Time to hop on board Ducati’s premium superbike bruiser for a few toe-to-toe rounds of Willow Springs.
The first few laps on any new motorcycle are just like meeting a new person. You mentally size each other up, find some common ground, attempt some light-hearted conversation, and generally find a way to get along.
Then there are those with whom you become instant buddies, but you know there’s a rough side to them. You don’t want to get too chummy, lest they turn around and smack you for what you think is no good reason.
This is what it’s like to ride a Ducati Panigale V4 R. That blood-red bullet with wings. It’s a motorcycle that keeps you on your toes, like a good sparring partner at the gym.
The Ducati Panigale V4 R is, without a doubt, the fastest stock superbike I have ever ridden. It’s 998cc V4 motor revs to an astonishing 16,500 rpm and produces so much power you’re guaranteed to run out of racetrack before the motor does power.
The experience is akin to being front row center at Metallica—all wild and emotional high pitched riffs mixed with intake and exhaust noise so loud you absolutely must wear earplugs. It’s like James Hetfield screaming, “acting like a maniac… whiplash!”
The V4 R motor is one that loves to rev. Below 8000 rpm, nothing much happens. Indeed, peak torque of 83 lb-ft comes 3500 rpm higher at 11,500 rpm, but it comes in with a rush that has the chassis scrapping for grip as you’re hurtled into your near future at mind-warping velocity, throwing gears at the motor like dollar bills in the club.
But you’ve still got another 3750 rpm to go before you reach the claimed maximum horsepower of—wait for it—220 horsepower, or 162 kW if you want to be entirely accurate.
When Nicky Hayden won the 2006 World Championship on arguably the greatest MotoGP motorcycle ever created in the glorious five-cylinder Honda RC211V, he had “over 207 horsepower” at his disposal, according to the official Repsol Honda website—the team for which he was riding.
The Ducati Panigale V4 R thus makes substantially more power than the best MotoGP machine from the previous decade, which, when you think about it, it’s a baffling fact. And the Panigale R has a license plate.
Suddenly that sparring analogy doesn’t sound too far-fetched, right?
Thankfully for those not as talented as the late Kentucky Kid (which equates to roughly 99.99997 percent of the rest of the world), the Panigale V4 R comes laced with every conceivable electronic gadget to keep the $39,995 MSRP machine rubber side down, far more than Nicky had at his disposal all those years ago.
At Willow Springs, with its surface so severely deteriorated it’s like a once-great runner who’s lived at In And Out for the past 23 years, it’s a good thing you are not left entirely to your own devices on the V4 R. There’s wheelie control, slide control, cornering ABS, engine brake control, but it’s the Panigale’s nine-stage Ducati Traction Control (DTC) algorithm that takes center stage. This is one of if not the finest TC systems on the market today and offers the right amount of adjustment to either let the motorcycle have all its head or absolutely none of it. BMW’s 2019 S 1000 RR has 14 levels of adjustment by comparison, which is far too many for anyone to truly need. The Ducati system is a vindication of the “less is more” approach.
Tailoring the electronics to your liking is imperative. You’ll want to set and forget them because you’ll be too busy keeping everything in line and out of the weeds. The chassis is taut and extremely stiff, and it may sound somewhat cliché, but the Panigale V4 R in standard trim is far more a real race bike than anything else on the market today.
With proper conventionally-adjusted (not electronic) Ӧhlins front and rear in the beautiful 43 mm NPX pressurized fork and TTX36 shock, the feel at the ‘bars and bum is sublimely tangible, allowing you to feel every nook and crack at Big Willow (and, trust me, there are lots). Yet you’re never totally comfortable, as the aluminum front frame chassis has a nervous, twitchy energy to it. Compared to a Kawasaki ZX-10RR, the Ducati is flighty, and you must stay 200 percent focused on the job at hand. There’s a reason Chaz Davies and Alvaro Bautista are constantly moving and skating around the racetrack on their V4 R’s—they need to be ridden with force to harness the brain-bending potential of Ducati’s creation. Riding a Kawasaki is like an energetic Tabata workout. The Ducati is Crossfit.
The workout continues when you hit the brakes. Brembo’s Stylema four-piston radially mounted monobloc calipers will haul you up with stupendous force, but more than the power on offer is the feel at the lever. The Brembo radial master-cylinder allows for minute changes in brake pressure so you can gradually dial in the brake you like. It’s a little but standout feature of the Panigale V4 R.
As is the Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) on the gearbox. The shift is light and direct, but you must be careful to get your foot out of the way and not accidentally touch the lever, which will kill the power with such force your head will hit and thus break the windscreen. I know. It happened to me.
The downshift when mixed with the STM EVO-SBK clutch, is just superb. No other way to say it. Under extreme speed down Willow’s long front straight, you just need to bang down a couple of gears and let the electronics take care of everything, the engine brake control mixing with the slipper clutch, mixing with the quick shifter. It’s a beautiful dance and allows you to focus on the job of the quick left-hander approaching. Remember, there’s $40K worth of bike underneath you.
The Ducati Panigale V4 R is one of those bikes that will become an instant classic, not so much for any one part but for just what a beast of a package it is. There’s so, so much performance from a standard machine on offer, it’s hard to believe this is a street-legal ride.
My three sessions at Willow Springs were indeed eye-opening. Simply put, this is the finest Ducati superbike ever created.CN
2019 Ducati Panigale V4 R Specifications
||Desmosedici Stradale 90° V4, rearward-rotating crankshaft, 8 Desmodromically actuated valves
|Bore x Stroke:
||81mm x 48.4mm
||EFI, twin injectors per cylinder, full ride-by-wire elliptical throttle bodies w/aerodynamic valves, variable-length intake system
||218 bhp @ 15,250 rpm (234 hp w/Akrapovic race exhaust)
||83 lb-ft @ 11,500 rpm
||4-2-1-2 system w/2 catalytic converters and 2 lambda probes
||6-speed w/Ducati Quick Shift (DQS) up/down EVO
||43mm Ӧhlins NPX pressurized fork w/TiN treatment, fully adj.
||Single Ӧhlins TTX36 shock, aluminum single-sided swingarm, fully adj.
||2x330mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo Monobloc Stylema (M4.30) 4-piston calipers w/Bosch Cornering ABS EVO
||245mm disc, 2-piston caliper w/Bosch Cornering ABS EVO
||Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP 120/70 ZR17, 3.50 x 17 in. rim
||Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP 200/60 ZR17, 6.00 x 17 in. rim
||Riding Modes, Power Modes, Bosch Cornering ABS EVO, Ducati Traction Control (DTC) EVO, Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC) EVO, Ducati Slide Control (DSC), Engine Brake Control (EBC), Auto tire calibration
|Weight (curb, claimed):