‘Once it clicks, boy is the 1299 fast’

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Road Test -

1 st Du­cati 1299 Pani­gale S, 1m 29.91s Top speed on straight – 139.6mph

There’s noth­ing in­stantly nat­u­ral about rid­ing the Du­cati on track. Com­pared to its ri­vals the frame-less su­per­bike seems im­pos­si­bly thin, tall and un­gainly. Un­like most sports­bikes it has more legroom than a tour­ing bike and wide, flat clip-ons that wouldn’t feel out of place on a su­per­moto.

The light­weight Pani­gale wob­bles and weaves like a wounded an­i­mal as it bolts from cor­ner to cor­ner if your in­puts are too ag­gres­sive, and gears run out so quickly that you’re up and down the ’box like a lu­natic.

It takes time to get to know how Du­cati’s brash su­per­bike likes to be treated – but once it clicks, boy is it fast. The trick is to barely hang on, ride with a light fin­ger­tip touch and gen­tly move your body­weight around as you bank hard from cor­ner to cor­ner. When you get it right the Pani­gale S re­wards with gen­uine race-bike pre­ci­sion. It digs hard into the tar­mac, find­ing grip as the boom­ing twin-cylin­der motor fires you hard from be­tween apexes.

Trac­tion con­trol and anti-wheelie are there in the back­ground, but never in­trude. The quick­shifter and au­to­blip­per make all those gear- changes a joy and the speed at which the Du­cati scrab­bles hun­grily from up­right to full lean into an apex is dev­as­tat­ing.

Brakes are the strong­est and most con­sis­tent here, it’s the most ag­ile and it ac­cel­er­ates like a ma­niac. Five timed laps weren’t enough to learn the strange char­ac­ter of the L-twin Du­cati af­ter jump­ing off the fours, but it was still eas­ily the quick­est lap­ping bike on test.

2 nd BMW S1000RR, 1m 30.23s Top speed on straight – 137.9mph

All our testers found the S1000RR to be the eas­i­est bike to ride fast. The chas­sis is bal­anced and pre­dictable, the Brem­bos are choc full of power and the trac­tion con­trol is un­ob­tru­sive. It ac­tu­ally feels slightly un­gainly com­pared to the Blade and Pani­gale, but it does its blis­ter­ing lap time through sheer brute power. It leaps out of cor­ners cleanly with a per­fect throt­tle re­sponse and when you let it off its leash in the higher gears the BMW still ac­cel­er­ates as hard as it does in first. The BMW has its own elec­tronic Sachs ver­sion of the Pani­gale’s semi-ac­tive Öh­lins, and if the BMW were a lit­tle lighter and more ag­ile, it could have the beat­ing of the Du­cati. It’s still a class act.

3 rd Honda Fire­blade SP, 1m 31.03s Top speed on straight – 136.3mph

The Honda is so light, ag­ile and pointy in the cor­ners and has such easy to man­age power that it would be a piece of cake to turn in the same lap times all day. It has more than a hint of RC213V-S about its chas­sis. It’s not ex­actly down on ac­cel­er­a­tion, but the motor isn’t as strong as its ri­vals ex­it­ing cor­ners and even with its trac­tion con­trol set to min­i­mum the elec­tron­ics hold you back when you want full power. The Abs-equipped Brem­bos aren’t as strong as the Du­cati’s and BMW’S, so you can’t leave your brak­ing un­til the last minute, which also costs you time. Find a way of dis­con­nect­ing the unswitch­able ABS and the Honda could chal­lenge the Beemer. And it sounds stun­ning.

‘The 1299 Pani­gale S re­wards with gen­uine race-bike pre­ci­sion’

4 th Suzuki GSX-R1000R, 1m 31.36s Top speed on straight – 137.4mph

Suzuki’s new GSX-R has re-en­tered the big league. Af­ter fall­ing be­hind in the su­per­bike arms race, it’s blood­ied the noses of the RSV4 RF, R1M and ZX-10RR. It’s ev­ery inch the new­gen­er­a­tion su­per­bike.

The new VVT motor is packed with grunt, but its ben­e­fit is felt more on the road, not the track where you’re only scream­ing the in­line four at high revs. It doesn’t have the knock-your-head­off pull of the BMW and Du­cati out of the turns, but it’s far stronger than the Honda in a straight line.

