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Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

  • December 14, 2015
  • Alex Medina and Solo Moto

2016 Ducati 959 Panigale: MD First Ride


The announcement of Ducati’s new 959 Panigale “middleweight” was not so much of a surprise. First of all, Ducati has driven its open class superbike displacement all the way to 1299cc. Perhaps more importantly, manufacturers are scrambling to update engines to comply with Euro 4 emissions requirements, typically revising them with an increase in displacement.

We gave you all the details regarding the new 959, versus the 899cc predecessor. The purpose of this article is to primarily describe our riding impressions after testing the new model at the Ricardo Tormo circuit at Valencia.

The first time I took the 959 Panigale out on the track, I came back with a surprising conclusion. I thought, “this is a great street bike”. How odd, when it is purely a racer at heart, and even able to turn a 1:41 lap time (not in my hands, mind you) at this circuit.

I reached this conclusion, because with the bike in “Sport” mode it was surprisingly easy to ride. The chassis was both precise and forgiving, and seemed to correct an earlier tendency to drift wide on corner exits.


The suspension worked well on the track, but at the end of the front straight, while hard on the brakes, and also through the second corner, it was too soft as set up for me. Nevertheless, I had the distinct feeling this bike would work well on the road … a venue supersports and superbikes seem to ignore lately.

After this initial session, I did modify the bike to make it work better for me on the track, and found a machine with boundaries way beyond my skill level. But let’s talk first about the significant changes to the new 959 Panigale.

Aesthetically, the 959 has an edgier faring, different seat and tail, and a new double muffler exhaust. These are not the things that make it a better bike, however. The new, more powerful engine and improved slipper clutch are the things you notice.


The larger displacement comes from a longer stroke (with the same bore). New cams, improved lubrication system and reduced mechanical noise result in a machine that satisfies Euro 4 while still making a step forward in performance.

The swingarm pivot is 4mm lower, greatly improving handling and traction on corner exits. All the typical Ducati electric magic is present, including quick shift, selectable riding mode, three-level adjustable ABS, traction control and engine braking.

The chassis geometry is essentially unchanged from the 899cc predecessor, with the exception of the lowered swingarm pivot. This is a development directly from WSB testing, where a similar change on the superbike was considered successful by factory riders Davies and Giugliano. Among other improvements, the superbike now finishes corners much better and I notice the same on the 959.

According to Ducati, at its home test circuit (Mugello) the new 959 is a second and a half faster per lap than the 899. More power, and smoother power everywhere, together with the chassis improvements, lead to this result.


After dialing in “Race” mode, I went back out on the track with reduced engine braking, less restrictive traction control and minimum ABS. I also made some suspension adjustments to stiffen things up. With these changes, throttle response was more direct, and engine pick-up was quicker. ABS is shifted to work only on the front brake – less intrusive and you only feel it when you might otherwise lock the front wheel. Riders skilled enough to lock the rear wheel as an aid to corner entry (not me) are free to do so.

In the end, this “middleweight” is more to my liking. Where the Open class superbike is just too much in many situations, the 959 has all the power I need, with a greater sense of control. It is also a bit less expensive, of course. This is a “superbike” for the rider that might not quite have the skill to control an 1199 or 1299. I think this was the goal of Ducati, and after a day at the track we think they achieved it.


See more of MD’s great photography:



  1. Gary says:

    I’d rather watch someone race one than ride one myself. No desire to be bent into an unkind pretzel shape.

    • Scott says:

      Depends on what you’re doing on the bike. For tight, twisty roads or race tracks, I’ll take “pretzel” every time. Commuting to work on the freeway? Forget it. I’m over sportbikes as daily riders. But I would LOVE a 959 as a dedicated track bike…

      • Gary says:

        Pretzel away, my friend, pretzel away. Don’t be surprised if someone sails past you on those twisty roads who is “unpretzaled.” It’s great that there is a growing number of performance bikes with humane ergos.

        • Scott says:

          I’m not too concerned. 😉

          • Norm G. says:

            i LOVE pretzels (brezel)…! OMG with sweet mustard…? contrary to their often “questionable” technology, the Germans really knew what they were doing when they made those.

            wait, this is not a foodie thread…? my bad.

    • Stuki Moi says:

      Do some squats and deadlifts. I’m no spring chicken, and while sport bikes aren’t ideal, for shorter (45 min) stints, they’re perfectly tolerable (until you hit a downhill…..). Also, the forward bend saves the lower back and knees compared to otherwise similar upright seated bikes. More upright ergos, require more seat to pegs, and longer travel, softer suspensions.

  2. Frank says:

    The bike is beautiful. Clip-on’s slightly above the triple clamp please..

  3. Neil says:

    I think dealers should have the option of installing street triple clip ons that are higher, made by Ducati. Easy to do. Otherwise a great machine that would be fun to cruise down the highway on. Having ridden my brother’s 1100 Multi on backroads, it was always being help up by those huge pistons not wanting to spin at low revs combined with the transmission. Gearing did not help as it just placed the trouble spot at a different speed where the motor was lugging. I rode the Scrambler with a Termi pipe on it the other day. That was a hoot so I can imagine what these full on sport bikes are like.

  4. Will Parker says:

    C’mon Ducati just make a 1000 supersport like the other brands. A V-4 is good enough for MotoGp, should be good enough for the masses. Or you just keep upping replacement until your flagship is 1999 twin..

