A 157 BHP motorcycle is no joke, especially not when it weighs just 200 kg and looks like that area of the Internet the government doesn’t want you to see. Motorcycles like these fall into an extremely serious bracket of performance, and to have that kind of power and aggression is not a luxury — it’s a sin. Sinners we are, then, since we found it impossible to turn down an invitation to let loose the Ducati 959 Panigale at the Chang International Circuit in Thailand.
The CIC is fast, very exciting and deceptively technical. Thankfully, Ducati paired up the 959 Panigale test ride with its Ducati Riding Experience programme, which meant we could actually put the 959’s engineering through the kind of riding it deserves. The 959, for those who came in late, is the successor to the already-fantastic 899 Panigale, which was one of the most loved middleweight motorcycles in the world. Compact, visually identical to the flagship Panigale and packing performance that was mind boggling, the 899 shook the foundations of lightweight, angry, faired motorcycles. The 959, however, is an even more serious machine — it’s nearly a litre-class bike, to begin with, and every little niggle in its predecessor has been thrown right out of the window. The result is, as you might have guessed, a motorcycle that’s nearly perfect.
The 959 is powered by a 955cc Desmodromic L-twin — the traditional Ducati engine layout — with four valves per cylinder, and it’s this layout that helps the dimensions in being so slim and compact. If you’re wondering why Ducati didn’t call it the ‘955’ instead, it’s because it sold a model by that name 20 years ago. It was a race-replica called the 955 Corsa and yes, the 959 will beat the living daylights out of it, regardless of the rider or conditions — that’s how much of a merciless evolution it really is. With 157 bhp barging right through the door at a dizzying 10,500 rpm, the 959 is plain scary – or it would have been, were it not for its incredible electronics.
What we like
Looks; power; handling
What we don’t
Not a whole lot
The 959 has electronic rider assists for acceleration, traction, braking, gearshifts, power delivery — pause for breath — and to make it not wheelie or stoppie. Three insightfully designed riding modes — Rain, Sport and Race — decide what assistance and power output you really need, and this results in a riding experience that beggars belief. The racetrack-only review experience suddenly makes a lot of sense. It’s time to head out, then.
At close to 270 kph down the main straight, you raise your head above the 959’s windscreen to brake for the first corner, and thus begins your baptism into the world of extreme motorcycles. The 959 does nothing untoward, except for shaving speeds with incredible precision, and with a slight shift in body weight, it leans over onto its side with electric agility. Knee-sliders get the scrubbing of a lifetime and within your helmet, it’s a heady cocktail of adrenaline, fear and prayer.
It’s so fast, so clinical and yet so soulful — that’s the beauty of how Ducati has designed its flagship middleweight. Every component on it looks like a work of art, and every aspect of its performance opens your eyes to a world of highly-evolved yet easilyadaptable motorcycling (all of this for Rs 14.3 lakh, ex-showroom, Mumbai). Performance like this definitely doesn’t belong on the roads — unless the Autobahn is your backyard — but because there is so much technology backing it, you will be certain to arrive home with more or less the same anatomical properties as you left home with.
The 959 Panigale is every bit an Italian, in form and function, and despite the overdose of technology crammed within its anorexic frame, it has retained the raw, mental character that has made Ducatis the legendary motorcycles they are.