2016 Ducati 959 Panigale Review
As an owner of a track-prepped Ducati 1198 and a street-going 748, I was initially a Luddite when the Panigale was released. The pre-Panigale trellis frame provides the perfect amount of flex when cornering, transmitting every nuance in a track/road surface directly to the rider – the frame provides a feeling like no other.
Though loved by many and winning championships – 17 in 28 years of World Superbike – the trellis-framed Ducati sportbikes were dropped for the 2012 production year. Enter the 1199 Panigale, which introduced the monocoque frame that used the engine as a stressed member. The motorcyclke was by far the most comfortable Ducati superbike ever produced, but the new chassis – for many including myself – refused to impress. And don’t get me started on the lack of mid-range power from the Superquardro engine that replaced the 1198’s Testastretta.
This same monocoque technology trickled down to the bike that eventually replaced the 848 (also a trellis frame) in 2013 – the new 899, which was coined a “Supermid.” Though the bike was effective as a streetbike in regards to comfort, its chassis presented the same downfalls as the 1199 – as did its engine, which lacked mid-range torque.
Ducati continued to address these chassis/engine concerns through its factory race teams in World Superbike, and the new 1299 was the first to benefit – mostly from the 4mm lower swingarm that improved chassis stability and a refined engine that returned some of the mid-range torque.
Ducati wasted no time getting me on the new 959 Panigale. Just days after EICMA, the motorcycle was launched at Spain’s Valencia Ricardo Tormo circuit. Two weeks ago at this same circuit Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo would rob the title from Valentino Rossi by a mere five points.
And just as Lorenzo impressed, so did the 959 – Ducati may have built something that speaks to a lover of the trellis frame motorcycle. Ducati’s design plans were to build a sportbike that offered the perfect balance between comfort on the street and performance on the track. Though I only rode at Valencia, many of the notes can directly translate to the street. So did the boys from Borgo Panigale achieve their mission?
Ducati 959 Panigale Review – What’s New
Before my four sessions at the 2.49-mile Valencia circuit were completed, Ducati USA’s Marketing Product Manager Paul Ventura and Ducati Vehicle Project Manager Stefano Strappazzon walked me through the Ducati 959 Panigale.
As Ventura said, this isn’t just a bike with “bold new graphics,” but a totally revised engine, chassis and bodywork. Starting with the engine, the new 955cc L-Twin Superquadro produces a maximum of 157 horsepower at 10,500 rpm, up six-percent over the 899’s 148-horsepower mill.
The 90-degree L-Twin may have 955cc, but Ducati is sticking with its trend of ending bikes with the number “9” – plus, though Ducati did build a 955 Superbike in the past, other brands have a 955, including Triumph. This is the first engine to reach Euro 4 emission standards, which is evident of the ugly double-exhaust cans that arrive on the European bikes. Thankfully those won’t reach the states, and we get the same under-engine exhaust design featured on the other Panigales. This also helps the USA version shave more than 10 pounds, the American Panigale 959 weighs a claimed 377 pounds dry (430 pounds wet).
Just as it did with the 1299, the 959 receives a longer stroke – 60.8 mm compared to 57.2 on the outgoing 899. Combined with the unchanged 100mm bore, the 955cc L-twin produces an engine makes a peak of 79 ft/lbs of torque at 9000 rpm, which is up eight-percent over the 899. The new secondary showerhead injector for the Mitsubishi throttle bodies also provides smoother throttle response.
The engine, which requires valve-clearance checks every 15,000 miles and general services every 7500 miles, is paired with the latest in Ducati electronics, including Ducati Quick Shift (only clutchless upshifts), Ride-by-Wire, three riding modes (Race, Sport, Wet), a three-stage Bosch ABS (stage 1 allows only ABS on front wheel for track conditions), Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and Engine Brake Control (EBC).
The 959’s monocoque chassis is the same as the 899, but what makes it transmit better feeling to the rider has to do with the swingarm. Taking notes from the 1299, the 959’s swingarm was lowered by 4mm; this stretches the wheelbase out by 5mm to 1431 mm (56.34 inches) and improves traction over the 899.
Suspension is handled by a 43mm Showa BPF fork up front and a side-mounted Sachs monoshock out back (both featuring adjustable spring preload and compression, and rebound damping). As for wheels, the 10-spoke design from the 899 carry over; the 17-inch wheels are shod with Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tires (120/70 ZR17 front; 180/60 ZR17 rear).
To save extra cash on the $14,995 MSRP (red), Ducati used M4.32 Brembo monobloc calipers rather than the pricey M50s found on the 1299. The front system uses dual 320m discs, and the rear a 245mm disc.
The fairing is also wider and the windscreen taller – both addressing aerodynamics and providing much more coverage for the rider, which were immediately noticed at the track. Further changes include larger-section front air intakes, a split tailpiece design, new mirrors, and aluminum billet-machined footrests that enhance grip.
Ducati 959 Panigale Review – Riding Valencia
For my first session at Valencia, the Ducati 959 Panigale was set up in “Sport” mode, which provides more intervention of EBC, ABS, and DTC. After a lap of warming up the Pirelli Supercorsa SC2 tires for the morning session that was around 55 degrees, the fun was about to begin.
