Ducati Test Rider Alessandro Valia reveals how the Ducati Superleggera V4 was born

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Costing €100,000 and limited to just 500 units, the first Ducati Superleggera V4 has rolled off the production line in Bologna, with the owner of bike 001 invited to the factory for a special delivery ceremony.

The carbon-framed missile is the third of Ducati’s super-exotic Superleggera series, all developed by test rider Alessandro Valia. 

2014 saw the birth of the first Superleggera, based on the V-twin 1199 Panigale and a riot of magnesium, from chassis to wheels. That was followed in 2017 by the all-carbon 1299 version and now the Panigale V4 gets the 'superlight' treatment for the first time.

All 500 Superleggera V4s will be powered by a tuned 221bhp V4 R motor and will again be a smorgasbord of carbon, weighing just 159kg dry. Performance is fruitier still with its lightweight titanium race exhaust fitted (231bhp/152.2kg dry).

The story of the Ducati Superleggera V4

A wheelie on the Ducati Superleggera V4

But where do you start to develop a such a machine? Valia reveals all: "The previous V-twin Superleggera was at a really high level, so it was always going to be difficult to improve it. We had to start again with the V4 platform and wanted to create something with even more performance and power, but also easier for everyone to ride.

"We started to think about its new carbon-fibre chassis, because although the previous Superleggera was very light, it was a little stiff. We wanted that to change, so we first worked on the main frame to reduce its stiffness and add flexibility to give it a different flavour and be more friendly.

"This philosophy comes from MotoGP. We took a lot of experience from there and our World Superbike project. We reduced the frame’s torsional stiffness, which gave us a lot of improvement in terms of rider feeling. It’s better over the bumps and turns more easily when you’re in the middle of the corner.

"At the beginning of development, we start by working with engineers to calculate the chassis behaviour before we test, but start off on the bench in order to understand if it works. It would be a bit scary for me to just ride the bike with the swingarm and frame in carbon. I want to be sure it won’t break!

"After the test bench we go on track, initially Mugello because we know what works there and we check if the feeling on the bike matches the theory. We tested several frames for the Superleggera V4 and at the end we found the right compromise between rider feeling and rigidity. 

"We used the same approach for the new wings. We tested with computer simulators first, then the wind tunnel and finally on track. Again, this technology comes from MotoGP and the wings are the same as the 2016 Desmosedici GP16’s, before the regulations became more restrictive.

Ducati Superleggera V4 engine

"When I first tested the wings, they were really impressive - it was incredible. At Mugello the bike was really stable and precise and didn’t wheelie, especially over the flat-out crest at the end of the straight. But they were even more impressive at Portimao.

"There’s a crest at the beginning of the front straight and every bike wheelies there, so you have to close the throttle, but with this bike: nothing. You go over it over 270kph (167mph) and the front doesn’t go up. Amazing. The wings generate 50kg of downforce at that speed. That’s a lot. The only downside we have with these wings is a slight lack of agility, but on this bike, agility is not a problem.

"For the engine we started with the V4 R and reduced the weight of some of the internals, but the big difference was the engine management. We’ve changed the philosophy on this bike, as well as the 2020 Panigale V4, V4 S and Streetfighter V4 with new mapping with decreasing torque maps, so it’s more manageable and friendly when the rider asks for the power.

Ducati Superleggera V4 wings

"I developed the mapping and electronics with our engineers on track. When I’m riding and feel something I want to talk about later, I use the engine start button to mark a point on the data. When I go back to the garage, we check this point and find exactly what we need to improve.

"I generally do no more than five laps at a time. When you ride a lot, you can quickly tell when something is not working and can immediately feel any changes. This can take a lot of time, but the end result is quite good.

A front view of the Ducati Superleggera V4

"I started testing for Ducati in 2003 with the 999 factory superbike that Neil Hodgson won the WSB title on that year. I started with production bikes in 2007 – my first project was the Desmosedici RR.

