Ducati has released a series of photos of its revolutionary Panigale 1199 superbike without its clothes on, showing exactly how the bike is held together in the absence of a traditional frame. But while the monocoque chassis is pretty fascinating to look at in the flesh, what strikes us most is just how incredibly compact the bike is - every component has been squeezed into the tiniest possible space. In fact, you can't even see clean through the bike at any point until you reach the rear hugger. This is mass centralization and weight shaving taken to a whole new level.
The Panigale's monocoque chassis
Gone is the traditional Ducati trellis frame that usually wraps around the engine. The Panigale is famously the first production bike to abandon an ordinary frame altogether. One chunky piece up front joins the main front end headstem bearing races to the top radiator and the front and rear cylinder heads.
A pair of boomerang-shaped supports hold the seat and tail unit up off the engine's rear cylinder, and a similar boomerang shaped mount hangs the swingarm off the crankcase. The rear shock sits slightly beyond horizontal, attached to the side of the rear cylinder. The engine doesn't sit in a frame; the engine more or less *is* the frame.
The lack of space
You'd have trouble fitting a credit card into any spot on the 1199. Look at the exhaust tubing, there's barely a cubic centimeter to spare. The top portion of the chassis also houses the airbox. The traditional Ducati L-twin has been angled back 6 degrees to let the front wheel fit in front of the radiators.
The Panigale's subframe and seat unit look absolutely tiny with the fairings off, but it's worth noting that the boomerang brackets that hold the subframe to the cylinder and crankcase seem to be designed to allow access to the rear cylinder head. It's unclear from the photos where the battery box sits, but it looks as though simply removing the tank and seat unit will get you through to the top end for those fiddly desmodromic valve adjustments. Good luck with the front cylinder though - that's a radiator-off job. Which means tank off, side fairings off, overflow bottle off, and you'll also have to remove the plastic doodad that bolts to the top fairings on the left hand side. Servicing the Panigale will be a bit of a mission.
One of the biggest problems that arises when you pack a lot of engine into a tiny amount of space is that there's very little airflow over the surface of each component to keep temperature in check.
The Panigale seems to have more or less surrendered to this fact - the ultra-compact design seems almost to shield the cylinders from any cooling airflow they might receive. And there's going to be heat - a lot of it. Remember, that 1199cc engine develops a whopping 195 horsepower at 14,200 rpm - a ludicrously high rev limit for a twin. It's the very definition of high performance. So here's hoping the engineers at Ducati have found a better heat management solution than the potato-baking Aprilia RSV4 ships with.
What about a streetfighter?
Whenever a new sportsbike hits the market, nakedbike fans like me start dribbling over the prospect of another high performance, balls-out streetbike with road-focused ergonomics and less nancy plastic covering up the sexy metal underneath.
But while the Panigale is certain to spawn some sort of nakedbike, maybe a Streetfighter 1199, it's hard to see how Ducati will get around the fact that this bike is … kind of ugly with its clothes off. The lack of a frame takes away one of the key design elements when you're looking at nakedbikes, and the engine area is so visually cluttered with componentry that you lose the aesthetic effect of a dirty big engine swinging in the breeze as well.
The best I can imagine Ducati coming up with is some sort of semi-faired street version - probably with even more plastic on it than the Tuono V4. I can't see the streetfighter crowd getting too excited about this layout - it's all function and no form. Then again, perhaps I underestimate their ingenuity. We'll have to wait and see.