2014 Ducati 1199 Superleggera - Exclusive First Ride

Playing rock star for a day on a Superleggera at Mugello.

Ducati 1199 Superleggera action shot

Mugello, Italy—As a teenager, I was convinced that there could be nothing better than being a rock star. Thankfully, a lack of musical talent saved me from a monotonous life spent fighting off supermodels, eating caviar, and driving Lamborghinis like rental cars. Maybe I missed my calling, but I certainly enjoyed the limelight recently at the Mugello circuit in Italy, where I had an exclusive 10-lap ride aboard Ducati’s exotic 1199 Superleggera.

Just how exclusive was it? Well, let me just say that a horde of former world champs waited in the queue behind me for a chance to ride the bike for the first time, Troy-freaking-Bayliss included. I'm still not sure if I was just jetlagged, dreaming, or if it really happened at all.

If you aren't familiar with the Superleggera, it's an ultra-exclusive, $65,000 version of the 1199 Panigale R, with weight savings and power output taken to extreme levels. Ducati claims the Superleggera has the best power-to-weight ratio of any production motorcycle in history.

As a matter of fact, this bike is so over the top that it isn’t even eligible for World Superbike competition. First of all, with only 500 examples being produced (all spoken for), it doesn’t meet the homologation numbers required by the rules. Furthermore, at a claimed 366 pounds sans fuel (but with all street equipment in place, including mirrors, signals, and lights), it weighs only a pound more than the WSBK minimum. In other words, in race trim it would need ballast to compete!

I've drooled over and ridden many homologation-special, production superbikes over the years (Honda RC30, RC45; Yamaha OW-01, YZF-R7; and Ducati's R models), but the Superleggera makes those bikes look ordinary by comparison.

But if the Superleggera isn’t intended as the basis for a competition machine, what’s the point? Like the 2007 Desmosedici, the concept was to showcase Ducati’s technical capabilities and answer those “what if” questions by pushing the envelope.

“We asked our engineers to build the best of the best and do everything they ever dreamed of, building this bike for our best customers,” said Ducati’s CEO Claudio Domenicali. “Of course, a lot of the things that we developed for the Superleggera will in the long-term find their way onto our other new bikes, as well.”

2014 Ducati 1199 Superleggera static right-side view

On paper, the Superleggera's numbers are impressive. With its 4.5-gallon fuel tank topped off, the Superleggera, says Ducati, weighs only 393 pounds (30 less than the Panigale R). A hot-rod engine produces a claimed five additional horsepower and a bit more torque than the R model. Adding those figures to the dyno numbers we got on our last R testbike, we estimate the Superleggera produces 186 hp and 90 pound-feet of torque at the rear wheel. The titanium Akrapovic exhaust (in the included Race Kit) adds 5 more hp and shaves another 2.5 pounds of weight. For reference, the 51-pound-heavier BMW HP4 we last tested made 186 hp and 83 pound-feet of torque.

So, how do you skim 30 pounds off of one of the lightest production liter-plus sportbikes ever? Ducati’s team of engineers were given free reign with exotic materials. The Superleggera has a magnesium monocoque frame, a carbon-fiber subframe and bodywork, plus a lithium-ion battery, forged magnesium wheels, and numerous titanium fasteners. Even the Öhlins suspension is ultra light, featuring a FL916 fork with machined billet-aluminum bottoms and a TTX36 shock with a titanium spring.

Not only does the Superquadro engine weigh less than the R’s mill, but some of its weight-saving components allow it to rev to 12,500 rpm (a 1000-rpm bump) and increase power across the board. All four valves (intake and exhaust) in each head are now titanium, as are the Pankl connecting rods. The tungsten-counterweighted crankshaft, which weighs one pound less than stock, works with lighter two-ring racing pistons and a compression ratio that has jumped from 12.5:1 to 13.2:1.

2014 Ducati 1199 Superleggera action shot #2

IT WHEELIES AT 150 MPH?