"As a test rider, it is a dream to develop a bike like this. Its weight, power and lap time is similar to our superbike. In fact, the weight is maybe a bit lower, especially with the carbon rims - you can really feel how much easier it is to steer with them. There are a lot of special components like this on the Superleggera V4 that make a difference.

"We often test with the WSB and MotoGP teams at Mugello and at Valencia the lap times are quite close because the engine doesn’t make such a big difference. I often ride the superbike, but there’s no time for the MotoGP bike - we always say 'maybe next time'. I don’t want to just do one or two laps on it, but a complete day to get used to tyres and brakes."

Alessandro Valia fact file

Alessandro Valia

  • Name Alessandro Valia 
  • Age 44 
  • Claim to fame Ducati test rider 
  • Other projects 2020 Panigale V4 and Streetfighter V4 
  • Greatest achievement "Developing traction control and cornering ABS. It was scary lapping Mugello in 1:52 on a road bike and making a Diavel handle with its long wheelbase and oversize rear tyre." 
  • Missed opportunity "I won the Italian Superstock championship in '02 and raced as a wildcard in WSB on an old 996, finishing in the top15. I wish I had a chance on a factory bike, but during my testing career I’ve had my revenge with the very fast riders!"

Watch: Ducati Superleggera V4 hot lap of Portimao

First published: 26 March 2020 by Dan Sutherland

Ducati have released an onboard video of test rider, Alessandro Valia taking the Superleggera V4 for a spin around Portimao in Portugal.

Unlike the short track action video they released before where the bike could be seen backing it in and struggling to keep the front wheel down, this lap looks smooth, clean and very, very fast.

On the start/finish straight, the speedo hits 300kmph (over 186mph) at the top of fifth gear with that V4 engine howling towards 16,000rpm.

Read on to find out more about the Superleggera V4 below...

Ducati Superleggera V4: The lightest, most powerful road bike Bologna's ever built

First published: 6 February 2020 by Dan Sutherland

Ducati Superleggera V4 left side

Introducing the Ducati Superleggera V4 – the lightest, most powerful production bike ever produced by the Italian marque.

Based on the existing 998cc V4R, the exclusive bike will be limited to just 500 units and cost a staggering €100,000 (approximately £85,000) – boasting a dry weight of 152kg and a road-going power figure of 224hp. Equipped with the track-only full Akrapovic unit, this then jumps to 234hp.

As well as monster power, the Superleggera also takes the title of being the first-ever road bike with a full carbon frame, with the front twin-spar section and swingarm saving 2.4kg over the V4R’s aluminium alloy construction. A carbon single-sided swingarm lops off a further 0.9kg – replacing the aluminium unit on the R model.

"In order to remove a fixation point on each side of the frame and get rid of two screws - one per side - we decided to connect the whole chassis at one central point, purely to save weight," Lead Designer of Ducati V4 range, Julien Clement, said.  

"With a bike like this you are really chasing the small grams, so each time you remove one screw, you're improving the overall weight."

Ducati Superleggera V4 on the track

As if that wasn’t enough, the fairing is also full carbon fibre, as is the base of the single-seat unit. Although Ducati’s previous 1299 Superleggera also made use of carbon fibre, it’s monocoque chassis design saw the airbox effectively attach the front of the machine straight to the engine, rather than being a conventional frame.

Advanced suspension and brakes

With a premium carbon frame wrapped around the savage V4 powerplant, the Superleggera has unsurprisingly also been equipped with top-notch Öhlins suspension and the latest Brembo stoppers. 

Weighing 0.6kg less than the units found on the Panigale V4, upfront are a set of chunky 43mm upside down pressurised NPX25/30 forks. At the rear lies a TTX36 single shock, complete with a titanium spring and MotoGP-derived hydraulic valve technology, which help improve the absorption of bumps in the tarmac during the initial compression stage.

