Before I get on with the new Panigale 959 as reviewed here, let me give a short history with my experience riding the original Ducati Panigale 899 back in October 2013 during its global official media launch by Ducati. The global motorcycling media were invited to the event that was held at the Imola circuit in Italy. Ducati had more than 24 units of the Panigale 899 for the media to test ride it around the Imola circuit, and it basically took them approximately a week to complete the entire test ride event as the media were brought there separately on different days according to their region/country.

The Asian and American media’s turn on that track day was greeted with an all-day raining spell – there goes the plan of riding the Panigale 899 to the max at the Imola circuit. Despite the 899 being fitted with Pirelli wet weather tyres – the same type used for World SuperSport (WSS) and WorldSBK championships, my experience on wet weather riding above 250km/hr is quite limited, and I found myself to be somewhat slow than the rest despite knowing the tyres would grip at lean cornering angle common for track day riding.

The rain got heavier after 2pm, and Ducati decided to cancel the afternoon session altogether, which made my stint on the Panigale 899 to be quite short. And it was almost 13 months later (November 2014) in Malaysia that I got to test ride that model again, this time at the Sepang circuit.

I am not a fan of track day riding – while I enjoy riders dueling it out during WorldSBK and MotoGP either watching it from live telecast on TV or as part of the media covering both events during their respective weekends at Sepang, going round in circles personally lap after lap doesn’t interest me a lot. What any new motorcycle could do, I think 5-6 laps of track experience is adequate per bike, that’s my view.

As a bike reviewer, I am not chasing championship points nor prize money when reviewing a new bike at a circuit. Once I know how fast a bike could reach on 6th gear on the start/finish straights, whether the default suspension settings could allow me to negotiate the corners at high speeds without it understeers or oversteering, and how fast I could change direction from one corner to the next, these are all I needed to know for my review rides. So doing a full day of track time isn’t something I look forward to.

It wasn’t for another 3 months before I could eventually take the Panigale 899 out for a few days’ worth of individual review ride on public roads and highways – the type of tarmac most buyers of the Panigale 899 would be subjecting their bike to. My first impression of the 899 on public road was awesome – it’s like riding either a Honda NSR150RR or a Yamaha RX-Z 135 motorcycle but with the added advantage of having more power on tap to accelerate out of messy congestion situations.

Messy as in the type one comes across when dealing with the daily city congestion encountered as a biker – both afore-mentioned smaller capacity motorcycles are slim enough to lane filter thru the traffic but sometimes their acceleration is just not optimum to really power out of some situations. The Panigale 899 gives me that option of doing just that. Slim enough to cut thru the congestion, and enough power to reach the other side of the traffic lights X-cross junction long before they turn amber midway.

As with every model of Ducati’s line-up of high performance motorcycles, the Panigale 899 is another V-Twin machine. Being a sportsbike, the tuning is different from other Ducati models aimed at the adventure, touring and lifestyle riding segments. Yes, the Panigale is fast on the straights and quite agile on twisty roads. Unlike the Hyperstrada/Hypermotard models, the Panigale 899 doesn’t feel slow when riding on the highways and boring, long straights. However, all that excitement of riding the Panigale 899 was only amazing when you are riding it solo – meaning not joining your biking buddies on weekend rides, majority of whom are riding those 800/1,000cc inline fours.

That’s when I found out the 899 to be left wanting as its acceleration out of slow corners leaves a lot to be desired. What’s more surprising is it not as fast out of the slow corners against the likes of the Honda CBR600RR or the Kawasaki ZX-636R. It could only keep up with those inline four 600s on fast corners, not the slower ones.

FAST FORWARD TO THE PRESENT: Riding the Panigale 959

As the successor to the Panigale 899, I am very keen to find out if the Panigale 959, with revised engine capacity to 959 and Euro4 specifications, has what it takes to iron out the limitations encountered with its predecessor model.

The all new Panigale 959 comes equipped with a new, more powerful engine featuring a slipper clutch, ready to unbridle with a racing attitude. Built on an improved chassis integrating a monocoque frame, together with fully adjustable suspension, the new Panigale 959 has all the ingredients as high performance sportsbike that is not only fast but also agile, lightweight and compact to cut thru any traffic congestion with ease.

As predicted, the Panigale 959 has all the positive aspects of the 899, and fixed whatever limitations the latter had, as I could feel the extra leverage when accelerating out of those slow corners which I had encountered previously with the predecessor during a group weekend ride.

The 899 was fitted with Pirelli’s Diablo Rosso II but the 959 comes with the tyre brand’s Super Corsa SC, which is super grippy for all but wet weather surface. The Diablo Rosso II on the 899 offers excellent grip on rainy weather ride but subjecting the 959 to the same condition is risky as the SC are not the tyres recommended by Pirelli to dice with slippery tarmac. Switching the TC setting to “RAIN” mode on the 959 allows the bike to behave less aggressively during wet weather riding but it doesn’t prevent the bike from any low-side slip-off should the rider goes throttle-happy with it in such an adverse condition.

Like the Panigale 899 and other Ducati models, the new Panigale 959 has the familiar growly grunt for its exhaust note due to its V-Twin configuration design, sounding more like a diesel-powered engine as opposed to the smoother tone emitted by a parallel twin or an inline four type.

With an increased engine capacity, a higher horsepower and improved acceleration out of slower corners, something has to give for all these benefits right? Yes, there is one such sacrifice – the engine heat. The Panigale series, from the 899 to the 1299, is based on the chassis-less design from Ducati’s involvement in prototype bikes from MotoGP where the V-Twin engine is the “stress member” – there’s no main chassis to be bolted into, the front part cylinder is attached to the afore-mentioned monocoque frame while the sub-frame is bolted to the rear end of the second cylinder, with no aluminum nor steel chassis in-between.

Which means both the rider’s thighs are basically “flanking” the rear engine cylinder when riding the Panigale 959, with the only protection between getting the thighs burn or otherwise is 2 rubber covers shaped like the cylinder casing itself on both sides of the bike, located just the below the seat and next to the petrol tank. Most of the time, I could feel the engine heat whenever the Panigale 959 lies idle while awaiting the traffic lights to turn green from my side of the road junction.

Occasionally, the engine heat could be felt as well when riding slowly on unusually higher traffic congestion than normal. However, the heat is almost non-existent when the Panigale 959 is let loose on what it is designed for – leisure riding at the speeds it is capable of.

The fuel capacity is 17-litre, with 4-litre remaining once the low fuel warning lights up, enough for the rider to find a station to refill within the next 80km on cruising mode, or 40km at full throttle hunting. The consumption is similar to an inline four 1,000cc sportsbike despite the Panigale 959 features a V-Twin engine design. The extra torque it is capable of as a V-Twin means the 959 consumes approximately the same amount of fuel as most inline four 1,000cc sportsbikes.

Like the Panigale 899, I likened the Panigale 959 akin to either a Honda NSR150RR or a Yamaha RZ-Z in handling and riding agility but with the added advantage of extra power to get out of messy/tricky traffic snarls during city ride.

Posted by Philip Chong

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