IS BIG­GER BET­TER?

Du­cati’s 1299 Pani­gale beats the 959 on pa­per in ev­ery cat­e­gory, but the bat­tle isn’t fought on pa­per, itõs fought on the road...

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Road Test - By Si­mon Har­g­reaves MCN GUEST TESTER

It wasn’t many years ago that rid­ing a full-blooded Bolog­nese V-twin with com­mit­ment chal­lenged rid­ers to adapt from their usual style. The 916 was like that; so was the 999 and 1098. Rangy, tall, light and aris­to­crat­i­cally haughty, you had to come to a Du­cati sports­bike; it wouldn’t come to you.

But as the 1299 S and 959 Pani­gales ping and ting, con­tract­ing and cool­ing in the fad­ing glow of this year’s last sun­light, the truth is these days, the doors to Du­cati’s range of sports­bikes are wide open.

But which door to pick?

The 1299 S is at the top of Du­cati’s sports­bike range (ex­otic Su­per­leg­gera and 1199 R aside). Its 1285cc V-twin is still at a 90° V-an­gle and the valves are still ac­tively closed by Desmod­romic levers, but belts and pul­leys are now cam­chains and sprock­ets, steel trel­lis frame is now mono­coque alu­minium, and the once un­tame­able power, stiff sus­pen­sion and re­sul­tant chat­ter­ing tru­cu­lence are dis­tant mem­o­ries on this ma­chine.

This morn­ing, as we clat­ter through the early morn­ing Lin­colnshire coun­try­side, the 1299 was do­mes­tic bliss. Its rid­ing po­si­tion is com­pact but not cramped, and pro­vided the Du­cati is mov­ing for­ward at any­thing above 50mph, it’s even close to be­ing com­fort­able – the chest-level wind blast takes weight off wrists. Tour­ing might be a stretch, es­pe­cially with the fuel light com­ing on at 100 miles (13 litres to re­fill, so a full-to-empty range of just 130 miles). But there aren’t many places in the UK out­side a 1299 Pani­gale’s com­fort range.

But the real treat is how smooth and man­age­able the mo­tor is – it’s still less flex­i­ble than an in­line four; you can’t poo­tle about in top at 30mph; but you no longer have the bone-shak­ing, teeth-rat­tling driv­e­train lash of pre­vi­ous sports Du­catis if you drop out of the mo­tor’s happy place. And the big Pani­gale’s throt­tle con­trol is per­fect – it’s easy to me­ter in ex­actly the right dose of gas with­out an on/off chas­ing around look­ing for the sweet spot.

“It’s not what I was ex­pect­ing,”

reck­ons James, whose last Du­cati sports­bike out­ing was a 1098 with a bad at­ti­tude. “It’s still a Du­cati – there’s noth­ing like the way it blasts when you open the taps – but it feels in­tu­itive and... well, nor­mal, re­ally.”

The 1299 comes armed with ev­ery toy in the box; Öh­lins semi-ac­tive, in­te­grated with trac­tion con­trol, ABS and en­gine brak­ing man­age­ment into cus­tomis­able Race, Sport and Wet modes. It’s sim­ple to switch, push­ing and hold­ing the in­di­ca­tor can­cel but­ton – but it both­ers me I might dou­ble tap it by ac­ci­dent.

In Race mode the 1299 belts out its full 190-odd bhp but de­liv­ers the ex­treme high per­for­mance with such ci­vil­ity it’s al­most il­le­gal to think it, let alone ac­cess it. Mas­sive midrange thrust is a given, but there’s no snatch or un­usual del­i­cacy re­quired to make the mo­tor work. In Sport, power is also maxed but throt­tle re­sponse is rolled back, while in Wet the throt­tle is softer still and power is dulled to 120bhp. All other elec­tron­ics are au­to­mat­i­cally adapted to suit.

