Polaris Slingshot Review: “HOUSTON, Mars is so much fun…”
As a ‘true blue’ motorcyclist I can attest to the fact that I did think twice before getting into the Slingshot. However, the rad appeal of this ‘contraption’ was far too strong for me to resist. The Slingshot is mass-produced by Polaris, the same company which makes ATVs and owns the Indian Motorcycle brand. The first time I saw this on the web I thought it was a concept car that would never see the light of day. Many people, in fact, did ask me when I was on the road, especially gas stations, that is this was something customized or could they just buy it from a showroom. Here is where it is most enticing, even in the USA this is uncommon on the roads, even though reports suggest it is indeed selling well. If you happen to import one in India, it would give any supercar or superbike serious pangs of jealousy. The Slingshot SL version that I rode/ drove was the middle model which you can buy for only 25,000 USD, that’s 14 Lakhs rupees! We would assume that if you were to able to register it in India it will cost around 22 Lakhs, which is extremely good for a vehicle of this character and power.
Other models include a base S version at 20,000 USD, SLR at 29000 USD and a newer version, the Grand Touring LE with gullwing doors!
In California you are required to wear a helmet by law while piloting this. It comes under the category of ‘autocycle’ which also classifies this as a car with a bucket seat since you need to wear a seatbelt as well. I would reckon it would be a better idea anyways to wear a helmet unless you have a face of Tom Cruise that can handle all the attention at any traffic signal in any country!
Eagle Riders, the world’s largest motorcycle rental company had a Slingshot in their Los Angeles facility. The first time I saw it in flesh in their showroom, I was like – what the good god is this! It looks unlike anything on the road or in the showroom that you can buy anywhere remotely with just this amount of money. The design is extremely uber cool without looking overdone. The quality of plastic and components used is also very good. The seats are made of a waterproof material which do not allow them to breathe, so it might be an issue on summer days. The view from the driver’s seat is clear albeit pretty low and might be an issue on Indian roads with tall trucks and buses. The whole cockpit looks very futuristic and the lines are very angular throughout with a 305 rear doing the trick of making it look like a Batmobile. Sad that mine was in red.
Performance and Driveability
175 BHP, 2.4 litres 5-speed manual transmission keeps you involved like anything. Plus just one wheel at the back which is responsible for putting down all that power means the power slides and fishtailing is a common phenomenon with this 800 kg machine, even with traction control. It takes some getting used to before your confidence bar hits a high enough level with this machine’s dynamics. But once I got used to it I was literally doing pedal to the metal at every red light and corner. Talking about corners, it does hold its line pretty well, but at the back of my mind, I always had the doubt that it would lose its line if I accelerate too hard in a low gear while slingshotting it out of a corner. It will also do 0-100 in 5 seconds, which is pretty good. I do not reckon it can handle more power without addressing its traction control which plays a big role in a reverse trike to help control its line. Do not expect this to outrun high-performance cars or superbikes on the road, but this is fast enough than most cars out there, especially with this amount of money.
You will get wet and cold if it rains. Luggage will not be a really big issue. You have the glove compartment which hold quite a few tidbits and two storage compartments behind the seats will hold decent number of things for a long trip. You will probably also need to be extra careful on wet sinuous roads because of the way it delivers all that power.
The Slingshot doesn’t really have any competition. For one it looks way cooler and costs much less than what it offers. Three wheelers like Morgan 3 Wheeler and Can Am Spyder and the likes. Either they are way more expensive or they are not ‘cool’ enough for the money. And if you don’t believe the value for money for the Slingshot, test drive one or look for the reaction from people when you say it only costs 20,000 USD!
Trip 360, a subsidiary of the travel service providers Cox and Kings, is the one-stop for the adventure travelling enthusiasts. From trekking to diving, to mountaineering and of course—motorcycling, Trip 360 enabled us to make this wonderful trip to America—the land of opportunity.
Las Vegas is an oasis in the Mojave Desert. It is known for its nightlife with gambling, fine dining, entertainment and shopping being its biggest offerings. The city is one of the brightest when seen from above in the sky!
During this wonderful trip we also got to visit the Indian Motorcycle showroom in the city that never sleeps aka Las Vegas. The showroom, in addition to Indian Motorcycle, had in it the showroom for Victory Motorcycles and the Polaris Slingshot. Three automotive brands, recognizable anywhere in the world, under one roof made for a memorable visit.
Exotics Racing is a Racing School and driving experience center in the United States. It has one of the world’s largest fleet of exotic cars. If one wants the experience of driving a supercar around the track and have boatloads of fun, there aren’t many places better than this. The facility is present in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Spring Mountain, Nevada.
Death Valley is a desert in California. It is in the northern Mojave Desert. It is one of the hottest places in the world during summer!
Route 66 was one of the original highways in the US Highway system. It was established in 1926 and was a major route for those who migrated west and made prosperous the people who lived along this route.
Route and Rental Advice
You land in Los Angeles and take a 5 minute cab ride to the Eagle Riders main showroom at 11860 S La Cienega Blvd, Hawthorne, CA. Pre book your ride with them. Any additional insurance or roadside assist can be added on the spot before you take delivery. From there head to Death Valley via Panamint Springs, Stovepipe Wells and spend the night in Beatty which has plenty of stay options. Next morning head to Badwater which has one of the lowest points in North America (282 feet below sea level) and enjoy the barren mars like landscape. There are plenty of amazing photo opportunities without the crowd along the way. This day you can enter Las Vegas via the strip enjoying the million lumens on display there on one of the brightest spots at night on planet Earth. I stayed in Trump Towers on 52nd floor because I got a very good deal (not a Russian deal). In LV you can go to Exotic Racing track and pamper yourself in the seat of a supercar (that article is in this issue elsewhere). You can return back to LA via Joshua Tree National Park to enjoy a more desert like environment and some sand dunes.
