For the 2014 model year, Ducati has replaced the aging 848 EVO with this new 899 Panigale. While it may look like its bigger brother, the 1199 Panigale, it was designed to be a more street friendly version of the 1199.
Performance – Ducati completely redesigned the 899 from the previous 848 with a new engine, new chassis, and of course new bodywork. The engine is still a V-twin arranged in an “L” position but it has a larger bore and stroke giving it the 899cc that its name implies. It now produces a claimed 148hp at 10,750 rpm and 73 lb-ft of torque at 9000 rpm, an increase of 8hp from the 848 but still the same torque figure just at lower rpms now. Like other V-twin engines, this one feels gutless below approximately 3500 rpms but once the engine spins more quickly, it takes off like a white hot rocket. The engine very quickly reaches its 11,500 rpm redline where the instrument cluster flashes bright red to let you know it’s time for a gear change. The transmission is the same as the one on the 1199 Panigale and is equipped with a quickshifter that saves tenths of a second off shifting time. It’s not the smoothest quickshifter on a sportbike but it does its job very well and shifting gears has a nice mechanical feel to it.
The 899 is also equipped with a wide range of new electronic aids for the rider. Ride-by-Wire and Ducati Riding Mode, “triple stage” ABS, Ducati Traction Control, and Engine Brake Control. Like many other sportbikes, the drive modes allow the rider to change the characteristics and electronic aids of the motorcycle on the move depending on the road conditions. In “wet” mode, the engine produces 110hp and DTC as well as ABS are on their maximum settings. In Sport mode, you get all 148hp and DTC and ABS are slightly less intrusive. In race mode, full power is available to the rider along with a race-oriented engine brake control, almost no traction control, and ABS is only functional on the front wheel. Unfortunately I didn’t test ride this motorcycle on a race track so I cannot comment on how each setting differs from one another and how each one feels but on city streets it is nice to know that there is an electronic “cushion” between taking a corner properly and crashing this $16,000 CAD motorcycle.
Ducati has also gone to great lengths to redesign the chassis for better cornering… or rather lack of new chassis because the engine is actually an integral stressed member of the 899. Cornering in the 899 feels confidence inspiring because the bike feels stable but at the same time nimble due to the narrow frame. Transitioning from corner to corner is the Ducati’s party piece as no other sportbike that I’ve tested comes close to it. When it comes to stopping, the large 320mm Brembo brakes offer more than enough stopping power to bring the 372.5lb dry weight bike to a halt.
Comfort – This being a Ducati sportbike, it primarily has to be fast around a race track and ergonomics come afterwards. Although Ducati’s engineers have improved the ergonomics of the 899 compared with the 848, it is far from being as comfortable as the Honda CBR600RR or Suzuki GSXR-600 when riding leisurely around town. When the 899’s suspension is on its softest setting, it is still significantly stiffer than its Japanese counterparts so bumps and pot holes are translated through the seat and into your spine. Underneath the seat, the exhaust pipe has been lowered but when stuck in traffic you can still feel heat radiating from the exhaust as well as the engine cylinder head that is located just a few centimeters from the underside of the seat. Also the riding position is meant for racing with the high mounted foot pegs and low handlebars. This 899, in fact every Ducati sportbike, really is a race bike in every sense of the words rather than a street bike.
Odds and Ends – Ever since 1987 when Ducati made full fairing sportbikes, there has never been an ugly Ducati model since then and this 899 is no exception, far from it in fact. I thought that Ducati couldn’t possibly make a more beautiful bike than the 1198S but they pulled it off with this “baby” Ducati. The aggressive looking headlamp assembly and front cowl make the 899 look like a “predator” that ready to pounce on its prey. I also love the exposed rear suspension and the design of the rear tail light assembly with the vents in the rear cowl. This is a sportbike that can be considered art while it’s standing still.
The new 899 is a massive improvement over its predecessor with the introduction of new electronics and a somewhat linear power band, but it is far from being a full time street bike. Like its automotive counterpart, this is a thoroughbred that is meant for racing and looking good while doing it.
Thank you to the owner of this motorcycle for the opportunity to test ride it and photograph it.