2016 Ducati 959 Panigale Review
Story from late Spring issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine
Exactly what is the new-for-2016 Ducati 959 Panigale? A literbike or a midweight? This is a question of endless debate across social media, story commentary, and paddocks worldwide.
Ducati attempts to settle the controversy by dubbing the 959 a “Supermid.” Regardless of where you accelerate on the argument, once wide open throttle on the 959, all talk is futile. I’ll just say Ducati’s latest Superbike offering is simply “super.” I’ll leave the “mid” or “liter” debates to you.
These thoughts amped rather quickly during the bike’s launch at the undulating Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo in Spain, which has hosted the concluding MotoGP series round since 2002. The younger brother of Ducati’s much larger 1299 Panigale “liter bike,” the 959 replaces the 899.
I spent some time on the 899, and respected the bike for its comfort and upper-rpm power that was similar to an inline four. But, the 899 lacked a beefy midrange, something a V-twin—or should I say L-twin—lover such as myself desires on the street, and for that direct feeling off corners on the racetrack. The 899 also didn’t provide the best chassis feedback—something I adored from the previous trellis-framed sportbikes.
Enter the 959, an unexpected unveiling at the 2015 edition of the Esposizione Mondiale del Motociclismo (aka EICMA) in Milan. The new 959 addresses all the issues I argued were lacking on the 899, and then some. Not quite an all-new bike, the 959 is upgraded from the 899 across the board, from bodywork to chassis to engine. Top speed for sale, anyone?
Let’s talk meat—the 955cc L-twin Superquadro now produces 157 horsepower at 10,500 rpm, which is up nine ponies from the 899. The increased power derives from a longer stroke—the same 60.8mm spec used in the 1299’s power- plant. The 100mm bore remains the same as the 899’s, which helps produce additional torque. The 959 creates a claimed peak of 79 ft/lbs of torque @ 9000 rpm, which is up eight-percent over the 899.
The 959 is Ducati’s first motorcycle to achieve Euro 4 emission standards, which is evident on the Euro-only’s (ugly) double-exhaust cans. Luckily, this setup won’t reach American shores in 2016. Stateside residents still get the Panigale-typical right-exit under fairing exhaust.
The six-speed transmission remains as slick as the 899’s, though the 959’s is enhanced with a slipper/assist clutch. This new clutch features a progressive self-servo mechanism that, while under engine power, compresses the friction plates. This Bologna technology equates to one of the lightest lever feels ever from a Ducati Superbike.
With valve-clearance checks required every 15,000 miles, and general services at 7500 miles, the 959’s engine is complemented by the latest in Ducati electronics, including ride-by-wire, three riding modes (Race, Sport, Wet), three-stage Bosch ABS (Stage 1 allows ABS only on front wheel for track conditions), Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Engine Brake Control (EBC), and Ducati Quick Shift (but no clutchless downshifts).
Weighing in at a claimed 440 pounds wet, the 959 is equipped with the same basic chassis as the 899, but the main difference is the swingarm, which is lowered just over an eighth-of-an-inch. This elongates the wheelbase just short of a quarter-inch to 56.34 inches, which helps to improve traction. Like the 899, the 959 Panigale arrives with a 43mm Showa BPF fork and a right-side mounted Sachs shock.
Just as the lack of a clutchless downshifter saves some money, the brakes are downgraded from the Brembo M50 calipers found on the 1299 to the M4.32 models; they squeeze dual 320mm discs up front, and a 245mm disc out back.
Next came bodywork, which is wider than the outgoing 899. The factory windscreen is also taller. Both of these upgrades provide more optimized aerodynamics, which are immediately evident at full tuck. Other changes include larger-section front air intakes, new mirrors, a split tailpiece design, and—what should have happened years ago on all Ducati Superbikes—aluminum billet-machined footrests that actually provide grip.
Riding the Ducati 959 at Valencia, a MotoGP Circuit
Exiting pit lane at Valencia for my first session in Sport mode—which provides noticeable intervention of DTC, ABS, and EBC—the first thing I noticed was the comfortable riding ergos for my nearly six-foot frame. As an owner of a track-prepped 1198 and an older 748, this may possibly be the most comfortable Ducati Superbike ever designed.
