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Wheels of seduction

Named after the region where Ducati’s home in Bologna is located, the compact 1199 Panigale ranks among the most seductively-styled production motorcycles on the planet. This eyeball-grabbing Ducati is unmistakably Italian with generous doses of the company’s DNA.

Twin silencers smartly exit the 1199’s belly fairing, their location helping to keep the bike’s centre of gravity low. As with all modern day super sports bikes, it pushes most of its mass low and forward, the slim rider seat reaching backwards into a sleek, hollowed-out tail section. Overall quality and fit-and-finish are at the lofty levels expected from a Ducati flagship.

The 1199 Panigale S doesn’t use a traditional Ducati trellis tubular frame, but instead a monocoque chassis as on the factory’s MotoGP bike. The engine sits bolted in as an integral member of the frame. In the front, fully adjustable upside-down front forks fit the machined steering clamp. Hereafter, the frame reaches down to the alloy single-side swingarm and the unconventionally mounted, near-horizontal adjustable rear monoshock.

An all-new, four-stroke, 90 L-twin (a Ducati trademark), liquid-cooled engine powers the 1199 Panigale. With 194.4bhp developed at 10750rpm, this is the most powerful Ducati ever. A wet- clutch is standard, which feels lighter and more comfy to use than in the Ducatis I’ve earlier ridden. The slipper system worked brilliantly through my laps, never allowing the 1199 to misbehave, even under mad braking while coming down hard through the gearbox from over 200kph on Yas Marina’s famous long straights.

Three riding modes are available — Race (194.4bhp, immediate delivery), Sport (still 194.4bhp, smoother delivery) and Wet (120bhp, with a softened blow) — to help lay down all that power, while appropriately mapping the engine to suit individual riding styles in a changing environment. I spent my time around Yas Marina in Sport mode, never feeling the need to switch to Race, with the fierce motorcycle packing enough punch even in this subdued state. The twin exhausts emit a loud, bass-rich growl when gassing the bike, always encouraging higher revs.

You have to concentrate on monitoring throttle inputs, for the 1199 effortlessly lightens its front end in the first three gears, easily lifting the front wheel in power wheelies. The bike blasts out of corners, the engine making traumatic demands of the rear tyre and putting its flawless traction control system to good use. Razor-sharp throttle response is just a flick of the wrist away, and revs rise so sharply, it’s easy to find yourself hitting the limiter before responding to the flashing shift light. The quick shifter works like a dream — it helped me to feed blinding-fast shifts up the gearbox without dabbing the clutch or shutting throttle.

The six-speed box shifts with a positive, well-weighted feel. Tall, well-spaced ratios allow the powerful Superquadro to unleash its potential. I repeatedly saw close to 250kph around the circuit as the bike catapulted down its longest straight, an incessant wind blowing some of the neighbouring desert sand across the track. Skilled riders spoke of having seen 285kph that same afternoon.

The long, alloy and single-side swingarm is a key factor that allows good forward weight distribution. Although the Panigale provides enough room for six-footers too, this isn’t a comfortable motorcycle, the sporty riding position being so singularly track-focused. A pronounced lean forward into the handlebars keeps rider weight forward, though stressing the wrists. The true clip-on handlebars feel reassuringly wide, always good on a powerful motorcycle like the 1199.

It’s hard to believe that the Panigale is a full blown 1200cc super sports bike, for it can feel amazingly light, and provides nimble handling. It goes exactly where you want it to, willingly changing direction with minimal effort and steering with a neutral feel. Few motorcycles go around corners as well as the Ducati 1199, and it’s surely amongst the best production bikes to be astride on a track day.

The ABS-enabled brakes work like a dream too. It took no more than a couple of fingers squeezing on the front brake lever to effectively haul the Panigale down from 200kph-plus speeds time after time, the bike stopping well short of corners despite leaving braking late sometimes.

It’s unlike me to gush over a bike, but that’s exactly how the brilliant new 1199 Panigale S makes me feel. Ducati is on a roll, strengthening my growing conviction that European manufacturers are slowly but surely pulling it back from the Japanese giants who seemed unstoppable only some years ago, beating them at making top-class superbikes.

However, deficient sales and after-sales service in India sorely fail to support Ducati’s brilliant motorcycles, as a direct result of which sales for the famous bike-maker are suffering here. If Ducati can get this right, then the 1199 Panigale S simple stands to be the best super sports bike for India.

spec check

DUCATI 1199 PANIGALE S

• Price: Rs 20 lakh to Rs 25 lakh (est)
• Engine: L-twin, liquid-cooled, desmodromic, four stroke/ 1198cc
• Power: 94.4bhp at 10750rpm
• Torque: 13.5kgm at 9000rpm
• Suspension (F/R): Adjustable upside-down forks/ adjustable monoshock, single side, alloy swingarm
• Brakes (F/R): 330mm disc (ABS)/ 245mm disc (ABS)

My favourite car

I love the Ferrari Testarossa, which is a superb sports car. I love racing cars and rallies, so a sports car is a natural choice for me. I’ve also been sporting red hair for sometime now and my father calls me by the name ‘Testarossa’ (Italian for ‘red head’).

– Nisha Jamwal, designer