You all know the saying, “You get what you pay for.” It’s an important life lesson that rings true for many aspects of life. Like cheap tools, the pleasure we get for the minimal cost outlay quickly evaporates as soon as it breaks much sooner than it should. Shoulda bought the good one is what we inevitably say to ourselves every time.

This mindset has led us to believe that expensive motorcycles must bring a level of quality or performance unmatched at the lower price points. Surely, quality comes at a price. So, by simple logic, more equals better.

Or does it? This is the premise of our latest comparison. On one end, we have the $40,000 Ducati Panigale V4R, the most expensive sportbike you can buy today ($100,000 Superleggeras and other limited edition specials excluded). Sporting an aggressive 999cc V4 engine, top-shelf Öhlins suspension, Brembo brakes, forged wheels, sophisticated electronics, and a pair of wings(!), the V4R represents the pinnacle of sportbike tech available today – or at least it’s supposed to.

$40,000 vs. $18,000 – this is the question we’re asking today. What makes the Ducati Panigale V4R, so much more expensive than the Suzuki GSX-R1000R?

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the Suzuki GSX-R1000R. At $17,699, the Suzuki represents the lower price tier of sportbiking, and if you’re willing to give up a few niceties, like a quickshifter and slightly lower grade components, there are options for around $15,000. Still, for under $18,000 the GSX-R1000R gets you a 999cc inline-Four, variable valve timing, titanium valves, IMU-centered electronics, up/down quickshifter, Brembo brakes, and Showa’s impressive, if far less recognized, Balance Free FrontFork (yes, that’s how it’s spelled).

Not Your Usual Test

With a $22,000 price delta between the bikes, the objective here is a little different than our usual test procedures. The price gap would have you believe the Ducati is a better motorcycle, and part of this exercise is to determine if it really is. However, thinking bigger picture, what does it actually mean to have a price gap large enough to buy another literbike entirely and still have money to spare? What are they like to ride, and ultimately, is the Panigale V4R really $22,000 better than the Suzuki?

At press time, October 2020, the least expensive 1000cc sportbike is this, the Kawasaki ZX-10R. The non-ABS version will set you back $15,399. Loaded with virtually everything the Suzuki has, minus variable valve timing, the ZX-10R is a tremendous bang for your buck. We’re guessing Kawi is slashing prices on old models to make room for the new-and-improved 2021 ZX-10R.

Considering the Suzuki and Ducati are the track-focused models in both manufacturer’s lineups, the bulk of the impressions and riding will take place at the track. This time around we joined our friends at Pacific Track Time during their trackday at Buttonwillow Raceway, and Bobby Loo, proprietor of Motorrev Suspension Tuning, made sure the clickers were dialed correctly on both bikes. 

Both of these bikes come with lights and a license plate. So, following the day at the track, we then headed to the roads and canyons to see how each performed in the real world. Since the results for both were pretty telling, let’s dive right in.

First, The Dyno

A ton of R&D went into the Ducati V4 engine, including significant input from the Ducati Corse race team. Its 81.0 mm bore is the same as current MotoGP machinery, and its 48.4 mm stroke makes it extremely oversquare. The counter-rotating crankshaft spins in the opposite direction of the wheels, helping to cancel their gyroscopic effects when cornering and help reduce wheelies on exit. While Ducati may not be the first to come out with a liter-class V4, this one, especially in stock form, is truly impressive, spinning the dyno at MotoGP Werks to 186.6 hp and 75.5 lb-ft of torque.

You’re probably not surprised to see the Ducati make more power than the Suzuki. But take a look at the graph and you’ll see the Suzuki has a healthy advantage in both horsepower and torque until 11,000 rpm. The V4R is a motorcycle that begs to be ridden hard to get the most out of it.

