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Features | Motorcycles | Wheel2Wheel / 11-19-18

The Best By Far: Riding the 2018 Ducati Panigale V4 S


By Miguel C. Bichara Photos by Ducati

 

4 years ago, Ducati embarked on a new project that would lead them into unknown territory. Well, sort of, as they have been using this type of engine in the premier class of racing. The Panigale V4 project was born, where they would take the technology they had in MotoGP and somehow put it into a production superbike for the masses to enjoy. That time has arrived. The flagship sportbike of Ducati is now a V4 and not a V-twin anymore. I guess it’s time to show the world that they could be versatile and better than their counterparts have been doing for years.

So you ask, why the change? Why feel the need to veer away from a proven formula that has brought Ducati so much success? The best answer that I could get from the Ducati gurus at the V4 launch was that they have exhausted all their efforts of the V-twin development in superbike racing  and got everything they could out of their existing V-twin superbike twin power plant. It was time for a change and a fresh start and one that would change the company’s history and take them to the unknown world of 4-cylinder motors on their superbikes.

The Ducati Superbikes has been through its fair share of transition – from the very popular 851, the dominating 916, 996 and 998 Testastretta to the unpopular 999, to the semi-loved 1098 and 1198, to the eye-grabbing all-new Panigale Superquadro 1199 and 1299 superbikes. They all had their identities but one thing they all had in common was the thumping v-twin motor.

So being invited to test the very first mass produced superbike for the masses was history in the making in a sense. I accepted the invitation, packed my bag, my gear and flew to the other side of the world to see history in the making…in the superbike sense. The launch took place in Valencia, Spain, where motoring journos from all over the world finally got to see, hear and feel what the new Ducati superbike is all about. We sat at a 45-minute presentation on the new Panigale V4 electronics; MotoGP derived motor and all-new design. All, you guys need to know that this Ducati motorcycle is the closest production machine to a MotoGP with mirrors and lights as Ducati claimed. This new V4 power plant is called the “Desmosedici Stradale”. It is the heart and soul of the bike, and not only did Ducati shock the world by going the 4-cylinder route, but they added some extra cc’s to give it more firing power and gave it an 1100 displacement.

Can they race it in world Superbikes? The answer there is no. As FIM rules the 1100cc exceeds the limit for a 4-cylinder engine. It must be a 1000cc 4-cylinder motor to compete in world Superbikes. So as I write this, there is a 1000cc V4 version being tested and it will be racing next year in 2019 World SBK.

It still looks like a 1299 Panigale in many ways. Ducati kept the design as close to it as possible. The V4 looks much more muscular, more fierce and aggressive; it is a typical Panigale but with damn more attitude. It’s a true combination of the Beauty and the Beast!  Ok enough talk, let’s go for the ride!

The Panigale V4 Launch was done at the world famous Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia, Spain. It was the perfect playground for us journos to test the new Panigale V4. It’s a 4km circuit that involves some tight quick turns and fast flowing ones as well. Arriving at the track and seeing a line of beautiful red machines, I could not help but feel so overwhelmed. I was about to be part of a very historic moment in the Italian brand’s history.

We all would be testing the  V4 ”S” variant which features the 2nd generation Ohlins electronic front suspension and TTX36 rear shock, with lightweight forged Marchesini wheels. It’s the only real big difference from the base model V4. Sitting on the bike is very much a déjà vu. Very much still a Panigale except for the 10mm higher footpeg placement. Once started, the idling of the Panigale V4 sounds very much of a V-twin…like nothing has changed. Same familiar rumble.

But as soon as you rev the twistgrip on your right hand, the Desmosedici 4 cylinder big bang engine rumble is simply out of this world. A sound normally heard in the MotoGP paddock of Ducati Corse racing. Exiting the long Ricardo Tormo pit lane had me screaming with joy, as I was excited to feel the power and anger of the V4 engine!

