The title of this story pretty much sums it all, doesn’t it? Today’s flagship literbikes are getting increasingly expensive, putting them out of the realm of all but the most well off among us. So, let’s look at sportbikes at the lower end of the price scale, shall we? Mainly the Ducati Panigale V2. Ducati’s last V-Twin sportbike, the super-mid comes in at 955cc and $16,500 (well, $16,495 at the time I’m writing this). I had lots of good things to say about it when I got to sample it around the Jerez circuit at the end of 2019. Mainly, I was impressed with how easy it was to ride (a refreshing thing after hustling 200 hp beasts around lately. I know, I’m spoiled) and how well the electronics work. 

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However, at the end of my review this was one of my closing thoughts: The issue is the price. At $16,495, it’s swimming in the same waters as Japanese literbikes and even the Aprilia RSV4 RR, all coming in within a grand or so of the Ducati.

The Ducati Panigale V2 is a hell of a sportbike for $16,495, but there are others in the field with similar price tags.

It wasn’t until I could plop myself behind the computer screen again that a little digging revealed a motorcycle within four measly dollars of the Ducati – the 2019 Honda CBR1000RR. Coming in at $16,499, the Double-R is the base version of Honda’s superbike we in America will be getting alongside the pirate-approved CBR1000RR-R SP; and yes, it’s officially a 2019 model being carried over into 2020. With price tags so close, it only made sense to put these two against each other to see which offers more bang for the buck. 

Coming in at just four dollars more than the Ducati is the Honda CBR1000RR. So which is the better buy?

Before we go further, yes, the standard Suzuki GSX-R1000 undercuts the entire literbike field at $15,599 (again, as of press time) and offers a giant bang for not a lot of buck, but it doesn’t exactly fit the $16,500 challenge dictated by the Ducati’s price tag. So, it’s staying out of this one. However, by the end of this comparison, you should be able to get a good idea how it would have fared.

Hi. Did someone say bang for the buck?

The Numbers

Since the premise of this whole thing is predicated on a number, let’s take a look at some other numbers, too. At 998cc, the Honda bests the Ducati by 43cc (955cc), but also has two more cylinders. Being a Twin, obviously the V2 has a much bigger bore – 100mm vs. 76mm. Stroke measurements are 60.8mm for the Ducati, 55.0mm for the Honda. Interestingly, as far as four cylinder literbikes go, the CBR is considered a long-stroke engine. Most others are preferring more oversquare layouts to reach higher revs, and thus, more power. The CBR’s 13.0:1 compression ratio also out-squeezes the Ducati’s 12.5:1.

When thrown on the Motorsport Exotica dyno, the Ducati put down 136.1 hp at 10,980 rpm and 69.1 lb-ft @ 9,150 rpm. The Honda made 149.7 hp at 10,500 rpm and 76.1 lb-ft @ 10,000 rpm.

Not a huge surprise the Honda makes more power than the Ducati. What’s strange is the Honda’s flat spot at the top of the rev range.

It’s no big shock the Honda makes more power and torque than the Ducati, considering its displacement advantage, but here’s the catch: look at the dyno graph. Notice the Honda’s power flatlines around 10,500 rpm, extending all the way to its 13,500 rev ceiling. A little unusual, don’t you think? The only plausible answer we could come up with is an artificial neutering of the bike (presumably via the flapper valve in the exhaust) to meet EPA requirements. It’s unfortunate, but with an ECU reflash, another 10-20 horses should be on tap. Nonetheless, this was the Honda we were given.

On paper, things look even more grim for the Ducati. Taking the stated curb weights directly from the manufacturer spec pages (which have been fairly accurate whenever we’ve weighed bikes on our own scales), the Panigale V2 tips the scales at 441 lbs. Compare that with the CBR’s 428 lbs, and not only does the Honda weigh less, but it also has more power. Advantage: CBR1000RR.

Street Impressions

I’ll admit, I had preconceived notions going into this that the Honda would show its dominance swiftly. But this is why we put the rubber on the road; because we know motorcycles are more than a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper. How the sum of parts work together is something you can’t find on a spec sheet.

We’re fooling ourselves into thinking these are good street bikes. Consequently, the bulk of this test is track-oriented. However, since these are road-legal motorcycles, we did spend a little time on the street, too. This is where the Honda really shines for one simple reason: everything just works. Honda has built its reputation on quality, and it shows in the CBR1000RR. Turn the key, tap the starter, and the RR purrs to life, holding a steady idle. Its exhaust note is muted, but you know it’s ready to scream when given the chance.

By contrast, it sounds like the V2 takes a few more laborious turns of the starter motor to spring to life, and when it does, it initially roars into a high idle before dropping revs slightly. The whole time it sounds loud, and not in a good way. In addition to just the audible noise, which is strange considering the standard exhaust, you hear all kinds of mechanical noise, too. Speaking of the stock exhaust, it sounds guttural, not mean. Of course, this would no doubt sound menacing the moment you stick on an aftermarket exhaust. Where the Honda sounds like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the Ducati ditches the disguising; it’s a wolf in wolf clothing, damnit

Once you get moving, the Honda stays true to the wolf in sheep’s clothing theme. The clear power advantage is evident from the moment you slip the clutch. Power comes on strong and linear – assuming you have the Power Mode in setting 2 (of 5). Mode 1 is too abrupt. You still have to shift the old fashioned way, there’s no quickshift or autoblip, but the Honda does it cleanly. So, it’s really not that bad. As for that flat spot in the upper limits of the rev range, on the street it doesn’t matter one bit.

