In World Superbike Ducati looked unstoppable at one stage. And in Moto GP, if you didn’t have wings last season you were effectively bringing a knife to a gunfight. In fact, downforce-generating wings are dominating racing and now the technology is filtering down to the end-user on the road, which is great news for me and you. Not only do they look cool, they are a huge advantage on the track.
International journalist, and former Isle of Man TT racer, Adam Child, flew to Bahrain to test out the new V4S around the very fast 5.4km F1 track. And yes, it rained, in the desert, where it never rains. But if Ducati are claiming their new V4S is easier to ride, dare we say more ‘user-friendly’, then what better way to find out than in the wet at 185mph? Will the clever electronics be able to control 212bhp over standing water? Time to put on those big-boy pants.
Like an aeroplane wing (in reverse) they only make a difference at high speed. At 60mph they create 4kg of downforce; at 120mph, 16kg; and at 180mph, 37kg. Flat out at a restricted 186 mph is like having ET sat in a basket on the front adding weight to the front.
Often at high speeds, a wingless front end can get flighty as the rushing airflow lifts the front, and the rider, holding on for dear life, accentuates the effect by pulling on the bars. As speed increases, the forks extend and in extreme situations the shock sits. But wings add downforce, pushing more weight onto the front wheel contact patch, giving a more planted feeling while allowing the bike to steer better and hold a tighter line. Well, that’s the theory.
The front fairing is 15mm winder per side, the screen 34mm taller and the sides extend outwards 38mm more than before. The larger fairing gives the rider an easier time; you can tuck out of the wind and it doesn’t feel like you’re going to break your neck at 180mph. And again, the added bodywork aids the stability as the rider, now cocooned behind a larger screen, isn’t holding on as hard and pulling on the bars as they fight the wind-blast. Ducati has even improved the air-flow around the bike, which should mean the Panigale should no longer cooks your inside leg in summer.
The four-cylinder Panigale is still quick – the 1103cc 90° V4’s peak power remains at 212bhp – but by allowing the rider to get on the power more smoothly and safely in those lower gears, markedly easier too. But don’t be fooled; this doesn’t mean slower – you can get on the power sooner, and without traction control intervention it ultimately means your top speed is higher on the straight and your lap time is reduced with less effort from the rider. If you’ve ever tried to launch a Ducati V4S off the line manually without the launch control, it’s like trying to hang onto an angry bull which has just been kicked in the arse. The new V4S is much more rideable, especially for less experienced riders.
To improve the feel, again to give less experienced riders and easier time, Ducati have derived the front alloy frame from the V4R WSBK bike, which reduces torsional and braking stiffness. Optimizing chassis stiffness is like walking in trainers compared to wooden clogs: you have more feel, there is a closer connection between the front tyre and the rider. The damp conditions during our test amplified this, you could feel the available grip through the front Pirelli. I’d argue bikes with semi-active suspension can lack front-end feel and on the limit are a little vague, but the Ducati isn’t. Some corners had marginally more grip than others, a fact translated to my brain by subtle but distinct signals.
Although the suspension seems visually the same as before, it’s very different. The bike’s centre of gravity has been raised by 5mm by raising the front by 4mm and the rear shock is 2mm longer with a 5mm longer shock linkage. The rear spring rate is lower and pre-load is set higher.
Lifting a bike and raising the centre of gravity allows it to turn easier (it’s easier to fall left of right off a ladder if you’re at the top, opposed to the bottom). And this simple trick is commonly performed on race bikes at fast, flowing tracks where you want the bike to steer. The plusher rear adds grip and feel in the same way the chassis, mentioned above, has improved the front-end feel.
For any rider to ride fast they must have confidence in their bike, know where the limit is, and understand the feeling and level of grip from the tyres – and Ducati has significantly improved this feeling with the new V4S, the test’s wet conditions a great proving ground. On one long, fourth-gear corner, I could play with the limits, push towards them and feel safe, despite having my knee on the ground. This isn’t just a bike for former racers anymore, a lightweight 212bhp superbike shouldn’t be so forgiving and, dare I say, so easy to ride in the wet.
Some aspects of the bike have remained untouched. Ducati has stayed with the same engine spec and layout (producing the same power). The huge Brembo monobloc brakes remain, as does the cast aluminium single-sided swingarm. Other items carried over include the Marchesini aluminium wheels, magnesium headlamp and mirror support and cast aluminium sub-frame. Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP rubber comes as standard with a 200/60 section rear.
Those Brembo radial M4.30 brakes are outstanding, the ABS EVO cornering system in partnership with Bosh is almost mind-blowingly effective. End of the straight, just shy of 185mph, in torrential rain, and it’s time to jump on the stoppers for turn one – a first gear crawl of around 40mph. It sounds scary but isn’t, just grab the lever and let the electronics take over. Now for those who remember black and white TV this might sound crazy, but trust me they work. You don’t have to work out the grip, simply let the electronics do their work.
Each lap I pushed harder and harder, provoking the grip and feel from the front to the point it was almost comical; on a normal bike without cornering ABS I would have crashed, I have no doubt, but the Ducati remained unfazed. There is no juddering or pulsing from the lever as you ask for maximum pressure. Instead the system simply provides a little less, which prevents the front from locking. Again there will be riders who say, ‘I don’t need rider aids’ and, yes, there are times when I’d prefer to ride with fewer of them, but the V4S’s are so good and rescued me from so many scary situations that I wouldn’t want to be without them.
The same can be said for the traction control which has been improved for 2020. The new EVO 2 system, which is similar to the R model’s, is faster and smoother than before. Again, in the damp, you can feel the TC working overtime, but it’s only allowing a fraction less power than you’re asking for to control the slide and spin. In one very wet session it even coped with standing water without too many complaints. Again, Ducati has done this to make the bike more rideable for non-racers. The electronics package and cornering ABS are immensely impressive, some of the best I’ve ever tested and for me one of the major highlights of the 2020 bike.
And remember, these rider aids can be changed on the move, via the three rider modes: race, sport, and street. Each mode alters the power, traction, wheelie and slide control, plus the cornering ABS, engine braking and even damping. With a closed throttle, change the mode, and simply switch over via the toggle on the left bar. It’s not confusing, just straight-forward to use. In one session, as the track and grip improved, I changed the pre-set modes, which increased the stiffness in the rear to increase high-speed stability and reduce the rider aids a fraction. I immediately noticed the difference, even these incremental changes, again highlighting how much feedback the stunning new Ducati V4S gives.
Okay, it was wet, and I would have preferred the dry, but in many ways it was a better to test Ducati’s claims of an easier, more forgiving bike for 2020. In back-to-back testing with the now old model, Ducati found that ultra-quick test rider, Michele Pirro former GP ride, was 0.4s quicker on the new bike, while an average track rider was over a second faster, highlighting how much easier the new bike is to ride. After riding all day until dark I can confirm the 2020 V4S is more forgiving and I can certainly see a less experienced rider lapping quicker, as Ducati found during their testing.
Simply put, the angry Italian stallion has been tamed. It’s now far easier to ride, especially for less experienced riders. 212bhp has never been so easy to manage, and the wet test amplified this. The Ducati V4S no longer wants to scare you. It has arguably the best electronics package on any bike on the market and is arguably the most desirable and sexy sportsbike on sale, too. It is expensive but we can’t all be perfect.