The latest in a long line of epic sports bikes, the Ducati Panigale V4, takes inspiration from everything that came before it
Since 1971, Ducati has been defined by one element: its V-Twin engine. This bellowing piece of engineering grew from the initial 750cc version all the way up to the 1299 of 2014, at which point Ducati’s engineers realized that they had taken the concept as far as it could go. Some commentators saw the introduction of the V4 engine in the Panigale as heresy, but there is no doubt that the configuration is the future of the Ducati sports bike. But it couldn’t exist without what came before, so to fully appreciate the Panigale V4, here is every Ducati sports bike that added its own DNA to the line.
10 Ducati 851 – 1987 – 1992
While there had been Ducati V-Twin sports bikes before the 851, it was this bike that can be viewed as the father of the modern Panigale V4 due to its liquid-cooling, fuel injection, and four-valve cylinder heads. In the early 1980s, Ducati was struggling financially and the buy-out by Cagiva gave Ducati not only renewed money for R&D but also access to four-valve technology that had been developed for the Cagiva Desmoquattro. When the cylinder heads from that engine were grafted onto the Ducati Pantah engine, with its belt drive for the camshafts rather than the bevel gear drive of previous Ducati V-twins, the resulting 851 model made Ducati once again competitive in racing, with Raymond Roche taking Ducati’s first World Superbikes title in 1990, finishing runner-up in ’91 and ’92.
9 Ducati 888 – 1991 – 1994
In 1991, Ducati increased the displacement of the 851 to create the 888 as a result of the constant quest for more power, and therefore, further racing success. In this, they were successful as, while Roche was finishing second in both 1991 and ’92 in World Superbikes, American rider Doug Polen took the championship title in both those years with the 888. Losing the title in Kawasaki forced Ducati back to the drawing board, creating one of the greatest motorcycle designs of all time.
8 Ducati 916 – 1994 – 1998
Frequently described as one of the most beautiful motorcycles of all time, the 916 was the model that really put Ducati on the map and laid the foundations for the next 28 years of Ducati success, on both track and road. Designed by Massimo Tamburini, the 916 was smaller and lighter than the 888. The increase in displacement was effected by increasing the stroke, leaving the bore alone. While the engine produced less power than the four-cylinder Japanese rivals, it had a wider spread of torque. But, it was the aesthetic design of the 916 that really set it apart from the competition. The single-sided swing arm, under-seat exhausts, twin squared-off headlights, and striking fairing all combined to create a distinctive but beautiful motorcycle. The fact that many of those features had been previously seen on the Honda NR750 didn’t seem to matter! The 916 was an instant classic, setting not only new standards of performance, handling, and braking but also style and charisma. Even more significantly, the 916 won the World Superbike Championship four times, in 1994, ’95, ’96, and ’98, three titles going to Carl Fogarty and one to Troy Corser.
7 Ducati 996 – 1999-2002
The 996 was basically a development of the 916 with larger displacement and a host of refinements to the 916 package, including engine internal changes, modified chassis, lighter wheels, better brakes, and fully-adjustable suspension. The 996 continued the World Superbike success, with a fourth title for Carl Fogarty in 1999 and Troy Bayliss in 2001.
6 Ducati 998 – 2002 – 2004
The 998 was the final variation of the 916 concept. The 998 was powered by the new Testastretta V-Twin engine. This engine was new from the crankshaft up, but the main change was to the cylinder heads: Testastretta means ‘narrow head’, and the valve angle was reduced from 40° to 25°. Both horsepower and torque increased as a result. Uniquely for a Ducati sports bike, it had no significant World Superbike success.
5Ducati 999 – 2003 – 2006
The 999 was a complete re-design by Pierre Terblanche, which met with mixed reviews, largely due to the stacked front headlight design, which was necessitated by U.S legislation that said a motorcycle headlight had to be at a certain height. The engine remained largely unchanged, apart from some tweaking to increase horsepower and torque. It was – and still is – acknowledged as one of the finest handling sports bikes. MCN magazine of the U.K. called it “simply the best V-Twin on the planet”, and motorbikestoday.com described it as “the most desirable, most exciting road bike on the planet” Three more World Superbike titles came Ducati’s way: one each for Neil Hodgson, James Toseland and Troy Bayliss.
4 Ducati 1098 – 2007 – 2009
The 999 was getting a little breathless compared to rivals from Japan and Ducati argued that keeping the 999 competitive would be too expensive. With that in mind, Ducati lobbied the FIM, the world legislative body for motorcycle sport, for a change in the rules permitting twin-cylinder engines to have an upper displacement limit of 1200cc, rather than 1000cc that the inline fours were restricted to, threatening to withdraw if this was not granted. Rival manufacturers were not happy about handing the dominant WSBK team an advantage and threatened to withdraw if the rules were changed. Eventually, an agreement was reached and the 1098 duly won the Superbike title in 2008. The 1098 shares more design elements with the 998 than the visually unloved 999, marking a return to twin side-by-side headlights and single-sided swing arm. At the time of its release, the 1098R, with a 1198cc engine, had the highest torque-to-weight ratio of any production sport bike ever made, with 99.1 pound-feet pushing along 407 pounds of weight.
3 Ducati 1198 – 2009 – 2011
Update of the 1098, the 1198 shared design elements with its predecessor, the 1098, but had more power and torque, redesigned wheels, lighter headlights, traction control, and lighter fairings (on the S model) plus a few minor paint changes. One carryover from its 998 heritage was the distinctive single-sided swing arm. Carlos Checa won the World Superbike championship in 2011 on the 1098.
2 Ducati 1199 Panigale – 2012 – 2014
The 1199 Panigale is the first Ducati sports bike to have a name as well as a number. Borgo Panigale was the district of Bologna, Italy, where the Ducati factory is situated and the Panigale name was adopted to celebrate this fact. At the time of its release Ducati claimed that the 1199 Panigale was the world’s most powerful production twin-cylinder engine motorcycle, with 195 horses at 10,750 rpm, and 98.1 pound-feet of torque at 9000 rpm. With a claimed curb weight of 414 pounds, Ducati said the 1199 had the highest power-to-weight and torque-to-weight ratios of any production motorcycle.
The new Superquadro engine had an over-square bore/stroke ratio and the overhead camshafts were driven by gears and chains in place of the belts of previous designs. The engine was used as a stressed member of the frame, which allowed the Panigale to be smaller and lighter than the outgoing 1198. Further changes included electronically adjustable suspension and an exhaust system exiting underneath the engine and not beneath the seat as on previous models. In the face of World Superbike dominance by Aprilia and Kawasaki, the 1199 Panigale failed to win a World Superbike championship.
1 Ducati 1299 – 2015 – 2018
The 1299 is the final V-Twin-powered Ducati Supersports motorcycle. Increasingly, the V-Twin engine was being out-gunned by the inline fours of the Japanese, most notably Kawasaki, which prompted Ducati to abandon its displacement advantage given to twin-cylinder engines and build a V4 which, for racing, would have a 999cc displacement. Lighter and faster than ever, the 1299 Panigale received a new generation of MotoGP-inspired electronics, including an internal measurement unit (IMU) to enable cornering ABS and traction control, along with anti-wheelie control. The 1,285cc engine (1,198cc for racing versions) produces 205 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque. Also available was the limited-production 1299 Superleggera, with both more power and less weight. Only 500 were built and are collector’s items today, as are many of the models in this list. While Ducati’s supersport and racing motorcycles will be V4-powered from this point on, the V-Twin will live on in lesser models, continuing a tradition begun in 1971 and the original 750GT model.