Like all great loves, giving form to the myriad feelings the Ducati 959 Panigale inspires is complicated; some things are just simply known. Perhaps I’ll try with two observations. First, this motorcycle is really, really good. Second, it makes me quite sad. At one point while riding it, an old Melvin Endsley song called “Singing the Blues” drifted into my head. Melvin is pining for a lover now gone and tears are his only refuge.
Oh, the moon and stars no longer shine
The dream is gone I thought was mine
There’s nothin’ left for me to do
But cry-y-y-y over you
I realize that’s awfully dramatic, but knowing I had to give the 959 back after reviewing it was a bummer. I’ll make every effort to not wax too poetic for I don’t want you, dear reader, to watch me turn into a blubbering mess. But, I need you to know why this bike is special. First, some context.
This is an incredible time to fall in love with Ducati, particular with its superbikes. The company recently unveiled a radical new direction for its flagship superbike line with the stunning Panigale V4. That bike has been charged with the unenviable task of replacing the absolutely mental v-twin 1299 Panigale at the top of Ducati’s food chain, and it does so with a brand-new 214 horsepower (!) four-cylinder motor, which makes the V4 the most powerful naturally aspirated production motorcycle ever.
Twin-cylinder desmodromic engines have been at the heart of every Ducati superbike since the iconic 851 stormed onto the scene back in 1988. Interestingly, however, the Panigale V4 is not the only Ducati to come packing a v-4. In 2008, Ducati released the brilliant and ultra-exclusive (see – ultra-expensive) Desmosedici RR which used a weapons-grade four banger, but that was bike was essentially a MotoGP machine with mirrors and was never meant for series production.
That brings us neatly to this object of my irrational desire, the 959 Panigale. With the end of the 1299 Panigale, the 959 is now the sole v-twin superbike offering from Ducati. And what a peach of an engine it has – a 955cc Superquadro that shells out 157 horsepower and spins to a heady 11,300 rpm. It has a lightweight crankshaft, all-new connecting rods, 12.5:1 compression ratio, and a special super strong coating applied to the piston pins and desmodromic rocker arms. No one does v-twins like the boys and girls from Bologna.
No one does styling like Ducati either. In my opinion, the 959 is one of the most attractive motorcycles on sale today, full stop. The tidy tail and airy gap to the rear wheel are so strangely sensual I feel compelled to avert my eyes. I also love the glowering intensity of the front end, and how only a red Ducati could make an exposed section of exhaust pipe look so provocative. It reminds me of Marilyn Monroe’s famous white dress photo – all coy and fetching and impossibly leggy. At one point, I caught a quick glimpse of my reflection in a shop window as I rode past and couldn’t help but giggle like an idiot.
Thumb the starter button and the dual belly-mounted exhausts punctuate the air with a concussive blast. Good luck having a normal conversation near the 959 while it’s idling; you’re better off trying to talk over an active cement mixer. Goose it, and the combination of exhaust note and clattering engine make for a shockingly physical experience. This is one of those motorcycles that begs you to bang down a gear and stab the throttle at every opening in traffic just to hear it sing. Pavarotti, where you at?!
(K. Said all that without fainting like a Southern belle. Let’s continue.)
One of the 959’s most impressive elements is its approachability. Like every hot Ducati it’s intimidating as hell on first approach, a feeling that’s only amplified when you swing a leg over it and fire it up. While the 959’s DNA may be imbued with brutality, even a novice sportbike rider (raises hand) can tame the beast. It’s a surprisingly comfortable and subdued machine when you want it to be, and doles out its impressive performance in a manageable and linear way when it’s time to hustle. I was delighted to discover the 959 is more velvet wrapped maul than belligerent jackhammer.
A lot of that approachability comes down the sheer amount of technology bristling beneath the bike’s skin. The 959 features enough electronics to get even Elon Musk all hot and bothered: three distinct riding modes, eight level traction control, ABS, and EBC. I kept all the systems in Sport during my 250+ mile test ride, and found that mode’s slightly softened throttle response to be ideal for every day riding.
Those miles saw me trundling between stoplights in downtown traffic, enjoying a few blasts on the highway, and blitzing a handful of back roads. I hesitate to use cliche phrases like ‘telepathic steering’ to describe how the 959 handles, but the steering really is superb, and changes in direction are buttery smooth. And, because there’s enough power to keep things exciting without striking icy fear into your heart, you can ride the 959 with confidence and feel assured in exploring its breadth of ability.
Ducati’s quickshifter is another truly standout feature. Even doodling around at pedestrian speeds under moderate throttle load produces quick, seamless gear changes. Then, when the wick is good and truly lit, the gearbox rewards with no perceptible let-up between upshifts. The 959 just buckles down, exhales, and goes. It’s chuffing magic.
So, is this an actual review or did I just #fanboy out for the last thousand or so words? Well, the 959 might be comfortable, but that comes with the caveat ‘for a sportbike’. No aggressive motorcycle can really be considered “comfortable”. It’s also not particularly cheap to buy, and surely won’t be cheap to maintain, insure, or repair. But, you can say the same of any high performance machine, particularly the Italian ones. Other than that I, umm, struggle to think of anything else.
Describing emotion is a tricky task; rarely can words fully illuminate its nuances and finer details. If I’ve been able to give words to anything, I hope it’s that the 959 glistens with delicious emotion and feels like no other motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. It’s visually and aurally intoxicating, glorious to ride, and makes even a ham-fisted goon like me feel like a rockstar. If daddy didn’t need any more bills, there’d already be a 959 in my garage. Someday I’ll own one. It’s too good not to.
And just like that, it was time to hand the keys back. Take it away, Melvin.
Well, I never felt more like cryin’ all night
‘Cause everythin’s wrong, and nothin’ ain’t right
Without you… You got me singin’ the blues.
Many thanks and much respect to Seacoast Sport Cycle in Derry, NH for the opportunity to ride and review this bike. SSC is a full-service dealer with incredibly knowledgeable staff and a wide array of motorcycles and gear to choose from.