The Ducati’s clutch is a touch more grabby than the Honda’s, needing higher revs while you slip to avoid stalling, but once you’re rolling, there’s really no complaint about how linear the V2 applies power. The obvious difference here is the lack of power in comparison. Ducati partially makes up for this deficit with shorter final drive gearing compared to the Honda (which is geared tall), letting you launch off the line with similar quickness to the CBR. The autoblipper lets you shift in either direction without the clutch, and while this is more important on the track, it’s a nice benefit on the street, too.

However, we can end all the street talk right here for one simple reason: The Ducati is a fireball of heat under your legs. A longstanding complaint with recent Ducati V-Twin superbikes, the rear cylinder’s exhaust routing goes right under the seat and radiates heat right to the rider’s legs. Despite some rides in chilly weather, the heat was annoying at best. Having experienced past Ducati exhaust heat in the dead of summer, there’s no reason to believe the V2 would be any better.

This alone makes the Honda the bike I would pick for the street. Nevermind the fact the Honda also handles well and hardly radiates any of its heat to the rider.

Track Thoughts

Getting down to the business both bikes were really meant for, we ventured out to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway to join the folks at SoCal Trackdays for some no-sessions trackday fun. For this portion, Pirelli graciously provided each bike with its amazing Supercorsa TD tire. Designed specifically with trackdays in mind, the TDs don’t require warmers, get up to temperature within a lap, and provide unbelievable grip. 

Like on the street, on track the power difference is immediately noticeable. But in this case I actually initially preferred the Ducati over the Honda, as the V2 was much more manageable and less aggressive. With the Honda there’s a lot of brain power focusing on taming the beastly power delivery.

That’s when I realized the error of my ways. Power Mode was set to 1, meaning power delivery was way too aggro for my tastes. I caved and switched to Power Mode 2, which took a lot longer than expected. The TFT display on the Honda is clear enough, but the button sequence to change settings is far from intuitive, unlike the Ducati. Once there, the CBR became much more enjoyable to ride around Chuckwalla. The tall gearing left me between gears in certain areas, but with its healthy amount of torque you mainly need second and third gears, only dabbing fourth for a hot second.

You’re using second through fifth gears on the Ducati, thanks to its shorter gearing and power deficit, but despite the fact you’re shifting more, the autoblipper makes the task less taxing on the rider. You definitely feel the lack of power relative to the Honda, but the more sophisticated electronics, especially the traction control, gives you greater confidence to dial in the power earlier to try and make up the gap as its intervention is hardly noticeable. Meanwhile, the Honda’s crude TC (in comparison) cuts in earlier and harsher than I’d like.

Helping to make up the gap are the V2’s steel braided lines and Brembo brakes. Like the traction control system, the Ducati’s brakes are firmer and more confidence inspiring than the Tokico calipers and rubber lines on the Honda (which are still surprisingly competent, all things considered).

In typical Honda fashion, the bike turns in easily and feels eager to flick. The bigger surprise was how the Ducati matched the Honda for chassis feel despite being heavier by 13 pounds, having a longer wheelbase (56.6 in vs. 55.3 in.), and a longer rake angle (24.0º vs. 23.3º). Both bikes come equipped with Showa’s 43mm Big Piston Fork, while the Honda keeps the Showa love alive with its Unit ProLink shock. The Ducati, meanwhile, wears a Sachs shock. Chuckwalla’s curvy nature is also riddled with bumps throughout, which makes for a good test of the suspension and chassis tuning. You’re on the side of the tire for a long time at certain spots on this track, and we were at the extremes of the clickers on both bikes just to get something resembling a compliant ride.

On the Honda, when you’re ready, you can simply twist your wrist to get a launch out of a corner and pull away from the Panigale. Don’t get too greedy, however, as the crude (in comparison to the Ducati) TC will cut in harshly and kill your drive, even in the lower settings. It’s because of this less sophisticated electronics package on the Honda that you’re forced to work harder for a smoother lap. The goal is to avoid the electronics intervening, while on the Ducati you can be slightly more carefree with the finesse, knowing the safety net has your back and is far less intrusive.

So What’ll It Be?

This is the kind of test that proves what we already know: motorcycles are more than just specs and numbers on a piece of paper. Motorcycles have soul and their own distinctive character, even if, as is more common these days, that character is electronic rather than mechanical. When it comes to drawing conclusions, I’m left with no clear-cut winner.

The Honda’s power advantage and nimble chassis are going to win out over the Ducati. However, the CBR’s weak points, relatively speaking, are its brakes, and electronics, including the lack of even a quickshifter. Meanwhile, the V2 has stronger brakes, a far better electronics suite, and a chassis on par with the Honda.

It comes down to this: If I were to pick a bike to set one hot lap on, the CBR1000RR is it. If consistency over, say, 20 laps is the target, I’d say the Panigale V2 would manage it quicker. But since we’re often forced to pick winners and losers in these comparison tests, I’d pick the Honda. If for no other reason than the desire to unlock its hidden potential. An ECU reflash would bring back the lost power and maybe refine some of the TC parameters, too. Add in an autoblipper and a spring change/revalve in the suspension and it could be a dramatically different motorcycle than how it came off the showroom floor. However, if all you want to do is put gas in and ride consistently to your heart’s content, go Ducati.

Just not on the street. It’s so freakin’ hot.

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