It takes a sub-average rider’s experience of a stupidly fast motorcycle to understand and appreciate modern motorcar electronics. Or at least it does in the case of this sub-average rider.
A few weeks ago, much to the irritation of the few people who like me and much to the amusement of the many who don’t, I purchased something called a Ducati Panigale 1299S. The name is a little misleading because it suggests that this is some normal form of transportation designed to be sold to the general public when in fact it is a machine from the future designed to warp the brain of the human sitting on top of it.
The Panigale S has 205hp at the crank and weighs 166.5kg. Stationary, it is one of the most intensely attractive man-made objects I have ever seen, and that is the reason I bought it. As someone who has spent many years sneering at people who make four-wheeled decisions based on similarly vapid reasoning, I am mildly disgusted at my hypocrisy.
But it just looked so good.
And I had read the magazine articles and I was dragged, quite willingly into the whole consumer experience and I agonized about just how silly it was for a chap like me to own such a machine and then I just thought ‘Sod it, I want one.’
‘The next time I bleat about the lack of a manual gearbox, which for the avoidance of doubt I will still be doing on a daily basis, I will remind myself that the non-skilled owner of a Porsche GT3 can pull a paddle and enjoy his or her car.’
I collected it from Riders Ducati from Bristol, and Jason Browne, the chap who last year sold me a much more sensible Monster 1200, managed to suppress his worried face as I left the showroom on a 205hp bike, 11 months and 20 days since I passed my test. The fast bike vendor truly does live a morally interesting life.
In my head this was not going to be a lasting relationship. I was going to own the Panigale for a few months, confirm the reasons why it was just too much of everything – performance, wrist destroyer and attention seeker – and then I would regress back to the comfy Monster.
Only it didn’t happen like that. I think the moment I realised that I had massively misjudged what the 1299 Panigale S was all about, was that ride home on a pleasing little A-road. There’s a large bump that leads into a second gear turn and it unsettles a bike far more than any car I’ve driven. I rolled into it slowly, waiting for the steering to jostle and expecting to allow the chassis to have a little wobble and then settle, and the 1299 just sauntered over it without even a shimmy. Wow. This was medium to low speed, and it felt so stable.
And then into the tightening left I thought I’d try this quickshifter thing I’d been reading about, so I didn’t pull the clutch lever and just hoofed the level down a click and I was instantly a hero. The gear engaged with complete smoothness and the bike actioned its own perfect throttle blip and I was away.
Only when I was enjoying a quick cuppa back at base and walking around the machine as it chinked in the evening sunshine did it dawn on me that the only reason I could enjoy this magnificent creation was because it was loaded with electronics – the very electronics that drive me insane in my day job.
And that far from being the evil bastard I’d expected, it was easier to ride than my Monster in terms of throttle action, ride comfort and pretty much every other tangible measurement I could identify. In fact, only the wrist-kanckering sports bike riding position was less pleasant.
I suppose in the car world this is much like discovering that a GT3 RS is easier to drive than a base Boxster – and that simply isn’t the case, nor can I think of a road car equivalent to the Monster/Panigale conundrum. But I can tell you that it has made me reconsider my attitude to electronic assistance of any kind in fast cars.
I am lucky enough to spend so much time in very fast cars that I do not need these systems. When the mood doesn’t take me, I leave them on and cruise, when it does, I switch them off and other things happen. But those drivers who want to experience a fast car with minimal experience can only do so because of the electronics – and to be clear I’m not advocating purchases of a similar silliness to mine in the car world with less than a year’s experience. I think spending so much of my life attempting to de-limb myself in sideways hypercars and old racers probably cuts me some slack in this case.
I had wrongly assumed that the Panigale’s electronics would simply serve as a safety net once I’d reached a point where trouble loomed. But they don’t, they are ever present in each perfect down shift and the dizzying suppleness over poor surfaces. So the next time I bleat about the lack of a manual gearbox, which for the avoidance of doubt I will still be doing on a daily basis, I will remind myself that the non-skilled owner of a Porsche GT3 can pull a paddle and enjoy his or her car, and if asked to do so with heels and toes simply wouldn’t be able to.
I suppose to understand the type of cretin who goes and buys something way too fast for their skill level because it looks good, I had to become that cretin. And I’m very glad I did. It’s good to change your point of reference – nothing garners sympathy for the plight of the lorry driver better than spending a few days driving one yourself. And nothing breeds respect for the positive forces of modern electronics than a 205hp motorised bicycle. I’m off to slide my Porsche 911 with all the systems OFF. See you on the other side.