I accelerated hard in second gear and the front wheel lifted into the air slightly and the motor screamed a sound I have heard before – that of a MotoGp bike. Powering out of 2nd gear put my arms, legs and rear end up to a test. I have felt how it is to ride a powerful bike before but not as powerful as this bone stock. Again, the front wheel lifted coming out of several turns and 3rd, 4th, 5th gear come in split second intervals. I hit the front straight at 278 km/h and I knew if I pushed a bit harder coming out of the last corner exit, my top speed would increase even more. But then again I wasn’t there to race anyone or do my quickest lap times but to test the power, braking, agility and sublime electronics of this all-new superbike. As I hit the front brakes hard, it was like I was pulled from behind by one of the Avengers. The new “Stylema” brake calipers are much better than the current M50 calipers on the 1299. A very big noticeable difference…similar to hitting a brick wall… really. A combination of better pad compounds and lighter caliper design, according to Ducati.

The engine is simply a combination of old and new. Offering low down torque of a V-twin and midrange to top end punch of a V4, but only loads more power than any other V4 I have ever tested. I found myself shifting gears at most times at 11,000rpm, thinking I was on a V-twin (as I owned an 1199 Panigale before) but the new V4 offers power all the way up to a staggering 14,000rpm. The feeling of powering through the gears down the front straight and hearing the V4 in full flight underneath me is something I have never felt. Powering out of the corners and getting on the gas early and hard, knowing that the electronics would be working in perfect sync in the background. After several laps, I was pushing to get to the limits of the bike as far as I could push with the saving grace of the electronics aids assisting me…then whaaaaam!!!…

I see two foreign journos down on the ground, as they apparently were riding too aggressively and not giving enough space to pass one another. One of the journos had the correct racing line while the other decided to get into his line, thus both colliding and crashing. So we had the first worldwide casualty of a pair of Ducati V4s. Red flags were up and I was happy to see that both journos were perfectly fine except for bruised egos.  Nothing wrong with the bike, but it was a simple case of bad judgment of one journos who had the wrong racing line and wanted to sneak up into the other journo’s aggressive racing line and thus, causing the high-speed collision right before a high-speed right hand sweeper.

My test bike was set on sport mode for the duration of the sessions, which meant I had access to full 214hp but with a softer throttle response and firm suspension setting similar to race mode. Electronics such as ABS, Slide, Wheelie and Traction Control were set to medium level. In the next sessions, the setting were set to race mode and throttle response was more immediate and suspension a tad more firm than sport mode. I could immediately feel the difference with the electronics, still there but making the bike work a bit more freely.

The new frame allows more flex especially in high-speed turns; you don’t have to fight the bike at all. It is definitely more stable than the 1199/1299 siblings. Weight distribution was a key factor by the engineers. According to them, there is slightly more weight in front than the 1299, giving it a more planted feel. This V4 steers better than the 1299, feeling like a light 600 supersport bike. Though the bike is slightly heavier than the 1299 but hides the weight due to perfect and well balanced weight distribution. Kerb weight is 195kgs, which is about 5kgs heavier than the 1299. The extra weight plays in favor for the extra length of the swingarm adding to more high-speed stability. Agility was mainly due to the counter rotating crankshaft technology that trickled down from their MotoGP Desmosedici engines. With this counter rotating crankshaft, the crank now turns the opposite rotation of the wheels cancelling out the gyroscopic effect of both wheels and crank; clever engineering straight from MotoGP. Honestly, there was nothing really wrong with the 1299 V-twin Panigale except for running out of steam up top, which now has been addressed with the new Panigale V4.

It’s now time for the others to play catch up, break their cycle, and take a similar leap that Ducati has now taken with the V4. They need to start going against the grain of what they know and feel comfortable with, because right now, the Panigale V4 is ahead of everything out there! And it will take a year of two for others to catch up. All I can say is that this is the best showroom, stock, production superbike in the market today. Everyone else has to play catch up.

 

I rest my case!