Eagle Rider is perhaps the world’s largest motorcycle rental company with multinational operations headquartered in the city of angels – Los Angeles. From the USA to Australia, they are everywhere. The best thing about them would be that they hire hardcore motorcyclists who know what goes on in the heads of nutjobs like me who want to rent motorcycles and trundle down the open highway at the drop of a hat. With a wide variety of bikes to choose from, along with riding gear (leather et al) and friendly route advice one can go on a solo self-guided tour or a group ride. We got the Polaris Slingshot from them with full insurance. You can check out more details at www.eaglerider.com
TVS Apache RTR 160 4V Road Test
Prejudice. Prejudice is a strong idea and a massive influencer. And because of our fragile egos, prejudice is rarely replaced by facts, even if on the inside one knows that the facts are different from the preconceptions. We simply don’t want to be proved wrong. Same was the case with me. But sometimes, the facts are just so overwhelming that preconceived thoughts are blown to smithereens. That… was the case with the new TVS Apache RTR 160 4V.
Right from the launch of the bike, despite its relation to the TVS’ racing machine RTR 165, it just put me off. Apache has been a legacy right from its inception. I have been a big fan. The refresh with the DRLs and stuff did not impress me a lot but it retained the engine and thus the character. Somewhat. The RTR 200 4V proved to be worthy of the name Apache and so did the RR 310. But then launch of the RTR 160 4V ‘looked’ like a half-ass attempt at making a sporty small capacity motorcycle with the design carried over from the 200 4V. Prejudice and so much of it that I decided to ignore it completely. The day we got the test bike and I thumbed the starter, the comparatively feeble exhaust note and the comparatively mild demeanor, my first thought; it has lost the character of the Apache. All of those thoughts within the 100 meters ride to the parking—Prejudice. Big time. But boy was I wrong.
It’s a looker
I’ll get rid of the rituals first; LOOKS ARE SUBJECTIVE. Done. Now, I will stick to my previous opinion that the design ideology shouts RTR 200 4V in your face. I didn’t like it previously because I would have liked the design to be exclusive to the 200 4V. But it grows on you. It took repeated instances of looking at it to slowly fall in love with it. After all, love, at first sight, is mostly infatuation and wears off quickly. At least that’s what I think. The muscular tank, the cute (does not suit a street fighter) headlamp with the aggressive DRLs, voluminous yet sharp rear, the 3D TVS logo, the wide tyres etc. these all are the bits that pull you towards the bike, slowly. Gently. I won’t say much about the looks but for all of you who feel the same way I felt, just give it a little time and it’ll make you love it. In this department, I’d say the bike scores 4/5.
Note: This is going to be harder to explain than differentiation and integration (chills). I am explaining this here because I have mentioned that the tyre width has a positive effect on the aesthetics of the bike.
So, there are 3 variants of the Apache RTR 160 4V:
- Carburetor with rear drum: The rear tyre is on this one — 110/80-17 57P
- Carburetor with rear disc: The rear tyre on this one — 130/70-17 M/C 62P
- Fi with rear disc: The rear tyre on this one — 130/70-17 M/C 62P
We got the 2nd one for the review.
Smoother than whipped cream
The engine on the 160 4V is a gem. The level of refinement is off the charts. It is so smooth that Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond from Die Another Day or golden eye pales in comparison. The power delivery is very linear and the vibrations only start to creep in after 70-75 kmph and then too they are not a deal-breaker. The 0-60 recorder on our test bike would not show anything less than 9.9s even after multiple attempts and after multiple instances of bruised ego I realized that maybe it does not work on this specimen. The top speed recorder did work fine and I managed to go up to 121 kmph but that will take a lot of empty road and time. 100 kmph, though stresses the engine to some extent, comes up fairly quickly.
All this helped me to deduce that cruising can be done between 70-80 kmph without stressing the mill too much and to keep it relatively vibe free. I have no qualms with the low-end and the top-end of the rev-range (I did not have too many expectations from the top end to begin with), but the mid-range was somewhat disappointing. I rarely had to shift to a lower gear to overtake a vehicle while cruising on the RTR 180 but on this one, I had to do that multiple times and that can be an issue on highway runs where one mostly stays around the upper mid-range. The fueling though on even the carbureted version is pretty good and should be even better in the FI variant. The throttle responds to the inputs with eagerness. It does the same when you close the throttle which makes me want to say that the transition between open/close throttle could have been better. The exhaust note, even with the twin barrel shotgun AK 47 rocket launcher heat seeking missile blah blah design, is kind of lame but that’s just how I feel. Maybe I expected a bit too much.
The gearbox on the other hand was precise, no false neutrals and the clutch action was light, which is a boon in bumper to bumper traffic. The performance is not earth shattering but the bike is no slouch either. What must be taken away from this is that the refinement of the engine has given way to an extremely smooth bike, which also makes you want to thrash it around a bit as well. And that my friends, is a lot of fun on this one. Also, the engine does not heat up a lot which would have been a bother in traffic. All in all the verdict on the engine and performance front is that it is a fun little mill which can handle the city very well and is decent enough on the highways as well. But the somewhat underwhelming mid-range makes the bike score 4/5 in this department.
Handles like a dream
The RTR 160 4V has got the handling department sorted pretty nicely. RTRs have always been good handlers and this one takes the game a notch higher. The short wheelbase and quite aggressive steering geometry translates into a beautifully agile and confident little motorcycle that is going to keep the corner carvers and highway cruisers happy. The bikes turns in predictably quickly and holds the line like a pro. Getting your knees out and murdering those chicken strips on the tyres after a long straight is pure joy. Straight line stability does not disappoint either. Within the city, filtering through the traffic is quite easy due to the short wheelbase and the punchy low-end.
I used the bike to commute from home to work which throws almost everything within the 35 kms commute. City traffic, straights and satisfactory twisties. The motorcycle feels home in all the three scenarios and kudos to TVS as this is the department where the race connection with the RTR 165 race machine is most evident. Brakes, both the front and rear and solid and progressive. They offer ample bite and make the rider confident enough to push the bike a little more with the promise of ample stopping power. The suspension sits somewhere in between sporty and plush. The front, though a bit soft, takes care of uneven roads and corners alike although I’d have liked just a tad bit stiffer to avoid those slight nosedives in the corners or under deceleration. I found the rear monoshock perfectly balanced for corner carving and handling bad patches of road as well.
