Bare knuckled bruisers, a.k.a. naked sports bikes, are perhaps the most bang for buck fun in the motorcycle world, which gives rise to the 2021 Ducati Streetfighter V4S, priced at RM145,900 in Malaysia. Naked sports bikes have a simple philosophy behind them, take your top-of-the-line superbike, in this case the Ducati Panigale V4S, throw away the clothing and what you get is perhaps the essence of a motorcycle.
I mean, what else do you need? An engine with a ridiculously impractical amount of power, two wheels shod in super sticky rubber, a place for the rider to perch his or her butt and somewhere to carry the fuel. Oh, and suspension with the associated geometry to keep things stable is a definite plus.
Over the last five years, the author has ridden most every super naked sports bike available in Malaysia, as well as one or two that aren’t along with a couple of specials built for individual (very rich) owners. No names will be mentioned but suffice it to say, even at the top of the naked sports game, you do get what you pay for and if you pay even more, it becomes measurably better.
Which brings us back to the Streetfighter V4S and its stablemate, the Ducati Streetfighter V4, priced at RM115,900. The Streetfighter V4S enters a very crowded arena, filled with rivals such as the Aprilia Tuono V4 Factory, the BMW Motorrad S1000R, the KTM 1290 Super Duke R, the Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RS and the Yamaha MT-10 (not available in Malaysia) amongst others.
What we wanted to find is, is the Streetfighter V4S what Ducati touts it to be, a good handling naked sports with the latest and greatest motorcycle engineering and technology can provide? Considering what the rest of the market has to offer, there was only two ways this could go, the Streetfighter V4S would fall flat on its face, or kick its opponents out of the ring.
When Ducati Malaysia informed paultan.org the Streetfighter V4S was being run in and we would have first crack at it on Malaysian roads, the anticipation was palpable. The launch of the V-four Stradale engine in the Panigale V4 a couple of years ago, plus the rides we’ve taken on it since, promised much from the Streetfighter V4S.
Indeed, the Stradale V-four is very much the centre point and focus of the Panigale V4 and we liked its controllability, traction and easy to ride manners, the 200-plus hp power output being very much icing on the cake. Thus, it made sense to put that engine in a naked sports bike and replace the previous generation Streetfighter which came in 1098 and 848 variants.
Those who bought Ducati Streetfighters during the production years of 2009 to 2015 swear by them, and trying to find one in the local second hand market is almost impossible, most commanding premiums slightly above the equivalent year Panigale. Big shoes to fill for the Streetfighter V4 and while ultimate success for Ducati does not really hinge on the Streetfighter V4S, it is very much a showcase of the Borgo Panigale firm’s motorcycle making prowess.
On the first approach, the Streetfighter V4S takes a stance very much like its predecessor, with the headlight set low and a tail up position. Hints of its Panigale superbike are obvious in the fuel tank and tail unit while the usual Ducati performance touches are there, including the single-sided swingarm.
Decked out in Ducati red, with the Stradale engine on display, the Streetfighter certainly looks the part. Most obvious is the massive radiator and oil cooler array stacked vertically at the front, giving an indication of the power being produced by the Streetfighter, or more pointedly, perhaps the amount of heat being generated.
The Stradale V4, displacing 1,103 cc, produces 208 hp and 123 Nm of torque, healthy numbers by any standard for a litre-class motorcycle. With that power pushing 180 kg (that’s dry weight, it would be closer to 200 kg, wet) of Streetfighter, you’re talking about a near 1-to-1 power-to-weight ratio when fuelled up and ready to go, sans rider.
Questions were asked to whether that much power is necessary and is it in any way controllable, plus a “you bikers are crazy,” from paultan.org’s Head of Content. For both questions, the answer is “yes” and “yes” and if you think otherwise, you are not the intended market for the Streetfighter V4.
For those who care about such things, you can read the full specifications of the Ducati Stradale V4 engine elsewhere. What we will say is that engine, Ducati’s first ever modern V-four, is worth the price of admission, if nothing else.
Following current design trends, the Streetfighter comes with biplane wings on either side of the radiator. Ducati says the wings help keep the front wheel down during hard acceleration and especially so when accelerating out of corners.
In practice, comparing the Streetfighter to other wingless naked sports bikes, we would say the effect is negligible at street speeds, no matter how much you whip it along the Karak highway. Negligible effect or not, every time we rode the Streetfighter, more so when manoeuvring in the parking lot at walking, we were reminded tipping it over would like cost money.
Considering the fact naked sports machines have atrocious aerodynamics anyway, we’re going to chalk this one up to fashion and styling as opposed to it providing a real world benefit to most riders. What we can tell you is the wings on the Panigale V4 superbike do indeed work, but only at racetrack speeds and for the rider who guns the throttle hard enough to hoist the front wheel in the air in any gear you care to name.
Getting on the Streetfighter, you are faced with the familiar Panigale tank shape, with the seating position suitably tall. The seat, placing the rider 845 mm off the ground, tells you this bike is not going to touch anything to tarmac when heeled over and this proved to be case.
With the pillion perch a separate piece, the rider has the option of installing the single-seat tail from the Panigale, available from the Ducati Performance catalogue, along with other racetrack only bits like a full-system exhaust from Akrapovic. The (very expensive) exhaust adds 6% more peak horsepower and mid-range torque, and can be combined with things like an STM dry clutch, adjustable footpegs and magnesium wheels, like the Panigale superbike.
But, we digress. What you came here for is to find out what the Streetfighter V4S is like to ride, and live with. Starting up the V-four, the sound the power plant makes as it comes to life is rather more raw than it is on the Panigale, putting one in mind of a caged animal, snarling and growling to be let loose.
