At a time when sportbike sales are declining worldwide, Ducati took on a double challenge: develop and launch the hottest-performing, most expensive superbike in its history while ending production of its most powerful V-twin, the Panigale 1299, into which the company’s greatest tradition had been poured.
As motorcyclists, we sometimes identify ourselves with a specific brand in the name of often-irrational ties: sound, look, and, above all, force of a given technical tradition. Ducati’s 90-degree V-twins have accumulated enormous momentum in those areas, beginning with the special victory with the 750 Supersport at Imola in 1972.
There were good reasons to expect the Panigale V4 might have to elbow its way to real success in a difficult market to duly repay the massive investments its development, validation, and homologation demanded, let alone the effort required to set up new molds, tooling, and assembly lines.
Turns out, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali hit the nail on the head. Five months after delivery of the first flaming-red V-4 superbike, sales are hovering around maximum production potential. Apparently, the motorcycling community perceives Ducati as the Ferrari of two wheels—a symbol of engineering supremacy, be it two or four cylinders.
If this positive start is confirmed in future months, the Panigale V4 may one day be recognized as motorcycling’s ultimate success story, thanks in part to its unique MotoGP-derived engine. As you can see here, no compromises were made at any step, from the first sketches to the tooling and production of each component for final assembly.
Ducati V-4 Engine Assembly Line
The Story of the Project Panigale V4
The longitudinal compactness of the V-4 translates in a mass that is much easier to properly locate inside a motorcycle frame to obtain a correctly biased weight distribution. The forward protrusion of the horizontal cylinder in the V-twin forces the front wheel away from the center of gravity. To compensate, a rather longish swingarm is adopted. That never happened because there was a tendency to keep the wheelbase short for maximum agility. But this always caused, in my opinion, a less-than-ideal weight-distribution bias and consequently all Ducati chassis had a tendency to understeer exiting corners. It is interesting to note that while the Panigale 1199 lived on a wheelbase spanning 56.5 inches, the Panigale V4 rides on a 57.8-inch wheelbase. Not only is the new V-4 more compact, consequently allowing the front wheel to be moved backward, closer to the center of gravity, but it has a much-longer swingarm—23.6 inches, 3.0 longer than that of the 1199. Rule of thumb suggests that the center of gravity here is located at least 4.0 inches forward of where it is on the Panigale 1199. And that made a big difference determining an announced 54.5 front/45.5 rear weight distribution, never seen before on a Ducati.