But, yes, even after so many praises, there is a ‘but’. The tyres are the ‘but’. The tires do not justify a motorcycle that is such a lovely handler. On the dry tarmac the tyres are okay but brake hard and you’ll hear them squeal louder than the heroines from the Ramsay flavored horror movies. Okay, not that loud but they are vocal. I’ll keep mum about the wet grip and just say that one must be careful if they love monsoon. So, the tyres sneak away a point from the otherwise wonderful handling package of the RTR 160 4V and it scores 4/5 in this department.
As comfy as a couch
Another department that the RTR 160 4V excels in. The older RTRs did not score very well on the comfort scale but this one is a game changer in this regard. The foot-pegs are fairly forward set and the handlebars are set higher than the previous generation RTRs. This results in a comfortable riding posture. The contours on the tank also make sure that the rider is able to grip the tank well. The seat is plush and roomy and does not cramp the rider for space although it’s not roomy enough to move around a lot. The rider’s triangle formed as a result of the position of the handlebars and the foot-pegs is very comfortable and long rides pose no issues at all. The lack of windscreen though takes a chunk out of the comfort department as long highway runs result in the rider facing a lot of headwind which can cause some discomfort in the neck. The throttle and clutch are light and therefore do not stress the wrists in any way. All in all the RTR 160 4V is quite a comfortable motorcycle.
All that does not apply to me. How and why? Whatever I wrote is above is after the inputs of someone who is 5’9. I on the other hand am 6’3 and adjusting myself on the new RTR did take some time and even after that I was not completely comfortable. Firstly, my knees could not grip the tank well as they extended beyond the contours of the tank. If I adjusted for that, I sat further back and had to reach for the handlebars which was not much of an issue but the major flaw if I moved backwards on the seat was the my feet (10.5 UK) felt awkwardly placed on the pegs and I felt kind of stuck. If I compare it with any other bike the distance between the lever contact piece and the left foot-peg seems to be the same but it just felt awkward to me. So, if you are over 6 or 6’1, please test the bike out first and if you are able to find a comfortable posture, then make a decision. So, with this problem that I faced, I’ll selfishly take away half a point from the score and give the otherwise brilliant ergos of the RTR 160 4V 4.5/5.
Mileage: The Apache 160 4V is a frugal little thing and it returned about 45-47 kmpl in mixed riding conditions majority of which was city riding with a lot of traffic and a lot of thrashing on the open roads. If the expectations are set around 45 kmpl, the RTR 160 will keep one happy and with its performance, the mileage is certainly a plus.
Rear-view mirror visibility: The rear-views offer a good view of the world you are leaving behind as you put the performance of the new RTR to test. No vibrations in the mirrors is also a plus.
Headlight performance: The headlight was okay. I didn’t expect much in the first place. It has an okay spread and okay illumination. So it’s just okay altogether. Even good headlights are rendered helpless by the High-Beam heroes in our country. In the dark patches of the road where there isn’t much traffic, the headlight is satisfactory.
Build Quality: The overall build quality was nice. The panels, the fit, the paint etc. everything is pretty nice. Nothing to complain about here. So the new RTR scores quite well in the fit and finish department. The same goes for the switchgear as well. The buttons are ergonomically placed, offer good tactile feedback and look solid.
Instrument Cluster: The fully-digital instrument cluster is way ahead of the bike itself which is certainly not a bad thing. Orange backlight, lap time recorder, top speed recorder, 0-60 recorder are a few features in addition to the standard information. It misses out on a gear position indicator though.
Overall, except the tyres and the somewhat bleak mid-range, I’d say that the new TVS Apache RTR 160 4V is a beautiful little motorcycle which offers a lot of fun for its size and the price is seriously justifiable only by the refinement of the engine. The rest of the good things are just freebies. It is certainly a major improvement on the previous models and betters them in almost every regard.
It has got quite a few competitors in the market like the Suzuki Gixxer, Yamaha FZ and the Bajaj Pulsar NS160. With the kind of a motorcycle the new TVS Apache RTR 160 4V is, the competition has surely heated up and the new Apache is more than up to the challenge.
Yamaha R15 V3 Road test
Superheroes are usually of two kinds. One belongs to the category of Iron Man aka Tony Stark— Versatile, multi-personality and not-so-focused. They need to be worked to take out the hero inside them. Then there is the other kind that belongs to the Captain America aka Steve Rogers category— Always the hero whether he is Steve or Captain America and laser-focused. I believe motorcycles can also be categorized like that. The motorcycle in question here is the new Yamaha R15 V3 which surely belongs to the category of Captain America. Or maybe Captain Japan.
The R15 has enjoyed the status of a legend in India since its first iteration came out. It was a track tool that belonged to the 150cc category and was priced around 1 lakh rupees. A really big deal because the likes of it were not seen before here in India. Then came the R 15 V2 deriving its whole from the R6, which is no less a legend itself. ‘Arrive Alone’ was the tagline of it and if pitted against the bikes in 150cc category, that is exactly what it’d do. Arrive Alone.
I have a belief that there is a saturation point for everything. But for Yamaha’s R15, that point seemed to be pushed far away with every iteration. What was believed to be as close to perfection as it could be, was bettered by Yamaha and presented to us in the form of the R15 V3. Read on to find out how it fares in taking the R15’s legacy forward and why I called it, Captain America.
Looks are… you know that right. Well that adage has repeatedly failed when it comes to the R15. All the variations since 2008 have been effervescently good looking and this, whether one believes it or not, has been a major reason for the wild success of the R15 here in India. The R15 V3 takes this even farther.
The R15 is a spitting image of the R1 with the exception of size. The front, the sides, the tank and especially the rear, take huge cues from the R1. What felt the most special to me personally, is the hollow-ish rear where the rear-side panels are attached to the main rear panel which houses the tail-lamp. It reminds one of the new Ford GT on which they call it a flying buttress. On the R15 it does not serve a purpose as severe as it does on the Ford GT, but looks insanely cool nonetheless. I guess that is enough about the rear. The front houses the new all-LED headlamps, the faux air-intake and a redesigned windshield. The side features less-fuller fairing than the previous iterations and lends the bike a sleek and sharp look. The fairing says Yamaha, R15 and another little thing— VVA Variable Valve Actuation which we’ll discuss later. The rear tyre has also taken a jump from 130 section on the previous one to the 140 section on this one. The design of the exhaust has also been changed and it has a faux carbon fiber finished heat dissipater. The new R15 looks leaner, sharper and more dynamic than ever and scores a 4/5 in design. Why not 5/5? We’ll address this later.
