Test Ride & First Thoughts
O.K . . . I've been for my test ride. I have been browsing both this & the 675R forums for a couple of months in order to get a vibe on both bikes - strong points, weak points and most importantly, potential problems. I guess I was prepared for certain aspects of the bike and unprepared for others - either way, I need to test both before I invest any spondoolies as neither are cheap bikes . . .
I duly turned up at the Lincoln Ducati dealers - a quick check of my driver's licence and additional photo ID, waiver signed, brief demo of the controls, then at 10.45am and one stab of the starter button later I was tentatively making my way out onto the open highway.
The salesman had shown me the riding modes but also made a point of leaving the bike in "Sport" with the inherent but unspoken suggestion that "Race" would be a little too risque - I wasn't complaining and personally, would have selected wet for my initial familiarisation. That said, the throttle response was far less snatchy and felt more progressive than on my 1050 Tiger on which injudicious use of the throttle in low gears will have you lurching back and forth quite violently. It's never been a problem with the Tiger - it's simply a question of small progressive movements of the twist grip with appropriate use of the clutch. Anyway, the Ducati felt like a ***** cat and wasn't in the slightest bit intimidating. My first reaction as I pulled out onto the road - Jeez, this thing feels like a dinky toy!! Well, I am 6ft 3" and I'm used to the 1050 Tiger which is a big tall bike by any standards.
The other aspect which was notable was the noise. The only noise the Tiger makes is from the exhaust and bit of a whine from the engine itself. With the Triumph TOR pipe, it sounds great but the total lack of vibration or mechanical feedback is greatly different from the Ducati which feels guttural by comparison - press the starter on the Ducati, and it comes alive - a sensation derived from the pulsing sensation of that engine and the noise, both exhaust and mechanical. Had I not been expecting it, I would find the mechanical noise somewhat alarming - compare one of these things to a jap twin and they sound like a bag of old nails. I've always been led to understand it was due to Ducatis having a dry clutch but not the case on this bike. Anyway, they all sound like it and no-one complains so . . . what the ****.
A mile in and I took stock of my seating position. My legs felt fine but the natural angle of my feet meant that changing up, I had to rotate my foot upwards as far as it would go in order to snick the next gear - down changes resulted in me having to lift my entire foot off the peg before tapping down on the gear shift. I later checked this out and realised that the adjuster, whilst having apparently little travel, is position very near the pivot point of the gear shift and should afford plenty of adjustment to bring the lever into an ideal position for me. The same was true of the rear brake - the pedal will need dropping by at least 2-3 inches if I am to use it without having to lift my foot clean off the peg and then replace it in a totally different position for braking - neither should be a problem.
The front brake felt spongy on first application but immediately felt solid when squeezed for a second time - this had the feel of a car footbrake which is applied after the engine has been switched off - bites higher up and feels progressively harder on each application as the brak servo becomes less effective. Obviously not the reason on the Ducati but it was noticieable enough for me to have questioned it when I picked up the bike - the salesman replied that a lot of folks notice it and comment but it is a feature of the ABS - I don't doubt him and besides, the brakes were nothing less than reassuring and worked perfectly on the road.
Once out on the open road, it's true to say that it doesn't take that much effort to brace the torso and grip the tank in order to take almost all the weight of the wrists - this aided by an ample wind blast that my over-sized torso was inevitably attracting. Although easy to do this, it does require conscious thought and effort. I suspect it would become second nature after a while but I have to say, every 4-5 miles and would find myself riding along with torso and legs relaxed and all my weight back on my wrists again but even then, I didn't find it particularly uncomfortable after the 30 or so miles each way over which I rode the bike.
Now then, some journo's berate this bike for lacking midrange and seem to suggest that it lacks torque until 8000+ revs are seen on the tacho whilst others sing its praises for being a nice torquey motor with an even spread of pulling power throughout the range. Horses for courses - I guess it depends on what you're comparing it with. All I know, is that I only visited the darkside on one occasion - the rest of the time I didn't go much above 6K and it had plenty of guts for me. It's interesting to note that the engine makes plenty of noise which unlike my Tiger, is audible pretty much all the time whilst riding. The Tiger has a great exhaust note and in particular whilst accelarating in the lower gears or at a standstill but select top gear and . . . .it's just wind noise and buffet - nothing else. The Ducati couldn't be more different - it's a cacophony of exhaust and mechanical armageddon in constant combat and mere inches from love tackle. Talking of love tackle . . .
