Longterm Test: Ducati 899 Panigale

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The majority of my memories are dateable by the bike I had at the time. You know the drill: ‘I was on the K5 at the time, so it must have been 2005.’ My bikes have become the indexing system by which my entire being is categorized. Everyone needs a system.

I’m now bereft of the Ducati 899 Panigale that will forever define 2014 in my mind, having reluctantly handed it back to Ducati, and it will take a long time for me to shake it from the pedestal I’ve hoisted it on to. Other bikes may boast more power or torque, sophisticated suspension hardware or electronic gizmos – but I wanted for nothing more from the 899. Without a single modification from standard, it entertained and impressed in equal measure on every ride.

That’s not to say that the extensive mods I made didn’t heighten the daily pleasure. Lead amongst them was arguably the easiest and most attainable of them all, fitting a set of Pirelli Supercorsa SP tyres, which proved stunning. The feedback and grip were faultless on road and track alike, and the expected pitfalls of sub-optimal wet weather performance, and a decreased lifespan proved unfounded. The SPs were still going strong with 4800 miles to their name, and the only time I ever felt that they were outside their comfort zone was when the mercury was residing south of 5 degrees C.

Two other changes to the 899 widened my grin on every ride, but will cause a lot more indigestion while you try to swallow the bill. Leading the duo were the BST carbon fibre wheels (£2,287, bikehps.com). The transformation versus the heavy stock wheels was revelatory, turning the 899 from scalpel to laser-like precision. Every road mile benefitted from the reduced unsprung mass, with faster turn-in, direction changes, improved acceleration and braking efficiency, and suspension performance (without any changes to the set-up). The story was no less impressive on track.

The other winning change was the fitment of the genuine accessory Termignoni end-cans (£1525.46, ducatiuk.com). From the first cacophonous burst of noise as you press the diminutive starter button, through the booming midrange, and rasping peak, they form the soundtrack to which every ride is remembered. There’s a nice release of midrange torque too, making the front wheel even more prone to pawing at the air than it already was when hard on the gas.

The tedious stereotypical Ducati jibes found no validity, either. Nothing broke, stuttered or faltered. I rode it in everything from blistering heat to sub-zero iciness, and regularly got it wetter than many bikes manage when they’re washed. It was faultless. My only moment of fear came when the gearshift wouldn’t spring back from down-changes. The cause? The gear linkage had lost all its lubrication, and two squirts later it was faultless again. My only genuine gripe was the Brembos appearing to slowly suck air, which needed expunging every 500 miles to maintain a sponge-free lever.

Every time I open my garage door I’m disappointed that the Pani isn’t there snarling at me. The 899 is one of the best sportsbikes ever built, and one of my favourite bikes of all time.