Du­cati Pani­gale V4: SA bike of the year

Sowetan - - Motoring - MAT DURRANS

Each year, for six years now, the coun­try’s most ex­pe­ri­enced jour­nal­ists have gath­ered to ride and judge the best new bikes of the pre­vi­ous 12 months. The 2018 edi­tion of the Pirelli South African Bike of the Year has just been held, with a day for the judges to reac­quaint them with the fi­nal­ists dur­ing a day of rid­ing at the Gerotek ve­hi­cle-test­ing fa­cil­ity.

The votes have been cast and the over­all win­ner an­nounced. This year the de­ci­sion was more clear-cut than ever, de­spite strong show­ings from the third-placed Kawasaki Ninja 400 and the lovely Tri­umph Street Triple 765 in sec­ond po­si­tion.

The win­ner, for those of us lucky enough to have rid­den all the bikes ear­lier in the year, was al­most a fore­gone con­clu­sion. De­spite a gen­uine su­per­bike never hav­ing pre­vi­ously won over­all hon­ours — though Honda’s Fire­blade, Yamaha’s R1 and Suzuki’s GSX-R 1000 have come close — Du­cati’s Pani­gale V4 made such an im­pres­sion the fi­nal re­sult was never in doubt.

Some read­ers may baulk at the idea of a R360,000 bike earn­ing the ul­ti­mate ac­co­lade, but price is nei­ther a guar­an­tor nor dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the judg­ing cri­te­ria. Judges have a com­plex task de­cid­ing how to cast their votes, but it ba­si­cally boils down to as­sess­ing the im­pact of the new model within its own seg­ment of mo­tor­cy­cling and how much of an im­prove­ment it is over the model it re­places.

In this way bikes from dif­fer­ent classes can be judged against each other, and so we had the 400cc Kawasaki Ninja im­press­ing be­cause it is vastly su­pe­rior to the 300cc model it re­places, it has re­tained a subR80,000 price tag and com­pared to any­thing in its class it can eas­ily hold its own.

Our 14 judges have held their mo­tor­cy­cles for a com­bined 419 years, and have been rid­ing bikes for even longer. Mo­tor­cy­cling tastes vary, with many pre­fer­ring ad­ven­ture bikes, some lov­ing cruis­ers or tour­ers, and oth­ers, like me, sporty naked bikes.

Su­per­bikes are a young man’s game, and per­haps that’s why they’ve never re­ally fea­tured in this com­pe­ti­tion. Hav­ing said that we did vote for Kawasaki’s in­sanely fast H2 as the over­all win­ner in 2016. That’s not so much a su­per­bike as a hy­per­bike in­tended for blis­ter­ing straight-line speed.

Su­per­bikes are a dif­fer­ent beast. They are es­sen­tially street-le­gal repli­cas of bikes that have been de­signed to race. Such ma­chines are in­tended to shave tenths of sec­onds from lap times and so lim­it­ing weight, in­creas­ing power and hous­ing the re­sults in a pack­age that prefers to be at full lean an­gle to up­right are the or­der of the day.

De­sign cri­te­ria like this ul­ti­mately re­sult in a per­for­mance pack­age that is sim­ply im­pos­si­ble for the av­er­age biker to ride, and that in­cludes most of our judges. The magic of Du­cati’s Pani­gale V4 is that it has raised the bar for su­per­bikes and yet de­liv­ered that bor­der­line psy­chotic level of per­for­mance in a way that makes even the most in­ex­pe­ri­enced rider a faster, safer ver­sion of them­selves.

Du­cati has built its rep­u­ta­tion on V-twins, win­ning countless World Su­per­bike cham­pi­onships along the way. Un­for­tu­nately the last few years have seen the vi­a­bil­ity of a V-twin in this arena slowly dis­ap­pear to the ever im­prov­ing four-cylin­der bikes.

It was in­evitable that Du­cati would have to up its num­ber of cylin­ders to com­pete, and though un­doubt­edly a huge job, it could at least draw on the ex­pe­ri­ence it has gained rac­ing a V4 in Mo­toGP. Apart from a lim­ited edi­tion Mo­toGP replica that used this en­gine for­mat in 2007, this was go­ing to be new ter­ri­tory for the Ital­ian mar­que.

The ca­pac­ity of the new bike is 1100cc, a bit too large for the 1000cc World Su­per­bike class, giv­ing it a size ad­van­tage over ri­vals. Du­cati will solve this by pro­duc­ing a lim­ited racier ver­sion at a lower ca­pac­ity so that it can be raced in 2019, and cash in on the power ad­van­tage. Some have called this a cyn­i­cal move, I think it is cheeky but also ge­nius. The Pani­gale V4 is now the most pow­er­ful su­per­bike with a whop­ping 157,5kW on of­fer in a pack­age that weighs, without fuel, un­der 180kg. Those num­bers are amaz­ing. They trans­late into a bike that is fast in a way that de­fies de­scrip­tion. No car, how­ever ex­pen­sive, can hope to pro­vide the same level of ac­cel­er­a­tion.

The real ge­nius of the Pani­gale V4 though is the com­bi­na­tion of a di­vine chas­sis and other-world elec­tronic rider aids that al­low you to ac­cess this per­for­mance in a way that en­cour­ages you to ride more ag­gres­sively than you thought pos­si­ble, all the while keep­ing you safer than you’ve ever been on some­thing so dev­as­tat­ingly quick.

Yes, it’s ex­pen­sive. No, I can’t af­ford one. But that didn’t stop me from vot­ing it into first place. It is bril­liant, and just be­cause I’m poorer than I’d like, I can’t deny it the hon­our it de­serves.

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