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How wonderful a feeling it is to remember your roots and pay homage to it with your flagship product. That is exactly what Ducati did with the Panigale when they named their superbikes lineup after the Borgo Panigale region in which the Ducati HQ is located. The first in the series was the 1199 which replaced the 1198. The 848 was replaced by the 899 which we rode in China in 2014.
However now it was time to ride the 959 which will replace the 899 Panigale, but this time in Thailand. So the journey starts with bumping into Ravi Avalur, CEO Ducati India at Bangkok Airport
David James, the man behind a lot of great stuff that happens with Ducati APAC, I personally owe him a lot!
Signing the indemnity bond, in case I crashed and ruined the nice paint job. Actually no, they just wanted me to be safe.
The 959 ride was clubbed with DRE (Ducati Riding Experience) which is a great way to get on a Ducati and learn riding skills from some of the best out there. My trainer was Manuel Poggiali, the man who beat Jorge Lorenzo to take the top spot on the podium as the world champion in 2001 (125CC, now Moto3 on a Gilera) and 2002 (250CC, now Moto2 on an Aprilia)! And he is from a country called San Marino which is in Italy. Other instructors included people like Alessandro Valia who is the lead tester at Ducati.
We were then transferred to a the city of Buriram with a connecting flight and then another bus (phew). Buriram literally means city of happiness. Damn well it was going to be, considering the machines that we were about to ride. I was actually asked by a couple of locals if I was going to Buriram for football. It was then that I did a quick search to find that it is the home of Buriram United Football Club which competes at the Thai national level. The city is also known for the i Mobile stadium. However for us petrolheads the area of interest was the Buriram United International Circuit (BRIC) also known as Chang International Circuit, the construction of which started in March 2013 and it was opened in October 2014.
The track is the first FIA Grade I certified circuit and also the first FIM Grade A circuit in Thailand. It also hosted a Japanese Super GT round in 2014. Other racetracks are being planned, such as a motocross circuit.
On March 22 2015, the first ever Thailand round of the World Superbike Championship was held at the circuit. Both of the Superbike races were won by UK rider Jonathan Rea and the World Supersport race was won by Thai rider Rathapark Wilairot, much to the delight of the Thai spectators.
I should not be stating the obvious. The bike is gorgeous, as all Ducatis are, with the exception of a rare few (most notably the DS1000). Have a look below! The only request I have from my end to Ducati is to have more visual demarcations between the smaller and larger capacity Panigale.
Buriram is a great wide flowing world class track. The 959 Panigale in Sport mode had just the right amount of settings to allow me to get used to the bike and the track. The last two sessions were ridden in Race mode where the rear ABS was disengaged completely and the traction control was intruding less to the extent of letting the bike slip and slide on hard acceleration in the corners. Of course if it was someone like Alessandro Valia he would have made it look classy unlike me which was more to do with correcting the lines.
I am not a fast rider on the track and I take a bit of time to change mode from touring to track mentally. However, I won’t exactly say I am slow either. I gathered that the Panigale can be a very fast bike, much beyond my capabilities. The electronics have improved vastly over the years on the Ducatis, they are almost on a level where you cannot even sometimes tell that they are working in the background. Compensating a hard throttle during a corner could be a good example which could possibly prevent a low side. Talking about corners, one major difference between the ‘entry level’ Panigale 959 and the 1299 as far as safety electronics go is the Cornering ABS, but by no means are the electronics in the Panigale 959 to be taken as ‘inferior’.
The quickshift has to be one of the best features in a bike this and it worked flawlessly. In the hands (or foot) of a seasoned rider it can actually help shave off a precious second or so compared to a non QS equipped motorcycle.
Check out the lineup below of the DRE Instructors. The collective experience and talent is mindblowing! You can probably identify the odd one out.
Getting a certificate for completion the DRE felt sort of nice.
Now a little more about the bike. Due to ever tightening emission norms, Ducati had to stop selling the Panigale 899. They had two realistic options to continue, reduce the power on the existing bike to meet emission norms, or spend tons of money, time and resources to produce the same power while meeting emissions norms. With the numbers that the 899 pushes, it wasn’t very feasible to walk down the latter and the Italian manufacturer couldn’t possibly reduce power on their motorcycle! That would be unthinkable! So Ducati chose to increase the engine capacity to ensure power increased, and still meet Euro4 norms.
This would be almost unthinkable on a 600cc supersport motorcycle, considering that it would make it ineligible for competitions like World SuperSport. A problem which Honda is facing with the CBR 600RR and Euro4 norms. That bike from Honda will possibly be phased out soon, unfortunately. Ducati could save the baby Panigale because the 899 was in any case a stretch at calling it a supersport. Now the bike is just 45cc shy of being in litre class territory, but to be honest it doesn’t belong in either, it has made a niche for itself.