The low-end grunt typical of other L-twins is there; even when pinned in second gear the electronics controlled front-wheel lift. I immediately was engulfed with that young and in-control feeling associated with most 600cc inline-4 supersports.
And the powerband seemed endless; throttle juice came on strong at 4000 rpm and kept building in a manageable, linear fashion straight to the 10,5000 rpm redline.
A sighting lap around the 2.5-mile circuit allowed me to warm the Panigale’s Pirelli Supercorsa SC2 tires—the 959 arrives stock with Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsas—and start learning the sweeping layout of Valencia. By the third lap, it was WOT after nearly every corner, and riding at the usual speed when the confidence was present.
The only qualm presented on the track in Sport mode was during the braking portion of the back straight. There are a few bumps on the outside line, and when hard on the Brembo M4.32s while slowing for Valencia’s Jorge Martinez Aspar turn 1 from 160+ mph, the ABS starts to kick in, providing an inharmonious feeling between nerves and focus.
This occurred over and over for that first session, until we put the bike in Race mode, where it remained for the final three sessions. Braking is nearly as strong as the 1299’s M50s, and there was never another deceleration issue.
Though Sport mode, and its DTC level at five of eight, allowed me to learn the MotoGP circuit, the setting also allowed me to grasp some of the streetability of the 959. Even at intense spirited speeds on back roads, the 959 will present comfort mixed with an engine character that caters to street riding. The only thing I would change is the seat; I’m sure comfort will be lacking after accumulating some miles throughout the canyons.
I experimented with a few custom settings in Race mode, but I quickly returned to the factory presets of one for EBC, three for DTC, and one for ABS (one having the least intervention). This setup allowed me to focus purely on riding. When the over-zealous energy was there to get on the throttle too early, the factory Race settings provided a buffer zone while still allowing for some feeling.
Everything came into sharp focus during my third session. I was able to quickly initiate turn-in, provide a steady throttle for a smooth corner line, and then snap the throttle wide open upon exit.
During this studied process, the chassis felt, dare I say, trellis-like in mid-corner. The 959 allowed me to read the pavement, even while planting a knee over triple-digit speeds on Turn 13, the long sweeping left before the final sharp left-hand Turn 14 that dumps you onto the front straight.
This change can definitely be attributed to the lower swingarm, which provides the longer wheelbase that aids in keeping the bike planted during cornering; the lower swingarm also adds that extra bit of traction needed when screwing on the throttle on corner exit.
The chassis and the electronics also assist recovery during mid-corner errors. While running alone for a few laps, I intentionally upset the chassis to see where the bike would take me. Sloppiness was minimal, and I was quickly able to regain composure and get back on line.
When adjusting body position for the corners, the newly machined aluminum footpegs provide the grippy reassurance that a factory Ducati Superbike deserves. While in full tuck on Valencia’s front straight, the 959’s wider fairing and taller windscreen provided much greater protection from the wind, as well as streamlined aerodynamics.
Even when ensconced behind the windscreen, the clean layout of the dashboard presents needed data, though the most important when on the track are the rpm lights; one light on the left and one on the right ascend in unison to the middle of the dash when redline hits, letting you know that it is time to shift. When there, a light tap on the gear shifter allows for smooth clutchless upshifts while the Superquadro sings.
The idea of the 959 Panigale is to blend the perfect balance of comfort on the street and performance on the track. Regarding the latter, the performance is there – and then some. The beauty of this midweight is its ability to provide endless enjoyment at full throttle and full braking without the effort needed to harness a 200+ horsepower machine like its race-ready older and larger brother, the 1299 Panigale.
Though I have yet to ride the 959 Panigale on the street, the on-track testing said much for comfort and engine character that will surely benefit a street-going rider. I just hope that rider frequents the track, because that’s exactly where the bike will cater to the true WOT emotions one should engage while riding a Ducati Superbike.
If you consider this Desmo a “literbike” or more”midweight,” don’t worry—Ducati has only added to the debate by coining it a Supermid. After one day at Valencia, I quickly put all that fluff behind. The one thing the 2016 Ducati 959 Panigale positively delivers is Superfun.