First Test: Ducati Panigale R

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I’m stood in pitlane with £28,995 of Ducati Panigale R staring at me with barely contained aggression. Opportunities to ride exotica of this calibre are few and far between; make no mistake, this is a road bike that exists only to homologate the race version – and the differences are minimal.

The R models in Ducati’s range have always been extraordinary, and the new Panigale R continues the tradition. The 1198cc race-bred engine features titanium valves and rods to minimise inertia, while Ducati have worked hard to reduce internal frictional losses, all contributing to a claimed peak power of 202bhp @11,500rpm – astonishing for a V-twin. The torque is no less impressive 100.5ftlb, delivered at a dizzying 10,250rpm. This isn’t an engine that’s been developed with the road in mind.

But the R is not all about the engine, the chassis is all-new and multi-adjustable, including a four-position adjustable swingarm pivot. The wheelbase is longer, the steering head extending further forward than standard, and there’s conventional Öhlins suspension in the place of the 1299 S’ electrickery, using a 43mm NIX fork and a TTX36 rear shock, both fully adjustable.

Ducati have also embarked on a fanatical weight-loss programme. The battery is Lithium-ion, and even the headlight is a conventional unit – not LED – because it allows more grams to be shaved from the total mass. The factory claim the R will crack the scales at just 162kg dry, or 184kg ready to ride. That’s incredible for a bike boasting over 200bhp.

Even sat on its paddock stands, tyres gently warming, the new Panigale R is imposing, and here’s no welcoming hug as you climb aboard and point it out onto the circuit. The acceleration is brutal, so much so that it upsets your mental rhythms. The engine is immense; it feels like there’s no inertia as it spins up with lightning speed. I’ve never ridden a twin that can rev faster, or that delivers the full force of its hedonism so high in the rev range. If you really want the best from it you’ve got to keep the revs in five figures. The exhaust note from the full titanium Akrapovic system is utterly intoxicating, swathing you in tides of delicious music.

With race mode selected giving me full power, traction intervention set to a minimum, EBC on level one, and the wheelie control set to three, I’m giving it everything I’ve got. Normally I’ll do at least a few sessions with the aids turned off, but not this time. The aids are so good they don’t hinder the bike’s performance, or your fun, there’s no backfiring or spluttering when the traction control kicks in, so why risk offending the animal by slapping away its helping hand?

The Brembo M50 monobloc radial brakes are amazing though, and the bike is so light that you can leave your braking as late as your bravery and grip will allow. But this would sometimes cause complications, the rear trying to rotate around the headstock. But don’t forget that the R is a race bike with lights, and more time spent on track-specific set-up would pay great dividends.

When it all clicks, and you’re on you’re A-game, it’s breath-taking. It feels so incredibly light, flicking through the tight chicanes with phenomenal ease. It holds its line, has incredibly accurate steering, and will hunt the apex with telepathic clarity. At full lean, or when brushing the brakes deep into the corner, it feels sublime. It delivers corner speeds and lean angles that other bikes can only dream of, and the riding position is fantastic.

On uninterrupted laps when everything just flowed I felt like I was pushing for superpole. It was magical.

MCN verdict

Created to dominate the racetrack, it does just that. Yes, it takes some effort to ride, but it boasts phenomenal, brutal power, class-leading rider aids, and it’s exquisite to look at. There’s every chance that you might lap a circuit quicker on a less bellicose bike, but if you’ve got the skill to hook-up the Panigale R and explore its outer limits, you’ll experience a level of specialness few will ever be lucky enough to savour.


Read the full launch report in Wednesday's MCN – on sale 20.05.15


Pictures by Milagro

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Adam Child

By Adam Child

Former MCN Road Tester with 15 years road testing experience on all kinds of bikes