It’s the first su­per­bike with non­elec­tronic sus­pen­sion over the line and al­though it works very well on a bumpy cir­cuit like this, the GSX-R1000R isn’t as sta­ble or sharp-steer­ing as the top three. On a smoother cir­cuit, or with a day spent find-tun­ing the fullyad­justable Showa kit you could eas­ily chip away at that lap time.

Brakes aren’t in the same league as the top two bikes here. The ABS chimes in early, es­pe­cially trail brak­ing and af­ter a few hard laps the lever starts to come back to the bar.

5 = Aprilia RSV4 RF, 1m 31.51s Top speed on straight – 133.9mph

The tall, stiff, pur­pose­ful Aprilia has the feel of a stripped-down race bike, like the Du­cati. We were sur­prised it wasn’t closer to the front, but de­spite hav­ing over 190bhp the elec­tron­ics, even with ev­ery­thing turned down (but not off – this is a test of rider aids as much as chas­sis, en­gine and brakes), take too much power away dur­ing ini­tial ac­cel­er­a­tion.

There’s no ques­tion the RSV4 RF is quick, but it doesn’t leap out of cor­ners with the venom of the BMW and Du­cati with the trac­tion and wheelie con­trol step­ping in all the time. It’s this ini­tial cut in power that hurts the Aprilia’s lap time, es­pe­cially at a track with so many slow cor­ners.

The gear ra­tios don’t suit Rock­ing­ham too well and, like the ZX-10RR, you need a gear some­where be­tween first and sec­ond in the slower cor­ners.

The Aprilia has man­u­ally ad­justable sus­pen­sion, but its Öh­lins pro­vides a sup­ple ride over the bumps to match the creamy ZX-10RR Showa units. But un­der hard, half-lean ac­cel­er­a­tion the RSV4 RF wig­gles its hips a lit­tle too much and it stops you from pin­ning the throt­tle as hard as you’d like.

7 th Kawasaki ZX-10RR, 1m 31.88s Top speed on straight – 134.4mph

Eas­ily the smoothest of all the bikes here, the Showa sus­pen­sion de­liv­ers the plush­est ride and the motor’s long-revving power curve is de­void of nasty dips and sur­prises. It has su­perb trac­tion con­trol, anti-wheelie and crisp, pre­cise gear­box elec­tron­ics, too.

In stan­dard trim it’s re­fined and sim­ple to get on with, but it isn’t as quite sharp as the com­pe­ti­tion, but we’re talk­ing less than a sec­ond off the Blade in third place, so it’s still a su­per­bike to be reck­oned with.

The taller rid­ers strug­gled with the rid­ing po­si­tion, but where the ZX-10RR loses most of its time is its com­bi­na­tion of soft ini­tial power (which is lovely on the road) and tall gear­ing at this tight cir­cuit. Ex­it­ing sec­ond gear cor­ners the motor takes too long time to spool up and send you on your way. Like the oth­ers with ride-by-wire brak­ing, the brake lack feel and bite, but they fade less than the GSX-R and Blade.

5 = Yamaha YZF-R1M, 1m 31.51s Top speed on straight – 136.5mph

The R1M and RSV4 RF have much in com­mon. Not only are both twowheeled works of art, they have sim­i­lar en­gine char­ac­ters. The Aprilia has a V4 and the Yamaha has a cross­plane crank in­line-four that thinks it’s a V4. They sound the same and spew huge globs of midrange. So it’s not such a sur­prise they set iden­ti­cal lap times.

Like the BMW, the howl­ing Yamaha was a firm favourite among the testers. It’s roomy, easy to ride and the trac­tion and wheelie con­trol are right up there. But af­ter us­ing an au­to­blip­per on the other six bikes, it’s strange hav­ing to use the clutch. Amaz­ing how rapidly you get used to tech­nol­ogy.

At this tight cir­cuit the R1M is miss­ing some agility, which hurts its lap time, but on the flip­side high­speed, full lean sta­bil­ity in the faster cor­ners is in­spired. Where the Yamaha loses out the most is on the ini­tial touch of throt­tle at full lean in the slower turns. There’s so much in­stant torque it un­hooks the tyre and sends it slip­ping.

It’s also tricky to get the Yamaha stopped for very slow cor­ners – sec­ond gear is too tall and first makes the rear wheel slew sideways.

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