Ducati has raised the bar in the middleweight sportsbike segment with its bigger and more powerful 959 Panigale. We put the bike through its paces to tell you what the bike feels like from behind the bars!
There is nothing a motorcycle purist would enjoy more than a thoroughbred supersport machine. Built with the one and only purpose of lapping a racetrack as quickly as possible, supersport machines let riders nail corner after corner, lap after lap. We do not get many opportunities to unleash such machines on a race track, so when we got invited by Ducati to Thailand, we packed our race suits and left!
A quick recap of the bike first.
The 959 Panigale is the 899 Panigale's successor, which earlier in its lifetime had replaced the 848 EVO. With the world moving forward, the lines between the 'middleweight' 600cc bikes and the 750cc sportsbike categories are getting blurred quickly. Ducati has also been following the same trend and the 959 Panigale is its new middleweight contender.
Ducati is a strict follower of the 'no replacement for displacement' adage. Hence, the 959 Panigale displacing 955cc, which is just 45cc short of the average litre-class superbike. The fact here is that this bike is a 'super-mid' sportsbike! Its power figure of 159PS is also good enough to put some of the litre-class bikes (made until a few years ago) to shame. This begs the question whether this bike still lies in the 'middleweight', or not. To find out, we had the perfect location, the Chang International Circuit in Thailand, which has been hosting a round of the World Superbike championship since 2015.
We had a world class bike on a world class circuit, which is a biker's dream come true. And, to make things more special Ducati turned our press ride into an advanced level DRE (Ducati Riding Experience) course. This gave us an opportunity to experience the motorcycle's full capabilities on the track and learn from some of the best coaches in the world at the same time.
Coming back to the bike, Ducati has achieved a higher displacement by increasing the stroke of the 899 Panigale's 90 degree L-Twin motor while keeping the bore unchanged. Also, components such as the head case, covers, timing chain, gears and guides were also revised to make the motorcycle Euro 4 compliant.
Ducati wanted to create a new motorcycle that was more aerodynamic, powerful, friendlier and easier to ride. The performance gains were made possible with the addition of a high flow air filter, larger diameter exhaust, 'showerhead' style fuel injectors and a slipper clutch. Other critical changes to the bike include redesigned machined aluminium footpegs for better grip and a swingarm pivot which is 4mm lower than the 899's to offer better grip at the rear under hard acceleration. What also helps this bike propel is its brilliant power to weight ratio. Measuring a mere 176kg dry, the 959 Panigale is just slightly heavier than most quarter-litre machines!
All this hard work has resulted in a bike which is reminiscent of the 1299 Panigale, courtesy the identical headlights (though the 959 does not get full-LED units), mirrors, body panels and wider fairing, which is in fact, the same as the 1299's. This wider stance also helps the bike's aerodynamics and the new electronics suite is so advanced that it quite literally makes the 959 idiot-proof.
The bike comes well equipped with a Bosch ABS 9MP Brembo braking system with three levels. The first level (1) is the lowest and is essentially a race-spec ABS. It has no rear-lift prevention, while the second and third levels are progressively softer with rear lift control. Then there's the latest generation DTC (Ducati Traction Control) which gets its roots from Ducati's MotoGP and WSBK technologies.
Level 1 provides minimum intrusion and lets professional riders slide the rear and enter corners fully sideways. We did not dare enough to play with the bike that way and happily stuck to the second and the third levels.
The 959 Panigale also has the quick shifter, which enables you to upshift without using the clutch or closing the throttle. This comes as a blessing on machines as quick and as powerful as the 959 Panigale. It offers precise shifts at high revs and can even be switched off. The bike also offers programmable Engine Brake Control which optimises stability when entering corners across three levels. All this is apart from the three riding modes -- Race, Sport and Wet. We stuck to the race mode for most of the day which enables offers the bike's full performance.
We used Sport mode for the first session, to be able to learn the track with the softer power delivery. The riding position is comfortable, which is likeable since it is not as extreme or forward biased as a typical supersport. The 959's clip-ons are placed slightly higher and the perch is both wider and less steep. As the bike is powered by a V-twin engine, power delivery is most impressive in the mid-range and acceleration is extremely quick, especially at low to mid revs. The Chang International Circuit gave us the opportunity to ride it fast and enter some corners at even above 100kmph. The 959 loves taking corners and imparts the rider with immense confidence. The fully adjustable Showa forks at the front and powerful Brembo brakes with their sharp bite makes corners easy to attack, while the electronics keep you in check.
We switched to Race mode for the next session and the difference could be easily felt in the bike's acceleration, which was fiercer, yet better to control. The most impressive aspect remains the bike's braking ability from speeds as high as 250kmph, as it felt extremely confident shedding speeds very quickly.
The grip from the Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tyres was immense and combined with the sporty suspension set up and the well-sorted chassis (that uses the engine as a stressed member), I felt in complete unison with the motorcycle. The bike's forgiving nature was the best part on the track. There were times when we applied the brakes very late from 240-250kmph and the ease with which the Brembos helped reduce speed and trail the brakes into corners was wonderful.
All-in-all, the 959 Panigale is an awesome combination of an easy-going road bike and a powerful sportsbike which can be enjoyed on the track. It is a perfect example of Ducati's prowess in making machines that connect to a rider's soul with their emotiveness. And what makes all this special is the 959 Panigale's price tag of just Rs 13.97 lakh (ex-showroom, New Delhi). At just about Rs 2 lakh more than the Triumph Daytona 675 R, the Ducati 959 Panigale is a motorcycle that's a lot more powerful, enjoyable and safer as well.
Now, what we want to know is how good the bike performs as a daily machine. Since motorcycles which are good on track and equally good on road are hard to find, can the Ducati 959 Panigale be an exception? May be.