Suzuki, too, put a lot of R&D into its 999cc inline-Four engine to make it more powerful and more compact than the version it replaces. Its 76.0 mm bore is smaller than the Ducati’s, requiring a longer, 55.1 mm, stroke to achieve the 999cc mark. Titanium valves are opened via rocker arms from the cams, which helps to achieve its 14,500 rpm redline. A simple, mechanical variable valve timing system helps the GSX-R retain its midrange grunt. It spun the drum to 162.2 hp and 78.0 lb-ft of torque.

Here’s where things get interesting. Look at the dyno chart a little closer, and you’ll see the Suzuki actually makes more power and torque than the Ducati until 11,000 rpm, at which point the Ducati’s high-revving engine takes over. Remember too, that, in stock form, the GSX-R is restricted via ECU tuning to meet US regulations (theoretically the Ducati should be also…). A simple Youtube search for Gixxers with re-flashed ECUs will bring up examples making close to 200 rear-wheel horsepower. Similar searches for the Ducati will bring up examples in the low 200s (on pump gas), but nobody calls the V4R a torque monster, which is where the Suzuki’s variable valve timing could have an advantage in the real world.

Track Chops

As mentioned before, the track is where these things were meant to be. So, it’s where we spend the bulk of this comparison. That said, because we were taking part in a public trackday, lap times were *not* taken. While I can hear the uproar now, I agree lap times would have been very informative. The reality is that trying to get any meaningful lap times at a trackday is a lost cause due to the amount of traffic. And no, we don’t have the budget to rent the track all to ourselves.

The Ducati Panigale V4R in its natural environment.

Nonetheless, we didn’t need lap times to sort out some fundamental differences between the two. Taking the Suzuki first, its instant familiarity was a reminder about why the GSX-R line is so loved. It’s easy to ride quickly, makes good, linear power, stops well enough, and is about as non-offensive as a 162-horsepower literbike can be.

Hop on the V4R, however, and the different takes on performance are eye-opening. Simply thumbing the starter brings about a roar from both the exhaust and the dry clutch that’s impossible to ignore and is a complete opposite from the Suzuki’s polite tone. The power advantage the Ducati has, while extraordinary, was only really surprising because of the ridiculous redline the Panigale can reach – 16,500 rpm (indicated, anyway) in sixth gear! It’s no secret the V4 loves to rev, and it does so freely, allowing it to swallow up the Suzuki in short order. But you really have to wind it out to take advantage of that power. It also feels geared a little shorter than the Suzuki, helping with its acceleration and masking the relative lack of torque.

What was more telling was how much more precise the Ducati’s chassis felt compared to the GSX-R, and I don’t mean suspension either. In fact, the V4’s rear spring was much too stiff for my measly 150-pound self while the Suzuki’s softer spring actually felt better damped and gave me some idea what the rear end was doing. Still, the Panigale felt like a scalpel compared to the Suzuki’s butter knife. It was possible to be pinpoint accurate with where I wanted to place the Ducati, despite the stiff rear spring – whereas I would only be pointing the GSX-R in the general vicinity by comparison.

I think part of the credit here goes to the Ducati’s wider bars that give the rider more leverage to place the bike exactly where they want it. The Suzuki’s bars, meanwhile, feel very narrow in comparison and are angled too far inward for my liking, though that’s easy enough to change via the aftermarket.

There are lots of impressive components here for a $18,000 literbike. The Brembo calipers and Showa BFF external fork reservoir are maybe the most obvious, but you also get steel-braided brake lines standard as well as the Brembo T-Drive brake rotor buttons. If anything, a larger 330 mm rotor would be a nice upgrade.

On the braking front, the Suzuki’s combination of Nissin master cylinder, steel-braided lines, dual 320 mm discs, and Brembo monobloc calipers are fine. There’s decent feel and decent stopping power, though the trend on premium bikes seems to move towards 330 mm discs. Even the ABS doesn’t feel very intrusive. Again, non-offensive, if also not very exciting. Ultimately, it’s commensurate with the price tag.

