What Makes the Ducati 1199 Superleggera So Light?

A technical look at Ducati’s street-legal Superleggera.

Ducati 1199 Superleggera studio side view

Ducati's 1199 Superleggera was awarded the Best Superbike title by Cycle World this year. No additional words are needed, right? Wrong. Its 390-lb. "ready to ride" weight is fantastic for a fully dressed superbike with 200-plus horsepower. It really is the closest there is to a pure SBK racer in terms of power to weight. It's the ultimate version of the Ducati 1199 Panigale, which, even in its base form, is a benchmark with regard to weight containment. But the Superleggera has gone a few steps further by adopting all the available best materials to shed even more pounds. And this applies both outside and inside the powerful L-twin. Recently, I had a chance to partly take apart that mighty power unit, to see for myself some of the most intimate details that make this engine so fascinating. Now it's time to see for yourself.

1) The ultimate Ducati superbike ever, the lightweight 1199 Superleggera. We’ve admired it since the day it was unveiled. All 500 numbered units are sold out.

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2) The bare 1199 Superleggera chassis astonished me when I moved it to take this picture in front of a clean white wall. It felt so light! I almost lost it after I applied excess energy to lift it. Incredible!

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3) The version of the 1199 L-twin unit that powers the Superleggera is based on the Panigale R unit and delivers in excess of 200 Hp. Its special construction contributes to the weight reduction.

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4) The crankshafts of the 1199 Panigale (left) and of the 1199 Superleggera have exactly the same dimensioning at all vital points (50mm main end journals; 45mm crank journal), as well as the same treatments and surface finishing. The 1199 Superleggera crank, however, has very accurate machining that reduces weight from 11.38 lb. to 9.68 lb., which means its actually lighter than the crankshaft of the short-stroke Panigale 899 engine!

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5) The 1199 Superleggera crankshaft uses six cylindrical inserts in its counterweights to perfectly balance the alternating masses. Weight concentration also reduces the tendency to trigger “torsional vibrations” at very high revs.

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6) The Superleggera adopts titanium connecting rods (foreground) that weigh 375 grams or 0.827 lb. The regular Panigale steel rods weigh 518 grams or 1.142 lb., for a total weights savings of 286 grams or 0.630 lb.

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7) The combustion chamber of the 1199 Superleggera (left) features a more accurately profiled squish area to increase the compression ratio from the 12.5:1 of the standard 1199 Panigale head (right) to 13.2:1. Valve diameters remain unchanged: 46.8mm inlets, 38.2mm exhausts.

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8) Look close and you will see that the 1199 Panigale uses titanium inlet valves from US specialist Del West...

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9) ...while the 1199 Superleggera uses titanium for intake and exhaust also by Del West. Each titanium exhaust valve saves 24 grams over its steel counterpart on the 1199 Panigale. Reduced inertia means the engine is capable of more revs. Valve lift is unchanged: 16mm intake, 14.3mm exhaust. There is a slight difference in the intake cam timing, although duration remains the same. The Superleggera intake cam is rotated 4 degrees backward, opening 15 degrees BTDC and closing 64 degrees ABDC (19 and 60 degrees, respectively, on the Paginale unit).

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10 and 10B) To interface with the new combustion chamber profile, the 1199 Superleggera adopts higher compression pistons (right) that are also lighter. They are two-ring racing designs, while the regular 1199 uses standard three-ring pistons. Each piston (with rings, pin, and pin retainers) saves a whisker more than 100 grams (or 0.220 lb.). Standard Panigale pistons weigh 623 grams, or 1.373 lb.; Superleggera pistons weigh 526 grams, or 1.159 lb.

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11, 12, 13, 14) The rest of the weight savings come from the chassis, rolling gear, and other elements. The standard cast aluminum frame weighs 1.1 kg/2.425 lb. more than the cast magnesium element (12) of the Superleggera, while the carbon-fiber subframe (13) supporting the seat saves another 1.2 kg/2.645 lb. The Superleggera’s lithium-ion battery also saves some weight: It’s 2 kg/4.4 lb. lighter than the Panigale R’s battery, while also being much more energetic. And let’s not forget about the Superleggera’s forged magnesium wheels, its carbon-fiber fairing, its titanium exhaust and other minor details.

By all accounts, the Ducati Superleggera is a superb technological effort. The Bologna company has poured its soul into making this lightweight machine, which is the most awesome street-legal Superbike ever. It’s a bike for the purist, in the same league as the Desmosedici, and it’s a collectible that will only increase in value. Step aside, Ferrari, here comes the real “Red Italian!”

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