2016 DUCATI 959 PANIGALE JOHN McAVOY
Ducati 959 Panigale vs 1098, Kawasaki ZX-10R ready for winter, Triumph Speed Triple S power boost, plus Yamaha YZF-R1
AS MY TIME with the Ducati 959 Panigale comes to an end, there is one aspect I have wanted to revisit since my very early days with it. When it was first strapped to the dyno, it served up 142bhp, which is virtually identical peak power to the Ducati 1098, a bike that 10 years ago was at the forefront of V-twin tech, but now makes the same power as Ducati’s entry-level superbike. So is the headline power figure a red herring, or does today’s smaller Panigale actually stand up to the 1098?
With a loan of PB reader Matt Brown’s 1098S for a day, Chris and I set off for an unscientific blast round local roads to see how they feel. It is a perfect autumn day, the trees have turned golden, but the air is still warm so the tarmac is dry and grippy.
I take the 1098 first and before we leave PB’s office car park it’s immediately obvious it is from a different era – it feels more cramped, with higher footpegs, a longer reach to the narrower handlebars and useless mirrors. It takes some adapting to after the spacious layout of the Panigale, which is a small bike with a big riding position. It really lets you grab hold of it and take charge, while the 1098 feels like stepping back in time. Because it is. You have to dial into the 1098’s riding position and access its handling on its own terms.
The 1098S’s engine is stunning. It’s been a long time Chris has to work for his speed on the 959 since I rode one, and I had forgotten just how punchy the motor is, lifting the front off the throttle and in places where the 959 simply doesn’t.
The Panigale feels tight, fresh, fit and modern, easy to use, and above all else sharp and super-responsive, where the 1098 feels much less compromising if you’re not up for doing things its way. You need more revs with the 959 and need to hold on to the power longer than its bigger-capacity brother – at 8000rpm the bigger bike is making 30% more power.
The 1098 has much more low and mid-range power and torque than the 959, but Chris hits the nail on the head during a coffee stop: “Because of the power delivery on the 1098, you can get a short, sharp hit of naughtiness on it, whereas you need to work for it on the 959, revving it much harder.” Generally, Chris was less enthusiastic about the 959 than me, preferring the 1098’s authenticity. He describes the 959 as a halfway house to the real deal, while also acknowledging that ultimately the 959 would be a faster bike due to its overall package and use of modern technology rather than just the might of its engine.
The 959 certainly destroys the 1098 when it comes to nimbleness and chassis feedback, despite having comparable geometry. The 1098 uses a steel trellis frame that supports the front end, engine, subframe and swingarm. In many ways it is a very conventional layout. Whereas the 959 uses its airbox as the frame. By casting the airbox from aluminium alloy, it doubles
up as a monocoque chassis on to which the front end, engine and subframe are fixed, with the swingarm being bolted to the engine.
I have been one of the biggest critics of middleweight Ducati sportsbikes in the past. I have to admit, they tend to underwhelm me, but not once in the last six months have I found myself wanting for more on the 959. It’s a very decent improvement upon the old 899 as a roadbike, but a world away from the 1098 in terms of its technology, feel and power delivery. What this autumn blast has proven above all else is that the 959 is actually a perfect reminder of how big a jump Ducati made when they moved to the Panigale concept. No other manufacturer has made that kind of step-change and it gives the bike a totally different character. I’ll miss it.
Johny and Chris head out two Ducatis of very different capacity but very similar power
Stealth-mode 1098S delivers considerable shunt, but on its own terms
Johnny and Chris assess the pair over a pastry
1098’s unmistakable face still gives Johnny wood 10 years later