2016 Ducati 959 Panigale First Ride Review

Adam Waheed | December 1, 2015

More displacement, more power, more Ducati. Ducati increases the engine capacity of its 959 Panigale Superbike ($14,995) for what it thinks is the perfect blend of power and control.

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Although we touched on the major technical updates in the 959 Panigale First Look preview, there are additional details to reveal. In addition to the longer-stroke Superquadro engine (identical stroke measurement to the 1199/1299), engineers fitted another pair of showerhead-style fuel injectors atop the throttle bodies. This complements the extra displacement, netting a stronger spread of power throughout its 11,500 rpm powerband (a 200 rpm increase compared to the 899).

Other powertrain upgrades include the fitment of the 1299 Panigale’s 60mm diameter exhaust pipes, a slipper-assist clutch basket and high-flow paper-type air filter. The cylinder head and case covers were also tweaked slightly to reduce noise in compliance with Euro 4 emission/noise standards. Like its 899 predecessor those components on the 959 are manufactured from cast aluminum instead of the 1299’s lighter magnesium bits.

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The swingarm pivot point is lowered by 4mm. That along with a one-tooth smaller rear sprocket extends wheelbase by 5mm. The shape of the component is also slightly different to accommodate the dual muffler European-spec exhaust system. Pictured above is a U.S. machine.

On the chassis side, the double-sided swingarm has been tweaked (to accommodate the European-spec shotgun-style side exhaust) and the pivot point is 4mm lower (similar to what Ducati did in 2013 with its R-spec 1199 Panigale). Further changes include a one-tooth smaller rear sprocket and wheelbase stretches by 5mm. Another notable improvement is the addition of high-grip machined footpegs for both rider and passenger.

Rounding out the hardware updates are a wider upper fairing with an added set of air intakes, a taller windscreen and fixed-position mirror stays. Ducati says the tail section is tweaked as well, but we couldn’t notice a difference visually compared to the outgoing 899.

PANIGALE EVEN MORE FUN-SIZED

During the course of our last few tests, the junior Panigale has established itself as the preferred Ducati Superbike for corner carving missions, both on the street and racetrack. Why? Because it’s more manageable engine size makes it easier to control at full-tilt. And the 959 reinforces that sentiment.

Still a revver, the added piston stroke helps the Ducati accelerate off turns with extra gusto. Strangely, the 959’s mid-range boost isn’t as extreme as we remember during the 1199/1299 transition (which increased bore, instead of stroke), but it does increases the vehicle’s flexibility. Riders don’t have to work the 959’s shift lever nearly as much compared to the 899, as the extra torque can pull a higher gear in some corners.

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The 959 Panigale is still a revver but the added stroke and addition fuel injectors boost mid-range power slightly helping the junior Panigale accelerate off turns.

As usual, the Ducati’s factory-equipped quickshifter makes smooth work of upshifts, however, it could actuate faster versus other factory e-shifter set-ups we’ve tried recently from Japan and Germany. It would also be neat if engineers borrowed the 1299’s auto-blip/downshift-assist function, but considering its price (MSRP is the same as the original ’14 899) we’re happy to engage a lower gear the old fashioned way, with synchronized hands and left foot.

Exhilarating with calibrated throttle response, the 959 delivers the buzz we crave from Ducati sportbikes. Yet with its three-way adjustable engine power, and eight traction control settings, it can be sampled more easily, in a wider range of environments and rider skill sets. Riding at your favorite racetrack? Put it in ‘Race’ mode. Wanna pop wheelies on the weekend? The ‘Sport’ setting is perfect for that. Riding on a tight, damp or unfamiliar road? Then you’ll want the ‘Wet’ setting.

Another nice touch is the easier squeezing clutch lever. We also like the clutch’s mechanical back torque limit function (prevents rear wheel hop), which complements the Electronic Brake Control (EBC) that modulates the amount of fuel entering the engine during deceleration. The EBC controls engine brake effect during high-rpm downshifts.

