V4 v Europe

1203 miles from Peter­bor­ough to World Du­cati Week, Misano, Italy on Du­cati’s Pani­gale V4 – the sec­ond best bike of 2018. Ben Lind­ley is still smil­ing, and curs­ing…

BIKE (UK) - - DUCATI - Pho­tog­ra­phy Ben Lind­ley

AT THE CLI­MAX of World Du­cati Week a ru­mour goes round that there are 60,000 bikes at the Misano cir­cuit. Sixty thou­sand mo­tor­cy­cles. Even stand­ing look­ing at them I can’t com­pre­hend how huge a num­ber that is. And hid­den some­where in that sea of Du­catis are just a few V4s. Lo­cat­ing the bikes is the first chal­lenge, find­ing the own­ers will be a whole other prob­lem. But I’m get­ting ahead of my­self. First, the 1200 mile ride to Misano… Fit­tingly, the bike I’m rid­ing down to the tenth World Du­cati Week is also a V4. The new Pani­gale is a proper, fo­cused track bike. It looks beau­ti­ful in a race track pit­lane, ex­haust tick­ing

and tyres stink­ing from a day of hard rid­ing. And it looks hi­lar­i­ous wait­ing in the of­fice car park with a 30-litre pack and tri­pod strapped to the seat. I’ve planned two-and-a-half days to drop down through Eng­land, streak across France, wrig­gle through Switzer­land and ar­rive at Misano on Italy’s Adri­atic Coast. That leaves just enough time to ride the Big Three Alpine passes… Tues­day af­ter­noon: five hours rid­ing, 296 miles, three fuel stops. Ig­nit­ing the air-fuel mix­ture in the Pani­gale’s four cylin­ders sounds apoc­a­lyp­tic just on tick­over. An of­fi­cial sticker on the head­stock an­nounces it makes 107DB(A) at 3000rpm. At that speed the V4’s hardly turn­ing. It then blasts off to a 14,500rpm red­line – strato­spheric heights for a Du­cati. Storm­ing, con­ti­nent-shrink­ing progress will no doubt en­sue, but first a 4000rpm daw­dle through subur­ban Peter­bor­ough. Brak­ing to join the A1, some­thing hits me hard in the back. Turns out the pil­lion seat is so flimsy my 30-litre pack and tri­pod have pulled it off its clip. No time to stress. That cross-chan­nel train won’t wait for me. I lug the pack over my shoul­der, wear my back­pack over the top, and hang the tri­pod round my neck. We roar up to 90mph and cruise to Cam­bridge on the A14. The bike feels lean. Steer­ing is light and fo­cused as we pick apart a herd of slow mov­ing car whales. Noth­ing else out here is as nim­ble as we are. There’s open road on the M11 past Cam­bridge, so I thumb through set­tings on the slick TFT dis­play. De­spite be­ing able to change whether the quick­shifter func­tions on up and down­shifts, the V4 doesn’t give you a fuel gauge. In­stead, a fuel warn­ing light winks on at 110 miles and range anx­i­ety swiftly fol­lows. Run­ning out of fuel will make me miss my slot at the Chan­nel Tun­nel. Tank brimmed at the next stop, I pull back onto the M11 and open the throt­tle in first gear. The V4 gar­gle be­comes a half­s­tran­gled yell as the bike barges for­wards, lift­ing the front wheel. Quick­shift into sec­ond. Ac­cel­er­a­tion de­mol­ishes per­for­mance tar­gets. The front wheel stays up. I’m flab­ber­gasted. The next mo­ment I re­alise this will hap­pen af­ter ev­ery fuel stop and toll booth for the next 1050 miles. I love this bike. Soon, though, the straps of two back­packs in­ter­fere with blood flow to my left arm. Then the tri­pod strap starts chaf­ing my neck. It’s red and raw at Folke­stone, and a half-hour break in the Tun­nel isn’t long enough to re­cover. On the French mo­tor­way be­tween Calais and Amiens I work out what kit I can dump to shed weight. Tooth­paste, socks and vests go in the bin. Ev­ery lit­tle helps. Wed­nes­day: eight hours rid­ing, 488 miles, five fuel stops. I dump the mas­sive 6.8kg lock and chain in an Amiens un­der­ground car park. It’s tied to the bol­lard near the sub­sta­tion at 33 Place Alphonse Fi­quet. It ap­par­ently can’t be bolt-cropped so it’ll be on dis­play for the next few years. This is what free­dom feels like. I can en­gage more with this crazy ma­chine with­out yes­ter­day’s weight on my shoul­ders. We

