Yes yes, we know: it’s not Bike Throttle. But we can get on board with pretty much anything with an engine, and bikes are next on the list to our beloved cars. Alex is pretty besotted with biking after starting out recently, the other Matt is qualified and I’ve been a biker on and off since I got a moped at 16. This week we saw the reveal of the 2020 Ducati Streetfighter V4, a €20,000 middle finger to the idea that saner, quieter and more efficient are always better.
Even on the face of things the Streetfighter is a hell of a machine. Any two-wheeled, one-wheel drive vehicle that produces over 200bhp is clearly one to respect, but it’s the relative stats, and the experience we can extrapolate from them, that really caught our attention.
This is an 1103cc engine in a V4 configuration, as the bike’s name implies. With the Akrapovic race exhaust it produces 217bhp to power a bike that – dry – weighs little over a tenth of some sports cars. In power to weight, that’s 1260bhp per tonne. On something you can fall off. On top of that you’ve got the sheer specific output of the thing. Those hard-working 1103 cubic centimetres obliterate fuel with 197.3bhp per litre of total fury. That’s 200 metric European horses per litre, with no forced induction.
Part of the reason how that’s possible is the lower torque demands on bike engines versus car units. A car needs lots of torque to get its mass moving. A bike? Well, they’ll blow away in a breeze. The Streetfighter only needs 91lb ft to launch away from the line like it’s been shot out of a nuclear submarine. The engines can therefore be tuned for more high-rev power. You could put this V4 into a car but you’d be replacing clutch plates every other week.
If you’re wondering what this bike must feel like to ride, let me put it into perspective. A 220kg bike with 60bhp feels much faster than 99 per cent of cars on real roads at real speeds. Rapid throttle response and low weight means you can accelerate away from almost anything you’re likely to cross paths with. The only thing my old 48bhp, single-cylinder BMW F650 got hauled in by was a tuned Toyota Celica GT4, which came past only when I was at about 60.
Double that power and you have the rough output of my favourite old bike, a Honda Hornet 600. With 98bhp it weighed around 190kg at the kerb and would leave just about anything this side of a hypercar for dead, if you wanted. I rode it for years, during which time there were exchanges with all sorts of genuinely quick cars, but when you just need to dart ahead into a gap in traffic there’s nothing on four wheels that can compete. Such a bike is all you need. Then again, some would argue that a diesel Golf is all you need.
Later I rode a 197bhp, 100lb ft, 224kg (dry) Kawasaki ZZR1400 for a day. Its comparative stats are 141bhp per litre and 879bhp per tonne, and dear lord, it was memorable. The wild acceleration and rearward G-force made it a struggle to hang on. Its ability to overtake whole lines of cars in a single burst of megalomania is a feature you can’t ever forget. You get used to it, but extracting the full beans from a bike with this kind of performance potential is an experience best saved for the relative safety of a track… and yet the Streetfighter is even faster.
The Streetfighter is unashamedly for circuits. You shouldn’t even try to use 1260bhp per tonne on the road, not that you can’t enjoy the way the bike feels at legal speeds regardless. It’s like driving a McLaren 720S around town: you’re only going slowly but it feels amazing. The desmodromic 90-degree V4 is a fascinating piece of engineering not just because the valves are operated by cams and levers instead of springs, but also because the crankshaft rotates in the opposite way to the wheels, lowering the overall gyroscopic effect and making direction changes as sweet as a deluxe ice cream display.
On a track day, with the rider aids engaged, the Streetfigter’s upright, wind-embracing riding position, lack of fairing and staggering thrust will create a lung-compressing, brain-rewiring experience unlike anything except another ‘hypernaked’ bike.
That, surely, is the real glory of the Streetfighter. The Panigale V4 may share the same engine but it’s a focused super-sports bike; all about lap times in a way that removes some of the joy that’s absolutely central to motorbiking. Fortunately, seconds and tenths don’t matter to the Streetfighter. It’s a brawler, a no-nonsense puncher who inherited ideal genetics. It gets the job done then goes for a strong beer, and it’s always up for a laugh. How could you not smile?