An early Panigale moment. I’m heading north on the A1, just south of Stamford. My exit’s approaching fast and I’m still in the outside lane, still cruising past traffic. The ‘III’ countdown board flashes past, then the ‘II’ board, and I casually assess the line of cars on my inside and target a gap between two of them some way ahead. Then it’s the ‘I’ board and time to leave: to open the throttle a mil, to surge and clatter past all these mere Earthlings and disappear up the slip road into my newfound universe of hyper-torque, no planning necessary.
My problem is, and it takes a few seconds to come to terms with this detail, I’m in the car with two children and a dog. So we stay on the A1 for the foreseeable, pretending we didn’t want to go to Stamford anyway. And I’m left to contemplate the disorientating effect just 500 Panigale miles have already had on my brain. Here’s another one.
I’m new to Ducatis. I’ve ridden many but never had one live in my garage. So I download the owner’s manual, as you have to these days, eager to discover how to check the oil level and adjust the chain and perform other mechanical tasks that help make the arrival of a new bike so exciting.
I pour a cup of coffee and open the pdf. There’s the usual manufacturer’s welcome and warnings followed by the traditional introduction to the most important buttons and the instrument panel. I’m eager to get to those maintenance basics so read on quickly, yet 230 pages later – yes, two-hundred-and-thirty pages; two pages more than you’ll find in John Robinson’s technical masterpiece Motorcycle Tuning: Chassis, which tells you how to build, set up and test a complete racing motorcycle – it’s still going on about the set up menus and functions you can access from the most important buttons and instrument panel.
Half of me is indignant with old-school conservatism – “The set up menus are in my right hand, thank you very much” – and half is wildly excited by this orgy of electronics. After all, says my inner nerd, DTC, DQS, EBC and DWC are now as much a part of a modern Ducati as desmodromic valve systems. We’ll see which me emerges the stronger.
The Ducati and I are in Skegness helping to escort MCN’s 400-bike Ride Out to Cadwell Park. The convoy is fun but has an average speed of just 28mph, and the Panigale is hopeless at going slow. It’s lumpy and snatchy. Heat builds, pouring onto my legs, and I get grumpy too.
Then, all done, I leave Cadwell with Rich Newland on his BMW S1000RR and we head for home on Lincolnshire’s near-empty sweepers, all too aware of the trouble our 195bhp bikes could bring down on our licences. So we flow, enjoying smooth and relaxed no-brakes riding, and the Panigale transforms into a languid, weightless, millimetre-accurate time machine on which anything feels possible. Back home the only thing I truly understand is how little I know of this bike’s capabilities. Anyway, back to that manual.