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)

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