I am the powerrrrr!
The engine capacity of the new R15 has gone up from 149cc to 155cc. And there are loads of mechanical changes to make it an essentially ‘new’ engine. We’ll explain all that via pictures and spec sheets but what does all that translate to on the road? If I had to compare it with the older R15s and put it in perspective with one line— the older R15s had a gem of an engine and the R15 V3 has got a heck of an engine. The older R15s felt a tad bit slow to start off and had all the fun stuff in the upper rev range. The R15 V3 has not eliminated the problem completely, but has taken care of it for the most part.
The new R15 feels quicker off the line, more tractable and manageable in traffic and requires lesser gear changes for overtakes and quickies. This improved acceleration is the result of VVA or Variable Valve Actuation which is Yamaha for variable valve profiling or timing. In layman terms, it has two cam profiles, the higher one of which (lift of the valve is increased) is activated post 7400 rpm. Ah well, in layman-er terms there’s a balance of power in the higher rev-range and torque in the low-mid rev-range. Is it a ground breaking change? No. Is there an improvement? A lot. Though the way the VVA sign flashes on the console as soon as you hit 7400 rpm, I felt like I just pressed the NOS button. But it was all in my head.
Now the other aspect is the refinement. The refinement of the engine has certainly gone down jussst a little bit when compared to the previous R15s but it is still a very smooth engine when compared to a lot of other motorcycles. The vibes do creep in high up in the rev range but it sure isn’t a deal breaker and with the rush that the performance provides, I am sure it’ll be duly neglected which was the case with us. Power has been bumped from 17 Ps in the old R15 to 19.3 Ps in the new one. Torque has also gone up from 14.7 Nm to 15 Nm.
The new R15 has got a gigantic top end for its size. I was able to do 126 kmph two up and 132 kmph riding solo with quite a lot of juice left. It may be able to 140 + on the speedo but that would require a lot of real estate. It picks up speed in a hurry and can get one out of dodgy situations as well. I would go as far as to say that I haven’t had this much fun on a motorcycle in quite some time when it comes to performance. The fueling is also precise, the throttle response is crisp. The on/off transitions are slightly jerky but that is normal and I have seen far worse. The exhaust note is also pleasing and it’s quite a delight when one starts to really mash the throttle. The gearbox is just brilliant and one of the best I have ever used. It is precise and smooth and everything the gearbox on a motorcycle should be. The slipper-clutch makes the clutch action light which helps a lot when stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and also helps in rapid downshifts keeping the rear in line.
It does not have earth shattering power but then again, I wasn’t riding it on a track so I didn’t feel the need for it. Filtering through traffic or wringing the heck out of it on open roads, the R15 V3 is fun in both the scenarios but obviously the latter is preferred. This is probably why smaller bikes are missed by the people who only ride big bikes. They are just so much more fun and usable. And because of all that, the R15 scores 4.5/5 in this department.
Corners? Round 1… FIGHT
The title of this section might have told you the whole story but I just like typing a lot so I’ll go ahead and expand on it. All the R15s have excelled in this department. This one does so too. It is more sure-footed and more aggressive than before. The wheelbase is shorter and the geometry combined with the Deltabox frame provide what one can easily refer to as razor sharp handling. A slight push on the inside bar saw the bike leaned into the corners, laughing on my limited experience and skill. It just eggs the rider to push it harder. The turn-ins and side to side transitions, both are deceptively quick. The bike slays the corners like a pro and thus making the rider look like a pro. On the straights as well the bike holds its own even when it’s close to its top speed. Riding in the city, it handles very well but the low end still lacks a bit but it is great within the city nonetheless. Wow, I thought I will talk a lot about this part but I am short of words here. It is a phenomenal handler. BELIEVE THAT.
Now the not-so-impressive things. Firstly the brakes. They are okay. Surely not enough to handle this hoot. They aren’t bad but bringing the bike to a stop from triple digit speeds takes some doing and brakes just seem overworked at that point and thus the braking performance is underwhelming. The brakes aren’t necessarily bad but the bike deserves better. The next thing is the front suspension or simply the front end. I say front end to include the front tyre as well. Again, they aren’t bad but not good enough for the motorcycle. The problem here is that there isn’t a lot of communication from the front end to the rider. It feels like you hit it off well with a girl and suddenly she starts to reply late. More feedback is what I would have liked here. The rear suspension and tyre on the other hand, take care of things on their end. (We got the one with Metzeler at the rear). The suspension setup is obviously somewhat stiff to aid poise of the bike in the corners but the potholes and undulations on the road are surely going to be felt. The ground clearance is sufficient enough though. So even with the feeble front and okay-okay brakes, the R15 V3 scores 4.5/5 in this department.
Comfort? Nope. Never heard that name before!
Yep. The R15 V3 or any R15 for that matter has not heard of comfort before. And… they don’t care either. The R15 V3 is even more focused. And that is why I called it Captain America. The seat height has increased, the footpegs and rear set and the clip-ons are low. If you are riding the R15 V3 fully geared up (Which you should. Always.), other people on the road look at you like at any moment, you are just going to drop a gear and exit the traffic with a wheelie while revving the heck out of the bike. Exaggeration? No. The riding position is actually that committed. It is a very demanding task to ride the R15 V3 for longer durations. Even though the seat is plush & roomy and the tank contours let the rider grip the bike well, long tours are a no no here.
I being 6’3 found myself a little cramped for space and was not able to accommodate my legs easily. Moving further back in the seat helped a bit in that regard but the R15 V3 surely does not like very tall people. The windscreen though is very functional and protects the rider from the headwinds when one is north of the triple digit mark. So, even with a comfortable seat, the R15 V3 is not a comfortable motorcycle by a long shot. But being fair to its nature, on a track or a short stint, I’ll give it a 5/5. And when the reality gives me a stiff kick, I’ll grant the R15 V3 2.5/5 in this department.