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Suspension and brakes are carry-over parts from the 899 but they get the job done without any drama on the 959 as well. Although more simple looking than the 1299’s full-color display, the monochrome set-up is easy to read while riding. Electronic adjustments however have to be made while the motorcycle is stationary.

959 Panigale Settings
Suspension
Fork
Preload: 16 (Turns in)
Compression: 0.75 (Turns out)
Rebound: 2.0
Shock
Preload: Stock plus two turns (2mm)
Compression: 0.5
Rebound: 7
Electronics
Power Mode: Race
DTC: 3
EBC: 3
ABS: 1

In spite of its four-pound weight increase, the 959 continues to dance well. It’s a nimble bike that can be placed with precision while delivering the right sensation at lean. Obviously the fitment of Pirelli’s racing-spec Diablo Supercorsa tires to our test unit boosted handling capabilities (it comes off the showroom with longer life, but less grippy Diablo Rosso Corsas). Stability was top-notch too, but to be fair there isn’t a ripple on the recently re-paved Circuit Ricardo Tormo upon which we spun an hour’s worth of laps. Though the Showa and Sachs suspension components didn’t change, nor did the Brembo/Bosch-sourced brakes, they perform without flaw at a spirited pace.

The high-grip footpegs (which now adorn Ducati’s entire sport line-up) allow for greater control by providing a sturdy leverage point. We continue to enjoy Panigale’s adeptly proportioned control layout, however, taller-than-average riders might feel a tad cramped – although the taller windscreen mitigates that complaint slightly and is a welcome change. The monochrome digital dash panel is clear and simple to decipher at a glance, and once you learn the nuances of the menu system, making changes is a snap. The only strike against the menu system is that adjustments have to be made at a standstill, not on the fly, while riding.

A lot of people might complain about Ducati bucking traditional class hierarchy and rules with its nearly liter-sized entry-level 959. But this new Ducati represents all the things that draws riders to the Panigale pedigree: it’s fast but not intimidating, has the same thumping pulse, appearance, and much of the feel, however, it generates even wider grins for three-quarters the price of a standard 1299.

2016 Ducati 959 Panigale Specs
Engine: 955cc Superquadro liquid-cooled L-Twin; eight-valve, Desmodromic
Bore and Stroke: 100 x 60.8mm
Compression Ratio: 12.5:1
Fueling: Electronic fuel-injection, dual-stage fuel injectors
Clutch: Wet multi-plate with self-servo slipper function; hydraulic actuation
Transmission: Six-speed
Final Drive: Chain 15/43
Frame: Monocoque aluminum
Front Suspension: Showa 43mm inverted fork; three-way adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.72 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Sachs gas-charged shock; three-way adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 5.12 in. travel
Front Brakes: 320mm discs with radial-mount Brembo four-piston M4 monobloc calipers
Rear Brake: 245mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Tires: Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa, 120/70-17, 180/60-17
Curb Weight: 429 lbs. (claimed)
Wheelbase: 56.57 in.
Rake: 24.0 deg. / Trail: 3.78 in.
Seat Height: 32.48 in.
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gallon
MSRP: $14,995 (red); $15,295 (white)
Warranty: Two years unlimited mileage
959 Panigale Highs & Lows
Highs
  • Mid-range power expands slightly
  • A more well-rounded entry-level Panigale
  • Costs the same as the original 899
Lows
  • Missing auto-blip downshift function
  • Electronic adjustments can’t be made on the fly
  • Four pounds heavier
Racing an Ducati 959 Panigale
Racing and Ducati go hand-in-hand. But due to its 955cc engine capacity the Superquadro-equipped 959 Panigale isn’t eligible for competition in most top-level road racing series’ including World Supersport. Within the regional U.S. club road racing scene it’s eligible in Heavyweight and Twins race classes, as well as AFM’s 750 Production/Superbike categories. At this time, Ducati North America isn’t offering any racing contingency.

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Adam Waheed

Road Test Editor | Articles | Adam's insatiable thirst for life is only surpassed by his monthly fuel bill. Whether rocketing on land, flying through the air, or jumping the seas, our Road Test Editor does it all and has the scars to prove it.

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