Ducati’s Panigale 959 shows why smaller may be better when it comes to road-friendly Italian exotica on wheels
Being overshadowed by a sibling can’t be easy, especially when that sibling excels in the same field. While manufacturers often launch two or three different versions of the same sports bike, it is usually the one with the largest capacity engine and higher speeds that hogs the headlines.
Then again, the figures often justify the awe. Ducati’s sexy 1299 Panigale S features a 1,285-cc V-twin engine that puts out an astonishing 205 hp. To put that in perspective, a Toyota Corolla Altis makes do with 121 hp, but weighs more than six times as much. Needless to say, the Panigale S is rather fast. Ducati doesn’t quote performance figures, but it is a fairly safe bet that top speed is well in excess of 300 km/h.
Little wonder that its Panigale 959 smaller brother, which probably runs out of puff around 260 to 270 km/h, doesn’t make so many headlines. Despite losing out in bragging rights, there is much to be said for the smaller capacity bikes, starting with price. At S$39,800, the Panigale 959 is listed at a S$20,000 discount to its 1299 Panigale S bigger brother. (At press time, there is no confirmation that the yet more expensive limited edition 1299 Panigale S Anniversario will be available in Singapore, though there has been some customer interest). Top speed is also something of a moot point—you’re probably looking at spending time in jail if you’re caught riding any Panigale model at its top speed on a public road.
Which leaves the racetrack, where surely the bigger Panigale will wipe the floor with its slower sibling? Not necessarily. Ironically, the faster bikes tend to be more intimidating to ride, and frequently, only record faster lap times in the hands of very experienced riders or professional racers. That user-friendliness may actually make the 959 a more satisfying track-day bike for many owners, and almost certainly one that is happier to make the daily commute.
Interestingly, the 959 Panigale is also the first Ducati sporting the Superquadro engine to comply with Euro 4 carbon emissions regulations, which means reduced mechanical noise. Ducati has achieved this compliance by including a ribbed design to the aluminium top covers, as well as a different timing chain arrangement.
In the upgrading of the engine from its 899 predecessor, Ducati has also increased the stroke, which increases engine capacity and theoretically, torque, which is the key to drivability on the road. Other internal changes include the pistons, con-rods, crank journal lubrication system, and even DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating on the piston pins and rocker arms, for reduced friction and increased fatigue strength.
The 955-cc engine naturally sports Ducati’s renowned Desmodromic valve actuation, which does away with valve springs entirely, so the camshafts are responsible for both opening and closing the two 41.8-mm intake and two 34-mm exhaust valves per cylinder. Lest potential buyers worry about servicing costs for such exotic engineering, Ducati has set the service intervals for valve clearances at every 24,000 kilometres, and general servicing every 12,000 kilometres or 12 months.
The upshot of all the engine changes is a power output of 157 hp and a healthy torque output of 107 Nm, all fed to the rear wheel through a six-speed transmission, which features Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) technology. Using the DQS system—which can be disabled—a microchip in the gear change lever activates a pre-programmed response from the engine control unit to cut the fuel injection and ignition for the milliseconds it takes to select the next gear. In essence, the rider can change up gears without using the clutch or changing the throttle position at all.
Downshifting has become less fraught too, with the inclusion of a slipper clutch that limits the engine braking effect and thus reduces the possibility of upsetting the balance of the bike under heavy braking and downshifting. The clutch also features a self-servo mechanism that puts more pressure on the clutch plates under acceleration, meaning better efficiency as well as a lighter action on the clutch lever. This again points to a bike that is more comfortable in road riding situations.
Like the 1299, the 959 Panigale features a monocoque chassis, in which the engine is part of the structure, and is connected to fused aluminium structural elements that connect all the parts. Plus, there is a range of electronic settings that adjust the antilock braking system, engine brake control and traction control systems.
Arguably the biggest selling point with the 959 is not its performance. Instead, it is something that the 959 shares with just about any piece of Italian exotica on wheels—its sheer beauty. There is a form-follows-function element to it, as with most motorcycles, but somehow Ducati manages to transcend the genre with its racetrack-inspired lines.
The 959 Panigale is also available with exclusive Arctic White Silk pearlescent paintwork and contrasting red wheels—just in case you want yours to stand out from the 1299 crowd.
By Tony Watts