BAHRAIN—With my left knee puck wearing down on the pavement, I visualize my line at corner exit. I twist the throttle to its stop, and the bike pulls progressively harder as it lifts from its lean, until it forces my butt against the seat hump. The front wheel leaves the pavement but I stay on the gas, placing my faith in the bike’s wheelie control.
I blast out of Bahrain’s second-gear Turn 10, and row up the gears clutchless with the throttle wide open before I hit the brakes hard to shave some speed, and then tip the bike and graze my knee puck again through the following left-hand sweeper.
Oh, I forgot to mention – it’s pouring rain.
Although I wish I could credit supernatural riding skill for allowing me to ride astoundingly fast on a drenched racetrack, the truth is most of the credit goes to the revised 2020 Ducati Panigale V4 S I’ve come to Bahrain to test.
Ducati introduced the Panigale V4 in 2018, and just two years into its life cycle, the company has made some important revisions based on customer and media feedback. People found it was a handful to ride hard. The changes are designed to make the V4 more manageable and less demanding to ride hard on a racetrack, but especially so for riders with less than MotoGP levels of skill, which represents the majority of Panigale buyers. In other words, it should be easier to ride for you and I.
To demonstrate this, Ducati presented the results of a track test between a 2019 and 2020 model, using three riders of varying experience. All riders improved their lap times on the new bike, but the improvements got progressively bigger as experience levels dropped. Well, I hit the racetrack to find out for myself.
Now, about those wings
While some changes to the Panigale are in your face — like the fairing mounted wings — other changes are invisible, some are subtle, and some are much more significant.
Now, about those wings. They’re called aerofoils and they are not ornamental. Originating in MotoGP and then migrating onto the Panigale V4 R last year, the aerofoils can generate up to 37 kilos of downforce on the front wheel. The benefits of this downforce include giving the front end a more planted feel at speed, while also helping to keep the front tire from leaving the ground at corner exit.
The fairing is also 30 mm wider at handlebar level, it’s 76 mm wider at around knee level, and the windscreen is 34 mm taller. These changes improve airflow around the rider when tucked in, which contributes to better high-speed stability.
Chassis settings have also been revised to make handling less demanding on the rider. The frame, which is now the same as on the V4 R but even lighter, is 30 per cent less rigid torsionally. This improves control at extreme lean angles, where the suspension is less effective. Spring rates are lower but preload has increased for more efficient use of suspension travel, which improves bump absorption.
Rear suspension geometry has been altered to reduce rear-end squat when getting hard on the gas, allowing the bike to keep a tighter line when exiting turns. The bike has also been raised a touch, lifting the centre of gravity by five millimetres. This is said to make the bike drop more quickly into a lean.
Ah, those e-nannies
Calling modern electronic intervention systems “electronic nannies” is outdated — don’t say it anymore. If you think you can do without electronic rider aids on a bike that develops 214 horsepower (226 with the accessory Akrapovic exhaust) and 92 lb.-ft. of torque, and you’re not yet signed to a MotoGP team, well, you’re wasting your imaginary talent.
The biggest changes on the Panigale V4 have been made to the engine mapping, and to the electronic intervention systems and ABS. Here’s the list of all the adjustable electronic assists the V4 has to help you ride faster than if you relied on skill alone:
- Six-axis lean-sensing traction control; eight levels or off
- Wheelie control; eight levels or off
- Slide control; two levels or off
- Electronic engine braking; three levels
- Cornering ABS; three levels
There are three ride modes — Street, Sport, and Race — each one with its own preset parameters, though within each you can change settings for the traction and wheelie controls independently, the slide control, cornering ABS, and engine braking. The bike also has an up-and-down quickshifter, and three-level launch control. Making adjustments is intuitive using handlebar switches and the five-inch colour TFT display. On the higher-spec Panigale V4 S you can also alter the suspension settings electronically.
Torque delivery has been softened through the midrange, but just like on World Superbike machines, it now also varies depending on gear selection. Midrange torque delivery is softest in first and second gears, it gets a bit more forceful in third, and is most aggressive in the top three gears. This makes exiting corners easier in lower gears without sacrificing power delivery at high speed.
Traction control response has been improved and used in a predictive manner, keeping track of rear wheel-spin intensity, and intervening quicker, yet smoother when the tire lights up. Throttle mapping has also been altered so that torque delivery is better managed when the wheel spins at part throttle. For example, if you’re going fast enough that the rear wheel loses grip mid-corner as you begin to open the throttle, torque will actually drop off as the engine picks up revs instead of doing the opposite. Yes, traction control is there to help prevent disaster, but when all of these systems work simultaneously, the intervention is seamless and confidence inspiring.
