WHILE standing in garage 15 at a sunny Donington Park last week, I got presented with the kind of opportunity I usually dream about: the chance to ride the 959 Panigale and the 1299 Panigale back-to-back.
Never one to turn down track time on two of the sexiest superbikes in the world, I abandoned my plan of making an early dash for home and was soon rolling towards pitlane exit on the 959.
A couple of laps in, with heat in my tyres and my head in the game, I’d begun to find some rhythm. Soon I was able to start pushing myself and the bike to go incrementally faster, all without too much effort and it was all down to the bike.
The 959 Panigale is an astounding package that mixes incredible performance with the kind of usability I’ve not encountered on a superbike before. Let’s make no mistake about this – the 959’s 955cc Superquadro engine punts out 157hp and 79lb/ft torque. Those are proper numbers but it doesn’t take a seriously talented rider (not me) to start unlocking the performance of the 959’s engine. Because of that, it’s a bike that easily makes you feel like you can ride it hard, then makes you feel even better when you try to ride it harder - which you will do, because they 959 tells you that you can and should.
After a 20-minute session on the ‘baby’ Panigale, I got off and asked myself – do I really need the extra power of the full-fat 1299?
Although the 959 lacks the 1299’s 200hp and 106.7lb/ft torque, what it offers is super accessible and useable so if, like me, you prone to the occasional good day on a bike, the 959 is sure to flatter you. The reason for that is simple – the engine is smooth, power delivery is perfect and the excellent electronics (engine braking control, traction control, wheelie control) all do their part to offer the engine to you on a plate.
After a handful of laps aboard the 959, going quicker had never felt easier because the smooth, free-revving engine makes getting on the throttle harder, earlier or for longer happen as a matter of course; the bike simply comes to you. Tapping on the power at the apex reveals plenty of mechanical grip and the 959 drives forward with composure as the revs climb, with only the harshest of inputs from my right hand causing the traction control light to occasionally flicker.
When it came to powering through bends and exiting slow corners especially, the background level of caution I usually feel in that situation became diminished on the 959. That’s not out of a lack of respect for the bike, it’ll undoubtedly highside you to the moon if you ask it to, but because it communicates so clearly that you can push things on. Coming through the Old Hairpin and up the hill round McLean’s quickly became my favourite opportunities to get on the gas as hard as I could while trying to maintain a rhythm through that section as the bike delivered what I was asking for.
The way the engine loves to rev, and the nimble, easy and precise handling of the 959 makes it feel like a properly fast, torquey 600cc sports bike. What I’ve described above means that it’s similarly easy to ride hard and get more out of – its smooth, free revving engine, power delivery and excellent electronics make that possible.
Simply, the 959 Panigale is incredibly rewarding to ride – with each lap you can feel yourself discovering more of what you and the bike can do.