Mileage: This was quite surprising but even after the increase and power and performance, it returned a mileage of around 38-40 kmpl. Which is very surprising because weekday traffic and weekend thrashing constituted the majority of our review and yet such impressive numbers. Nice!
Rear-view mirror visibility: The rear-views are average. I would have liked a wider field of vision there because I am not very fond of looking at my elbows.
Headlight performance: The all-LED hoopla is starting to miff me now. It makes one go out there with somewhat unrealistic expectations and boom. It all comes crashing down. Anyway, the illumination is okay, the spread was not so much.
Build Quality: This is where my biggest surprise came. I mean come on. It’s a Yamaha. It’s got to be finished well. No, it isn’t. Weld marks here and there and uneven gaps in panels was quite evident. It isn’t visible to other people so the egos are safe but still, looking at something you paid around 1.4 lakhs for, it doesn’t exude the premium-ness. The switchgear and the indicators belong to the same category. And that’s why I took away 1 point and gave it 4/5 in the looks department.
Instrument Cluster: Fully digital instrument cluster looks and feels good. Buttons on it not so much. Displays instantaneous mileage, average mileage, average speed and a few more with the standard information.
The R15 V3 is a very very good motorcycle. The negatives I put forward were there simply because I expect that much from someone related to the famed ‘R’ family. It isn’t comfortable but then most bikes of its class aren’t. It isn’t meant to be that. I will even go as far as to say that the money spent on an R15 V3 is money well spent. It justifies its price tag comfortably. The only real gripes here is the fit, finish and switchgear.
But even with all the drawbacks, it has been received very well and it deserves it. It has got a lot more competition now than when the first R15 came out in 2008, but it is still very well armed to deal with it and maybe this one will also Arrive Alone at the finish line on a track.
The Ducati Panigale V(oracious)4 Experience
Text: Sundeep Gajjar (Rider) and Karan Singh Bansatta (Armchair Rider who helped me write this while I traveled around from the xBhp HQ)
Photos: Sundeep Gajjar and Ducati
Location: Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia
Riding Gear: Dainese D-Air and AGV Pista GPR
Red Wine. Italian Red Wine. Italian Red Wine against a setting sun in Florence overlooking the Arno River. Bliss. There is a sacrosanct place and time for anything to be consumed. In this case, though we are talking about a brand born and bred in Italy, it has left its hallowed place of birth and has taken birth thousands of miles away in an unlikely place. A bike named Panigale, after its birthplace, being made in Thailand. Who would have thought? And it’s not just any Panigale.
The Panigale V4 features a 4-cylinder engine. Wait. 4 cylinders? But Panigale was always an L-twin. Since the V4 is a departure from the previous Panigale family of motorcycles, before I start sharing my experience on this one, I would like to take you back in time. A journey to see how the Panigale came to be and how the Panigale V4 is a culmination of Ducati’s racing heritage and prowess.
My own history with the Panigales is also quite rich. The first one I rode was after the end of Mission Red Planet, 10000 kms across 10 countries to reach World Ducati Week 2012. To celebrate my success, I took a Panigale 1199 out in the Italian countryside for well, 1199 kms. Then I rode the Panigale 899 on the Zhuhai International Circuit and then the Panigale 959 at the Buriram Circuit in Thailand. Let me not forget the 1199 that I rode at the Sepang International Circuit with Troy Bayliss (!) in the fast group. The biggest sweet mistake I had made perhaps. That man was amazing on two wheels. Now it was time to ride the biggest baddest of all production superbikes to come out of the Ducati factory (well from the one in Thailand). But first a bit of its own history.
This was the first time I rode a Panigale. The 1199. It was heaven. This is a photo I took at the Stelvio. A 10 second self timer and a cell phone does wonders. Shot in 2012.
Another selfie, thanks to a 10 second timer. And yes that amount of smoke can be generated in 5 seconds on a bike as powerful as this. Shot at Stelvio in 2012.
This is me, sleeping with the lady in red, in this case, the Panigale 899 at the Zhuhai International Circuit, China a couple odd years ago.
This was in Dubai when I rode the Panigale 1199.
The above is a grab from my GoPro on the Sepang International Circuit at the DRE (Ducati Riding Experience) in 2012. The man on one wheel is Troy Bayliss on the Panigale 1199. I was on the same bike too being led by Troy through the previous corner looking back to see if I was following the correct line (which I wasn’t), after which he led me on the straight like this. His wheel only came down very close to the corner. It feels just great to be around such people, even if it makes you realize that you haven’t even begun!
So that’s that. A brief history of my trysts with different Panigale avatars.
Ducati was born founded by Antonio Cavalieri Ducati and his three sons, Adriano, Marcello, and Bruno Cavalieri Ducati in 1926. In the beginning Ducati produced vacuum tubes, condensers and other radio components. In 1935 they constructed their factory in a town called Borgo Panigale, Bologna from which the Panigale family of motorcycles borrows its name. Now if I plan a history lesson on Ducati it would probably be a novel. Maybe even an epic. So we’ll focus on the birth of Panigale series of motorcycles and how the L-Twin engine became the signature of Ducati.
The L-twin or simply a 90-degree V-twin was first used on the Ducati 750 GT, one of the most famous motorcycles in history. In 1972, Paul Smart and Bruno Spagiarri raced onboard the 750 and got 1st and 2nd place. This was a momentous win as most of the manufacturers used inline-four engines and Ducati won with a V-twin which proved Ducati’s technological prowess. This was the motorcycle on which the Ducati 750 Supersport was based which is arguably the true ancestor of the Panigale series of motorcycles. The next iconic bike in this journey was the Ducati 851. It used the same L-Twin configuration with a displacement of 851cc. It had 4-valve heads and liquid cooling which was a significant upgrade and helped it compete with the sport bikes from other manufacturers. A mild upgrade on the 851 was the 888 but the crown jewel was yet to follow.