Exiting the pits
By all accounts, I should have been apprehensive about this track test. I hadn’t been on a motorcycle in two months, it was raining, it was cold, and I was about to lap an unknown circuit on a $32,295, 214-horsepower Ducati Panigale V4 S (V4 is $25,195). But as it turned out, the rain provided the ideal setting in which to test the bike’s advanced electronics. It didn’t take long to get into my groove.
The V4 S includes electronically adjustable, semi-adaptive Ohlins suspension, an Ohlins steering damper, and Marchesini forged aluminum alloy wheels in place of the manually adjustable suspension and cast wheels on the standard V4.
To handle the inclement weather, Ducati installed highly unobtainable, World Superbike-spec Pirelli Diablo Rain tires, which I’ll get to later. The OEM tires are Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SPs. And since my gear bag went missing on my way here, my hosts provided some flashy riding gear.
The bike was set up in Street mode, which was further tailored with a higher level of traction- and wheelie-control intervention, and slide control turned all the way up. After a cautious sighting session, I timidly picked up speed, only to discover I could keep picking it up until I was riding at a pace that would be considered fast, even on dry pavement. I gradually applied harder throttle earlier at corner exit, to the point where it was regularly wide open with the bike still carrying a lot of lean angle.
This truly emphasized how well the electronics have been tuned, because I never got out of my comfort zone despite riding faster on wet pavement than I’ve ever ridden before. Depending on how far the V4 S was leaned over, it accelerated disproportionately for the amount of throttle I applied. The more the bike straightened up out of a lean, the harder it accelerated for a given throttle setting.
Once I got accustomed to the way the bike behaved, I charged into corners hard on the brakes and rolled on the throttle as hard as I would on dry pavement, with the electronics taking care of actually managing what was happening at the rear wheel. This really made it easy to focus on my lines and braking points, rather than on how the bike was reacting to my input.
European legislation dictates that ABS can no longer be turned off on road bikes, yet in the least intrusive Level 1 the ABS never triggered despite the slippery conditions.
That said, none of these wet-weather antics would have been possible if it weren’t for the uncanny wet grip provided by the race-spec Pirellis. I’ve ridden on wet racetracks before, but have never attained knee-scrubbing lean angles with water spraying off the bike. The only time handling became sketchy was when the bike hydroplaned over water flowing across the track — sphincter puckered, but borrowed leathers unsullied. The drawback is that the tires’ soft carcass and tread introduced an occasional and significant straight-line weave at high speed.
So? The Verdict?
The 2020 Ducati Panigale V4 works remarkably well, and comes with all the equipment you need to hit the track. It is pricey, and if you opt for the V4 S it’s even pricier, though you do get the electronically adjustable suspension, which facilitates riding on both the street and the track. The last bike I rode that was comparably equipped was the BMW S1000RR equipped with the optional Dynamic and M packages, and even with those extras it cost just $25,300.
Is the 2020 Panigale V4 easier to ride than the outgoing model? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that with certainty since I’ve only ridden it in the rain. I’ve ridden World Superbike spec motorcycles before, and their prohibitively expensive electronics were in a different league in terms of control when compared to any street-oriented supersport I’d ridden.
The Panigale V4’s revised electronics have taken a big step closer to the trick stuff. They are astoundingly effective, and allow a rider with less than professional-level skill to ride surprisingly hard on a wet track with relative ease and confidence. And this is a factor that should transfer well when riding at normal speeds on the road, wet or dry.
Key Specs: 2020 Ducati Panigale V4 / V4 S
Base price: $25,195 / $32,295
Engine: 1,103 cc 90-degree V4
Curb weight: 198 kg / 195 kg
Power: 214 hp @ 13,000 rpm
Torque: 91.5 lb-ft @ rpm
Rake/Trail: 24.5 degrees/ 100 mm
Wheelbase: 1,469 mm
Seat height: 835 mm
Brakes: Front: Radial mount, 4-piston Brembo monobloc M4.30 calipers, radial master cylinder, 330 mm discs. Rear: Brembo 2-piston caliper, 245 mm disc; adjustable cornering ABS.
Front suspension: 43 mm fully adjustable Showa BPF fork / Ohlins NIX30 43 mm fully adjustable fork with TiN treatment. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with event-based mode.
Rear suspension: Fully adjustable Sachs shock / Fully adjustable Ohlins TTX36 shock. Electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with event-based mode.
Tires: Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP; 120/70 ZR17 front; 200/60 ZR17 rear