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?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Content - By Adam Child SE­NIOR ROAD TESTER

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

ticket to dis­as­ter and started to ride nor­mally. And this is when you’ll start to dis­like the R6.

At nor­mal speed there’s noth­ing below 6000rpm. Tester Bruce said it was like rid­ing a two-stroke, while above 7000rpm there’s at best a glim­mer of ur­gency. You re­ally need to get the en­gine spin­ning above 10,000rpm to get into the sweet zone where, in­fu­ri­at­ingly, Euro4 con­straints have stran­gled the power and left it gasp­ing for air, like you’re rid­ing at 20,000 feet.

I know from past ex­pe­ri­ence that a full race pipe trans­forms the R6 but in stan­dard form it’s a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing, es­pe­cially on the road. Ev­ery over­take on the busy MCN250 was met with frus­tra­tion as I danced grumpily on the gear lever in search of power.

In con­trast the Du­cati was easy. I hopped on board the V-twin af­ter our stop at the Su­per Sausage Café and was taken aback by its sup­ply of power and torque. As Bruce on the YZF was per­form­ing the River Dance, I was surf­ing waves of man­age­able torque; I’d al­most for­got­ten how us­able a big twin is. In fifth gear it will pull smoothly from nowhere, mak­ing over­takes ef­fort­less. The easy torque meant the ride along the B4525 and A422 was a plea­sur­able breeze: quick but man­age­able.

By Strat­ford, though, I started won­der­ing if at the age of 40 I have out­grown the sport­ing mid­dleweight. Both bikes are un­com­fort­able, bor­der­ing on painful af­ter 100 miles. Above 40mph the wind­blast lifts you slightly, tak­ing weight from your wrists, while at mo­tor­way speeds both bikes were sur­pris­ingly easy. But, below that, in town es­pe­cially, no thanks.

Af­ter Strat­ford and our first fuel stop I was back on the R6 and look­ing for­ward to at­tack­ing the twistier sec­tions of the MCN250. There’s no deny­ing Yamaha have im­proved the front end, which is an im­pres­sive re­sult given that it was al­ready class lead­ing. The steer­ing is light and ac­cu­rate. Look at the apex and you’re on it, like a cat pounc­ing on its prey, so it’s a shame the rear end doesn’t match the front, es­pe­cially when you throw a few bumps into the mix. The sus­pen­sion is too harsh and jolts over

‘Surf­ing waves of torque; I’d for­got­ten how us­able a big twin can be’ ‘Look at the apex and the R6 pounces on it like a cat’

bumps and, on show­room set­tings, there isn’t enough sag in the rear spring. On a smooth race track, it just about works, but on the smaller roads af­ter Fish Hill my spine took a beat­ing.

By con­trast the Du­cati was planted, hun­gry for cor­ner speed and filled who­ever was on it with con­fi­dence. It turned slightly slower than the R6, but was more pre­dictable, which let me en­ter cor­ners with more lean and speed.

The Mil­ton Keynes GP high­lighted a weak point of the Du­cati: its Brem­bos. They’re more than OK but date back to 2013, and lack bite on the limit. The R6 stopped with more ur­gency and loved to be flicked from one round­about to the next.

But Bruce still wasn’t lov­ing the R6. He said: “It wants you to ride it hard, but you can’t. The stan­dard Dun­lops and set-up, plus the small mat­ter of the law of the land, just don’t al­low you to ride it like a race bike on the road (which, es­sen­tially, is what it is).”

Af­ter run­ning an R6 for a year, I know it’s a phe­nom­e­nal bike once its mi­nor gripes are rec­ti­fied. Al­low the en­gine to breathe with a full race ex­haust, change the stan­dard tyres and tweak the sus­pen­sion and it be­comes a com­pletely dif­fer­ent bike.

My prop­erly set-up R6 would have smoked the Du­cati on a track ses­sion, but we’re not test­ing what could have been. The thing is the Du­cati doesn’t need chang­ing or fix­ing or mod­i­fy­ing. It works su­perbly from the start.

DU­CATI PANI­GALE 959 £13,999 (OUR TEST BIKE £15,543) YAMAHA YZF-R6 £11,499 (OUR TEST BIKE £12,750)

The boom­ing Du­cati is so much eas­ier to get on with

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