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Ducati 959 Panigale Track Review

26 May 2016, 10:52 PM Vikrant Singh

What is it?

This is the new Ducati 959 Panigale. It is priced at around Rs 14 lakh ex-showroom, only comes in red (in India), and is here to make you feel a bit awful about buying the Triumph Daytona 675, R or otherwise. It also replaces Ducati’s previous sub litre-class sports offering the 899 Panigale, and even though the 959 Panigale might not look too dramatically different from the 899, the changes, Ducati assures us, are significant. Read more about the changes here.

So, why did Ducati feel the need to up the capacity from 899 to almost 1000cc even though the 959 is clearly not a litre-class challenger? Ducati says it loves its V-Twin engine layout. But, the 899 had lost some of that meaty, usable torque characteristic that truly sets Ducati’s V-Twin apart from inline fours. So, increase in capacity via a longer stroke seemed to be the answer. And this is how it feels to ride…

How does it ride?

Disclosure: We rode the Ducati 959 Panigale only on the track, so things like ride quality, heating issues and the overall living with it bit will have to wait till we ride the 959 here in India. But, on the track, the Panigale was an absolute dream. And what a track too!

The Chang International Circuit at Buriram in Thailand is one of the smoothest circuits I have ridden on. It’s a good mix of fast, flowing corners, and tight, odd ones finding the right lines for which took me all day. And even then, I couldn’t get them spot on. The 959 Panigale though seemed completely at home here.

What a gorgeous piece of machinery, and not just in the way the 959 looks parked under the sun, but the way it handles the whole track spectacle. It makes 155bhp and 107Nm of torque from its 90 degree L-Twin Superquadro engine. But since it runs a longer stroke compared to the 899, the torque curve is meatier and easier to access.

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Ducati 959 Panigale

Ducati 959 Panigale

  • Displacement955 cc
  • Max Power(bhp)145.3 bhp
  • Kerb Weight197.5 kg
  • ;

Last known Avg. Ex-showroom price

₹ 14,74,434

On the long straights of Buriram, the 959 dispatched the revs in quick and effortless fashion and the quickshifter eased things further requiring no more than a light flick of the left foot to go up through the gears every time the red lights flashed on the dash. All the while with the throttle wide open. Within seconds I was sitting on the blurrier side of 200kmph. Easy, fast, and thanks to the smart electronics, grounded is what best describes the 959 Panigale when ridden flat out in a straight line.

Then came the corners, along with some hard braking, and the 959 kept producing one mouthwatering goodie after the next. The 959 Panigale now gets a slipper clutch so the clutch is light and under quick downshifts there’s none of the theatrical wheel hop or fishtailing; the 959 just tracks completely straight. And the brakes are outstanding.

The 959 runs twin 320mm rotors along with top spec M4.32 Brembo monobloc radially mounted calipers. And these are tremendously powerful but require the gentlest of efforts at the lever. The feel and progression – not to mention the grip from the front end – just instills so much confidence that it urges you to really go hard on the brakes.

It also puts an arm around your shoulder encouraging you to put the Panigale into the corner as hard as you desire. Now, the 959 might not feel the lightest or most telepathic at corner entry, but the feedback and grip from its front end allows you to chuck it into bends with carefree abandon. And when leaned over, the 959 does your bidding to the tee. There’s lots of lean clearance, it goes where you want, and even if you run wide courtesy carrying a little too much speed into the corner (as I did), it still allows you to come back in with no drama whatsoever. This one really is a forgiving motorcycle.

The grip from the tyres and suspension is right up there. Sure, Ducati would have dialed in the perfect setup for this track with the 959’s completely adjustable front and rear suspension. But the point is, it can be done, no matter what the track or a rider’s skill level; all one needs is some patience and knowledge. The only place where the 959 Panigale requires some effort and planning is quick direction changes. And it’s mainly a physical thing, which doesn’t rob the bike of its handling prowess.

And then when it’s time to exit the corner one can comfortably rely on the 959’s traction control. Set to five in Sport mode, it allowed me to get on the throttle sooner and more aggressively without actually having to wait for the bike to be upright. The Pirelli Rosso Corsa rear tyre which uses Super Corsa compound on the edges to keep the rear end slides to a minimum, must be given due credit here. In Race mode though with the TC set to a more liberal setting, I did feel the rear come loose a bit, but nothing that didn’t sort itself out in quick time.

Anything else should I know?

The Ducati 959 Panigale is a stunner to look at, especially in the flesh. The proportions, the lines and the detailing on the bike – pardon the cliché – make you go weak in the knees. You can keep looking at it for hours and you’d never tire. And because it resembles the bigger, pricier and surprisingly lighter 1299 Panigale, the desirability of the 959 shoots through the roof; its twin barrel Euro IV compatible exhaust pipes notwithstanding.

But, for all its lovely handling, grunty performance and stunning visual presence, the 959 Panigale has its shortcomings. The side stand for instance is a pain to use, hidden away from the rider’s sight and access. The instrumentation, though great looking and extremely informative, isn’t the most intuitive in its functioning. And I also didn’t like the 959’s low-speed engine noise. And believe me, it is noise. But of course, as you open that throttle and let the revs fly, the engine note acquires a baritone and a grunt that is easy to like.

The 959 Panigale also comes packed with a lot of technology. So much in fact that we had to do a completely different piece on it. You can read it here.

Should I buy one?

Ducati in India is already taking bookings for the 959 Panigale and the deliveries for the motorcycle should begin in a couple of months. As we mentioned earlier, you’d only be able to buy the bike in red and it retails for a little over Rs 14 lakh ex-showroom. Now, whether you should spend this money or not completely depends on what you are looking for. Visual drama? Sure. Easy to access adrenaline pumping performance? Yes. A good track day motorcycle? Absolutely! And an everyday commute option? Well, we’d have to wait to ride it in India to comment on that.

Where does it fit in?

Now here’s the interesting bit. Ducati clearly refuses to follow the general norm when it comes to sport bikes. It had the 1199 Panigale to take on litre-class bikes. Similarly, many moons back, it had its 749 to take on 600cc middleweights. But, with the launch of the 1299 Panigale and now the 959 Panigale, Ducati has thrown out the traditional rulebook. So, where does the 959 Panigale fit in then? According to Ducati, it will attract litre-class superbike prospects as much as it would the middleweight upgraders. But, these prospects will be those who appreciate the finer things in life like luxury and technology and will be willing to pay for it. 

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