Arguably one of the most beautiful Ducati motorcycles (or for that matter any motorcycle!) ever made—The Ducati 916. The 916 was designed by none other than Massimo Tamburini who is usually referred to as one of the greatest motorcycle designers that have ever walked this earth. Featuring a 916 cc, 90-degree V-twin (L-Twin), 4 valve, fuel injected liquid cooled engine, USD forks and a single-sided swingarm, which became the signature of Ducati sport bikes. The motorcycle lived up to the reputation of the designer and is still referred to as one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever made. This was the design that made Ducati an icon and a usual reference to sport bikes. This is the design from where the distinction of the Ducati small sport bike and big sport bike started. The 916 made way for not only the 996 and 998 (which was the final iteration of this design line) but the 748 as well which would evolve into smaller Panigale sport bikes. And, who can forget the iconic scene from The Matrix Reloaded where Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) rides the 996 on the highway.
After this came the Ducati 999, which was rather controversial as many Ducati fans resented the departure from the Tamburini design. Although the 999 won many races and was referred as the finest handlers of its time, it just didn’t go down well with the fans. However, Ducati fixed this quickly with the introduction of the 1098. The 1098 was gorgeous and won back the hearts of the Ducati fans after the seemingly disappointing 999. Following the 1098’s design philosophy, an evolution of the smaller 748 namely the 848 was also released. Both of these bikes enjoyed great success and both of them were highly competitive motorcycles that took the competition to the Japanese big-4. A bigger motorcycle and a successor to the 1098, the Ducati 1198 was released which followed the same design language as the 1098.
It’s been a long history lesson but now we are really getting close to the modern sport bike family and the Panigale nomenclature as well. So the 1198 finally gave way to the first Panigale from Ducati. Named after the town in Bologna where the red rockets are manufactured—Borgo Panigale. It was called the Ducati Panigale 1199 and it was gorgeous. That is it. Done. Dusted. At standstill, it looks like Heidi Klum clad in red, a supermodel posing and slaying photographers the world over. On the move, it was like Barry Allen aka The Flash leaving nothing but a streak. It was that good. It was quoted to be the most powerful twin-cylinder motorcycle and was claimed to have the highest power-to-weight and power-to-torque ratio than most production motorcycles. In other words, wring the throttle and it goes ballistic. Same was the case with the smaller sibling of the Panigale 1199, the Panigale 899. The Panigale 1199 was succeeded by the Panigale 1299 and the Panigale 899 was replaced by the Panigale 959.
Ducati also released Superleggera i.e. Super-light variants of both the Panigale 1199 and Panigale 1299, like they needed the weight reduction but Ducati did it anyway because it’s a very Ducati thing to do. You create an extra niche segment within the niche. The Panigale 1299 Superleggera was claimed to have a wet-weight of 167 kg and made a mind-boggling 215 bhp. To keep things in perspective, the best litre-class bikes make around 200 bhp and weigh around 200 kg. If that doesn’t numb one’s mind, I don’t know what will.
That was the history of the Panigale. But what now? What can be done to better something that is already near perfect?
Ducati Folks: Let’s make a road-ready and easy-to-ride version of our racing machine Desmosedici GP and name it Panigale.
Other people: But the Panigale has always had the L-Twin. Why the V4?
Ducati Folks: Because It’s about damn time.
I think that comes close to what went down when Ducati engineers were planning the next Panigale.
Now then, we have talked about everything but the Panigale V4. So without further ado, let me share the experience of riding one of the most powerful and advanced superbikes in the world.
This is where we were supposed to have our dinner, but rain played spoilsport! Journalists from around 5 different countries were invited, and of course I was in the India batch.
And here is a live video I did on the xBhp Facebook page from the track below:
This is Dario Marchetti, my group instructor. All of 57 with incredible racing experience. I was in the ‘Pink’ group. For some reason. And that is evident from my Pink armband. If the number 04 is any consolation, since it belongs to Andrea Dovizioso.
And thats me below. Who can look bad with a machine like that!
If Neo had asked for bikes in the Matrix, these would be it.
And here I am. The old man trying his hand at a new game – Vlogging with an excellent piece of hardware, the Sony Actioncam 4K.
Discussing the bike with a fellow journalist at the ride.
Spot me in the crowd below!
Also, the Panigale produced for the road after the 1199, lost the eligibility to compete in the WSBK since the 1299 exceeds the displacement limit allowed for twin cylinder motorcycles i.e. 1200cc for which Ducati released the Panigale R which has a displacement of 1198cc. The same is expected to be done to the Panigale V4, the engine on which displaces 1103cc, more than the 1000cc limit allowed for 4-cylinder motorcycles. The project might even be already in the progress if the news floating around the internet is to be believed. Part of the reason why I may not be riding it in the JK Championship here in India.
Bellissima translates to something which is very beautiful and that’s something the new Panigale is. The first time I laid my eyes on the Ducati Panigale V4 in flesh, I was mesmerized. I feel like it’s an Italian tradition that whenever someone takes a look at their machines, ‘bellissima’ should be the first word that should come to the minds of even those who do not speak Italian. When it was showcased at the EICMA 2017, it was the most beautiful bike according to most of the people and it is completely justified when you get an up-close view of the V4. The angry eyebrows (DRLs), the hollow area that houses the headlight, the layered fairing, the, muscular and clever (to be discussed later) tank, the exposed front frame (the monocoque’s gone), and the ‘oh so stylish’ tail just makes one feel like this—I’ll never ride it. I’ll just look at it. It’s so exquisite. It’s not meant for the trials and tribulations of the outside world. But trust me, those sweeping lines and the dynamic features of the motorcycle will have you grinding your teeth… and knees in a jiffy. More on that will follow in a while.
The Panigale V4 gets 3 variants: The Panigale V4, Panigale V4 S and the Panigale V4 Speciale, the differences between which is explained in the tech-spec sheet below. We got the Panigale V4 S.
The design philosophy is the same as that of the 1299 Panigale, but it has evolved in a sense. Starting from the front, the full LED headlight unit consists of the aggressive DRLs and the two LED modules (high beam in one and low beam in one) housed in the airbox intakes the sizes of which have been reduced to make the bike look more aggressive and which results in the ‘hollow’ headlight area. It also features two wings attachments that are designed to increase the incoming airflow. The side sees a dual-layer fairing design with the main fairing stretched out less to keep the motorcycle compact and another layer that aids the exit for the air. The fairing extends upwards gripping the tank.