But away from but­ton-push­ing, the 1299 is a boom­ing, blus­ter­ing riot to press on with – alive, chim­ing, and res­o­nant with an easy-go­ing charm. And boy, it’s good to look at too – beau­ti­fully-crafted and packed with alu­minium love­li­ness. Un­like most cur­rent Ja­panese su­per­bikes, the 1299 comes with a high me­tal-to-plas­tic ra­tio, which makes own­er­ship so sat­is­fy­ing. It’s still got foibles though; the damp­ing cham­bers on the top of the shock stick in my left leg, and while the un­der­seat heat­ing of the ex­haust rout­ing is wel­come as the sun goes down, it would be too hot in sum­mer traf­fic.

At a mid­day cof­fee and fuel stop, James and I swapped keys and did a quick dou­ble-take as we walked to­wards the bikes from the garage. The 959 Pani­gale is the spit of the 1299. The dif­fer­ences, aside from the mo­tor’s dis­place­ment and 142bhp power out­put, are Showa and Sachs springs in­stead of the Swedish op­tion, low­er­spec Brem­bos, a plas­tic hug­ger in­stead of car­bon, LCD dash, non-imu elec­tron­ics, 10-spoke wheels and a dou­blesided swingarm. Both share rake and trail fig­ures, wheel­base varies by a few mil­lime­tres, and the smaller bike ac­tu­ally weighs 7kg more than the big ’un. That’s be­cause much of the 959 is the same as the 1299 – same frame, en­gine

‘There’s noth­ing like the way a Du­cati blasts when you open the taps’

cases, gear­box, gear ra­tios, body­work and tank – but, un­like the 1299, the 959 is Euro 4 com­pli­ant so it’s had to make room for a big­ger cat­a­lyst.

This 959, how­ever, has £4000-worth of ex­tras. These in­clude an Akrapovic ex­haust and the nec­es­sary bel­ly­pan to ac­com­mo­date it, a taller screen, trick brake and clutch levers, and a comfy seat. It also has an ex­tra tooth on a rear sprocket, bring­ing its gear­ing back to the same as the 899 Pani­gale’s.

The re­sult is pure joy. Louder than the 1299 S, so it sounds more like it means it, the higher-revving, freeer-spin­ning 959 also feels lighter and more flick­able (even though it’s ac­tu­ally heav­ier). Set-up with more weight over its nose and a nar­rower rear tyre the Mini­gale comes alive as soon as you get on it. It feels just right – a bet­ter bal­ance of power and chas­sis than the 1299. The mo­tor’s per­for­mance is more ac­ces­si­ble more of the time and is just about right for a proper flog­ging, crack­ing through the gear­box, quick­shifter bang­ing and pop­ping with more ap­petite than the lazier 1299, but for the same road speed. It makes full use of its low­ered gear­ing with the odd off-the-crest wheelie, and could prob­a­bly hap­pily spin an even larger fi­nal cog – at 90mph in top the 959 is revving at 6600rpm com­pared to the 1299’s 6000rpm, but it’s so smooth there’s next to no dif­fer­ence. Which is no bad thing. This 959 is also a bit eas­ier on the mus­cles with its taller screen too – it looks a bit 1950s racer, but when the wind’s against you it’s ap­pre­ci­ated. Two Du­catis that are use­able and you don’t have to ride like a WSB rider to en­joy them, or feel like you’re do­ing them jus­tice. What a rev­e­la­tion.

Smaller in ca­pac­ity, but cer­tainly not lack­ing in abil­ity Ad­vanced elec­tron­ics make 190bhp feel civilised. Well, al­most... A shared chas­sis means the 959 is a match for the 1299 on most roads

Lower-spec brakes have ABS but aren’t an­gle sen­si­tive The 959’s dash is less flashy, but is still nice and clear Cor­ner­ing ABS and Brem­bos, it doesn’t get any bet­ter The full colour dash’s dis­play mode can be var­ied Don’t be fooled by the yel­low spring, it’s not Swedish No need to break out the screw­driver, just push a but­ton Weight 201kg (Kerb) Wheel­base 1431mm Weight 190.5kg (Kerb) Seat height 830mm Wheel­base 1437mm

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