Every new model year, I sit down and write a short list with the bikes I simply have to swing a leg over before the year is out.
The list is governed mostly by what catches my personal interest, but also includes important machines across the different segments of the industry, with the idea that I want to be able to speak intelligently about them and what’s going on in our two-wheeled world.
For the 2020 model year, at the top of my list was the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S. The bike not only appeals to my sport bike loving temperament, but it also marks the return of Ducati back to one of its more core elements – the sport bike category.
Before we get too far, I should admit some bias. I have a soft spot for the Streetfighter line, and in my personal stable there is a Ducati Streetfighter 1098 that is closing in on the 30,000-mile mark. This bike is my daily commuter (as if I had anywhere other than my home office to commute to each day).
Mimicking our own motto at Asphalt & Rubber – “Motorcycles Distilled” – the streetfighter segment is perhaps sport biking boiled down to its basic essence. The whole genre is centered around taking a superbike built for the track, stripping it everything it doesn’t need, and then getting rowdy with it on the street.
The Ducati Streetfighter 1098 was that distillation to a T, and so I and many others have spent the past year with similar hopes for the Ducati Streetfighter V4, ever since it was first announced.
Surveying the Landscape
A lot has changed in the last 11 years though – for starters, the “super naked” market has grown considerably more competitive and popular.
When the Streetfighter 1098 arrived at dealerships in 2009, it was an oddball – a hyper-niche product. The Triumph Speed Triple was the only real competitor in the space, and Ducati was lucky if it sold more than a 1,000 units of the stripped-down superbike in the USA in its first full year of sales. That is not the case in 2020, however.
Now we see very competent offerings from virtually all of the major brands. Aprilia and KTM have industry-leading offerings, new and revised for 2020 (respectively), while BMW and Yamaha have older bikes that are also in the segment.
The point is, the segment is no longer niche, the market is crowded, and the expectations are fierce.
It is not enough that one can build a radical and raw machine, and then expect to get noticed in the current “super-naked” segment. While the Streetfighter 1098 has an obvious place in my heart, I can tell you that it is also a machine with many flaws.
What made the F1098 so lurid was that no one else was building a 155hp tire-shredder that looked like it just came out of the British punk scene with an Italian accent. And so, buyers like me were caught by the bike’s audacity, and then chose to ignore its rougher edges. That business plan doesn’t work today, however.
In 2020, there is no shortage of super-nakeds with attitude, and the bar they set is very, very high. Some of the best motorcycles in the industry are in this category, which means coming out with a follow-up to the Streetfighter 1098, so many years later than its original debut, is a daunting task.
Maybe, this is why Ducati refrained for so long on this challenge. Rumors of a Superquadro-based Streetfighter 1199/1299 were rife. If you get enough grappa in them at dinner, company insiders at Ducati will tell you that plans for another v-twin streetfighter were certainly in the works, at various stages of development. But, we know the history. It never came to be.
So now, there is a new superbike platform at Borgo Panigale, and it offers an enticing idea: a V4 power plant. And finally, we have the Ducati Streetfighter V4.
Can this bike live up to the expectations that have been building for the past 11 years? Can it best the already high-standards that comes from its competitors?
Well, that is exactly what I hoped to find out, as I swung a leg over one on a sunny Portland afternoon.
I call this a “short” review because it comes with some trade-offs (though no shortage of words).
As many know by now, the press launch for the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S was canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Flying to Spain to meet a bunch of Italians was just not good geography during a time when both countries were being ravaged by this disease.
This left us to wait until the Streetfighter V4 arrived in the US dealerships, beggin-borrowing-and-stealing a ride from our local dealership here in town, MotoCorsa.
Breaking quarantine for the first time in what feels like months, but surely is weeks, we spent 24hrs on their demo model, which provided a bit more seat time than we normally would have gotten on a press launch, but trades off with a less robust time on the bike.
For instance, we obviously couldn’t take the Streetfighter V4 S to the track (which is a big deal, as I will point out later in the story), and we also didn’t have a team of Ducati engineers, test riders, and product managers to pry for details and insights.
All of this is to say, what you are about to read is like a first date with the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S. It is one of those dates where you go out for drinks, which turns into dinner, which turns into dessert…and well, you get the idea. But it is not like we got to meet the parents, and the rest of the family.
Accordingly, I would very much like to see how the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S handles on the race track, as it certainly is a motorcycle bred for the job (don’t let the absence of fairings fool you).
I would also like to see the bike in comparison to its peers – same day, same stretch of road and track, because I do suspect the devil here is in the details between the top motorcycles in this segment.
This is all fine with me, of course. Another welcomed excuse to put this bike in my garage is exactly where this review ends, if you want to skip the foreplay of the upcoming paragraphs.
