Ducati 959 Panigale vs 1299 Panigale

Do you really need the 1299’s extra power?

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?

No way.

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.

YOU CAN see why I got off the 959 and thought that the 1299 was unlikely to bring more to the party – the 959 is just so accessible. I couldn’t imagine the 1299 being any better in my hands, apart from in a straight line but I haven’t been that wrong since that time I went out for a drink after work and finished my night half naked and chained to a midget cross-dresser in a Soho alleyway at 3am.

Although the 959 is fast, accessible, assured and easy to push your personal envelope with, it’s not the wild man that the 1299 is. If ever there’s a bike I’ve ridden that’s made me shout, swear and laugh inside my helmet, unquestionably, the 1299 Panigale is it.

It’s got a savage amount of power and as you might predict, compared to the 959, it’s more of a handful on track. With the bike in Race mode and the electronic aids dialled down but not switched off, the 1299 accelerates brutally fast and getting on the gas in third gear sees the front wheel pawing at the air before fourth is engaged and that wheelie diminishes to a gentle fluttering of the bars down Donington’s main straight.

The mind-boggling way in which it accelerates meant that compared to the 959, I was always carrying more speed on the approach to corner, meaning more work to make the apex, my eyes on stalks and my internal voice constantly asking for more and more braking power. I definitely smoother on the 959, but I was having more fun on the 1299.

The engine revs way faster than a big twin has any right to and with the rev counter reading above 8,000rpm, the 1299 Panigale is relentless. In fact, it feels relentless everywhere, with savage grunt on hand regardless of whether you’re powering out of a slow corner and trying to keep the front wheel down, or teasing the throttle open with the bike on its side.

The extra speed and power on offer means the big Panigale commanded a bit more respect – the additional power can easily goad you into making a stupid mistake, but the traction and wheelie control are on hand to provide a safety net if you get too gung-ho.

The electronics also make it possible to lay that power down with confidence and although the 1299 didn’t make me more precise or smoother, I was certainly going faster because that 40hp and additional torque doesn’t go unnoticed and accelerating away from corners happens with a fury the 959 can’t manage.

Without doubt, the 1299 Panigale is a more challenging bike to ride – it sharpens your mind more than the 959, but it’s also a lot more intoxicating. For me, the challenge of harnessing its awesome power is the counterpoint to the rewarding way the 959 incrementally made me feel better and faster, and encouraged me.

The 959 might have flattered me more, but to answer my original question – do I really need the extra power of the 1299? – the answer is yes. Perhaps I’m a masochist and I need that challenge and threat. I definitely need the 1299’s visceral, rampant experience because for me, that’s part of what riding bikes is all about.

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