lean through a se­ries of bends out­side Amiens. The mas­sive 200-sec­tion rear tyre and a steep-pro­filed Pirelli means the V4 has a fat rear con­tact patch. Con­fi­dence? De­spite be­ing a snarling 214bhp su­per­bike, the V4 fills you with it. I in­spect fuel econ­omy on the A29 to­wards Reims. The V4’s TFT screen shows a 65mpg av­er­age at 85mph cruis­ing. But two min­utes with a cal­cu­la­tor and re­ceipts re­veals a real fig­ure of 39.2mpg. That means the 16-litre tank is good for 138 miles. No won­der get­ting to the Swiss town of Meirin­gen takes five fuel stops. They’re en­joyed for two rea­sons: 1) stretch­ing 2) re­set­ting my range anx­i­ety, ex­pressed by Trip 1 on the TFT dis­play. The higher the num­ber the more lip gets chewed. Yes­ter­day’s aches are kept at bay with an ac­ro­batic dis­play – stand­ing, sidesad­dle, kneel­ing on the foot­peg – all the way to Meirin­gen. The last road to the ho­tel is blocked by a street party. I cut the en­gine, faff with the tricky side­stand and lever my­self off the bike. It looks like the whole town’s out, wan­der­ing be­tween shops, tak­ing turns shoot­ing at tar­gets with an air rifle and drink­ing beer at long tres­tle ta­bles. No­body cares when I leave the Pani­gale in the mid­dle of the street and col­lapse on a bench. There’s a fire en­gine lift­ing peo­ple six storeys in their bucket and bald weightlifters in aprons grilling mas­sive wheels of cheese on in­dus­trial grills. A wait­ress walks over to of­fer me beer, so I drink lo­cal pil­sner and fall asleep to the sound of alpine horns. Overnight no­body steals the V4, which is a mixed bless­ing. Thurs­day: eight hours rid­ing, 419 miles, five fuel stops. Meirin­gen sits at the meet­ing of the Susten and Grim­sel Passes, the smoothest of the Big Three Alpine passes. If any­where in Europe al­lows the V4 off its leash then it should be here. Tree cover falls away and steam­rollered, cen­tre-lined roads curve on to­wards sum­mits of over 2000 me­tres. I keep low in the gears and get a feel for the V4’s drive. Up here in such thin air, it must be mak­ing 70bhp less than nor­mal. It’s so starved of oxy­gen that the front only lifts in first gear. Fu­elling is rough low down, so I feather the clutch on the first tight switch­backs. The roads tun­nel through the moun­tain­side be­fore of­fer­ing wide, fast, sweep­ing cor­ners up past wa­ter­falls and mas­sive dams. And the V4 runs neck-and-neck with ev­ery curve. This is it! This sub­lime hour-or-so of road feels like it was cre­ated ex­clu­sively for this one mo­tor­cy­cle. Or so I de­cide, drunk on the fizzing in­take noise, the me­chan­i­cal whirring of Des­mod­romic valve tim­ing, the stu­pen­dous front brakes… Too soon the two passes are over and I’m head­ing east on the Furka. The road sur­face be­comes pit­ted and scored by dra­matic tem­per­a­ture changes and the once-great Pani­gale is passed by a pil­lion-car­ry­ing BMW R1200GS. We strafe Mi­lan on the E35 and head south into Italy. I stop at a post of­fice to send a par­cel of wa­ter­proof gear and cam­era lenses back to the UK. On the au­toroute, traf­fic slows around Bologna, then stops. All five lanes of the ring road are jammed with sta­tion­ary cars. Frus­tra­tion: I’m only 90 min­utes from Misano. Flick­ing the gear lever down to sec­ond, I thread the slim V4 through traf­fic. There’s no wind blast at 25mph, so I’m putting weight on my hands and tens­ing my neck. Af­ter the pre­vi­ous six hours of rid­ing, it feels like a steam iron is and crush­ing out of my my right shoul­der wrist. blades And then and many the Du­cati nee­dles switches are slid­ing on its in fans. All the heat that was hid­den inside the fair­ing low­ers blasts over my thighs and groin. It must be 65° Cel­cius down there. A pair of Du­catis waft past on the hard shoul­der. Warn­ings flash through my mind: punc­tured tyres, emer­gency ve­hi­cles. Sod it. I inch through the lor­ries and bark up to 50mph. This is the first time a 38°C breeze has felt like cool, sweet re­lief. The Du­cati duo wave hello when I catch them up, and we ride to Misano together on the A14. Within ten miles we’re joined by more Du­catis. Mul­tistradas whizz past at 110mph. A school of Pani­gales cruise up. They blow kisses at the V4. Trail­ers car­ry­ing Du­cati ex­ot­ica are pulled by wav­ing car driv­ers. Ex­cite­ment builds. We’re get­ting close. So what about those V4 own­ers…

July 2018: Susten Pass, Switzer­land

Road block

Un­der­ground carpark, Amiens, France. Scene of ur­gently needed clut­ter shed­ding in­ci­dent

Not your nor­mal game of hide and seek

Misano ar­rival and the queue to get in…

He’s had worse for break­fast

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