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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.