The Streetfighter tells you, in no uncertain terms, it is a motorcycle, and does not pretend to be anything else. Blipping the throttle sends a rumble through the monocoque frame and the rider, telling you today is a good day to be alive, as well as perhaps being a good day to die, of which more anon.
Setting off, the quick shifter equipped six-speed gearbox shows its racing intentions, being ever so smooth and slick to engage. Coming to a stop at the traffic lights, clutch pulled in, we discovered a little idiosyncrasy of the Streetfighter.
At low speed take offs, slipping the clutch, the Streetfighter’s computer management with fight with the rider’s left hand, trying to figure out if the rider wanted to wheelie, not wheelie, trying to prevent what it thought was the engine bogging down. To solve this required delving into the operating manual, and we use that word advisedly.
Together with the electronically controlled Ohlins suspension and Ducati software suite controlling everything, there is a bewildering array of options for the user to choose from and customise. Perusing the manual is necessary and important, lest you, or the Streetfighter, do something unintended, unless you like being on first name terms with your closest emergency room doctor.
During our initial ride with the Streetfighter V4S, we found the suspension settings very stiff, stiff to the point of shaking out fillings in our teeth. Sifting through the suspension settings in the menu, we selected what we presumed would be the softest of the three ride modes, “Street”, and resumed riding.
No go, there was something significantly off about the suspension, especially so when we took some of the more on the edge corners of the Ulu Yam curves and the Streetfighter pushed for the outside, understeering madly. Definitely not typical behaviour from any sort of Ducati and the author has ridden and owned more than a few.
More time was spent going through the onscreen options on the Streetfighter V4S before the young engineer at home took over. After considerable time, including several phone calls to friends in the industry, he finally came to me and said, “it’s sorted.”
Taking the Streetfighter V4S out the next morning, it was an immediate transformation. Yes, it was still stiff and definitely a touch too much compression but the steering was no longer fighting back and the back end tracked straight and true, carving around the curves in the manner in which Ducati riders are accustomed.
Things were now right with the world, and using the thumb switches on the left hand handlebar switch block, there was a discernible difference in the way the suspension behaved. Leaving the suspension in “automatic” the handlebar could be felt tightening up through the Ohlins steering damper in response to road speed.
No longer wanting to push for the outside of a corner, the Streetfighter performed its sublime choreography, which is kind of reflected in what Ducati expects the rider to pay for this bike and more what the author expects from a top shelf Ducati. This is aided by the Ducati riding aids, of course, which, aside from the aforementioned “Street” mode, adds “Sport” and “Track” modes, as well as that piece of magic called “slide by brake.”
We first encountered slide by brake with the Panigale V4 at Sepang circuit, using it to enter turn 4 in a controlled slide with a minimum of input from the rider, looking like a hero for the photographers. On the road, the ability of the electronics to configure the suspension, braking, wheelie, stoppie and traction control between full on hooligan mode to “my grandma is riding” and anywhere in between means bike configuration and setup is very, very important.
The divide between getting right and fighting the Streetfighter through every corner is very thin, with small adjustments making a big difference. It should be noted that even at the softest setting, most riders weighing 85 or so kg will find the suspension on the harsh side, a point confirmed by Ducati Ride Instructor Haizal Omar.
This situation applies to the Streetfighter V4S, of course, with the Streetfighter V4 using manually-adjustable Showa and Sachs suspension. For the Streetfighter V4, once the suspension is set, it’s set and you do not have to worry about it much.
Long distance ride comfort on the Streetfighter V4S was just barely on this side of acceptable, the relatively upright riding position placing less strain on the rider’s wrists and shoulders. The seat itself has thin padding, is flat, broad at the back and makes no pretence at comfort, so by design, rides on the Streetfighter V4S are going to be fast and very furious.
Which brings us to another thing about the Streetfighter V4S, that being fuel consumption or the obscene way you can drain a tank in one afternoon’s run up Ulu Yam and back. You see, there is absolutely no way you can ride this bike slow, the engine the sound, the fury, the very essence of the Stradale V-four, encourages very hooliganism behaviour at every turn, with lots of throttle blipping and wide open charges with front wheel in the air.
Make no mistake, while the electronics keep everything from going pear shaped and allows for very precise throttle control, the very character of the Streetfighter V4S is raw, visceral and in your face. This motorcycle does not pretend to be anything but… a motorcycle.
And thus, this makes the Streetfighter not quite a bike for every rider. I mean, do you really need 200 horsepower? Of course you do, because nothing succeeds like excess.
Not to say this naked sports doesn’t have any faults. This comes in the form of engine heat which is not as bad as it was with say, the Panigale 959, Scrambler or X-Diavel but it’s still there and still noticeable.
There were other negligible things like engine vibration, but that disappeared once the pace was upped and the the corner carving began. No, this is not quite the bike you ride to Bangsar with and show off. Well you could, if that’s what you really want to do but that would be a waste of the capability of what is essentially a Panigale V4 with the clothing removed.
So, bear this in mind, the Streetfighter V4S should be approached with respect and caution. This is not the bike for the casual rider and the born again biker who last rode a kapchai in college and now wants to buy a toy with his EPF money.
The Streetfighter V4S, and the base model V4, is for the committed rider who knows what he or she is doing, otherwise they will just find the bike intimidating and end up hating it. A firm hand on the bars, practice of the proper riding techniques, perhaps sometime spent on the track and advanced riding classes, and the Streetfighter V4 will be a rewarding ride.
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