If the spec sheet is impressive, the track manners of the Superleggera are mind blowing. Just a few corners into my first lap of Mugello, I could sense the bike’s feathery feel. With three chicanes per lap, Mugello highlighted the Superleggera’s awesome ability to transition, requiring substantially less effort than any Ducati I’ve ridden.

More impressive was how quickly it could be flicked over, and how stable and grippy the front Pirelli Supercorsa felt once planted. Off-cambers and long corners on the side of the tire were completely drama free. The plush Öhlins suspension ironed out the track’s few bumps, while the incredible Brembos with remote-adjustable MCS 19-21 master are some of the best brakes I’ve ever sampled.

With more torque/power on tap across the board, the Superleggera has a broader powerband than the R, with more midrange oomph and a less peaky nature. Which makes the Superleggera's new left-handlebar-paddle-controlled, eight-level Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), a welcome addition. Entering the front straight in fourth gear, the bike would wheelie at 150 mph before the system would intervene as I grabbed fifth, only for the front to get light again just before I toed the quickshifter into sixth.

Riding conservatively (with Domenicali watching!) I consistently hit 186-plus mph before braking a bit early for turn one. As the speedometer goes blank at 299 km/h, I'm not totally sure how fast I actually went on the few occasions this happened, but it was really fast. I've never experienced this sort of raw acceleration on anything other than the full-blown World Superbikes/AMA Superbikes I've ridden in the past. The Superleggera is a truly awe-inspiring machine and it's almost inconceivable that it's street-legal.

If charmed experiences such as this come only in 10-lap doses every couple of years, I’m fine with that. Because even the fortunate few who have purchased a Superleggera probably will never get to ride their bikes WFO at Mugello. And that’s something that most rock stars can only dream of, too.

SPECIFICATIONS
|2014 Ducati 1199 Superleggera
ENGINE
TYPE|Liquid-cooled, 4 titanium valves per cylinder, V-twin
DISPLACEMENT|1198cc
BORE x STROKE|112.0 x 60.8mm
COMPRESSION RATIO|13.2:1
POWER|est 186 hp at 11,500 rpm (at rear wheel)
TORQUE|est 90 lb.-ft. at 10,200 rpm (at rear wheel)
FUEL INJECTION|Mitsubishi EFI, two injectors per cylinder
TRANSMISSION
GEARBOX|Six-speed
FINAL DRIVE|Chain
CLUTCH|wet, multiplate clutch, slipper
CHASSIS
FRAME|Magnesium monocoque
WHEELBASE|56.6 in
RAKE|24.5º
FRONT SUSPENSION|Öhlins inverted fork, adjustable preload
FRONT WHEEL TRAVEL|4.7 in.
REAR SUSPENSION|Öhlins TTX35 shock, adjustable preload
REAR WHEEL TRAVEL|5.1 in.
FRONT TIRE|120/70ZR-17, Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
REAR TIRE|200/55ZR-17, Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP
FRONT BRAKE|330mm discs, four-piston Brembo radial-mount calipers
REAR BRAKE|245mm disc, two-piston caliper
FUEL TANK CAPACITY|4.5 gal.
WET WEIGHT|390 lb.
SEAT HEIGHT|32.5 in.
HEIGHT|43.3 in.
LENGTH|81.7 in.

On-track action shot #1

On-track action shot #2

On-track action shot #3

On-track action shot #4

On-track action shot #5

On-track action shot #6

Static right-side view.

Static front 3/4 view.

Magnesium front wheel, Brembo brakes and Öhlins fork.

Nose section.

Headlight.

Brand-new paddle shifter to control DWC, DTC, EBC on the fly.

Billet-aluminum rearsets.

Öhlins TTX36 shock with titanium spring.

Seat.

Forged magnesium rear wheel with Ti center nut.

Stripped view.

Stripped nose with magnesium fairing/dash bracket.

View of the magnesium monocoque frame/airbox and throttle bodies.

Öhlins shock with Ti spring.

Carbon-fiber subframe.

Engine.

Layout of parts.

Studio right-side view.

Studio rear 3/4 right-side view.