THIS TIME of year always makes me take stock of the summer’s riding and I can’t help but reminisce about dry sunny days on serpentine stretches of empty road.
Oh, the fun I had. Too bad it’s coming to an end as autumn clears a path for winter.
With that in mind, I wanted to give my summer of riding a send-off: one more weekend of enjoyment on my favourite roads before I reluctantly accept that the days are getting shorter and colder.
Choosing the bike was simple - the Ducati 959 Panigale, which we rode on track at the launch. I’ve wanted to ride it on the road for a while. My plan was equally uncomplex: ride from my place in south west London to see a mate in Wales, taking in some of my favourite roads across the South Downs and Salisbury Plain.
For this last celebration of superbike-seated road riding revelry, I’d picked a weekend that I hoped would be bathed in the glow of the weakening end-of-summer sun and free of rain.
I woke up early on the Saturday and bounded out of my place with a skip in my step, even though after seeing the forecast, I felt apprehensive about whether the weather would be on my side. While rumbling out of London on the 959 Panigale, my anxieties soon faded. Kingston not be the Panigale’s natural habitat, but it can still reward in an urban setting because it looks stunning and people take notice of it; I lost count of the number of riders, driver and pedestrians who stared at it while I was stopped at red lights. I'm surprised most Panigales don't end up planted in the backs of cars, such was the temptation to check out mine and the bike's reflection in shop windows. It's a bike that feels special and while heading out of town, it brought a bit of bright white beauty to an otherwise mundane urban trundle.
It brings a bit of heat too. In town the seat quickly turns into a device designed to roast testicles and arse cheeks. The heat that radiates from under the seat comes courtesy of a coiled piece of exhaust pipe that warmed my posterior and legs with aplomb. Seeing 107 degrees on the dash and feeling my arse reach post-Vindaloo levels of warmth served as a good reminder that this is not a town bike.
But I didn’t have to put up with that for long and pretty soon London’s skyline was growing distant in my mirrors as the thrappy bark from the Akrapovic silencers reached a high-revving crescendo as lamp posts gave way to hedgerows and an almost traffic-free A272. The Akra cans give some more depth to the 959’s sound once the engine is spinning with intent but I’m sure the bike lacks some of the 899’s resonant low-end boom. I was a little disappointed at how quiet it was, but that’s Euro4 for you.
The 959’s sound is the only underwhelming thing about it (and is easily remedied). With 157hp and 79.2lb/ft of torque available at my right hand from the 955cc L-Twin Superquadro engine, there’s more than enough power for the road.
Crossing Salisbury Plain in rapid fashion is where I fell in love with the 959’s engine and the fun that comes once the rev counter clears 7,000rpm. Above 7k, there’s an exciting urgency to the Panigale that blew apart my expectations that, being a V-twin and all, it would be less happy to rev hard. But no, the 959’s desire to spin fast means it gives its best when chasing the limiter.
Ample but not extreme power means that it’s an engine that can be explored on the road - the 959 can be pinned while its slick gearbox and quickshifter get a workout, rather than leaving all riding duties to one gear. It means that on a fast and flowing A-road, the 959 delivers and an engaging and exploitable ride. The closest thing I can relate it to is a 600 - a bat shit fast one.
The engine is matched by an equally good set of brakes. The front is anchored by a pair of Brembo M4.32 four-piston radial mount calipers and 320mm semi-floating discs. The first tug of the lever didn’t blow my mind with the ferocity of its bite, but there’s loads of power there, backed up by superb feel through the lever.
The brakes contribute to a stunningly assured front end, for which the fully-adjustable Showa BPF forks deserve a load of credit. On the road, the suspension is supportive and firm-but-forgiving enough on all but the worst surfaces. The feel on offer from the front suspension is sublime actually, and gave me huge confidence in the front end. Loading up the front on the approach to sharp bends results in an assured, controlled and planted feeling from the front. It gave me the confidence to brake and turn in as late as I wanted and I always felt like I could do what I wanted with the front of the bike, so mid-corner corrections were never a problem and although the road isn’t the place to get near this bike’s handling potential, it’s wonderful.
The fully-adjustable Sachs rear shock also worked really well for me, but could feel a little harsh over rough surfaces.