But when you’re paying $40-large for a premium motorcycle, “decent” isn’t good enough. Upgrading to a Brembo master cylinder, 330 mm discs, and Stylema calipers gets you a level of braking a few degrees above what the Suzuki provides. We’re not talking massive differences, mind you, but noticeable ones in all aspects. The extra stopping power means you can wait slightly longer before reaching for the brake lever (or use the same marker while carrying more speed than the Suzuki), and the higher level of communication between the lever and your finger(s) is crucial if you’re trail braking deep into a corner. Everything is happening with a degree or two more precision. If you haven’t noticed, this is a theme throughout.

By contrast, the Ducati’s components are what you’d expect for the price – Öhlins NPX fork, Brembo Stylema calipers, 330 mm discs, Marchesini forged aluminum wheels, and even 90º valve stems.

This might sound blasphemous to some who are die-hard loyalists to a certain gold-colored Swedish suspension company, but the Japanese can build some pretty good forks and shocks, too. By keeping the oil pressurized and separating the valving circuits in sub-chambers on each fork leg and the shock, the Balance Free FrontFork and Balance Free Rear Cushion (we say shock, Showa says rear cushion) felt every bit as capable as the Öhlins NPX pressurized fork and TTX36 shock on the Ducati.

The Showas contribute to the premium of the GSX-R1000R over the 1000 with only one R, but maybe, the Öhlins add a greater margin to Ducati’s bottom line? As far as these two bikes are concerned, the $22,000 delta has little to do with suspension.

It’s hard to distinguish independently, but another difference between the two can be felt with the electronics. Actually, to be more precise, traction control – the rider aid I personally use the most. Suzuki uses a Continental IMU while Ducati trusts Bosch for its IMU, and if I were to split hairs, the Suzuki’s system felt like it allowed more slip before engaging, which is more noticeable to the rider. Bumping the TC level up felt like it hurt drive whereas the Ducati was more seamless by comparison – not only in its TC intervention, but also in how smoothly power is metered to the rear wheel as you crack the throttle open.

This is the kind of thing only a back-to-back comparison brings out, but it also speaks to the time and R&D Ducati has put into refining its electronics package. All of this costs money – like hiring test riders, data engineers, renting tracks, etc., which is reflected in the cost of the bike. Then again the Ducati also features wheelie control, slide control, engine brake control, a lithium-ion battery, and a host of other goodies that don’t really matter but invariably add to the cost.

A perfect visual representation of a $22,000 price delta can be summed up in one picture.

However, if the disparity in price can be reflected in just one single component of each, it’s the instrument cluster. As you’d expect on an expensive Ducati, there’s a full-color TFT display that’s bright and relatively easy to read despite the convoluted layout surrounding the commanding digital tachometer.

With the Suzuki, one look at the dash will instantly remind you of a Casio watch, which was a connection I heard from multiple people. The gauge itself is large enough and displays all the relevant information (albeit with a slightly hard to read tach), but the archaic visuals you get from the two-tone, black/white LCD display just scream old, dated, and, well…cheap. These days, if you’re still using LCDs, you’re behind the times.

The Ducati Panigale V4R in its happy place.

On track the difference in performance was evident. The V4R lives for this stuff.

It’s No Contest On The Street

Since these bikes are street-legal after all, a jaunt down our local roads was in order, and right away, the tables completely turned. Though it’d be nice to have an itemized receipt for the $22,000 price delta, it seems pretty clear every bit of that went towards racetrack performance with no regard to the roads other than lights and a plate.

Not the V4R’s happy place.

The seating position is aggressive (no surprise), but not entirely tortuous for a sportbike. In fact, it felt like the Ducati has lower pegs than the Suzuki. But it only took two miles after leaving my home to be sharply reminded of the massive heat Ducati sportbikes radiate.

Now I’ve ridden plenty of Ducatis in the past that have left my thighs feeling medium rare, but this is a point I can’t stress enough – all those bikes felt like Bic lighters compared to the flamethrower that is the V4R.

