Please welcome Saskatoon’s own Kevin Duke to Canada Moto Guide! A 1994 intern at Cycle Canada magazine, he’s finally hit the big time here at CMG.
JEREZ, SPAIN—When I bought my 1992 900SS in Vancouver 25 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined the stupefying progress of Ducati V-twins through the years, eventually leading me here to Spain for the launch of the Panigale V2.
The super-sexy 916 had just debuted to worldwide acclaim for the 1994 model year, with its liquid-cooled motor and 4-valve cylinder heads producing around 110 horsepower. It was a world away from the 80 hp purported to be available from my air-cooled Supersport but almost absurdly tame relative to a modern superbike. The iconic 916 went on to win four Superbike world championships in a row.
A year after the 916’s debut came the introduction of the nearly identical 748, the first of the Italian brand’s “super-mid” category, with a claimed 87 hp. The lineage continued over the next two decades with the 749, 848 and the 899 Panigale with its aluminum monocoque frame. Then, in 2016, the 959 Panigale.
The 959 gets updated to this Panigale V2 form for 2020, which boasts 155 hp from its 955cc V-twin, very closely related to the 959’s mill. More efficient airbox routing, new fuel injectors and an under-engine muffler have boosted power slightly while meeting stringent Euro 5 emissions standards. Although nearly a litrebike, the Panigale V2 continues Ducati’s super-mid category with the claim of perfect balance of performance and control. Now, we’ve been invited here to the Circuito de Jerez MotoGP track to examine the V2’s balancing act.
Hardware and Software
Ducatisti will recognize a bunch of 959 Panigale in this latest version, with the same engine architecture and monocoque frame providing the guts of the bike. Yet much is new, including the bodywork, the 4.3-inch color TFT instrument panel from its V4 sibling, and the lovely single-sided swingarm from the defunct 1199/1299 V-twins. The fuel tank is the only bodywork element carried over from the 959. A new seat provides 5mm of extra padding and a faux suede finish with a V2 embossment.
One of the most impressive pieces of new kit is something you can’t see. Hidden away sits a six-axis IMU (inertial measurement unit) providing the data that informs the electronic rider aids. On the Panigale V2, it’s an extensive list: traction control, cornering ABS braking, wheelie control, engine-brake control, and an up/down quickshifter. All take into account lean angles and yaw angles thanks to that clever IMU.
These electronic rider aids somehow enable a 155-horsepower Italian stallion to be almost simple to flog around a racetrack. Ride modes of Street, Sport and Race are programmed with appropriate traction control, ABS and engine-brake control to suit the intended use. Happily, Ducati allows each to be individually customized to suit rider preferences. If, say, you prefer nearly uncrashable traction-control intervention but still want to do wheelies, [Because you’re crap at riding but want to look impressive, which is most of us – Ed.] that’s available with a few button pushes, you wheelie hound.
We started the day in Sport mode, which offers smooth throttle application and a lower threshold before ABS and traction-control interventions, in its default settings. The addition of cornering ABS is a noteworthy feature, especially for street riders, as it truly can remedy dreaded front-end traction losses in iffy conditions or under duress by the ham-fisted among us.
To give you an idea of what riding the Panigale V2 is like, allow me to place us at the end of Jerez’s front straight, squeezing the brakes to bleed off speed for the second-gear Turn 1. The Brembo M4.32 monoblock brakes do the job ably but don’t feel as invincible as the latest M50 or Stylema Brembos. The ABS system will prevent the rear wheel from lifting when set in Sport mode but allow it in Race mode.
Meanwhile, the quickshifter seamlessly matches revs during downshifts, handily removing a distracting task from a rider’s duties to allow focussing on precise corner-entry speeds and lines. If you’re an old-school rider who has a devotion to manually matching revs during downshifts, the quickshifter can be switched off like the rest of the rider aids.
Applying throttle is without annoying abruptness, and acceleration is brisk, demanding a quick upshift to third. Again, no clutch lever is required to change gear, and the throaty V-twin continues to build revs as Turn 3 rapidly approaches. Another stab of the brakes and another seamless rev-matched downshift for the slowest corner on the circuit, a right-hander.
Bending the Panigale V2 into corners is more accurately described as deliberate than quick. After all, it scales in at a not-inconsiderable 200kg with its 17-litre tank filled and has a longish wheelbase of 1,436mm. Still, it’s very stable laid over in a turn and has plenty of ground clearance.
A shove on the left clip-on sashays the V2 onto its left side for Turn 3 and demands a short-shift to third gear while accelerating on the side of the tire. Again the quickshifter makes this a simple task, and the V-twin pulls with authority anywhere after 6,000 rpm. Ducati’s latest traction control, “EVO 2,” acts on spin-intensity variation rather than instantaneous spin value, making TC intervention faster but smoother. In its lowest two levels, it allows drifting the rear tire while inhibiting highsides.
Keep the power dialled on and upshift again into Turn 4, and the electronic safety nets continue to provide confidence through the Turn 5 sweeper and onto the back straightaway. With its slim midsection and newly longer seat, a rider can tuck in tightly behind the windscreen and watch the shift lights trigger more clutchless upshifts on the way to seeing 250 km/h in fifth gear on the TFT screen. Then hard braking into the Dry Sac corner. From here on, there’s just more rudimentary dot-connecting to complete a lap at Jerez.
Is it worth it?
If you’re getting the impression that riding this $19,000 Italian litrebike around a racetrack is easy, then I’ve been successful. The Panigale V2 is remarkably undemanding while extracting its considerable performance potential. I’m an A-group trackday rider and really enjoyed my time aboard the V2, but I also believe the bike would be a cooperative ally for B- or C-group riders. The 200-plus-hp Ducati 1299 or V4 would be much more work and would include butt-puckering incidents that would sap some of the grins.
And while a more powerful engine would help trim lap times, don’t be fooled into thinking the V2 isn’t a speed machine. Ducati’s test rider, Alessandro Valia, clocked a 1:48.0 lap at Jerez on the V2 fitted with Pirelli Supercorsa street-legal rubber. You can watch it on the video below. For reference, consider that the best lap of the 1989 Grand Prix at Jerez aboard a fire-breathing 500cc two-stroke was a 1:48.6 set by GP legend Wayne Rainey.
In today’s era of sport motorcycles, a “super-mid” streetbike on street rubber can post a time that would outrun racing icons in their prime. Also, Valia’s lap was less than 10 seconds slower than five-time world champ Jorge Lorenzo set on his M1 MotoGP bike in 2013.
Ducati’s latest super-mid is a super bike. It would run rings around a 916 and do it easier and safer.
Key Specs: 2020 Ducati Panigale V2
Base price: $18,995 Cdn.
Engine: 955 cc V-twin
Curb weight: 200 kg
Power: 155 hp @ 10,750 rpm
Torque: 76.7 lb-ft @ 9000 rpm
Rake/Trail: 24.0 degrees/94 mm
Wheelbase: 1436 mm
Seat height: 840 mm
Brakes: Front: Radial-mount 4-piston Brembo M4.32 monoblock calipers, radial master cylinder, 320mm rotors; Rear: Brembo 2-piston caliper, 245 mm rotor
Front suspension: 43 mm Showa BPF fork, fully adjustable, 120 mm travel
Rear suspension: Sachs shock, fully adjustable, 130 mm travel
Tires: Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa ll; 120/70-17 front; 180/60-17 rear