Writing about bikes for 20 years. Published in dozens of titles on five continents. Mildly obsessed with discovering how things work.
Launching the Panigale V4 was a massive step for Ducati. The prospect of ditching its signature V-twin engine from its range-topping superbike must have given the firm’s top brass plenty of sleepless nights but there’s no doubt that the brave move of developing a MotoGP-derived V4 has paid off.
But the V4’s success means Ducati has been facing a new problem; how can it arrange the pyramid of models below that range-topper, and in particular what should it do with the Panigale 959? That model, which was basically a sleeved-down Panigale 1299, appeared orphaned by the loss of the larger V-twin superbike, but the cost involved in making a smaller-capacity four-cylinder engine meant there was no option of replacing it with a downsized Panigale V4.
The bike you see here is Ducati’s solution to the problem. It’s a V-twin with the style of the Panigale V4, and it’s set to replace the Panigale 959 in the firm’s 2020 model range.
Despite its new look, the Panigale 959’s replacement is actually a clever bit of cost-saving on Ducati’s part. The disguise on this prototype model actually helps to highlight rather than hide the truly new components, which are the side panels.
They form a bridge between nose bodywork that’s taken unchanged from the Panigale V4, including that bike’s headlights, screen and front mudguard, and a bellypan that’s straight from the existing Panigale 959. The new side panels’ styling is clearly designed to be as close as possible to that of the Panigale V4, with similarly-shaped air vents on either side, but they’re shaped to fit around the chassis and engine of the Panigale 959.
Although little of the engine is visible, the clutch cover on show appears to be identical to the current model, suggesting that Ducati is carrying over most of main mechanical bits. As a newly-homologated 2020 model, the new model – likely to simply be called the Panigale V2 – will have to meet Euro 5 emissions limits, so there’s a new exhaust hanging underneath, which will hopefully mean Euro-spec versions won’t need to use the ugly stacked tail pipes of the current European-model Panigale 959.
By using the Superquadro V-twin engine, Ducati has got a vast array of options when it comes to replacing any power that’s been sapped by Euro 5 emissions limits. Where the current Panigale 959 has a 955cc version of the engine making 150hp, that capacity comes as a result of relatively small 100mm bores. The same basic engine design, with an identical 60.8mm stroke, also formed the basis of the 1285cc Panigale 1299, which uses a 116mm stroke to make 209.4hp in its ultimate guise, so there’s a huge amount of meat left on the bone. How much capacity is being used in this prototype isn’t known at the moment.
By changing the bike’s name to Panigale V2, Ducati won’t just bring it into line with the Panigale V4’s nomenclature but also takes the focus off the cylinder capacity. Initially we’re expecting the firm to settle for a middle-of-the-road power level from the new bike, moving it a little higher than the current 959’s 150hp but probably not going past 170hp to ensure there’s still a clear performance gap between the V2 and the Panigale V4.
Looking towards the back of the bike, we can see that the seat unit is unchanged from the existing Panigale 959, and the tail lights are also the same, making it much easier to distinguish it from the Panigale V4 when seen from behind. Although it’s hard to be certain from these images, the fuel tank looks like it’s the normal Panigale 959 part, too.
But the bigger news is the swingarm. It’s not a new part, but where Ducati’s Panigale 959 used a double-sided arm, the new V2 gets the single-sider that was previously exclusive to the Panigale 1199 and 1299 models. It’s the first time Ducati’s second-tier machine has had a single-sider since the days of the 848.
The front suspension seen here appears to use the Showa BPF forks from the current base model Panigale 959, showing that the single-sided swingarm isn’t going to be used only on a higher-end version. The brakes are also the normal Brembo Monoblocs. There’s likely to be a higher-spec version, replacing the current Pangiale 959 Corse, with Ohlins suspension.
Given the fact this new bike uses the Superquadro engine and so many body and suspension parts from the Panigale 959, it’s certain to use the same aluminium monocoque frame as well. That means despite its new looks, the riding experience is likely to be familiar to anyone who’s slung a leg over the last generation of V-twin Panigales.
Being a Ducati, we can expect a vast array of electronic gadgetry with top-spec launch and traction control, cornering ABS and every other rider aid you can imagine. It’s also possible that Ducati will extend its DVT variable valve timing system, so far used on the Multistrada and Diavel Testastretta engines, to the Superquadro motor to ensure its future compliance with emissions rules.
For many of those details that can’t be seen in spy pictures, we’re going to have to wait until later this year, with Ducati expected to officially unveil the bike at the EICMA show in early November.