2016 Ducati 959 Panigale Review: First Ride of Ducati's New Super Mid

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Introduction: What's New With the 2016 Ducati 959 Panigale?

2016 Ducati 959 Panigale
The 2016 Ducati 959 Panigale incorporates a wider nose, bigger intakes, new fairings, and a taller windscreen. Milagro

How much is enough? When it comes to so-called middleweight motorcycles, the Ducati Panigale 899 ticked a lot of boxes for power hungry riders who wanted to opt out of the full-bore 1199 or 1299. With its big 898cc L-twin, the 899 pumped considerably more power than a true middleweight like a 600cc or 750cc bike, but wasn’t quite as intimidating as the full blown top dog.

With change coursing through the Ducati superbike family, the 899 gets replaced by the 2016 Ducati Panigale 959 (with the same starting price: $14,995 with red paint). What’s new with this (even larger) so-called Super Mid? For starters, the engine retains the same bore but increases its stroke to yield a 955cc displacement. Output climbs from 148 horsepower to 157 horsepower (a 2 percent gain), and torque increases from 99 Nm to 107.4 Nm (up 4 percent). Horsepower now tops out at 10,500 rpm, a 250 rpm drop from its previous peak.

The 959 also inherits additional showerhead injectors from the racing world, and a bigger, 1299-sized exhaust pipe that is said to dissipate heat more effectively than the previous, smaller pipes. Borrowed from the As before, the new Panigale 959 features a Big Piston Fork up front and a steering damper, electronically adjustable riding modes, ABS, traction control, and engine braking. This time though, the 959 extends the wheelbase from 1,426mm to 1,431mm, with a lower swingarm pivot for added high speed stability. Cosmetically, the new Panigale 895 gains a wider, 1299-like nose and larger intakes, while new fairings and a taller windscreen round out the visual package.

How do these changes feel on the track? Click ‘Next’ for track riding impressions. 

 

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On the Track: Slicing and Dicing Valencia with the New 959 Panigale

2016 Ducati 959 Panigale
Tackling a corner at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain aboard the Ducati 959 Panigale. Milagro

The press intro for the new Ducati 959 Panigale was held at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain, a relatively tight 2.5-mile circuit featuring flowing, smoothly-paved tarmac and packed with 14 fairly technical corners. Fire up the 959's big twin engine, and the familiar Ducati chug-a-lug bark emanates from the underslung exhaust, an impatient, bass-heavy thump whose sole purpose it seems is to remind you that you're not riding a run-of-the-mill inline-four cylinder.

Exit the pits, and the Panigale accelerates gradually until it picks up its stride at around 6,000 rpm, at which point its LCD tachometer shoots forward until it hits a soft rev limiter at around 11,500 rpm. If you wait to see the red rim flash around the LCD instrument panel you've waited too long; peak torque occurs at 9,000 rpm, and shifting near that point drops you into a fat portion of the power band that pushes the bike ahead with even more insistence.

The first left hander at Valencia is a relatively quick corner that reveals the 959's flickability; it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to get this 429 pound (wet) bike on its side. Once it's leaned over, the Panigale settles in with stability, eating up the corner with ease. Clad with sticky Pirelli Supercorsa SC2 tires, the 959 Panigale felt directionally secure and sure-footed, producing enough lateral grip to encourage increasing corner speeds-- it surely doesn't hurt that the 959's frame is identical to the 1299's, and even shares the same part number. Gassing the throttle on the exit revealed a smooth transfer of power to the rear wheel; if throttle is applied aggressively enough, traction control kicks in, depending on its setting (from 1 to 8), the tire can slide out enough to show you the bike's not holding back, but not so much that you wouldn't feel confident whacking the throttle on the next corner. 

In its most conservative ABS setting, the 959's anti-lock system kicks in a little too eagerly on the track; loosening the reigns produces stops strong enough to lift the rear wheel (and get your wrist nice and sore if you're really laying into it). But as you pick up speed out of the corners, the 959's smooth delivery and tapered power doesn't put you on alert quite as dramatically as, say, a bigger displacement, more potent bike. The new slipper clutch also encourages aggressive downshifts without upsetting the chassis (and it's about time this bike gets a slipper clutch, since the feature is found on beginner bikes), while the Ducati Quick Shift system enables clutch-free upshifts and relatively fast cog swaps. Though the bike generally performed harmoniously at Valencia, the engine seemed to surge slightly coming out of two particular corners. I couldn't find a logical explanation other than the possibility that the dynamics of those corners worked with traction control to create a fluctuation in power delivery.

Sharp, accurate, and powerful enough to hit a peak indicated speed of 160 mph on the circuit's straight, the 2016 Ducati 959 Panigale was just enough bike for a circuit of this size, and likely more than enough motorcycle for your needs.

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2016 Ducati 959 Panigale: Bottom Line, Specifications

2016 Ducati 959 Panigale
The 959 at Valencia. Milagro

The 2016 Ducati 959 Panigale takes a step up from the 899 with incrementally more power, the addition of a much needed slipper clutch, and restyled bodywork. Though it gains weight over its predecessor (which might turn off some purists), the 959's increased power-to-weight ratio maintains the bike's ability to feel faster than a typical middleweight (without nipping too closely at the heels of bigger torque monsters like the 1299.) How much is enough? In the case of the 959, this 157 horsepower superbike feels just right.

Specifications

  • Engine: 955cc L-twin
  • Output: 157 horsepower @ 10,500 rpm, 79 lb-ft torque @ 9,000 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual, with Ducati Quick Shift (for upshifts only)
  • Seat Height: 32.6 inches
  • Suspension: Fully adjustable with Big Piston Forks, steering damper
  • Electronics: Adjustable riding modes (while stationary), traction control, ABS, engine braking control, DDA telemetry ready 
  • Curb Weight: 429 lbs
  • Price: $14,995 (red)

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