Never has the gap between a Ducati R-model superbike and its siblings been so big. The Panigale V4 R feels nothing like a road bike when you take it on track. It accelerates so brutally, turns so fast and pummels your body with so much force it makes the 1103cc Panigale V4 S – MCN’s sportsbike of 2018, feel like a soft, fluffy touring bike.
Ducati are desperate for WSB glory after the old V-twin Panigale failed to win a world superbike championship. With rules now tied more closely to showroom models than ever the idea for the new V4 R was simple: make the road bike as race-ready as possible and there’s little left to do when you turn it into a racer. Mission accomplished.
For a bike with such searing performance it’s incredibly easy to ride…to a point. Throttles don’t come smoother, electronics safer or grip as grippy. It’s more agile than the V4 1100 and infinitely more stable on the throttle, where there’s less instant torque trying to turn the chassis and rear tyre inside out. You could easily ride it to the shops.
A challenge to ride very fast
On the other hand it’s a challenge to ride very fast. It’ll show the 1100 a clean pair of heels on track, but the V4 R is so stiff, small and powerful, it’s a struggle to hang on. Trying to harness the full force of braking, acceleration and cornering quickly saps your strength.
We’ve finally come to a point where a road bike is such a thinly disguised racer only a pro can begin to taste its fruits. Most superbikes flatter to deceive, but the Ducati wastes no time showing you it’s far better than you.
While the long-stroke 1100 is packed with so much torque you can choose lazy gears and not trouble its redline the V4 R loves to rev. Winding it around to 13,000rpm, roughly where you’d take the 1100 results in face-peeling acceleration, but there’s still another 3000rpm to go. Rev it to the moon and the razor blade-gargling engine note becomes crisper, shriller and more gravelly.
Searing along straights, dispensing with gears as fast as you can feed them in, with electronically assisted ease, the V4 R delivers factory superbike-grade acceleration, as the cracking exhaust note sharpens its daggers and plunges them into your brain.
A finger full of electronically assisted front Brembo and a stamp on the rear sends the world tumbling into reverse when its time to brake. The combination of electronic engine braking control and back-slipping dry clutch lets you bang down through clutch-less gears with neither a hop or a skip from the rear end, as you carve serenely towards the apex.
Ducati say the wings calm high-speed wheelies so much, you can run less anti-wheelie - so fewer electronics pulling at your coattails and more chance to use all that power. They also help pin the front down under braking and turning-in at lower speeds.
A counter-rotating crank
Unlike the 1100, all the V4 R wants to do is get to full lean as fast as possible and head-butt every apex with little input from the rider. And when you get back on the throttle, the Ducati turns even tighter, thanks to the magic of its counter-rotating crank.
MotoGP bikes haven’t sprouted wings for the hell of it, but let’s be completely honest: it’s hard to single out what they’re actually doing when you’re hanging on for grim death on a bike with the power of Ducati’s original 2003 MotoGP Desmosedici GP3.
The V4 R has unflappable high-speed stability and rails into corners faster than you dare push on a motorcycle costing as much as my first house. Is it the wings, anti-wheelie, grip from the tyres, poise from the chassis, or clever crank doing the job? I suspect it’s a bit of everything. Having said that the Ducati still pulls huge wheelies in the higher gears over crests, so the wings only do so much.
New traction and slide control settings helps the rear tyre track more smoothly when its slipping and quickly delivers confidence. Power doesn’t cut audibly when the TC chimes in, like a BMW HP4 Race - it’s more a stuttering you feel through your body as the rear gently breaks traction, like sitting down wearing bubble wrap underpants.
Ducati has taken its new 1100cc V4 Stradale motor and shrunk it down to fit superbike racing rules. Running the same 81mm bore as before the stroke is shortened by 5.1mm to 48.4mm bringing capacity down to a 998cc. Red line is set to 16,000rpm and 16,500rpm in top.
It has higher lift cams, titanium instead of steel conrods, a lighter crank, variable intake trumpets and bigger elliptical throttle bodies (up from 52mm to 56mm). Despite its raciness, the valve clearance service is still every 15,000-miles. It’s Ducati’s most powerful road bike engine making 218bhp, or 231bhp with the race kit exhaust.
Ducati claims its CNC machined STM-EVO SBK dry clutch has a more efficient slipper action on aggressive downshifts and with no clutch plate dust getting inside the engine, cleaner oil, too.
There have been teething problems with the Panigale V4 and V4 S, but they’ve been sorted with recalls. The V4 R’s chassis components are top drawer and despite its power its new Stradale R motor still has 15,000-mile valve check service intervals.
Carbon trinkets and fancy levers are conspicuous by their absence on the V4 R – every penny you pay is for the go and not the show. It has a serious price tag, but this a serious track bike.
For the first time the Ducati Corse racing department have had a hand in designing a road bike’s bodywork and aerodynamics. The V4 R’s nose is 15mm wider each side, the screen 34mm taller and each side panel is chunkier by 38mm.
Single blade wings come from the 2016 MotoGP Desmosedici, which Ducati says is more effective at high speed anti-wheelie and braking/turn-in stability, than the faired-in, regulation-friendly versions MotoGP they use now.
They deliver 4kg of vertical force at 62mph and a massive 30kg (a bag and a half of spuds) at 167mph. New fairing louvers help suck more hot air from around the radiator and oil cooler.
More frame flex
In a sea of high technology Ducati has used a very basic solution to give the ultra stiff V4 frame more flex and feel in the corners – they’ve cut dirty great holes in it. To give race teams a wider range of chassis adjustment the V4 R has a four-position swingarm pivot and the electronic semi-active suspension Öhlins makes way for mechanically adjustable units. NPX 25-30 forks are pressurised and 600grams lighter, a TTX36 shock sits at the rear and spring rates are all heavier.
Electronics are taken from the V4, but new ‘predictive’ traction and slide control systems are smoother for the track. Dash features a new lap timer showing two splits.