Coming to the tank which I referred to as clever, the layout of the tank is derived from racing machines and it extends to under the rider’s seat. It has got more prominent shoulders that help the rider grip the motorcycle with their legs. This layout saved some space which allowed the engineers to place the electronics package including the battery in front of the tank in a shroud. You see—clever. That is how racing obsessed the design is and it asserts the claim from Ducati which mentioned the development of Panigale V4 to be derived from MotoGP and the utilization of years of experience gained by Ducati in racing. Ducati Corse, the racing division of Ducati’s inputs made sure that Panigale V4 is as close to a MotoGP prototype as it can being road-legal.
The most prominent change being the departure of the monocoque frame. The one used in the V4 is quite a complex one. So, it consists of a ‘front frame’ that uses the engine as the stressed member which is complemented by the front sub-frame made of Magnesium and an Aluminum rear sub-frame. This frame was developed with the experience gained from MotoGP. The advantage is weight-saving but that’s not it. The ‘front frame’ is secured directly to the upper-half of the crankcase of the front cylinder head and to the rear cylinder head of the V4 engine. The engine even acts as the fixing point for the rear suspension and the fulcrum of the single-sided swingarm. Talk about ‘stressed member’. On a serious note this offers tremendous weight-saving, so much so that the V4, having two cylinders more, weighs only 4.5 kgs (The S variant) more than the 1299 Panigale which is extraordinary. The rear sub-frame houses the tail-fairing which has the full-LED taillight. But, it also features the signature split lighting style that is typical of the Ducati racing models.
Potente translates to powerful which, due to the lack of words, is a severe understatement in case of the Panigale. What else would you say about a motorcycle that makes around 214 bhp of power, 124 nm of torque and revs as high as 14500 rpm. The engine is dubbed as the Desmosedici Stradale. Quite a cool name. I guess the Italians are just as good at naming their machines as they are at making them look drool worthy. It is a 90-degree V4 unit that displaces 1103cc. The top power of 214 bhp is achieved at 13000 rpm and the peak torque of 124 nm arrives at 10000 rpm. Now something to ponder over is that this engine weighs 64.9 kg, just 2.2 kg heavier than the one on the 1299 Panigale. This engine has also been developed in conjunction with the Desmosedici GP, Ducati’s racing machine in MotoGP. Another interesting thing is that it features a counter-rotating crankshaft i.e. the crankshaft does not turn in the same direction as the wheels. This tech is used in MotoGP to limit the gyroscopic effect generated by the wheels and makes the bike more agile. The engine is as close to racing bikes as it can get and yet it still has the general service interval of 12,000 kms and valve clearance and inspection interval of 24,000 km.
The performance of the engine is way simpler than the technicalities attached to it. It’s simply mind-boggling. I mean 214 ponies propelling a machine that weighs less than 200 kg. The performance is on-par and even a step up from the previous Panigale avatars. But the best part is how rider-friendly the new Panigale is. What I mean by that is that the previous L-twin Panigales were amazing but they were overwhelming sometimes. Popping wheelies on a whim and a severe lack of respect for an inexperienced rider was their forte. The V4 is poles apart in that sense. The torque and power are evenly spread over the rev-range and delivery of that power is also just as smooth. It does not overwhelm the rider or demand too much from the rider. But if you want to have fun with it, it offers no less than the previous generation. It’s just more docile, tamable and extremely rider friendly. Ducati wanted the Panigale V4 to feel like a race-bike that is usable by riders of differing skills as easily as possible. And I am glad to say that the goal is achieved. Of course a lot of the credit goes to the ultra-sophisticated electronics package of the Panigale V4 that we’ll discuss in detail going forward.
There are always people who always want something more and even the 214 horses do not satisfy them. Ducati has taken care of those greedy people as well. A full titanium racing exhaust system by Akrapovic is also on offer which gives a power boost of 12 hp and a torque boost of 11 Nm. Extra is never bad right? I think next time we should ask Ducati for jet propulsion and maybe they’ll add that to the Panigale as well.
Maneggevole means maneuverable which is the strongest department of the Panigale V4 and the fact that it is not lacking in any other departments as well accentuates the fact that the V4 is a fantastic handler. The light weight of the bike combined with the choice of frame has really brought about a phenomenally positive change in the handling dynamics of the new Panigale. I am not undermining the handling of the previous iterations of the Panigale but we all know about the issues regarding the flex and the feedback that accompanied the monocoque construction that was used in the previous generations of Panigale. The V4 S that we rode is equipped with Öhlins NIX-30 forks, Öhlins TTX36 rear shock and Öhlins steering damper. The suspension is semi-active and is controlled by the second-generation control system Öhlins Smart EC 2.0. It also boasts of an event-based control system that detects the current situation of the bike i.e. if it is leaned over, accelerating, braking etc and adjusts the parameters based on that. The braking duties are handled by a twin 330 mm discs on the front end and 245 mm disc on the rear. The real deal here is that the V4 is exclusively fitted with Brembo Stylema monobloc calipers—an evolution of the brilliant M50s. The calipers in addition to being lightweight are extremely rigid which provides excellent feel and prompt response. The wheels are forged aluminum ensuring weight reduction and are shod with Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP V3 tyres which have been specially developed for the V4 and are not available to any other manufacturers. The front wheel gets 120/70 ZR17 shoes and the rear tyre size is 200/60 ZR 17. The size of the rear tyre replicates that of the tyres used in WSBK. The tyres are developed by Ducati and Pirelli to ensure that the tyres are able to handle the power that the Desmosedici Staradale transmits and the handling prowess of the bike itself.
