If you type in “Ducati Panigale V4 R Review” in Google, you’ll notice not many publications have gotten their hands on one – including us. Ducati’s been very selective about who gets to ride the pinnacle Panigale, and we’ve been told, for 2019 anyway, Ducati won’t have a single V4 R in its US press fleet. Meaning we won’t get to ride the bike that forms the base upon which Alvaro Bautista has been dominating World Superbike.
Unless, of course, a private owner lets us borrow one. Lucky for us we know just the guy. At a recent Cali Trackdays event, we were fortunate enough to have Cali Trackdays proprietor Bill Schaffer connect us with Jerry “Madman” Morris, owner of several exotic motorcycles, including two other Ducati Panigale V4S models, and this V4R (to name just a few). Now, you don’t earn the nickname Madman for nothing, and I quickly found out why when he tossed me the key to the R and told me to take it for a spin. “And don’t hold back!” he said. Madman indeed.
Seeing as how I’d have to fork over my life savings to replace something as insignificant as a valve cap on a V4R, I politely declined the offer. Several times. But Jerry is persistent – and Mad, let’s not forget. Not one to take no for an answer, Jerry nearly had to force me onto the seat. So there I was, on top of a Panigale V4R, key in hand, tires warm, and with Buttonwillow Raceway all to myself. There was only one thing left to do.
Before we get into it, let’s take a step back and go over some of the things separating the V4R from the V4S. This guide will pinpoint all the differences between the R and S models, but the most significant change comes from the engine. At 1103cc, the V4S was built without racing regulations, and the 1000cc four-cylinder limit, in mind. Measuring 998cc, the V4R falls back in line with those rules. The R model also gets a significant bump in rpm, able to spin to 16,500 rpm – 2,200 revs higher than the S model – and even higher than some 600s!
Visually, the body panels are different between the S and R models, with the latter’s fairings having more openings to extract heat. Then there are the winglets. Because MotoGP. Look a little closer and you’ll find the electronic suspension pieces on the S model are replaced by traditional (albeit top-spec) Öhlins suspenders front and rear. What you can’t see at first glance is a revised front subframe to provide more feel and stability at the front. Incidentally, this was one of my biggest complaints with the V4S. Lastly, the R benefits from an adjustable swingarm pivot. Here, it was set to its standard position.
One of the highlights of the V4S is Ducati’s electronics package, all centered around a six-axis Bosch IMU allowing for lean-sensitive ABS, traction control, wheelie control, and slide control, along with adjustable engine braking and ride modes. All of those remain on the R model.
First, let’s set the stage. I only spun four laps aboard the V4R, and since this bike was someone’s personal motorcycle, an abundance of caution was put in place beyond the norm. Further, Morris is a heavier guy than I am, and the bike was set up to his liking (rightly so). Lastly, in the interest of full disclosure, Morris’ V4R was stock except for the OZ forged wheels replacing the standard Ducati forged hoops.
Putting those things in the open might seem like an excuse, but the truth is the R model is an entirely different animal than the S, and that’s a good thing! Look at past reviews or videos I’ve done of the S model, and the one word I’d use to describe the power is “relentless.” The 1103cc V4 accelerates so quickly and spins up so fast it takes all your mental ability just to keep up. With the drop in displacement, the R’s acceleration is still quick, only now it’s much more linear and manageable.
As much as I wanted to let the smaller engine sing to its 16,500 rpm rev limit, I got to hear it go up to 15,000 rpm before clicking the slick quickshifter up a gear, and oh what a glorious tune it was. Hearing an internal combustion engine spin that high elevates the visceral emotions that come with riding a motorcycle quickly, and it’s partly why I felt more in tune with the R than the S. The other reason is because, despite the rear shock being much to stiff for my liking, the revised stiffness of the front frame delivered the front end feedback from the R I was constantly wishing for on the S. I’d stop short of calling it Aprilia RSV4-levels of feedback and agility, but it’s close. That in itself is high praise for the R, considering it was one of my big drawbacks on the S.
Then there are the electronics. The high point on the S model shone through once again on the R. This really is next-level stuff, and while on many bikes electronic aids hinder the ride, this simply isn’t the case with the Panigale V4. Mark Miller nailed it when talking about the V4 in his short ride aboard all the liter-class rivals when he said: “…for the first time in my life, really, I was convinced that a bike was genuinely designed to operate 100% alongside these seemingly intrusive electronics. Without them, with this much power, and this light of a motorcycle, and at this length of wheelbase, enjoying this much grip from the modern tires, none of it would work properly if this piece of the puzzle were missing.”
With only four laps under my belt with the V4R, it’s hard to draw much more than that. It would have been nice to adjust the rear shock settings and play with the rider aids some more, but even without the chance to do so, I came away impressed. They say there’s no replacement for displacement, but in this case I actually prefer the softer hit from the 998cc V4. It’s still fast, but as opposed to the 1103cc V4, where brute force wins the day, the R’s chassis works in harmony with the engine to create a motorcycle that goes quickly around a track because of the rider’s skill, not the engine’s power.
Who knows when we’ll actually get to test a V4R properly, but if/when that day comes, rest assured we’ll give it a proper shakedown.