If you think about it, a motorcycle engine produces thousands of little explosions a minute. Explosions produce heat. Some bikes channel that heat away from the rider better than others. The V4R comes up a little (actually, a lot) short here. It absolutely bakes you.

The heat radiating from the engine bay and the rear cylinder’s exhaust routing borders on unbearable for street use. Even at freeway speeds, riding through the cool morning air, it’s not enough to deflect the scorching heat away from the rider. You’re basically forced to ride with your legs splayed open, and even then, the heat can be intense at times. On more than one occasion, I even looked down just to double-check there was nothing actually on fire down there.

This might sound dramatic to some, but anyone with deep pockets looking to buy one of these for a local coffee shop run (you see these types regularly in Los Angeles) seriously should rethink their decision. The V4R was made for the track, and that’s where it belongs. What makes this even more confusing is the Ducati Streetfighter V4, with effectively the same engine, similar exhaust routing, and much less bodywork, doesn’t have this problem at all.

The GSX-R1000R goes about its business as a streetable sportbike without any fanfare.

Not surprisingly, the GSX-R couldn’t be more pleasant by comparison. Heat issues? Nope. The slightly taller pegs could be annoying to some, but it has a plush seat and relatively comfortable bar positioning, at least for a sportbike. The biggest gripe for the Suzuki on the street? Its bars tend to buzz more noticeably than the Ducati.

While it’s hard to overlook the heat issue, once you get to the good roads where sportbikes like to live… you realize why the V4S comes with electronic suspension. On track, where suspension settings generally should remain constant, the V4R makes sense. On the street, where varying road conditions warrant changeable suspension settings, having an electronic semi-active setup is the way to go.

The reality is our mountain roads in SoCal, if they’re not burned down due to wildfires, are in pretty rough shape. The stiff settings of the V4R make this perfectly clear. Nowhere are you able to let the V4 sing like it wants to, though its overall precision in handling is still evident despite the stiffness. It’s not slow by any means, but there’s a feeling of wasted potential riding this bike on the street. Oh, and did I mention it’s hot?

While still jarring, the GSX-R soaks up the bumps better due in part to its lighter springs that are able to move with my weight. Just like at the track, turning and stopping are a tick less precise, but at street speeds this really isn’t important. The bottom-end and mid-range grunt the Suzuki makes is able to shine, which is great for real-world riding, but the biggest gripe is the sensitive and abrupt on/off throttle in its A riding mode, the most aggressive. Bumping the mode down to B takes things too far in the other direction, with throttle response lagging compared to the amount of twist you’re giving.

The Takeaway

As should come as a surprise to nobody, the Ducati absolutely rips down a racetrack. The V4R specifically was made for this purpose, and the generic answer to our original question – what makes the Ducati $22,000 better than the Suzuki? – can be summed up in its focus and dedication to racetrack performance. The GSX-R, meanwhile, shines on the road and, for 99% of us, is more than enough on track.

Track focused, at all costs.

The follow-up question becomes: Is the Ducati $22,000 better than the Suzuki? Even taking its primary purpose of racetrack domination, I still can’t see the huge price delta working in Ducati’s favor. Yes, the V4R has superior electronics, but the Suzuki’s is still plenty good, and with a $22k budget to spend, the aftermarket could make the Suzuki every bit the equal, if not better, than the Panigale on a racetrack.

Move things to the street and the advantage slides even more in the GSX-R’s favor. It’s simply easier and less stressful to ride on normal roads, and though the attributes that make the Ducati a weapon on track also ring true in the canyons, the tradeoff in heat is simply insufferable.

Plenty capable, if missing the final few degrees a $22,000 premium will get you.

True, the $40,000 V4R gets my heart racing in a way the $17,699 Suzuki simply can’t – under the right conditions – and those conditions are very specific. Ultimately, I get more excited thinking about the possibilities of a $40,000 GSX-R1000R with all the right aftermarket bits.

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