Approaching 160mph on the rear straight, I was hard on the brakes, and already missing the premium-level Brembo M50 monoblocs. The ABS setting of three in Sport mode quickly got the nerves rattling. Due to some confusion from the slight bumps on the correct line at the front straight’s end, the ABS got confused and started intervening. Hard on the brakes, the lever pulsated before rushing into turn one of 14-corner circuit.
In Sport mode, DTC was set on level five of eight as I learned the layout of Valencia, which includes nine lefts – a few where knees are down at over 100mph – and five rights. Essentially a shakedown session, the opening laps also allowed me to focus on the street abilities of 959. The engine has a broad powerband, power coming on strong at 4,000 rpm and delivering as strongly to the 10,500 rpm redline.
The wider fairing and taller windscreen provide far more protection over the 899, which will be a huge plus on the street. The rider triangle remains the same as the 899, which never presented any issues in regards to on-track comfort, though a change of seat would be ideal for longer road rides.
The gauges also feature a clean layout and everything is within view. When approaching redline, the top of gauge lets you know it; a light on the left and one on the right climb in unison to the middle portion of the gauge when redline hits.
Oh, the foot pegs! It only took forever for Ducati to release a sportbike with foot pegs that provide traction for boots. The machined aluminum foot pegs on the 959 actually provide grip, which I immediately noticed while cornering at Valencia. Grip will surely be increased over the old pegs in wet conditions.
But enough of the slow stuff; for sessions two through four, the 959 Panigale was in Race mode, which from the factory has a setting of 1 for EBC, 3 for DTC, and 1 for ABS. I experimented with some switching of all three, but concluded that the factory settings were best.
The 959 was perfect for Valencia – I could not imagine riding the 1299 there, or a 250-horsepower MotoGP prototype. The fun part about the “Supermid” is actually holding the throttle to the stop and not having to worry about uncontrollable wheelies.
As stated before, the engine character builds strongly from around 4,000 rpm to the redline of 10,500. There was not one glitch in the fueling, and the power was manageable – not as brutal as the 1299, but rather, it was smooth and predictable.
The Ducati 959 also uses a new clutch with a progressive self-servo mechanism that compresses the friction plates while under engine power, presenting no extra effort on a rider’s part to release the clutch. The light feel of the clutch was noticeable from the first lap, and blipping the throttle under downshifts required only one finger on the clutch.
The six-speed transmission, which was slick throughout the day, is enhanced with a quick shifter that provides for clutchless upshifts; clutchless downshifts with automatic throttle blips are reserved for the 1299 Panigale. When ascending through the gears, a slight tap of the boot was needed to upshift. Though not as refined as the 1299, the 959’s quickshifter provided no issues while upshifting.
After hitting my apexes with the lightest push/pull on the handlebars at turn-in, and seeing my exits, I was able to quickly get to Wide Open Throttle. Screwing on the throttle to the stop was easy – attribution can be directed directly to the 4mm lower swingarm that helps improve traction, and of course the traction control.
The bike is truly forgiving, also; after becoming comfortable with both the track and the 959 Panigale, I deliberately upset the chassis/suspension mid-corner – so much that a MotoAmerica racer who was behind me on that lap recommended some technique. Though it lacks cornering ABS and electronic suspension, the 959 Panigale was able to fully recover from rookie mistakes, such as braking or rolling on and off the throttle mid corner.
Though not as refined as the upscale Ohlins units, the Showa Big Piston Fork/Sachs rear unit presented no issues or bottoming out while riding Valencia. For the street and track day rider, I see no reason to upgrade the suspension. Ducati had the bikes set up in factory suspension settings, and I never felt the need to adjust anything for my 5’ 11” frame with a weight of around 185 pounds.
Reaching the end of Valencia’s front straight at around 160 mph, the initial bite of the M4.32 Brembos isn’t as powerful as the 1299’s M50s, and feel at the lever wasn’t as precise. But throughout the day I never experienced any brake fade, and lever pulsation was only felt at the lever when the bike was set in Sport mode.
Ducati 959 Panigale Review – Conclusion
Ducati said the idea behind the 959 Panigale was to build a sportbike with perfect balance of comfort on the street and performance on the track. Besides a few qualms regarding the lower-priced Brembo brakes and quick shifter, Ducati has delivered on its mission. Again, I didn’t ride it on the street, but I did complete a few laps at a street pace. Comfort was present, as was a powerband that will cater to real-world street situations.
Being a premium brand, the Ducati 959 Panigale arrives at a premium price – $14,995 for red (add $300 for the Arctic White). Premium once meant lack of comfort and short service intervals; this has drastically changed for the modern Ducati, and the Panigale 959 attests to this. And the price remains the same as the outgoing 899 – not bad considering the dramatic upgrades.
Ducati’s philosophy of “never standing still” in the world of designing motorcycles has never spoken such truth for the 2016 model year. At EICMA, it released nine-new models, including a 400cc Scrambler Sixty2, a Multistrada Enduro, XDiavel and a new Hypermotard 939 lineup. But the 959 Panigale is what may have the biggest impact on increased sales – it translates into real-world, sportbike performance that is paired with comfort.
With attribution towards the 2015 Scrambler lineup and the Multistrada with the DVT (Desmodromic Variable Timing) engine, Ducati set an all-time sales record after delivering 50,000 bikes in 2015 – and with nearly two months to go. With the help of the 959 Panigale – and the other new models – Ducati should have no problem setting a new all-time sales record in 2016.
Photos by Milagro