PANIGALE: hype alert….

Or, as so memorably put by The Wolf in Pulp Fiction, ‘let’s not…  suck each others dicks just yet’.

MCN in the UK would do well to take note of this handy dictum. Journo memories are surprisingly long when it comes to threats of withdrawn advertising, and the toys left Ducati UK’s pram when the 1098 arrived – courtesy of a frustrated chorus led by MCN’s sister publication, BIKE.  But money talks, and normal service was resumed with the 1098 suddenly becoming less of a problem, despite the fact that the machine was unchanged.

The crossplane R1 was the second coming when it arrived. The love affair lasted less than six months, although the cooling off  was down to a more objective re-appraisal.

So what are to make of the hysterical reception the Panigale has received in sections of the UK press?  Bikerglory have not ridden the bike, but we have a source who was present at the official launch. This is what he said:

” Basically, the Panigale represents Ducati catching up by other means with the beam framed competition. So instead of typical Ducati handling – beautifully composed in fast, sweeping bends, but less agile in the tight stuff – we now have a role reversal. The down side is that on anything less than a perfect surface, the front could feel less anchored at high straight line speeds and in the fastest corners. A few people at the launch said that they already felt evidence of this.  It also felt like the lower mid range had gone missing: it was always going to be a rev happy bike given the radically oversquare set up, and there will be situations where that is an issue.”

Quite how this assessment sits with the ‘epoch changing’ spin being put on the bike by some commentators is hard to quantify, with memories of that R1’s reception still fresh in the mind . In which case one could be forgiven for feeling a tad cynical.

Of course, it may be that the Panigale really has moved the game on. It is certainly the most comfortable, relaxed Ducati sportsbike to date, and that really matters on both road and track. And we should all applaud design innovation. But reading between the lines, we advise caution before getting swept away. We suspect that what we really have here is a Ducati which is far more comparable to the competition in terms of ride experience and feel. The litre sportsbike class of 2012 is quite sublime – there is hardly a weak contender out there, and if it turns out that the Panigale is the equal of the superb ZX10 / RSV4 / S1000RR, or offers the compliance and composure of the Fireblade, that is still an achievement. But it is not epoch changing.

If it were, does anyone seriously think that Carlos Checa and Ducati themselves would have eschewed it in favour of last year’s model for the forthcoming WSBK season?  A convincing, spin free explanation of that decision would be nice.  The 1198 is a proven winner, the reigning world champion,  and horrendous memories of a chop and change approach in running are very fresh in Ducati’s mind. We suspect there simply wasn’t enough development time in the Panigale for it to threaten the 1198 at the highest level, and the thought of seriously developing anything through a racing season is simply anathema as far as the boys from Bologna are concerned . Read it how you like, but the truth is that Ducati  have not been swept away by the Panigale – unlike some of its reviewers.


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