Bringing you to a stop are the latest in Brembo Stylema R monobloc front calipers, which bite onto two 330mm discs. Featuring pistons complete with cooling holes to reduce brake fade, they are a first on any road bike. 

This is complemented further by a Brembo MCS 19.21 master cylinder, complete with a remote adjuster, as well as a CNC-machined front lever to help reduce drag.

Electronic intervention

As you might expect from a modern-day superbike, the Superleggera is littered with electronics, to help produce the fastest lap times around your favourite circuits.

The Superleggera comes with finish line and split coordinates for Laguna Seca, Mugello, Jerez, Sepang and Losail built in, and you can recall your best times from each circuit the next time you visit to monitor your progress.  

Using a 6-axis IMU, the V4 gets Ducati’s latest electronics suite, consisting of; cornering ABS, traction control, slide control, launch control, anti-wheelie, an up-and-down quickshifter and engine brake control.

What’s more, using the left switchgear, traction, wheelie, slide an engine braking management can all be adjusted for different levels of intrusiveness – allowing you to tailor each ride to your preferred settings.

This customisation then goes one further, with Ducati producing three programmed rider modes specifically for the new machine. Codenamed Race A, Race B and Sport, there are two maps for the circuit, and another designed for road use. There are also five additional modes for riders to load their own personal settings into.

Race A is designed for the most experienced of riders – giving maximum power through the ride-by-wire throttle directly. ABS remains at the front wheel only and can be activated both upright and during a corner. 

Unsurprisingly, Race B is a slightly watered-down version of Race A; delivering maximum welly, but with reduced torque in the first three gears. There’s also a higher level of ABS input and slide control is activated. Again, cornering ABS is also active.

In Sport, full power is again available, however the ride-by-wire throttle modulates its delivery. Torque levels are also monitored to insure it’s rideable in a wider range of weather conditions. There is also a greater presence of from the rider aids, too.

Winging it

With so little weight and so much power on tap, Ducati have also equipped the Superleggera with carbon fibre biplane wings based on the Desmosedici GP16 MotoGP bike, which produce 50kg of downforce at 168mph - a further 20kg more than the 2020 Panigale V4R and V4S at the same speed.

More aerodynamically efficient than this coming season’s GP20, Ducati opted to use the 16 as a base, as it was their most effective design before being capped by MotoGP rules. 

To help keep the front wheel pinned to the tarmac further, the ultra-light swingarm is now also 11mm longer. Such improvements mean less intrusion is needed from electronic anti-wheelie control, allowing the rider to get on the power harder and faster.

Alongside improved downforce, Ducati's test rider, Alessandro Valia, also claims the new machine is easier to ride, with the carbon frame offering more flex than the V4R's alumnium construction. This, in turn, helps the bike during tip in and allows the rider to reach the apex much faster. 

Ducati Superleggera V4 wheelie

As well as squeezing an extra 3hp thanks to the inclusion of a road-legal Akrapovic exhaust, Ducati have also saved weight internally – producing an engine that’s 2.8kg lighter than the 1103cc powerplant found inside V4S.

To achieve this, there are now lighter camshafts and gearshift drum, as well as a dry clutch complete with carbon cover. Lighter titanium and aluminium bolts also feature in places like the cylinder heads, where titanium is used to attach them to the crankshaft. By installing the track exhaust, this weight-saving then jumps to 6kg.

With such high tolerances at work, the Desmodromic system timing is now performance tuned manually by an expert. Once everything is in order, the technician then signs their signature on a metallic plate that mounts to a carbon cover and sits upon the rear cylinder bank. As well as a unique signature, each bike's top yoke is also etched with its unique serial number, which is also reflected in the key and on the frame. 

Despite the lightweight parts and extreme performance, servicing remains the same as on the standard V4R; with a smaller service at around 7500 miles and a larger Desmo service for valve clearances at around 15,000 miles.

