Ducati 899 Panigale: long term test report

Published: 29 November 2014

Ducati 899 Panigale, £12,495

Weight 193kg • Seat height: 830mm • Servicing: £215 (625miles)

Miles to date 6473 • Average MPG 44.8mpg

Value of mods to date: £5573.31

The highlights from my year to date

My daily commute is always transformed into soul-food by riding the 899. Whatever my mood, and whichever end of the day it is, there’s something affirmingly decadent about riding a Ducati.

The upshot of how the 899 makes me feel is that it’s made a positive contribution to almost every day of my year since picking it up in March. Very few other objects – clothes, iPhone, credit card – can claim to have such an impact on my daily life. This phenomenon is played out most years, with most longterm test bikes, to some extent, but I can’t pretend that this 899 hasn’t been a special case.

An undisguiseably decadent amount of money has been thrown at the Panigale while in my care, too. There’s no point denying it, the figure is there and black and white, but the impact of the headline mods also contribute to every mile I ride. Some don’t though, and for me this clarity of ‘what matters’ has begun to push me even deeper in the ‘if it doesn’t’ improve the bike, why do it?’ camp. This doesn’t have to be just performance, aesthetics matter, but trinket just aren’t for me these days.

My big highlights are headlined by two mods in particular. The first is was completed after an early morning blast to Ducati HQ at Silverstone, where Jinx (DUK’s chief technician) set to work stripping the 899 so that he could fit the obvious addition to any Ducati – a set of Termignoni end cans (£1525.46, www.ducatiuk.com). It was a fiddly job to be honest, not helped by the convoluted pipe routing, a couple of heat-seized exhaust bolts, and all the other upgrades that go with the metal. The pipes come with an air filter (which necessitates removing the tank to reach the airbox), an ECU flash upgrade, as well as the removal of the exhaust valve actuator (it’s left wide open for the Termis). I’m glad I didn’t fit them myself.

The result is fantastic though. Not only do they look beautiful, they have added a fat and rounded bellow to the acoustics of every ride, and there’s a tangible improvement in midrange delivery, swelling the surge from 4000 to 7500rpm, and eradicating that hesitancy that used to reside where only more cubes or free-breathing can compensate. It’s an obvious mod, yes, but if it was my 899, it’s one I wouldn’t hesitate to make.

The other, even more influential, modification to date has been a set of BST carbon fibre wheels (£2287, www.bikehps.com), to replace the heavy stock cast items.

Pub experts will tell you that they make no difference on road or track / ruin your bike’s handling / are unsafe etc, but I can’t agree with any of that. I’ve been using BST carbon wheels for a decade now, on everything from a 2004 Fireblade to this 899, and I have nothing but praise for the transformation they effect. I’d estimate that I’ve covered something like 45,000 miles on BSTs, without a single negative to report.

On the road they positively impact every mile you ride, giving improved acceleration, braking, corner entry and exit, and turning chicanes into an addictive playground. The reduction in mass means that the engine has to overcome less inertia, which you feel most in the mid-range when rolling on in 4th, 5th and 6th, and reducing the amount of gearbox-dancing needed for overtakes. The bike feels tangibly lighter due to its increased agility, lower unsprung mass, improved engine and braking response, and down to the simple fact that you’ve lopped off about 4kg.

The effect is measurable, too. We’ve datalogged the difference on track, and Senior Road Tester Michael Neeves instantly knocked in a 0.8-second per lap advantage at Rockingham on my bike. Extrapolate that across a 20-lap race distance, and you’re crossing the line 16 seconds faster. That’s not to be sniffed at. They’ve impressed me on many bikes, and none more so than on the 899.

Fitted to the BSTs are a set of Pirelli Supercorsa SPs, a very track-orientated tyre which you’d expect to suffer the ravages of road riding far more than a more purely road orientated tyre, like the firm’s Rosso Corsa, wouldn’t you? I did too. And yet all the evidence suggests that the opposite is true.

With exactly the same road mileage and track time on each set of tyres, the difference – both visually and in terms of feel – is quite incredible. I took photos at exactly 2,200 total miles on each, and the Supercorsas are clearly in ruder health.

While this isn’t a scientific test by any stretch of the imagination, I did ensure that all the traction control settings and riding modes were set identically for the duration, and the journeys travelled and weather endured are as close to identical as you’re ever likely to achieve. There is one key difference, which shouldn’t be ignored, which is the use of carbon wheels with the SPs, but while this could conceivably had some positive effect, it can’t explain all of the difference.

Every aspect of their performance is better than the Rosso; they’ve not squared as much, they warm up faster, grip far beyond my talent to push them on hot Tarmac, the profile is pleasingly sharp without being twitchy, and they even work better in the wet for my liking.

The Supercorsa SPs have catapulted themselves into position as one of my favourite sportsbike tyres, and with over 4,000 miles on them now, they still look in exceptionally good fettle.

The only fly in my pint this year has been the 899’s brakes. New SBS sintered pads (900RS, from www.bikehps.com) have massively improved the bite and power, especially under prolonged hard braking, but there’s an inconstancy in lever pressure that I find annoying. The calipers are clearly sucking air from somewhere, and the culprit is believed to be ill-sealing bleed nipples in the Brembos – a problem suffered by all bikes fitted with these calipers it would seem – so I’m on a crusade to try and find a solution. A reader tells me he’s sorted his by judicious us of PTFE tape around the nipples (the calipers’, not his), but I’m yet to try this. I’ll keep you informed.