  5. lenz says:

    Interesting comment about the general increase in engine capacity being widely adopted by manufacturers. The current logic of the ever tightening emissions control standards is deeply flawed. When an engine is forced to run on very lean mixtures there is a downside on performance and engine longevity if materials are stressed.

    Manufacturers counter with bigger engines to produce the desired outputs but in the process use more resources with greater bike weight to effectively produce the same power of a correctly fuelled smaller engine.

    Bring on the correct manufacturer response which should be the adoption of supercharged small engine capacity, reduced vehicle mass and all the benefits of lighter, more responsive motorcycles.

    • Dave says:

      I think weight goes up with power output. With a supercharger, the boosted engine must have heavier/stronger materials & engineering to withstand the increased output, even if the engine is of smaller displacement. Same goes for the transmission, mounting, etc. Add the weight of the supercharger and you wind up with the same, or more weight.

      This is what the aviation guys find (where weight is of the highest importance, after reliability) and they are also incentivized by the benefits of altitude normalizing. Still lots and lots of normally aspirated piston engines flying and begin produced.

    • Scott says:

      Are motorcycles too heavy and sluggish these days?

      • mickey says:

        New here? Lol.. I kid. Doesn’t every other post say each bike needs to shed 50 pounds and too heavily neutered through epa mandates, electronic nannies etc? Seems to be a common theme around these parts.

  6. Brian says:

    I always get excited when I see lap times quoted for a track where MotoGP runs. The 1:41 lap time mentioned in the story would have put this 959cc, 150-something horsepower bike on the grid all the way back at position # 32 in this year’s Moto 3 qualifying at Valencia (assuming a 1:41 flat).

    That’s Moto3, not MotoGP. Single-cylinder, 60-70hp. (And, of course, probably 200 pounds less weight, and slicks.)

    Amazing, really…

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      That is amazing.

    • todd says:

      A bike is only as good as it’s best rider. Perhaps the rider that clocked the 1:41 is not as good as the guy earning pole position in Moto 3. The only way to compare performance between bikes is by testing each one with the same rider on the same course in the same conditions.

      • Brian says:

        True, but you can get a general idea (presumably the 1:41 wouldn’t have been mentioned if it were a a slow time).

        Anyway, this isn’t an isolated example. Earlier this year Ducati publicized a lap time posted by one of their factory test riders on the 1299 Panigale (50 more HP than this bike) on their home track (Mugello). 1:55.3. The Moto3 pole position at Mugello this year was 156.6

        The point isn’t that road bikes are slow…it’s how crazy-fast something super light, with modest power, can be if it’s ridden by someone with skill and specifically focused on racing.

        • Provologna says:

          “…The point isn’t that road bikes are slow…it’s how crazy-fast something super light, with modest power, can be if it’s ridden by someone with skill and specifically focused on racing…”

          Two street legal race replicas compared to a 250cc single dedicated race bike: one is 959cc, the other is 1299cc. The 959 has almost 4x as much engine displacement. The 1299 has over 5x as much engine displacement.

          On one track the 400% misses the qualifying grid, on another track the 500+% has only 1.3 S advantage.

          IMO, saying the 250 is fast in this comparison (and OMG is it fast) is the same as saying the other two bikes are slugs considering their displacement advantage.

  7. TimC says:

    Is it just me…when I squint only a little I see a lot of 999 in there.

    • TimC says:

      Is it just me…is this the lamest comment ever to “await moderation”?

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        I’ve had “I really like this bike” await moderation, too. I don’t think there is any fancy algorithm deciding what to moderate or not. I believe it is largely random, though there are a few things that get moderated every time.

        • TF says:

          I was thinking it was based on whether or not your assigned avatar was smiling. I guess that’s not true.

  8. TexinOhio says:

    Wait a minute. The US version of the 959 has the under body exhaust. Not the shotguns in the review. Wonder what the difference is for the pipes from the US version to the EU version.

    • More BS emissions equipment required? The Euros used to be more strict…I think the US has them beat now with the CARB crap that was instituted 7 years ago.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        The newest EU regs are very strict. That is why they have the new exhaust and we don’t, actually.

        • TF says:

          The Euro exhaust might be a blessing in disguise if it helps with the heat through the seat complaints, right?

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            I can’t tell from the angles of these photos, but the spy shots of the bike before it was officially release looked like they had the rear header still making that loop under the seat pan same as the under-bike muffler arrangement. If that is the case, then chestnuts will still be roasting over an open fire.

          • Scott says:

            Nothing a pair of Nomex underwear can’t fix!

          • TF says:

            Yeah, I guess they need to make up that rear header length regardless where they mount the cat and mufflers.

    • Tommy D says:

      The US Spec has the under engine exhaust much like the one on the 1299 Pani. The Euro 4 standards are in effect with the end of 2016 in the EU nations. They are twice as strict as previous EU emissions and now have a durability test of 20,000km and still meet the requirements. That is why they had to come up with that major redesign for the exhaust with their 959.

  9. Norm G. says:

    re: “The first time I took the 959 Panigale out on the track, I came back with a surprising conclusion. I thought…”

    …aargh, I keep catching the heel of me boot on this bloody exhaust…!

    re: “After this initial session, I did modify the bike to make it work better for me on the track”

    got your chopsaw right here, no worries.

    • TimC says:

      Yeah Ducati seems obsessed with placing pipes to interfere with right heels, esp if ball of foot is on the peg. WTF?!

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