Other practical touches can also be found in areas like the rider interface, with the bike compatible with the Ducati Multimedia System, which allows you to take calls, play music and receive texts via Bluetooth.

Ducati Superleggera V4 name detail

The benefits of Superleggera ownership

On top of owning an exclusive slice of Ducati performance, every owner will also gain access to a World Superbike experience, which will see riders take to Mugello aboard a Ducati Panigale V4R, Superleggera and then a fully-fledged World Superbike for a handful of laps. Expert tuition will also be provided from the likes of Scott Redding and Chaz Davies, as well as a number of other expert Ducati riders.

For those wanting something a little extra, Ducati have now also pioneered the MotoGP experience; granting 30 riders the chance to sample a GP20 MotoGP machine at Mugello. The cost of this is an additional €20,000 (approximately £17,000).

More carbon framed Ducati's on the way?

When questioned on whether we might see carbon frame technology trickle down into more Ducati models, Julien Clement added: "The only way it would be possible to bring a carbon chassis to other models is if production gets much cheaper. Everything depends on the price - because we want to sell bikes!

"So, if it's for a limited edition model like this one, then we could see it used in the near future. However, further in the future - if we could get some carbon fibre produced cheaper, then I think we would use carbon frames elsewhere."

High fibre diet: Ducati Superleggera V4 sheds kilos with lightweight carbon frame

First published: 16 January 2020 by Mike Armitage

Ducati Superleggera V4 laid bare

Ducati are set to launch the world’s first production bike with a carbon-fibre frame. The new Superleggera version of the Panigale V4 R uses the high strength, lightweight material to slash weight from its chassis, and with a tuned engine will have the highest power-to-weight ratio of any road-legal bike ever.

It was expected that BMW might be first to use a carbon frame on a fully-homologated road bike, following their track-only HP4 Race, but Ducati will steal the spotlight.

Leaked details about the Superleggera confirm that carbon be will be used for the main structural frame section plus the subframe, swingarm and wheels, saving 7.7kg from the chassis alone over the V4 R – that’s almost eight bags of Tate & Lyle.

Ducati Superleggera V4 without fairing above

Of course, the previous 1299 Superleggera also used lashings of carbon, but didn’t have a frame as such – called a monocoque by Ducati, the 1299’s airbox effectively attached the steering head to the front of the engine. On the V4 there’s a short twin-spar design that also has legs extending down the front of the engine, which Ducati refer to as a frame. Good enough for us.

Weight saving doesn’t stop there: an aluminium sprocket, lightweight chain and carbon fibre fairings save another two kilos, while tweaks to the suspension, controls and yokes scrape off a further 1.32kg.

Ducati Panigale V4 R standard bike

Weight has been removed from the 998cc V4 engine, too. Almost three kilos are saved through lighter fasteners and a dry clutch, plus the use of titanium camshafts.

Ducati’s desmodromic valve system mechanically opens and closes the valves, rather than using a spring for return, giving them precise control – it’s part of the reason the short-stroke V4 can rev to a stratospheric 16,500rpm.

By taking another step forward with lightweight titanium cams, inertia will be reduced (more so than by using hollow cams, as weight is saved right to the lobe rather than just from the centre) and give Ducati another unique advantage in their cylinder heads.

Changes and tuning take output to 220.9bhp at 15,250rpm, making it the most powerful V4 Stradale engine yet produced. With the full Akrapovic race exhaust supplied with each bike this figure climbs to an absurd 230bhp.

Ducati Panigale V4 R headlight

With a claimed dry weight of just 152kg – a saving of almost 20kg over the V4 R – and so an expected wet weight of around 173kg, this means the Superleggera will have a 27% higher power-to-weight ratio than BMW’s ballistic S1000RR.

No wonder it has a brand new set of wings that produce over 50kg of downforce at 167.7mph; not only 67% more than the current V4 R, this is even more force than on Ducati’s latest MotoGP machine.