Ducati increased the stroke of the 899 to get the 959. The bore remains constant at 100mm, while the stroke has been increased from 57.2mm to 60.8mm, the same stroke length as used in the big brother Panigale 1299. This increase in stroke necessitated a new crankshaft and connecting rods. The piston crown also gets a different design, while the compression ratio remains the same as the 899 at 12.5:1.
Possibly the biggest visual and emission norm change has come in the form of the dual barrel exhaust. This rather visually obtrusive exhaust was essential to get the bike ready for Euro4. That is why the American and Australian versions of the 959 will continue using the underbody exhaust that looks gorgeous on the 899. The exhaust diameter has also been increased by 5mm to 60mm. And at the other end of the fuelling, the throttle bodies get dual injectors. The showerhead type injectors has a primary injector which is assisted by the secondary injector post 6500RPM.
The new Panigale 959 also now comes equipped with a slipper clutch and a softer clutch lever. The slipper helps tremendously while riding aggressively and was a boon while downshifting on the race track where we rode the bike. You can really hammer through the gears without worrying about a lockup.
Thanks to the increased displacement, power is bumped by 9Hp to 157Hp as compared to the 899. Torque also sees a substantial jump to 107.4Nm from the 99Nm on the 899. And this increase in torque is the one thing that is the most prominent while riding. The bike is so much easier to ride, hold steady through the corners and in general more rider friendly. We are sure this increased torque will also make it a better machine for the streets.
The Ducati Panigale 959 gets the entire gamut of electronics from the 899. The electrowizardry on this bike are Ride-by-Wire, Ducati Traction Control, Engine Braking Control, Ducati Quickshift and ABS by Bosch. Thought the electronics are the same the parameters have been tweaked for the larger capacity 959. You get three ride modes to choose from, Race, Sport and Rain. Race being full blown power delivered super aggressively, while Sport is fun to ride in without scaring the bejabbers out of the rider, while Rain is a bit soft with a power reduction of around 35%! The Traction Control is 8-step adjustable and ABS gets 3 options. One of the downsides is that the bike needs to be stopped to change the settings and cannot be done on the move. The quickshifter assists the already smooth 6-speed gearbox, which results in flawless shifting through the rev range.
The Brembo M4.32 Callipers and 320mm discs get the job done of stopping the bike without any problems, but a bit more bite would be helpful, especially when riding on track. A fully adjustable Showa 43mm Big Piston forks and fully adjustable Sachs at the rear work well, with the rear feeling a trifle soft for the track in its default setting.
On aerodynamics the front fairing is taller and wider as compared to the 899, which is a boon for larger sized riders. Though it is very difficult to notice visually except if you have both bikes in front of you. The chassis which allowed the 899 to be such a sweet handling motorcycle is employed on the 959 as well. Though the swingarm pivot is 4mm lower which increases the wheelbase by 5mm. This was done to accommodate the exhaust, and will also aid in corner exit according to the company. Probably help with straight line stability as well, even if just a fraction. The downside of the exhaust is that it makes the bike 7kg heavier, with the 959 weighing in at 200kg wet. Though the increase in weight would not make considerable difference in real world riding conditions. The bike also sports a rear sprocket with one tooth less as compared to the 899.
The 959 is much cheaper than its elder sibling the 1299 and comes with a few tricks less up its sleeve. Including engine casings which are aluminium instead of magnesium in the 1299. Weight saving measures such as this helps the 1299 be a whopping 9.5 kg lighter than its younger brother! Though now the two bikes do share the stroke length, there is one other takeaway from the 1299. The super slippery pegs from the 899 have been replaced with the machined pegs from the 1299, which are a boon when riding on the track. The 1299 might be a different kettle of fish as compared to the 959, but for the price difference, you just can’t complain!
Ducati has priced the Panigale 959 at 13.97 Lakh INR (Ex-showroom) Delhi for the red, with the white not available currently in the country. At that price point it stacks up nicely with the Triumph Daytona 675R which is priced at 12.14 Lakh INR (Ex-showroom) Delhi.
And a few add ons for the Ducati 959 Panigale
Ducati 959 Panigale Review : Tech Specs and Comparo
So what will be next from the Ducati stable? Will they further increase the capacity for the next upgrade and get it into the litre class. The next logical nomenclature upgrade would be 999! I wouldn’t mind seeing a new interpretation of the classic 999 as the Panigale 999. I think the classic 999 was the best looking Ducati of all time. And what is the road ahead for 1299, only time will tell. Whatever it will be we are sure they will all be beautiful and a hoot to ride.