New Ducati 899 revealed

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A new breed of sports bikes has been evolving, defined by non-conformity to more established capacities. Where once we had superbike and supersport categories, the trend is now towards a burgeoning class of super-middleweights. And the highly anticipated Ducati 899 Panigale is the archetypal embodiment of this new ‘Supermid’ genre.

True to form, the 899 follows at a dignified distance behind the flagship superbike launch, in 2012, of the 1199 Panigale. The new 898cc Superquadro engine reaches its capacity with a revised bore and stroke to produce a broad power delivery, and claimed figures of 148bhp and 73ftlb.

Just like its elder stablemate, the 899’s engine acts as a fully stressed member in the innovative – if controversial – monocoque ‘frame’. While this  helps to deliver outstanding power-to-weight ratios through the loss of a separate steel frame (achieving a dry weight for the 899 of 169kg), the monocoque has also been widely blamed for the MotoGP bike’s handling woes.

On the road – or down the pub – this is an inconsequential distraction, and will be even less so on the 899. Intended to be a method of entry into the world of premium performance, and Ducati, the new Panigale is the closest successor to the iconic 916 we’ve ever had, with just 18cc separating them on capacity.

In another era the 899 would have been a flagship model, and with staggering electronics packages fitted as standard, this could be the perfect Ducati road sports bike, and is likely to best the 1199 on track for most riders. What it gives away in mumbo is likely to be returned in control and delivery – just as the 1098 and 848 are more rideable bikes than the volatile 1198.

The 1199 silhouette underlines the 899’s family DNA, while the observant will have found their eye immediately drawn to the rather obvious omission of a single-sided swingarm. Such a move caused a real furore in 2003 when the 999 emerged blinking into the sunlight having been abused with an ugly stick, and sporting a twin-spar swingarm to further aggravate the naysayers.

The 899 should avoid such criticisms – this is a smaller-capacity 1199 throughout, with the barest of concessions to cost reduction. The fork and calipers are a lower spec and the trick TFT colour screen is absent, besides there being one too many spars on the swingarm, Ducati hasn’t skimped on anything that’ll intrude on the composure of the ride, or its visual impact. That front end still has  top-notch Showa Big Piston Fork, the calipers are high spec Brembos, the Superquadro engine boasts everything but the extra cubes, and the gearbox is straight out of the 1199 (while the rear sprocket has extra teeth for more urgency under load).

The electronics package boasts everything but the Ducati Data Analyser+ (DDA+). That means this standard model still gets Ducati Riding Modes with fully integrated ABS, Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Ducati Quick Shift (DQS), Engine Brake Control (EBC), and a full Ride-by-Wire (RbW) throttle control. DDA+ is confirmed as an accessory.

Ducati Riding Modes comprise Race, Sport and Wet modes. ‘Race’ gives all 148bhp, a direct throttle response, reduced DTC intervention, a race-oriented EBC level, and front-only ABS with reduced anti-rear lift-up. ‘Sport’ provides 148bhp, delivered via a softer throttle response, with slightly increased DTC intervention, a sport-optimised EBC and front and rear ABS with increased anti-rear lift-up. ‘Wet’ reduces power output to 110hp, delivered via a softened throttle response, with increased DTC intervention, appropriate EBC, and fully enhanced ABS support.

The eight-level DTC is fully integrated into the Riding Modes. If the wheel speed sensors detect a disparity, the first ‘soft’ stage of system interaction makes instant electronic adjustment to the ignition timing, administering varying amounts of ignition retardation to reduce the engine’s torque. If this is inadequate to control the wheel-spin, it continues to retard the ignition and initiates a pattern of constantly increasing injection cuts until, if necessary, a full injection cut. As soon as the system recognises the return of equal wheel speeds, it incrementally re-establishes normal power delivery.

Ducati’s quickshifter (DQS) is also standard fit, and matches revs and gears for a millisecond-perfect cut, making the 899 a joy to use on the road, and not just on track.

The 899’s EBC system equalises the positive and negative forces of torque on the rear tyre under severe engine-braking conditions. There are three levels of intervention.

In addition there’s switchable ABS to complete the rider aids package, and a lap timer to keep most trackdayers happy in lieu of the full DDA+ package.

There’s been no official confirmation of further 899 models, but an S seems certain to be an almost immediate addition, and we’d love to see an R grace the smaller
superbike again, absent since the 749.

For the full story see tomorrow (September 11th)’s Motor Cycle News

Richard Newland

By Richard Newland