When 30 Grand For Two Wheels Isn’t Too Much
Surviving long-term motorcycle riding requires a healthy dose of fear and the heightened awareness that accompanies it. Nothing suffers fools quite as ruthlessly as two-wheeled transport, an axiom that has been relentlessly reinforced by YouTube. The exposure of riding is bound to catch up with thrill-seekers hungry for speed, knee dragging, and all the potential disaster that comes with tapping into a sportbike’s vast reserves of performance.
That said, few things trigger as many life-preserving neurochemicals for a red-blooded rider as a fleet of 2014 Ducati 1199 Panigale R motorcycles idling in pit lane at the newly minted Circuit of the Americas track in Austin, TX. Something about the blood-red bodywork, the guttural idle from two huge combustion chambers and electric tire-warmers (with their implicit suggestion to strike while the rubber is hot), warns the reptile brain to take it easy and not make today the day to chase imaginary trophies and champagne sprays.
Though the famously fast and tricky race circuit is partly to blame (or credit) for the pulse-quickening emotions, the bike provides the bulk of the fear. Introduced last year as a continuation of Ducati’s big-engined superbike lineup whose lineage (888, 916, 999, 1098, 1198) has left a numerical paper trail of how engine displacement has steadily grown over the years, the Panigale R succeeds the S version as the top-dog beast that’s homologated from its consumer application to the global arena of World Superbike Racing. Though the spec sheet of this $29,995 plaything makes it look like a $7,000-ripoff compared to the $22,995 S model, which claims the same 195 horsepower output and a nearly identical curb weight, the R’s internal upgrades are the stuff that separates the mere crotch rockets from the bona fide race bikes.
The L-twin engine displaces exactly 1,198.16 cubic centimeters – yep, the 1199 nomenclature is strictly there for marketing purposes – but the mill’s insides are all business. New titanium connecting rods and a lighter-weight flywheel save nearly three pounds while enabling faster crankshaft speeds and boosting the rev ceiling by 500 rpm to 12,000 rpm. A diamond-like coating on the rocker arms helps the engine cope with higher revs, while updated engine programming boosts mid-range torque in Race and Sport modes.