And Now, We Ride
With 205hp (153 kW) and 90 lbs•ft (123 Nm) of torque on tap, along with a red line that pushes past the 14,000 rpm mark, on paper the Streetfighter V4 seems like a horrible idea for Ducati to turn into a street bike. And yet, what you realize within the first miles of riding the machine is that this is not the case.
“Refined” is the word I kept saying to myself in the helmet. For all the spec-sheet racing that says this should be a monster on two wheels, I was struck by how refined the total package was on the street.
The sitting position is comfortable and upright at the top, yet fairly sporty in the legs. Your back isn’t completely vertical like on a touring bike, but your neck isn’t pinched trying to look up either.
The arms are wide, but neutral in weight. The legs…well, your knees are going to feel it after a few hours, but things aren’t overly aggressive and what you would expect in the category. It is easy to wrap them into the fuel tank for extra support going through the turns as well.
Despite the large exhaust can, there is still some noise to be heard, from the intake it would mostly seem though.
The dash is pulled straight from the Panigale V4, with a smart layout of information and even more intuitive interface for electronic changes on the screen and in the hand controls (I can’t express enough how Ducati is leading the pack now when it comes to UX design). After a few minutes, everything feels like home, even my butt on the amply cushioned seat.
While its predecessor was notoriously bad at slow speeds, and polite company will use the word “lumpy” to describe the Streetfighter 1098, the Streetfighter V4 is downright civilized. Easy to manipulate at slow engine speeds, it is hard to find a stumble from the V4 engine as you noodle around.
The ride-by-wire throttle is less-direct than the cable version of yore, to be fair it is no worse than any other throttle on the market (RbW systems have made leaps and bounds in improvements since their early days), however it is butter smooth in applying power and modulating around potholes, pedestrians, hipsters on fixies, and crowds of millennials rebuking stay-at-home directives.
Add to that a chassis package that provides for tight and light steering from the front wheel, and I dare say that the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S is a pleasure to ride in urban traffic. Porca vacca! Did Ducati turn my beloved Streetfighter into a commuter??!
On the Gas
Out of the city and into the mountains, my fears were quickly put at ease. The Ducati Streetfighter V4 S is one fast motorcycle. Stupid-fast. Crazy-stupid-fast, even.
I imagine lesser authors would quote lines from Spaceballs, suggesting the world goes to plaid as you crack the throttle to full wide open. In reality, the experience is closer to what happens to Matthew McConaughey’s character (alright, alright, alright) in Interstellar, as he passes beyond the event horizon of a black hole in the movie’s denouement.
The world stops making sense. Spacetime collapses and transcends its normal boundaries. You loop around, meet your younger self, and teach them about their errant ways. You don’t have time to recognize that your vision has narrowed, your ass is making a permanent imprint in the back of the seat, and the front wheel is in a wrestling match with Sir Issac Newton to stay on the ground.
There is only the rushing topography that is moving past you at a velocity that 150,000 years of human evolution has not prepared you for, and the inescapable sound of wind rushing through your helmet you as it tugs at your immortal soul.
This moment seems to last for an eternity…and it does. Such is the rev range of the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S. If there is one thing that surprised me about this motorcycle, it is how much you have to manage the rev range.
Riding the Panigale V4 (especially the V4 R version) should have prepared me for this, but I forgot how much room there is on the needle as this motor spools and spools and spools itself up.
Don’t misunderstand my words to mean that there is no thrust from the lower end of the rev range, in fact it is quite the opposite.
Instead, I mean you have to manage the revs in terms of gear selection, as the Streetfighter V4 can trick you into shifting up a gear when there is plenty of room left on the tachometer. To be very clear, if you keep twisting the boom stick, you keep getting your reward. Pavlov couldn’t have imagined a better tool for a velocity-based conditioned response.
This is where the track-focused roots from the Panigale V4 show themselves on the Streetfighter V4.
The table top torque curve makes it easy for the butt dyno to get lost in the tachometer, and with an overabundance of power all through the rev range, it is easy to leave some horsepower on the table. These are good problems to have.
The Unanswered Question
This is where I wish we could have added some laps around Portland International Raceway, as putting the Streetfighter V4 through its paces on a closed course, with brake markers and shift points easier to spot, a new dimension of this Ducati could unfold.
The thing that is noticeable when you do rev-out the Streetfighter V4 is that Ducati has left plenty of power at the top of this “street tuned” motorcycle engine.
Usually in the streetfighter segment, we see fat mid-range numbers coming at the cost of top-end speed, and this makes sense. On the street, the mid range is the workhorse on your typical ride, whereas on the track peaky power bands prevail.
Is it possible to have your cake and eat it too?
That seems to be the case of the Streetfighter V4, though it will take spinning some laps on a race track to confirm this suspicion. If it is the case though, Ducati will have something that the other players in the space have failed to offer.
