2016 Ducati 959 Panigale First Ride Review

Ducati boosts the engine size of its smaller Panigale to create the new 959

Ducati has been on the gas lately, the Italian manufacturer introducing a total of nine (yes, nine) new models at the 2015 EICMA show held this past November in Milan, Italy. Among the more notable bikes unveiled that day was the Scrambler Sixty2, Multistrada Pike's Peak, Hypermotard 939, and this, the 959 Panigale, which only a few days after the show I had the chance to ride during a one-day test at the Circuito de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo.

Is bigger really better, and can you actually call a 955cc twin a supermid? I was about to learn the answer to at least one of those questions.

New Bike, New Bits

The 959 gets some aerodynamic upgrades such as a wider front fairing and taller and wider windscreen. Mirrors (removed for the track test) are also like the ones on the 1299, with shorter stalks than before. Overall, we'd say it's pretty hard to disagree with the bike's looks.

Just as it did in 2015 with the 1299 Panigale, Ducati has upped the ante in 2016 with the “smaller” Panigale, giving the previous 899 the same stroke measurement as the 1299 to create the new 959 Panigale.

Looking at the other updates, they are minimal but important, with the engine’s slight increase in stroke from 57.2mm to 60.8mm necessitating a new crankshaft and connecting rods. The piston crowns are slightly different, while strict Euro 4 noise emissions standards required the fitment of a different exhaust system with dual mufflers on the right side (thankfully absent from US models), as well as a ribbing on the cylinder heads and valve covers, and a different cam chain. Exhaust diameter was increased from 55mm 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.

Thanks to the bike using the same cast-aluminum monocoque two-piece frame that uses the engine as a structural member, updates to the chassis are limited to a 4mm-lower swingarm pivot that's claimed to improve rear tire grip at the exit of a corner.

The 959 engine’s slight increase in stroke from 57.2mm to 60.8mm results in a total displacement of 955cc, which in regards to peak power, puts the Ducati on a more level playing field with bikes like the MV Agusta F3 800 and Suzuki GSX-R750. Other changes include slightly different piston crowns, plus a different exhaust system with dual mufflers on the right side (for non-US bikes), as well as a ribbing on the cylinder heads and valve covers, and a different cam chain, which was necessitated by strict Euro 4 noise emissions standards.

What It's Like

I had spent a couple of days on an 899 Panigale last year at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, so I had a good idea of what to compare the 959 to. It didn’t take long to realize the difference between the bikes either, with the 959 very clearly having power all over the 899—and not only more of it through the rpm range, but smoother power, too, with fewer dips and bumps in the powerband. Ducati claims 157 hp, an increase of 9 hp from the 899’s 148 hp at 10,500 rpm, and a torque peak of 79 ft/lb (a massive 6 ft/lb increase over the 899) at 9,000 rpm. Fortunately, the same Ducati electronics suite of RbW (Ride-by-Wire), DTC (Ducati Traction Control), EBC (Engine Brake Control), DQS (Ducati Quickshift), and Bosch ABS does an excellent job of keeping everything under control.

With the DTC set to Level 2 in the Race mode, the new 959 Panigale comes off the corners well and continues pulling hard as the rpm rises. I did find though that you need to exercise some care in Race mode when opening the throttle midcorner, as the 959’s increased and more responsive torque comes also with a slightly more abrupt throttle transition. If anything, it’s more of an annoyance, and is very manageable; you just have to be aware of it. Throttle response is softer in Sport mode (with the rain-intended Wet mode softer still), and perhaps a little too soft for the track, which is why I left it in Race mode for the majority of my laps.

Handling is best described as light and responsive, with the 959 Panigale's 430-pound wet weight making it easy to keep the bike on line.

Setting the EBC at Level 3 (least engine braking) and taking full advantage of the slipper clutch was a big help under braking, as it allowed for the rear end to step out just enough while hammering downshifts to aid but not interfere with corner entry.

Speaking of braking, the feel and control provided by the Brembo M4.32 monoblock calipers and 320mm discs was outstanding, allowing trail-braking deep into the corner without issues. The fully adjustable Showa 43mm Big Piston Fork offered a solid feel in all conditions, though while the fully adjustable Sachs rear shock performed admirably, we were wishing for a slightly stiffer spring in the back to counter some squatting under acceleration. Midcorner stability was rock-solid, and although initial turn-in at speed took some effort (a likely by-product of the rear end squat), overall steering habits were light and agile—the 959’s 430-pound wet weight surely helping matters here.

The 959 Panigale gets a taller and wider windscreen, similar to the 1299 Panigale, and this definitely helps keep the windblast off you down long front straights better than the comparatively skimpy predecessor. You can carry a little more confidence as you move around on the bike too, as Ducati has also updated the footpegs to ones like what you’d find on the 1299, which grip your boots far better than the previously useless pegs used on generations of Ducatis that were only good to rest your feet on when cruising in a straight line.

Another big benefit is the 959's Brembo M4.32 monoblock calipers and 320mm discs, which offer up great braking power and allow you to trail-brake all the way into a corner with absolute confidence.

Final Thoughts

All told, the small tweaks that Ducati engineers have made to the package, combined with updates to the "Supermid" superquadro engine, have yielded great results for the new 959 Panigale. This is the type of bike that you can really feel like you're squeezing all the potential out of, instead of the 1299 Panigale where at times you feel like you're only along for the ride. Yeah, calling a bike with a 955cc engine a midsize machine is a bit of a stretch, but after a ride on the 959 Panigale, you probably won't care one bit.

Kudos to Ducati for staying on the gas and creating yet another new model that outshines its predecessor.

2016 Ducati 959 Panigale
MSRP: $14,995
Type Liquid-cooled, DOHC 90-degree V-twin, 4 valves/cyl.
Displacement 955cc
Bore x stroke 100.0 x 60.8mm
Compression ratio 12.5:1
Induction Mitsubishi EFI, elliptical throttle bodies with 62mm equivalent diameter; dual injectors/cyl.
Front Tire 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa
Rear Tire 200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa
Rake/trail 24°/3.78 in. (96mm)
Wheelbase 56.3 in. (1431mm)
Seat height 32.5 in. (830mm)
Fuel Capacity 4.5 gal. (17L)
Claimed curb weight (90% fuel load) 430 lb.
Electronics Riding Modes, DTC, EBC, ABS, Ducati Quick Shifter