Middleweight motorcycles, those ranging from 500cc to 1000cc in displacement, hold a special place in my heart. In my opinion, they often have the perfect amount of power, that is they have enough to entertain you but generally not enough to cause them to be twitchy, or even frightening to some. More of the power is utilizable, and consequently you aren’t left with the frustrating sensation that you have this monstrously powerful motor between your legs, a minuscule fraction of which you can enjoy. So for me, when Ducati North America gave me the opportunity to ride their relatively new Ducati 959 Panigale, I was elated. A middleweight super sport bike, the baby Panigale was introduced in 2015 as the successor to 899 Panigale. Production began in 2016.
Though I’ve owned a big, 1200cc sport bike in the past, one of the bikes I own currently is a middleweight super sport. Its 636cc engine produces an output I find to be rather well suited to road riding. However, the displacement of the 959 is nearing the upper limit of the segment, with its 955cc power plant. Consequently, power is class leading as well, producing a claimed 157 horsepower. For something which weighs a mere 440lbs with all necessary operational fluids, including fuel, it’s a very serious proposition.
Firstly, I have to address the thing that likely impacts one’s first impression of a motorcycle, its appearance. I find the 959 Panigale, not unlike everything else Ducati has introduced in recent times, to be very aesthetically appealing. I’d go as far as uttering the word artful. Very similar to its larger sibling, the 1299 Panigale, it conveys the aspirational nature of a Ducati whilst still, motionless. Of course, such a thing is highly subjective, but if you disagree you’re plainly wrong.
Looks out of the way, immediately after throwing my leg over the machine, it’s premium quality became glaringly evident. The seat is firm, and though I wouldn’t describe it as comfortable, it wasn’t uncomfortable either within the context of the segment. Everything which your fingers come into contact with feels gratifying to touch. The only thing of this type which failed to meet my expectations was the turn signal switch, and that was only while canceling the signal.
Turn the bike on and the modern display comes to life. Depress the starter and the beast is awoken, along with an audible roar which invigorates and excites. This particular Friday afternoon was ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit, and it didn’t take long for 959 Panigale to become very hot. Particularly as I took a moment to familiarize myself with the clutch engagement and throttle responsiveness. Clutch pull was rather firm, though not egregious. Throttle response was perfect and predictable, something which cannot be said of all motorcycles.
Prior to departure, the kind representatives from the manufacturer politely insisted that the bike be left in the pre-selected riding mode, sport mode. Adding that it was best suited to the conditions we’d encounter during the ride. Upon departure, very little throttle was needed for a smooth takeoff. As I made my way to the first stop sign, the best name in braking, Brembo, made its presence known, with a strong, welcome and reassuring bite. Opening the throttle about a third of the way, it became clear that the power delivery was typical of a middleweight sport bike. Nearly 3/4ths of the way through the rev range, the motor really comes to life. Below that, power is sufficient but also not overbearing, making the bike more pleasant to ride at lower speeds as well. Coming to the first red light, I opted to test the rear brake and found it to be a bit lackluster when used independently.
Taking off again, this time with a bit more gusto, I was able to test out the quick-shifter. Basically, it enables you to shift through the gears without utilizing the clutch lever, making shifts faster. Not only were shifts faster, but they were as smooth as butter. Also, shift lever travel was minimal. Downshifts, thanks to the absence of an auto-blipper, generated phenomenal engine braking, and were paired with an orchestra of burbles and pops which emanated from the under-belly exhaust. The slipper clutch, too, assisted in preventing wheel hop during quick downshifts.
In turns, the 959 Panigale really shines. Being both agile and planted, the bike feels very stable through sharper, hairpin turns at speed. The stiffer suspension, courtesy of Showa and Sachs, inspires confidence at greater lean angles. However, over the often pothole laden roads, it can be jarring at times. Though, it isn’t a touring bike, so such things must be considered within the realm of their relevant context.
About twenty or so minutes into the ride, however, two things began to occur. My hands, not my wrists, began to hurt as the 959 Panigale has seemingly very thin handle bar grips for a super sport bike, where your weight is shifted forward. The other, much more dismaying thing, was the excessive heat radiating from bike. As I mentioned, it was a very hot day, and during the ride the engine oil temperature exceeded two hundred and twenty degrees. The bike became so hot that it began creating a slight burning sensation on my right inner thigh, and left mild redness for a few hours. It did, sadly, detract from my riding experience. As for the thin handlebar grips, that can be easily remedied.
During cruising, and throughout the rev range, the engine was smooth, devoid of annoying vibrations. Overall, a very refined machine which is purpose built for precision, and more palatable for road use than many super sports. Ideal for the rider who intends to use it on both the road and on the track, the 959 Panigale is very exhilarating, adding Italian flair to even mundane riding. An intangible character, and status synonymous with Ducati in general is ever present, further separating this bike from its competition. In totally, a truly wonderful motorcycle.