Johannesburg - Hot on the heels of our review of Ducati’s flagship 1299 Panigale, we take a look at its little brother, the new 959 Panigale, which was launched locally in February 2016.
The 959 shares styling cues with its bigger brother but, according to Ducati, comes with an engine designed for a more enjoyable everyday riding experience without sacrificing track proficiency.
Improved for 2016
Its predecessor, the 899, was a great bike already, but the 959 is updated in several areas. For starters the engine now has the same 60.5 mm stroke as the 1299, which meant giving it a new crankshaft and connecting rods. Strict Euro 4 noise emissions standards meant Ducati had to fit the bike with a different exhaust system, with dual mufflers on the right side, a ribbing on the cylinder heads and valve covers, and a different cam chain.
The new exhaust system, while not unbearably ugly in my eyes, has drawn a lot of negative comments. However, Ducati offers an optional Akrapovic exhaust (which was fitted on the review bike) for those who dislike the standard pipes. Exhaust diameter is increased to 60mm, while on the intake side, the 62mm oval throttle bodies now feature dual injectors. Also, the wet clutch now gets the slipper/assist function from the 1299 that provides the dual benefit of lighter lever action and smoother downshifting when riding aggressively.
Image gallery: Ducati 959 Panigale
While visually similar to the 1299, the 959 feels lighter and slimmer across the waist. It features a wider nose fairing and screen to improve aerodynamic performance which, in conjunction with larger-section front air in-takes, adds to a more aggressive look The split tailpiece design, redesigned lateral air intakes and new rear view mirrors complete the picture. It also comes with aluminium billet-machined footrests, which offer much better boot grip than its predecessor.
The black-on-white LCD instrument panel features three different levels of back-lighting, and contains a wealth of information. The bar-graph rev counter is the most prominent along the top part of the screen, along with a digital speed readout. The selected Riding Mode (there are three: Rain, Sport and Race) is also shown, as are the corresponding EBC, DTC and ABS settings – preset for each mode, these can be changed individually using switchgear buttons on the left handlebar. These buttons also change the display of secondary information such as fuel consumption, time, odometer and trip meter. For the track-oriented, the stopwatch function can display the last 30 recorded lap times.
It may be so because I wanted it so (I prefer the small Panigales over their bigger brothers), but I felt that the ergonomics on the 959 were friendlier than those on the 1299. What hasn’t changed, though, is the amount of heat caused by the underseat portion of the exhaust. As with the 1299, the 959’s seat quickly becomes uncom-fortably hot in slow traffic on a summer day. But the problem soon resolves itself when you speed up, and speeding up is what you want to do anyway when you’re riding a Panigale.
The transmission consists of a six-speed gearbox and a 1299-derived oil bath clutch, the latter featuring a pro-gressive self-servo mechanism that compresses the friction plates when under drive from the engine to give an extremely light clutch feel. Ride it hard and the same mechanism reduces pressure on the friction plates to function as a clutch “slipper”. The 959 has probably the sweetest gearbox I have ever encountered on a sport bike, with no clunkiness or missed shifts. The quick shifter also counts among the best, with no significant jerking or delay between the nudging of the gear lever and the actual gearshift.
Riding the new 959
Performance, while nowhere near that of the 1299, is still very respectable with 116kW and 106Nm on tap. When I received the bike, the engine mapping was set to Sport mode, but I felt it too tame for my liking. Once I set it to Race mode, I began to appreciate the bike’s agility. It practically begged me to take corners as low as I dared and power it out with a generous twist of the throttle, relying on the traction control to prevent me from making a fool of myself. This, combined with the fact that it is considerably smoother than the 1299 at low revs, makes the 959 a much more practical road bike – it still offers more performance and better handling than the average rider will likely need, but it is much less intimidating to ride at full taps when the situation allows.
I have been critical in the past of the bigger-is-better sentiment, and I sincerely hope that the 959 doesn’t suffer because of this. The 1299 is a hugely impressive bike and offers its owner massive bragging rights, but for my money the lighter, more practical 959 is without a doubt the better choice.
Model: Panigale 959
Type: Superquadro: L-twin cylinder, 4 valve per cylinder, Desmodromic, liquid cooled.
Maximum Power: 116.2kW @ 10 750rpm
Maximum Torque: 105.6Nm @ 9 000rpm
Fuel supply system: Mitsubishi electronic fuel injection system. Twin injectors per cylinder. Full Ride-by-Wire elliptical throttle bodies.
Fuel type: Premium 95 Octane RON
Type: 6 speed with Ducati Quick Shift
Final drive: Chain
Overall length x width x height (mm): 2 056 X810 X 1 115
Kerb weight: 200kg
Fuel tank: 17 litres
Front: 2 x 320mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo Monobloc M4.32 4-piston callipers, with ABS
Rear: 245mm disc, 2-piston calliper, with ABS
Front: Fully adjustable Showa BPF fork. 43 mm chromed inner tubes.
Rear: Fully adjustable Sachs unit. Aluminum double-sided swingarm.
WHEELS & TYRES
Wheel, front: 10-spoke light alloy 3.50" x 17"
Wheel, rear: 10 spokes light alloy 5.50” x 17”
Tyre, front: Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa 120/70 ZR17
Tyre, rear: Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa 180/60 ZR17
PRICE: R183 000