MIDDLEWEIGHT supersports bikes have been part of the Ducati range since the first 748, designed to appeal to macho sportsbike riders who want to buy into the Ducati brand without saddling themselves with the price tag of the larger version.
Feast your eyes on the 899 Panigale, with its 898cc, 90-degree L-twin (that’ll be a slightly rotated V-twin, then) pushing out an impressive 146bhp and 73lb.ft of torque. It may be smaller – and cheaper – than the 1199 Panigale but it’s designed to give you all the kudos and most of the kicks.
Just like its bigger brother, the 899 has a fully adjustable Sachs monoshock at the rear, but on the smaller bike you need a screwdriver to adjust compression and rebound damping. Up front, the fat 43mm forks are also fully-adjustable and they are complemented by a non-adjustable steering damper.
The baby Panigale also has three switchable riding modes; wet, sport and race, eight-level traction control, three-step ABS, three levels of engine braking and a quick-shifter. Throw in Brembo monoblock brake calipers and a radial master cyclinder for stopping power and you can forget any ideas about the 899 being a poor man’s 1199.
It feels instantly familiar. Not only do the fairing, headlight and shape of the 17-litre tank look similar to the 1199, but the 899 has the same laborious starter motor, prehistoric roar and balanced riding position. There is also enough room to shuffle back in the thicker, more road-riding-friendly seat and duck down behind the low screen when you’re flat out on the straights.
It has an unintimidating, friendly vibe, which is helped by subtle traction control. An orange light flickers on the dash when it’s activated, but otherwise the traction control feels as though you’ve ridden into a giant spider’s web that gently holds you back until the bike can gradually tear free. It is seamless and discreet.
The riding modes are selected via the indicator switch. Wet is restricted to 99bhp, sport combines 146bhp with a smooth throttle response, and race offers the most direct response. But even with the full 146bhp unleashed in race mode, it still has a soft and predictable throttle response, with a noticeable extra kick above 7,000rpm.
The significantly shorter final drive in relation to Ducati’s old 848 adds spice to the performance without being overwhelming, and while the 899 feels less manic than an MV Agusta F3 or GSX-R750, it doesn’t have the deceptively slow sensation that middleweight twins often have.
It’s also more balanced in fast corners than the more powerful 1199, and instantly easy and it’s even more rider-friendly than the 848. The brakes are less aggressive than the 1199’s, but they still offer more than enough power and feel.
The quick-shifter works without complaint and the Showa Big Piston forks, in combination with the rear monoshock, is responsive and communicative. In the fast sections of Imola’s technical circuit, the baby Pani is a pleasure to ride; stable in long sweepers and flickable in the chicanes.
Don’t expect the 899 Panigale to blow your socks off in the same way as the 1199 in a straight line. It’s just as impressive but in a totally different way. The way it carves up the road makes you feel like you’re a better rider, and who doesn’t like that?
If you’re used to a predictable, forgiving Japanese 600, you’ll find the 899 Panigale offers a similar rideability with more punch, and that’s a Good Thing. It is, for most of us, the better Panigale; one that gives you bigger rewards at real-world speeds.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Ducati 899 Panigale, from £12,495 on the road.
Engine: 898cc L-twin producing 146bhp @ 10,750rpm and 73lb.ft @ 9,000rpm.
Transmission: Six speed sequential manual.
Dry Weight: 169kg.
Seat Height: 830mm.
Fuel capacity: 17 litres.