Today, we arrive at the end of Motorcycle.com’s award season. Up to this point, we’ve named motorcycles in nine separate categories, the very best bikes that each class has to offer. The Motorcycle of the Year draws upon these winners and then looks deeper for the selection of the motorcycle that not only beat its direct competitors, but also embodies that special something that points to the road ahead for motorcycling as a whole. The 2018 Motorcycle.com Motorcycle of the Year does just that. The 2018 Ducati Panigale V4 S is a special motorcycle – one that simultaneously defines the current two-wheeled state-of-the-art while also expanding what we can expect from motorcycles in the future regarding the role technology will play.
Since Ducati was moving on from its 90° V-Twin, which had reached the peak of its development, to a V4, the engineers needed to do something special for the marque’s flagship sportbike. The result is the Stradale 90° V4 derived from Ducati’s experience with the configuration in MotoGP. The 81.0mm x 53.5mm bore and stroke yields 1103cc, which, yes, is not legal for superbike racing (although a 999cc version is slated for release in 2019). However, the Panigale V4 S is a street bike, and once you hear the V-Twin-like exhaust note created by the Twin Pulse firing order (the two left-side cylinders and two right-side ones fire closely together) at full song running up to its 14,500-rpm redline, you’ll swear it sounds like the Ducati GP bike. Cranking the throttle to the stop was enough to have Troy giggling like a school-girl (on video, no less) at the Utah Motorsports Campus. On the street, the Stradale is no less impressive. Power is addicting.
Of course, all that power needs to make it to the ground, and the chassis needs to handle the accelerating, braking, and cornering forces, too. To that end, Ducati leaned on top-shelf electronics to tame the beast. Gone are the days of the inscrutable menu systems of old. Using the left grip’s switch gear and the 5-inch TFT display, the rider can easily drill down through logically arranged menus to adjust the engine parameters and, on the S model we tested, the suspension tuning. This method sure beats opening up a tool kit to make adjustments.
On the street, these electronic adjustments were quite effective at setting the rider’s desired handling characteristics, but at the track, the Panigale V4 S reveals that it is a first generation motorcycle. When riding at the limits, the Panigale can be a handful, requiring strong inputs and trust that, despite its squirming, the bike is going to stick to the pavement. We’ve seen this before in first generation Ducs that utilize the engine as the primary stressed member of the frame and expect these issues to be tuned out in upcoming model years. We also hope Ducati can tune out the excessive heat generated by the booming V4.
All of these technological and performance updates to the Ducati flagship motorcycle are great, but they, alone, don’t make the Panigale V4 S the Motorcycle of the Year. Perhaps no other manufacturer (with the exception of Harley-Davidson) is more associated with the V-Twin engine configuration. For Ducati to eschew the V-Twin in its flagship for a V4 is a sea change – and one that needed to be handled delicately in order not to offend the Ducati-faithful. While the years of racing a V4 in MotoGP may have softened the blow, a V4 street bike taking the mantle of Ducati’s premier model is another story. (Yes, we know that Ducati has sold another V4 model in the Desmosedici RR, but it was a limited edition motorcycle.) The company needed to deliver a knock-out punch on the Panigale V4’s first release to assure its place in the Ducati history books. They certainly delivered, and CEO Domenicali says this V4 is the first of many more to come
Congratulations to the 2018 Ducati Panigale V4 S, the Motorcycle.com 2018 Motorcycle of the year.
As with the winner, the Motorcycle of the Year Runner-Up goes to a flagship motorcycle that is hugely important to its manufacturer. With the 2018 Gold Wing Tour, Honda had a lot at stake in the major redesign of its 43-year-old model, a model which just so happened to create an entire class of motorcycling in the process. Honda attacked this challenge with a three-pronged approach: increase power delivery and efficiency, improve handling (through improved suspension and weight reduction), and update technology.
To improve the power and efficiency, the 1,833cc SOHC flat-six received a complete makeover, becoming an engine that is 29mm shorter front-to-back and 13.7 pounds lighter than before (in 6-speed manual configuration). Its power output and efficiency were also improved through the use of four-valve heads and the single, 50mm throttle body. The resulting increase in mpg allowed Honda to cut weight by decreasing the fuel load by 1.1 gallons.
The handling upgrades included making the entire bike smaller and lighter while updating the suspension. The most notable upgrade was the addition of a double-wishbone front end, which allows better tracking over bumps and separates braking and suspension forces. Also, it allowed the engine to be moved closer to the front wheel for better fore/aft balance. Electronically adjustable suspension allows the rider to tune the ride to the load being carried and the types of roads encountered.
The rest of the Gold Wing’s electronics were updated, too. A 7-inch TFT houses the infotainment system, which was the first motorcycle system to be approved for use with Apple CarPlay. The rest of the electronics were similarly top-shelf, with all the capabilities one expects in a long-distance tourer.
Two controversies, however, have faced the Gold Wing Tour. First, we’ve already mentioned the smaller gas tank that left some riders aghast. Second was the reduction in cargo carrying capacity, which Honda said was necessitated by the need for a balanced appearance front and rear with the slimmer profile.
Those two issues aside, the 2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour has expanded the capabilities we expect from a full-dress tourer and has earned it the Motorcycle of the Year Runner-Up award from Motorcycle.com.