Lightweighting Tour-De-Force: 2021 Ducati Superleggera V4

The “superlight” superbike is the first street-legal production motorcycle with a full carbon fiber chassis.

The 2021 Ducati Superleggera V4 is a comprehensive engineering exercise in composites and weight reduction. (Ducati)

According to Ducati, the 2021 Superleggera V4 is its most powerful, fastest and most advanced production bike, ever. This is no mean claim from the Bologna-based manufacturer known for its raucous sportbikes. The Superleggera V4 is the first street-legal production motorcycle from a full-line manufacturer with an entirely carbon-composites-based chassis. An exercise in cost-no-object engineering free of any homologation constraints, the machine will be limited to a production run of 500, at a princely $100,000 apiece.

The available Akrapovic full-titanium race exhaust shaves 15 lb (7 kg) off the already feathery Superleggera V4’s dry weight. (Ducati)
Both the frame (shown) and subframe of the Superleggera V4 are composed of carbon-composites, and both save 2.6 lb (1.2 kg) versus the standard aluminum components. (Ducati)
The carbon fiber single-sided swingarm for the Superleggera V4 is 2 lb (0.9 kg) lighter, and 11 mm longer than the aluminum unit on the Panigale to increase front weight bias and stability. Replacement cost: $20,000. (Ducati)
The fairing for the Superleggera V4 is carbon fiber along with the seat base. (Ducati)

The 2021 Superleggera V4 is a follow up to the 2016 1299 Superleggera (“super light”), also a 500-unit production run (at a cool $65,000), that featured extensive lightweighting elements. Technically part of Audi within Volkswagen Group, Ducati has been aligning more closely of late with Italian stablemate Lamborghini, which along with projects such as its Sesto Elemento (“sixth element” i.e. carbon), has typically been the brand to showcase the group’s composites prowess.

Plenty of power, low mass

The new Superleggera (SL) features the same Desmosedici Stradale R engine available in the 2020 Panigale V4 S, but the SL nets an even lighter version of that liquid-cooled, 16-valve desmodromic 998cc 90° V4. It produces a claimed 224 hp/86 lb-ft (165 kW/116 Nm) at 15,250/11,750 rpm respectively in stock trim; 234 hp/88 lb-ft (174 kW/119 Nm) at 15,500/11,750 rpm with the optional titanium Akrapovic race exhaust.

The SL engine weighs 6.2 pounds (2.8 kg) less than the standard Desmosedici Stradale R engine however, which already features titanium connecting rods and intake valves. For the SL, mass reduction arrives via a lightened flywheel, and a bolt set composed of titanium. Both the cams and starter gears have narrower profiles and have been drilled out to reduce mass. The oiling system goes from three recovery pumps to two, with no loss in effectiveness, according to Ducati.

At 351 lb (159 kg) in stock (dry) trim, the SL is 35 pounds (16 kg) lighter than the standard Panigale V4. The titanium race exhaust brings dry weight down to 336 lb (152 kg). Ducati does not quote a wet weight, which is likely between 360-370 lb (163-168 kg). This would put it on par with entry-level sportbikes such as the 321cc Yamaha R3 (368 lb/167 kg), but with five times the horsepower (42 vs. 234) at 20 times the R3’s $5,000 price.

Carbon plus titanium

The Superleggera V4 is the first production motorcycle with a full-carbon-composite chassis. (Ducati)
The 2021 Ducati Superleggera V4 in available race-kit trim. (Ducati)
The wheels for the Superleggera V4 are produced by South Africa’s BST, and reduce unsprung weight by 7.5 lb (3.4 kg) while also reducing gyroscopic forces. (Ducati)
The titanium engine-bolt set helps the Superleggera V4 shave more than 6 lb (3 kg) off the engine weight of the Panigale V4 S. (Ducati)
The carbon fiber biplane aerodynamic wings on the Superleggera V4 combine to produce 110 lb (50 kg) of downforce at 168 mph (270 kph), directing 80% of the downforce to the front wheel. (Ducati)

The SL’s all-carbon chassis encompasses its functional aerodynamic wings, the fairing, the main frame (with 7075-series aluminum and titanium inserts at key points and the engine as a stressed member), the subframe, the wheels and the single-sided swingarm. According to Ducati, all the structural carbon elements undergo a three-process integrity-testing protocol via non-destructive methods typical in aerospace: Ultrasonic Phased Array for two-dimensional analysis; Computed Axial Tomography for three-dimensional X-ray inspection; and Active Transient Thermography for inspecting surface layers for potential delamination.

The carbon frame is 2.6 lb (1.2 kg) lighter than the aluminum structure on the Panigale, and its subframe also shaves 2.6 lb (1.2 kg) from the standard machine. The swingarm (a $20,000 replacement part) is 2 lb (0.9 kg) lighter, and 11 mm longer than the standard aluminum unit on the Panigale to increase front weight bias and stability. The 17-inch wheels (produced by South Africa's BST) save 7.5 lb (3.4 kg) of unsprung weight while significantly reducing gyroscopic forces. The aggregate mass savings required Ducati engineers to completely rework the stability and traction algorithms controlled by the 6-axis Bosch IMU.

Along with the engine bolts and rear wheel lug, the rear shock’s spring and most of the major fasteners on the Superleggera are titanium. The Brembo Stylema aluminum calipers are the same as those fitted to the regular Panigale, but the brake pistons have been cross-drilled for reduced weight and more effective cooling. Though the suspension on the Superleggera is still from Öhlins, it uses traditional analog components versus the electronically controlled active pieces on the Panigale S. Thanks to its titanium spring, the rear shock is 1.3 lb (0.6 kg) lighter than the comparable analog shock from the regular Panigale.

Effective aero

The carbon fiber biplane aerodynamic wings on the SL’s bodywork are devised from Ducati's 2016 MotoGP machine – 2017 race regulations banned aero wings, likely making the SL’s aero package more effective than current MotoGP machines. The two sets of wings on each side of the machine combine to produce 110 lb (50 kg) of downforce at 168 mph (270 kph), directing 80% of the downforce to the front wheel.

The upper airfoil is a “dual-taper” type, featuring a longitudinally arranged strake and an endplate with two additional downforce elements. The leading edge of the upper element features a twist in its angle of attack. The lower airfoil has a two-part main-and-flap configuration, and is equipped with a fissured endplate to virtually increase extension to reduce drag. Ducati claims the complex shapes (reminiscent of F1 structures) functionally manage airflow around the body, reduce drag and increase downforce when the machine is upright or leaning.

Even at lower speeds, the Superleggera V4 demonstrates significantly more downforce than the standard Panigale. (Ducati)
Driving out of the final turn at Spain’s 2.75-mile Jerez race circuit, the Superleggera V4 is travelling 3 mph faster and is 15 feet farther ahead at start/finish than a 2020 Panigale V4. (Ducati)

Despite its price, the Ducati Superleggera V4 is likely the least-expensive full-carbon production vehicle available, and the purchase price includes several additional opportunities. Buyers who can demonstrate the necessary riding skills get the opportunity to ride the Panigale V4 Superbike, and for an additional $30,000, the Ducati MotoGP machine.