Ducati Panigale V4: SA bike of the year
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.