Man, I fucking hate this bike. No, I love it. It’s killing me. It’s making me feel alive. Why the hell would I put down good money for something like this? I’d probably buy it in an instant. I’m taking it straight back to the showroom. Actually, I never want to give it back.
It’s been a while since a motorcycle (or, indeed, any piece of automotive machinery) made me feel like this, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve become used to a world of comfortable definitions, where things are either awesome, middling or downright horrible; there’s not much out there that evokes a whirlwind of different emotions in me, and when something like that arrives and shakes me out of my reverie of safety, I want to fight it. How dare it make me question my views? Why should I listen to what it has to say, even though I know it’s probably got a point? It doesn’t slot easily into pre-sized spaces, so it must, by definition, be without purpose, and that’s that.
Except that it isn’t. The Ducati 959 Panigale is many things in one scintillating, excruciating package, and to ride it is to marvel at what the Italian firm has achieved, as well as to sigh in relief when your ride comes to an end. For starters, it looks so good that it should come with an R-rating; it simply oozes sex appeal from every square inch of its lithe, razor-sharp red body (it’s a Ducati – it has to be in red). It’s an incredibly compact, lightweight sportsbike, and it invites you to hop aboard as soon as you lay eyes on it, which is what any great bike should do. Once astride it, you realise that although you’re tucked into a neat riding position, you’re also straining parts of your body that you wouldn’t on an upright street bike – and this is where you begin to wonder what you’ve let yourself in for.
What we like
Amazing looks, insane performance, racebike handling
What we don’t
Too hardcore for most, a lot of work to ride
Here’s a set of numbers for you – 955cc, 157 bhp, 107.4 Nm, 200 kg (wet). Chew on those for a minute and you’ll realise that they’re completely bonkers – you’re essentially sitting atop a fairly respectable cruise missile. When you fire up the L-twin engine, a cacophony of industrial noises bursts forth from it and the twin exhaust pipes, settling into a strangely intoxicating, metallic grumble that is a country mile away from the smooth burble of an inline-four engine. You have a myriad of riding modes to choose from, each involving varying degrees of traction control, ABS involvement and other electronics, and once you input your preferences (just leave it in Sport, if you ask me), it’s time to hit the road.
From the off, the 959 has one aim in mind, which is to get from where you are to where you want to go as quickly, dramatically and brutally as possible. The first two gears alone will have you hanging on for dear life, tucked right into the frame, every sinew protesting at the pressure that’s being exerted on it, the 959 searing a trail along the road. The quick shifter is a boon, because your left foot will be busy rapidly flicking through the gears, as you near the Ducati’s 264 kph top speed, road permitting. Even though you’re concentrating fiercely on keeping things right side up, you’re acutely aware of every little thing the bike is doing – how planted it feels, how it responds instantly to the minutest steering input, its laser-like focus around corners, its immensely capable brakes. You see everything on the road more clearly, anticipating what other vehicles are going to do so that you can take appropriate action. Your mind races, your body sizzles with adrenaline, you’re right there in the moment.
You’re also wondering why the hell you’re putting yourself through this full-body experience, especially in any sort of traffic. At anything less than comfortable cruising speed, the heat from the engine barbeques your inner thighs to perfection. Your wrists beg for mercy, from the weight that’s being put on them and from constantly operating the clutch and brake levers. Your neck and lower back start to feel numb, from being bent into that committed riding position, and all you want to do is leave the damn thing on the side of the road and take an Uber home. Then you find a clean stretch of road, wring the throttle open and all is forgiven, as the rest of the world is left behind in a blur. Rinse, repeat. I love this bike. Take it away from me. I can’t handle it any more. I wish I could keep riding it…