Until then, it is hard to appreciate the stopping power that dual Brembo Stylema calipers, mated to 330mm discs, brings to the table when you are braking at street speeds. As expected, the package performs well on the street, and represents the best that Brembo has to offer street riders. But, to truly appreciate these pieces, the track is a must.
The same can be said for the semi-active Öhlins suspension pieces, which would likely show their mettle best on a race course, but I will say the Swedish suspension impressed me on a few occasions during our street ride.
Most notably was a section of road that is known for its rippled asphalt, which looks like Damascus steel across the road way. On most street bikes, the feeling of the waving and uneven edges of the poured asphalt provide an unnerving response from the rear tire, which makes it feel like the rear tire is breaking traction.
On the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S though, I was impressed to see the “dynamic” suspension mode soaking up the rear chatter, providing a confidence inspiring ride. I have simply never felt more comfortable on this stretch of road than I have been on the Streetfighter V4 S. As someone who is difficult to impress, I was truly taken by the bike’s performance here.
The jury is still out on the winglets, however.
Bikes like the Streetfighter are meant to be hooligans on the street – that is the whole point of the genre. So, it is a bit of a counter-intuitive idea to put wheelie reducing winglets on a bike that is intended to loft the front wheel at speed.
I am sure that a Ducati engineer could explain the math about how at street speeds, the winglets don’t provide enough downforce to interfere with one’s tomfoolery, but at track pace there is a real-world benefit.
Ducati’s available literature says that at 167 mph, there is close to 45 lbs of downforce on the front wheel, but how that translate at a more mild speeds (like say, 50 mph) is more than my social sciences degrees can comprehend (is the answer 4 lbs?).
In my very limited, and very unscientific research into the subject though, there were a few instances where cresting over a rise in the road I would have expected a wheelie to emerge, and it didn’t. Should have I shown more fortitude from my right wrist, or did the party police interfere? It’s hard to say, though my gorilla math would tend to suggest the prior, rather than the latter.
I am curious to see how the winglets perform on the track, not so much on corner exits, but on corner entry – loading up the suspension before you transition from throttle to brakes.
Yeah, But Would You Buy One?
This brings us to the $24,000 question…and that really is the hardest thing (maybe the only thing) not to like about the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S.
Even the base model, with its $20,000 price tag is a tough ask when the rest of the competition is under the $19,000 mark (and likely to sell for less at their dealerships).
Ducati has slowly crept its pricing in the US to set the brand apart as a premium offering, and it really shows with machines like the Panigale V4 and Streetfighter V4. For those looking for the math, the Streetfighter 1098 would cost $18,000 in today’s money, while the Streetfighter 1098 S would be $22,700 MSRP.
We could write a lot on this subject (like how having the budget-friendly Scrambler line devalues the Ducati name to luxury buyers), but I will keep my analysis simple.
With the “S” model commanding a 20% premium over the competition, is there 20% more bike under the hood? The answer isn’t so simple.
On the street, I would have to say not. Though, I should add the caveat that I doubt there is too much between any of the top-level streetfighter offerings when it comes to the street. There is just too much of a diminishing return on the fun meter when you get past the 150hp mark.
I do think that Ducati has done a superior job of making a machine that “feels” like a premium offering, especially when bikes like the Aprilia and KTM have more trouble in this space (KTM more so than Aprilia, if I am to be fair).
And this is where I leave you dangling until we get the green light to spend some track time on the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S, because I do think the Italian bike could shine above the competition on the race track, especially with its wings, 205hp, robust electronics, and nimble chassis.
Often I have been impressed by bikes in this segment on the street, only to be disappointed in their track performance. Riding the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S at semi-reasonable speeds on the street though, gives an indication that Ducati has left much of the Panigale’s superbike DNA in this “road” bike.
There is a difference between thinking and knowing though, and right now the circumstances of the world dictate this isn’t something that this author can know for certain right now.
What I can say is that the Ducati Streetfighter V4 S is a motorcycle with few flaws. It has the table manners to be fine for a night on the town, but the brutality to whip your eyes into the back of their sockets when you ask more from the throttle.
The fit and finish is superb, and nowhere in the “S” package is there an indication that Ducati’s product managers went the cheaper route when facing two options. Forged aluminum wheels, semi-active suspension from Öhlins, Brembo everything, Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II tires…all the top-shelf names are here.
Styling is subjective – I happen to like the look of the Streetfighter V4 – though I do wish Ducati offered a shotgun-styled exhaust like on the old model. The underslung unit just seems more at home on the Panigale, and there is a missed opportunity to set the two models further apart from each other. The aftermarket might help me out on this one.
Overall, the fit and finish is what you would expect from a $24,000 motorcycle. The performance is there. The geek factor of winglets and a desmodromic V4 engine is there. But is my wallet ready for the hit? I can think of worse ways to spend a government stimulus cheque, though my accountant might disagree.
Photos: © 2020 Ryan Phillips / 360° Photography – All Rights Reserved