This of course brings me on to one further subect worthy of comment. Prior to this ride, I had fully expected to return as a soprano with my sperm count reduced by 90% and with roasted and shrivelled nuts. On arriving home, I left the bike ticking over for two to three minutes before switching it off and setting off in search of the heat source, a heat source which I had heard about from the forum but not experienced at all during my ride back. I had travelled the first 3-4 miles through town traffic but the rest was open road but that said, there wasn't a hint of any heat damage, either to the meat and two veg or sphincter to the rear. I felt the padded seat - warm but significantly less so than if it had been left standing in the spring sunshine. The right hand plastic cylinder cover and seat rails which I had suspected would be the culprints were actually cool to the touch. The only part hot to the touch was the exhaust heat shield. I guess it's possible this could be causing some folks a problem but should I buy one of these, it really isn't going to feature on my radar - I'm still a bass-baritone and I have no issues with this aspect of the bike.
The mirrors are blurred at nearly all revs - no so bad that they're unuseable but there's vibration that affects them at all revs. The 1050 is antiseptic in it smoothness - there's not a hint of vibration and the mirrors remain totally clear. At anything up to 7.5K, I'm not sure that I would describe the feeling as vibration - it's certainly not the high frequency buzz that you pick up with an across the frame four - I referred to it earlier as a guttural sensation - you can feel the engine doing its work and I guess that's part of the appeal. You can't sense a "traditional vibration" though the seat or bars but it does translate to the mirrors - I could still see in them well enough and so again, it's a non-issue but after 8K it's another story . . .
I said I only visited the dark side once. I took her from 8-9.5K in 3rd gear but with progressive use of the throttle - not full bore. I'm perfectly happy to believe this thing "comes alive" at 8K but it does so in more than one way - At this point, I became aware of a harshness through the seat and possibly the bars - a high frequency buzzing vibration of the entire machine. I swear it suddenly felt as though I had my girfriend's rabbit and half a dozen of her love eggs inserted in my ring and strapped to my perineum all at once - I had to change up or back off before I jizzed myself. If I buy one of these and in hindsight, I think I am likely to, this is one old man who won't be visiting this area of the tacho unless I run out of viagara and need a boost.
Wind protection - well, let's just say that it both helps and detracts. It does take some weight off the wrists but the constant buffeting of my helmet was more of a problem once over 80mph. I suspect a double bubble would help a little here and so I would have one fitted from new but to be brutally honest, my head is so far forward and high up on the bike, I suspect it will probably raise the wind blast a few inches but still leave my head totally exposed. What it would likely do is allow me better opportunity to crouch down behind the screen on occasion and which was not practical with the standard screen. How much help the double bubble will prove to be remains to be seen but having sat on an 1199 in the showroom which had one fitted, the salesman pointed out that the mirrors will no longer fold back and doubtless, someone will do this at some point and damage either the screen, mirrors or both - either way, I think it's a must for me.
Finally, the quick shifter. I have mixed feelings about this. For folks who want to track their bikes I can understand it's a must and I can see how useful it would be. For me, personally and for road use, I really don't see the point. Now, before everyone screams in anguish, allow me to explain myself . . .
For the first 30 miles or so, I used the quick shifter. I suspect that changing gear smoothly with it requires a certain amount of experience. Certainly, in the short time I had the bike, I concluded that gearchanges were smoother when in the high gears, at higher revs and without the throttle too heavily loaded. These were the three variables which seemed to dictate how smooth the gear change was. When you think about it, the machine momentarily cuts the ignition to allow the gearchange before reconnecting - there is an can be nothing progressive about this action and so, imagine you're accerating hard in third gear and the ignition momentarily cuts out and back in again, the bike is going to jerk pretty badly right?? Well, given that rather overly simplistic analysis, I was pretty impressed with how smooth some of the changes were but others weren't and there was a mechanical takeup each time the ignition cut in but in contrast . . . .
How bloody smooth is that clutch and gearbox combo?? It is peachy smooth. My 1050 Tiger is one of the originals from 2007 and they have since uprated the gearbox - slick changes are just not on the menu. Many repeat attempts will very soon find you engaging a false neutral, accompanied by searing, grating and eventually clonking sounds as the gears finally engaged - not so the Panigale 899. Using the clutch for upshifts, gearchanges were seamlessly smooth and utterly faultless - I loved it. I might use the quick shifter once in a blue moon if I'm feeling lazy and the balance of revs and engine load dictate it will be acceptably smooth but the rest of the time, it will be full clutch changes for this old man. I think the technology is great but I can't see the point on the road - at least for myself.
Well, that's about it. I'm after something different - a bike to complete my Tiger and I think this may be it. I still want to try the 675R but I suspect it's even smaller and the Panigale felt small enough for me. On balance, I really enjoyed the bike. I'm owed a retirement present and I think this might just be it. Watch this space . . . .