pre­vi­ously un­ruly ma­chine into one that mere mor­tals could safely get the best out of and it im­me­di­ately be­came the ul­ti­mate track­day bike. It also wiped the floor with the com­pe­ti­tion in our group test ear­lier this year.

But now Du­cati’s elec­tronic rider aids have evolved a step fur­ther and the Anniversario is the first ma­chine to show­case the Ital­ian firm’s EVO trac­tion and wheelie con­trol sys­tems. They’re even more ad­vanced than you’ll find on the £29k Panigale R ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial, or the in­stant-clas­sic Su­per­leg­gera, which cost an eye­wa­ter­ing 54 grand when just 500 of them were built in 2014.

Like the Su­per­leg­gera, only 500 Anniversario mod­els will be pro­duced to mark Du­cati’s 90th an­niver­sary, which makes it even more ex­clu­sive than the 2008 Des­mosedici RR Mo­togp replica, where pro­duc­tion hit well over 1000 units. Only 45 are com­ing to the UK.

The new Anniversario is based on a 1299 S and costs £2949 more. For the ex­tra cash you get those new EVO elec­tron­ics, a lighter lithium bat­tery and a race kit that in­cludes a ti­ta­nium Akrapovic pipe and car­bon good­ies. It also gets the 4mm lower swingarm pivot from the Panigale R for added rear grip and sta­bil­ity. Over­all the Anniversario is 2.5kg lighter than the stan­dard 1299 and 1299S.

You also get a num­bered top yoke,

‘It’s a sys­tem up there with the best race bikes, let alone road ma­chines’

but the most strik­ing dif­fer­ence is the ex­quis­ite Du­cati Corse paintjob and, with its ti­ta­nium-coloured engine cov­ers and forged alu­minium March­esini wheels, it’s el­e­vated the al­ready beau­ti­ful Panigale to su­per­model sta­tus.

Ev­ery­thing from that glossy paint fin­ish, to the way the key swivels smoothly in the ig­ni­tion bar­rel, shouts ‘ex­ot­ica’. It’s be­jew­elled with a lot­tery-win wish list of bling: monobloc Brem­bos, semi-ac­tive Öh­lins Smart EC sus­pen­sion, a quick­shifter, au­to­blip­per, elec­tronic engine brak­ing con­trol, cor­ner­ing ABS and, of course, the new trac­tion and wheelie con­trol.

For now these elec­tron­ics are only for the lucky few 500 Anniversario own­ers, but you can bet they’ll ap­pear on the next gen­er­a­tion of Du­cati sports­bikes. That’s progress for you.

Back at the tyre-shred­ding left­hander the realisation that it’s the kind of cor­ner that will eas­ily turn a shiny piece of pow­er­ful ex­ot­ica like this to scrap if it all goes wrong, sinks in.

Do the new elec­tron­ics work? The an­swer is yes. But don’t just whack the throt­tle open mid-cor­ner. Do­ing that will send you off-line at best and you can still crash if you ask too much of a tyre when it’s on its edge.

What the elec­tron­ics do is give you a much big­ger safety mar­gin when you’re rid­ing how you would on track any­way. Ap­ply the power, lift the bike out of a cor­ner and you feel the Anniversario’s rear tyre move, but you also feel it slide into a soft, buffer­ing, elec­tronic wall. You quickly re­alise that noth­ing scary is hap­pen­ing.

As the laps flash past, the Du­cati’s new eight-stage trac­tion con­trol (eas­ily ad­justable with flappy left switchgear pad­dles) gives you the con­fi­dence to get on the power pro­gres­sively harder, un­til fi­nally you feel the rear tyre spin and slide – and then you hold it there. The Anniversario’s elec­tron­ics lets you drift the rear like Shakey can in real life, and there’s no feel­ing like it.

Once you’re out of the cor­ner the Anniversario re­veals its other trick. Rather than snaking and pump­ing as the front wheel goes light un­der ferocious ac­cel­er­a­tion, the new wheelie con­trol slows the rate of lift. The elec­tron­ics keep ev­ery­thing calm. They save you the en­ergy of climb­ing over the front ev­ery time you un­leash the fren­zied power to the track. It’s a sys­tem up there with the best race bikes, let alone road ma­chines.

But you’d need to ride the 1299 S and Anniversario very hard on track to re­ally no­tice the dif­fer­ence be­tween old and new elec­tron­ics sys­tems. That’s eas­ier said than done on such an ex­pen­sive, ex­clu­sive ma­chine. But the new Du­cati is so con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing that it’s easy to for­get what it’s worth when you’re in the groove. Good job

the elec­tron­ics are there, just in case.

The 2.5kg weight-sav­ing over the 1299 S isn’t no­tice­able with­out a backto-back com­par­i­son, ei­ther, but jump­ing on any kind of Panigale is alien enough af­ter rid­ing a nor­mal su­per­bike, let alone try­ing to no­tice the ab­sence of two-and-a-half bags of su­gar.

A Panigale is uniquely roomy. It has widely splayed clip-ons, a perchedup-high seat and acres of legroom. It’s like you’re wob­bling on top of a tall build­ing at first, but the rid­ing po­si­tion soon feels nat­u­ral.

There are other quirks: the mo­tor needs more revs than you’d ex­pect from a twin and the lower gears are short, too. You’re for­ever chang­ing up and down through the de­li­ciously sprung-loaded gearshift to keep the Anniversario on the boil on track. But on the road the up­per gears are tall, so you can’t get into sixth with­out the mo­tor clat­ter­ing un­til at least 60mph.

Push too hard and you’ll get the chas­sis twist­ing in protest, but the smoother your rid­ing in­puts the bet­ter the Anniversario han­dles, un­til a point when you’re glid­ing around the track with the seem­ingly ef­fort­less style and grace of Shakey at his best.

Brak­ing power and sta­bil­ity is as­ton­ish­ing and thanks to the Du­cati’s rigid­ity (the engine is ba­si­cally the frame) you can let go of the brakes and hur­tle into cor­ners faster than on any other road bike. A Panigale’s nat­u­ral su­per­power is its speed into turns and high cor­ner speed, but now with such ad­vanced elec­tron­ics it’s con­trol­lable on the way out, too. It might be built for the track, but on the road this Anniversario is smooth, no more un­com­fort­able than any other sports­bike, doesn’t guz­zle fuel and you can see out of the mir­rors. But the engine cooks your nether re­gions on a hot sum­mer’s day in traf­fic.

Very few thrills can match rid­ing an ex­otic, lim­ited-edi­tion, thun­der­ous Du­cati on the road or track. It’s a very spe­cial ma­chine and with its improved elec­tron­ics and re­duced weight the Anniversario has moved the Panigale ahead of the su­per­bike game.

Ôlet go of the brakes and hur­tle into cor­ners faster than on any road­go­ing su­per­bikeõ

THANKS TO: Du­cati Rom­ford (du­cati. hyside­mo­tor­cy­cles.co.uk) and Ben Neeves hyside­mo­tor­cy­cles.co.uk)

Du­cati Corse paintjob apes that of the Mo­togp bikes

Rock­ing­ham’s long left­hander is a true test of the Anniversario’s EVO elec­tron­ics

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