The new ideology followed in the construction of the V4 makes sure that the Panigale eats corners for a breakfast and produce lap times comparable to those of race bikes. The suspension, the brakes, the wheels, the tyres etc all work in harmony to make the V4 probably the best handling motorcycle I have ever ridden. It just feels so agile and nimble that the bike tips into the corners so naturally (I’d even say supernaturally). The side to side transitions are a breeze as well. The ease of handling the V4 is just beyond words and even someone like me who isn’t a track junkie was referred to as Marquez by one of the instructors which is obviously a huge compliment for me but even more so for the V4. As I got the hang of the bike and the track I was able to better my lap times consistently and it happened so quickly that I felt like the motorcycle is an extension of me and is doing exactly what I think without the input lag. The interaction between the rider and the new Panigale is just other-worldly.
Electronics. That is what elettronica translates too. I can speak Italian, nice. Anyway, the numbers discussed above and in the spec sheet prove beyond a shred of doubt that the new Panigale is a monster. But monsters if left untamed or out of control can prove to be dangerous. And controlling a 215 bhp monster is no easy task. And that is why, the 6-axis inertial platform or 6D Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) acts as the tamer of this monster. It is a suite of electronics that help the rider control the new Panigale. It includes the following:
ABS Cornering Bosch EVO: Detects and extends its function in situation where the bike is leaned over. Cool. It has 3 levels; level 3 is intended for low grip situations, level 2 enables the rider to skid into the corners (safely) and level 1 in which the system is the least intrusive but still keeps the cornering ABS enabled for safety.
Ducati Traction Control EVO (DTC EVO): The new and updated traction control unit makes sure that the intervention is faster and even more accurate. It controls the rear wheel spin and keeps the motorcycle in control whereas the lower levels allow some degree of spin to help the motorcycle close the corner using the front wheel as a pivot and making the rider look like a pro.
Ducati Slide Control (DSC): An extension of the DTC, the DSC keeps the rear wheel slides that occur during hard acceleration out of the corner in check and corrects the slide angles that are otherwise difficult to handle sometimes. The lower levels intervene less and allow a certain degree of slide which can prove to be helpful and extremely pleasing. I tried my best to implement this but I could not. However I was inducing late braking slides mostly.
Ducati Wheelie Control EVO (DWC EVO): As the name suggests the function of this unit is to control the wheelies induced under hard acceleration. It is mildly intrusive and allows the maximum acceleration to be obtained in a safe manner.
Ducati Power Launch (DPL): Working in conjunction with the DWC, the DPL also ensures safe yet, fast starts. It also has 3 levels and in all the levels the system disengages past the start-speed or once the rider shifts to the 3rd gear. It also sports 3 levels where level 3 offers the most stable starts and level 1, well, unleashes hell.
Ducati Quick Shift up/down EVO (DQS EVO): The DQS is basically Ducati speak for quick-shifter enabled on both up and downshifts. This allows for hard downshifts even when the rider is wringing the bejesus out of the V4 on the track and even allows for safe shifting while cornering. A testament to how far technology has come.
Engine Brake Control EVO (EBC EVO): This system kicks in the situations where engine braking can adversely affect the motorcycle like when the vehicle is leaned into a corner or during turn-ins.
Ducati Electronic Suspension EVO (DES EVO): The Ducati V4 S is equipped with Öhlins Smart EC (Electronic Control) which integrated with the 6D IMU calculates the roll, yaw, pitch etc parameters and tunes the suspension accordingly in the Dynamic mode. It also features a Manual mode which allows for fixed compression and damping settings in accordance with the rider’s preference. Although, the Dynamic mode serves its purpose well by making the suspension adapt to the riding style and situations (cornering, acceleration etc), sometimes a little fine tuning with the Manual mode also proves helpful in case the rider is a pro and wants the suspension to follow certain mannerisms.
In addition to all these electronics, the V4 gets 3 riding modes, all of which have different preset values in the above electronic units. The 3 modes are; Race which throws all the 214 some horses loose and has the minimum level of intervention from the electronics, Sport which is a mild iteration of Race which makes the riders with less experience make the most of the V4 and lastly Street which makes the suspension softer and power delivery more sedate to better suit the V4 to the road riding conditions.
All the electronics are controlled via buttons mounted with the switchgear with the help of the 5” full-TFT display the best part of which is the virtual analog-type rev-counter which is complete with a needle that changes color effectively acting as a shift light as well. So even the analog lovers can rejoice because it offers a feel comparable to actual analog rev-counters and even better according to me. All these electronics make the V4 a formidable machine and a force to reckon with while still being an easy to ride motorcycle.
Wow. There have been a lot of technical jargons and a lot of words still when it comes to the ‘verdetto’ or the verdict, I suffer from a severe lack of words. If I give it a try, here’s my two bit on the Panigale V4.
The engine and the power it makes is insane and the new Panigale can easily be used as a torture device by adding the pillion seat kit and making the torturee sit pillion on the V4. If a motorcycle can make someone like me who isn’t a track frequent scrape not just my knees but elbows as well, it can be safely said that the handling is just phenomenal. Southpaw’s Jake Gyllenhall phenomenal. Eminem phenomenal. It is easily one of the best machines I have ridden around a track. Last but definitely not the least are the looks. Looks are sub… Nah, it is astonishingly beautiful and kudos to Ducati for always 1-upping their own work, in this case the previous Panigale which was a staggering beauty itself.
Below : And yes, I did manage to scrape my elbow! Finally!
The best part was that this was not just a ‘review’. It was an experience. DRE (Ducati Riding Experience) where you are accompanied by some of the best riders in the world, from a guy who is two times world champion, to the gentleman below, Dario, who still excels at endurance racing and is all of 57 years of age. Another instructor is Mr Valia, the rider you see on most posters and wallpapers doing crazy things on the bikes. And he is also a man who helps Ducati develop better and better bikes. Here’s me happy to take the certificate and some appreciation from a man of his experience.
So, if you want the something which will improve your laptimes on a track day while making you look extremely beautiful – this is the bike you would want. Ducati have done very well by getting the V4 (not the S) in 20 odd lacs in India, thanks to the fact that it is Made in Thailand. Just by comparison it is a cool 80 odd lacs cheaper than the Superleggera, which is actually a tad less powerful than the V4. You will be nevertheless in the company of exclusive riders with the V4 and with great pleasure, I would like to conclude this review by saying that ‘The new Opera’ is certainly one sweet sweet piece of music.
And what a last view before I said goodbye to this incredible date.