Why size doesn’t matter: Yamaha R6 v Ducati 959 Panigale on the UK’s toughest test route
Sporty middleweights serve up miles of smiles, but which of these two smart-looking screamers takes top honours on MCN’s super-tough test?
News just in. Buying a new sportsbike doesn’t have to mean blowing the equivalent of your teenager’s university fund. Nor do you have to choose a 200bhp animal, a creature so fierce and removed from the normal world it can only be ridden with the help of clever electronics. No, there is another option: an old fashioned and almost forgotten class that continues to champion relative simplicity and manageable power. Step forward the sportsbike middleweights of
the moment: Yamaha’s YZF-R6 and Ducati’s 959 Panigale. Launched in 2017 Yamaha’s new-ish R6 is the only Euro4 compliant supersport 600 on the UK market, albeit one with its wings clipped by the latest emissions regs. Unfortunately, the process of cleaning the rev-happy inline four reduced its peak power from 122bhp to 116bhp and peak torque from 49.9ftlb to 45.5ftlb. To compensate, Yamaha added traction control, reduced the weight slightly with an aluminium fuel tank and improved the handling with a new front end, including forks and brakes from the R1.
Like Yamaha, Ducati had to make sacrifices to conform to Euro4. In 2016 the Italians launched the 959 Panigale, essentially an updated 899 with cleaner fuelling and an ugly twin exhaust and a seven kilo weight increase. The engine is a ‘stroked’ 899 Superquadro, now 955cc, which churns out 157bhp and 79.2ftlb, which is considerably more than the R6. This might be Ducati’s middleweight sportsbike, but there’s no hiding the fact its capacity is nearly 1000cc or that it makes nearly as much power as Ducati’s 2007 1098.
The Panigale is stunning. Ducati produce timeless classics time and again, and those exhausts are the only blemish on an otherwise exquisite bike (our test bike’s aftermarket Akraprovic twin sidepipes are more appealing than standard, but will cost you £1205 on top of your £13,999 initial outlay). Yamaha’s R6 has also risen in price over the years to a giddy £11,499, an eye-watering ask for a standard 600. Our test bike was laden with Yamaha extras such as paddock stand hooks and a racy rear sprocket, which pushed the price to a £12,521 and, just like the Ducati, it’s stunning.
Riding the R6 for the first time is like going on the world’s shortest stag party. You immediately become over-excitable, go racing around and slightly crazy before sobering up and calming down again; all inside 15 minutes. Yes, for the first few miles of the MCN250 test route I didn’t change gear until 15,000rpm, only used the first three ratios, and hit every apex as if it were my last. Then I realised this was a one-way
YAMAHA YZF-R6 £11,499 (OUR TEST BIKE £12,750) DUCATI PANIGALE 959 £13,999 (OUR TEST BIKE £15,543)