Ducati has just debuted the most extreme petrol-powered supersport bike in history on the eve of EICMA in Milan. The new king of the Panigale range is a World Superbike homologation special with a set of specifications that should strike fear into the heart of any mortal. Oh, and it's got wings, too.
The homologation special
World Superbike (WSBK) is a production-based race series, which pits hotted-up versions of the actual streetbikes you can go and buy against one another in competition – as opposed to MotoGP, which is more like Formula One, in that each race bike is essentially a prototype that was never built for road use.
In order to race a given bike in WSBK, it needs to meet an exhaustive list of homologation regulations to keep the playing field as level as possible. No titanium frames are allowed, for example, and ABS systems have to be removed from the race bikes.
But you also need to prove that the bike you're entering for racing is actually a genuine production bike that customers can buy and ride on the road. They can't cost any more than €40,000 to buy, and the manufacturer has to prove it has built at least 500 units by the end of the year following the homologation inspection date.
Thus, if you want to enter something really special, you need to make it available to the public as well as the race team, and this occasionally leads to some absolute lunatic-level machinery being built for the road.
The latest, and thus far, greatest example of the homologation special is next year's Ducati Panigale V4R. The current Ducati superbike is a 1198cc V-Twin, taking advantage of the rules that allow twins to run a higher engine capacity than 4-cylinder engines. But the current model Panigale V4 streetbike has an 1103cc V4 motor, which is 103cc too big to race with as a 4-cylinder.
Hence the beast we see today, just unveiled in a spectacular event at the world's biggest bike show: EICMA in Milan.
The engine: 998cc, 90-degree V4
The new Panigale V4R runs a 998cc version of the Desmosedici Stradale 90-degree V4, with the stroke shortened from 53.5 mm to 48.4 mm, and the 81 mm bore untouched, essentially taking an extremely oversquare and rev-focused motor and making it significantly more oversquare and revvy.
The engine internals have also lost a fair bit of weight: the pistons are forged, with just two piston rings (one for compression, the other an oil scraper) and the crankshaft, high-lift valves and con rods are titanium. The crank alone saves an astonishing 1.1 kg (2.42 lb) over the one in the 1103cc bikes, the con rods save 100 grams (3.5 ounces) each.
So as well as having less distance to travel with each revolution thanks to the shorter stroke, there's significantly less mass to move as well. That means Ducati can rev this thing much, much higher than the 1103cc version: the V4S revs to 13,000 rpm, and the R version keeps on pulling, up to a crazy 15,250 rpm.
So the new R bike loses torque, which drops from a peak of 124 Nm (91.5 lb-ft) in the S bike down to 114 Nm (83 lb-ft) in the R. It'll thus feel a bit gutless on the road at low revs. But, power being equal to torque multiplied by revs, it gains significant horsepower when you spin it up to the top of its new stratospheric rev range: while the S bike makes 214 horses flat out, the R boosts this to a screaming 221, and that's in fully road-legal trim.
Bin the legal cans for the Performance kit from Akrapovic (not Termignoni, interestingly enough) and that horsepower figure leaps to 234 ponies, and presumably a soundtrack capable of inspiring almost as much fear as the acceleration, if and when you're able to hang onto full throttle.
If you're new to the whole superbike thing, that's more power than we've ever seen on such a lightweight sports machine. In fact, it's now the most powerful non-electric, production road bike on the planet, since it's got three horses worth of wood on the 2019 Kawasaki H2, which needs an aggressively chirpy supercharger to get to its ludicrous 231-hp top end.
You'd have to assume it's going to send a rocket up the backsides of the entire WSBK series next year – along with national production-based race categories the world over. It certainly becomes the instant king of no-excuses track bikes. Anyone who rolls one of these out of a pit box will have the largest possible target on their backside. Their scalps will be priceless to better riders on inferior machinery, which is pretty much everything.
On the road? Well, it'll probably be clattery and cantankerous at any legal speed, but will open the gates of Hades and unleash an unprecedented degree of what the young folks are calling "yeet" if you have the insolence to rev it.
The body of the bike hasn't changed an awful lot from the barnstorming V4S model. It's 2 kg (4.4 lbs) lighter at 172kg (379 lbs) dry, but this is mainly due to the engine's weight loss program.
The bodywork is notably different – partially for the huge gills on the side fairings, as well as the silver rear of the tank, the white highlight lines and the overall larger and higher front fairing. But mainly for the evil black carbon winglets behind the headlights.
Ducati, of course, was the first manufacturer to push winglet technology at the MotoGP level, where an increasingly complex series of front end aerodynamics packages helped keep the front wheel down under acceleration, and added some cornering downforce to boot, while slightly muddying the airflow behind a bike, potentially making it a little more difficult to pass in the slipstream.
Much to Ducati's disgust, they were banned after the 2017 season, the Grand Prix Commission citing safety concerns raised by riders. But World Superbike has explicitly allowed the technology, so it's game on for the homologation superbike.
Ordinarily, I'm against any technology that helps prevent unintended wheelstands, as unintended wheelstands are among my favorite parts of motorcycling. But this is unashamedly a race bike with mirrors and indicators. The focus is squarely on precision and lap times, giggle factor be damned. They make perfect sense here.
The brakes, as on the V4S, are top-shelf Brembo Stylema units. The suspension, on the other hand, takes a step down from the road-focused S model. There's little use for electronic adaptive suspension on a racetrack, so instead the R model gets some fancy new, purely mechanical suspension from Ohlins.
The 43 mm forks use a competition-inspired pressurized system with asymmetrical damping: the compression damping piston in the left fork uses a 25 mm piston and the rebound damper in the right uses a 30 mm piston. Hence the system's name: NPX 25/30.
It runs all the same electronic rider systems as the V4S, from traction, slide and wheelie control to Bosch's Cornering ABS Evo, up/down quickshifting, engine brake control and an updated three riding modes, pit lane limiter, lap timing, data analysis and multimedia Bluetooth systems.
Make no mistake, this is a monumental motorcycle. As well as setting a new, ridiculously high horsepower benchmark, it represents the absolute state of the art when it comes to production track bikes. We're excited to see if its bite matches its bark in Superbike competition around the world in 2019, but when it comes to bench racing, here's your new King Dingaling of the combustion world, as evil and powerful as it gets at this very moment. Buy one if you can afford it, and keep it in a box. This will be a bike to remember.
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