That Ducati can make something so light and powerful yet still fully homologate it as a road bike – lights, mirrors, properly silenced, meet emission regs, numberplate in the right place – is staggering.

Production of the new Superleggera begins in April, with plans to produce five bikes per day for delivery from May. Ducati CEO, Claudio Domenicali confirmed in November that 500 units would be produced in total. The last bike cost around £75,000 and we're expecting this one to be considerably more than that. Keep an eye out for the full Ducati Panigale V4 Superleggera review coming soon on MCN...

Ducati CEO confirms lightweight Panigale V4 special edition

First published: 27 November 2019 by Ben Clarke

Claudio Domenicale

Ducati CEO, Claudio Domenicali, has told MCN that we won't have to wait long for a special new version of their V4 superbike.

"There will be a special edition of the V4 with the same name as previous special editions (Superleggera)," he said.

"It will be seen in the new year and it will be very dramatic. It will be a 500 limited edition, it will be quite expensive but it will be very dramatic in terms of what is on the bike. I think it will be surprising."

Ducati Panigale V4 Superleggera spy shots

First published: 2 October 2019 by Dan Sutherland

Special lightweight Ducati Panigale V4 Superleggera spied

Spy shots have emerged showing what appears to be a new special-edition Ducati Panigale V4 Superleggera that could redefine the horsepower race.

Meaning 'superlight' in Italian, the Superleggera follows a Ducati tradition of producing a slimmed-down version of their top-spec superbike, with the both the 1199 and 1299 V-twin Panigales previously receiving the same treatment.

Just like the previous versions, virtually everything that can conceivably be made from carbon fibre appears to be.

There’s a brand new subframe, which has a lack of pillon mounts and gentle curves that suggest the smooth mouldings of a lightweight carbon number. The outer tail pieces too have been modified, surrounding the rear lights with carbon.

Check out the aero fins on this new special-edition Ducati Panigale V4 Superleggera

The new machine also appears to be using a set of 10-spoke BST Rapid Tek carbon wheels, as seen on the 1299 Superleggera, as well as new carbon-fibre bodywork based on the V4R.

Unlike the 1299 Superleggera before it, this new bike doesn’t appear to use a carbon frame, with the bike pictured here seemingly equipped with the aluminium design already found on the existing 217bhp Panigale V4R.

However it’s likely that it's a lighter weight version that could not be fitted to the V4R due to the expense.

Rear view of 2020 Ducati Panigale V4 Superleggera

Despite this, it is plausible that the swingarm is in fact carbon fibre, shrouded by a blacked-out paint finish. This is because the aforementioned 1299 special edition made use of such a swinging arm, with only part of the carbon weave exposed.

There's also a revised titanium exhaust system, which adopts end cans similar to the Akrapovic unit fitted to the Ducati Panigale V4 25° Anniversario 916.

Unlike the limited edition, the header pipes on the bike pictured differ from the layout found on any other V4 Panigale, with the blueing finish potentially suggesting a full titanium system as well as shorter exhaust run to save weight.

This top-spec machine also features a different clutch - a sealed unit, rather than the exposed dry design found on models including the V4 25° Anniversario 916.

Away from this, the bike also looks to make use of the same manually-adjusted Öhlins NPX 25-30 forks as the WSB-focussed Panigale V4R, which saves around 600g over the electronic semi-active unit found on the 1103cc V4S. There also appears to be an Öhlins fully-adjustable TTX36 rear shock.

Unlike the forks on the R model, this bike features a small blue spot at the base, which could well be an internal way of easily seeing what’s been worked on. Given it’s likely 10kg lighter than the standard model, the suspension has likely been resprung and revalved.

We've no clear steer from Ducati on pricing or launch date for this new bike, however if they do unveil the machine this year it will likely be on Wednesday, October 23, with the rest of their 2020 range.

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Michael Neeves

By Michael Neeves

MCN Chief Road Tester, club racer, airmiles millionaire.