Best Sportbike of 2020: Ducati Superleggera V4
The Ducati Superleggera V4 borders on obscene. With up to 235 horses on tap with the race exhaust and pushing something hovering at around 400 pounds, the sheer amount of thrust bends your perception of…well, everything. And yet, despite the absurd amount of power mixed with its carbon-fiber and titanium-infused diet, the Ducati Superleggera V4 still handles and circulates around a racetrack as well, if not better, than anything else I’ve ridden. And if the stopwatch ultimately proves me wrong someday, certainly nothing I’ve ridden to date can match the utter exhilaration the Superleggera V4 provides.
If you didn’t already know, Supperleggera means Super Light in Italian. Ducati takes this namesake to heart whenever it builds a Superleggera model. In the V4’s case, you’ll find carbon fiber everywhere, including the wheels, frame, and even a swingarm. And where carbon wasn’t a suitable material, titanium is used instead. Interestingly enough, as far as the 999cc V4 engine is concerned, Ducati says 42% of its components were redesigned to make it lighter – 6.2 lbs lighter than the standard V4R engine, to be exact. Increasing power was seemingly a byproduct, not the main goal. Then again, nobody’s complaining about the standard V4R being slow.
All that power is harnessed by one of the best electronic suites in the business today, with Ducati Traction Control coming leaps and bounds compared to the first version I sampled on the 2008 1098R. Back then you could clearly tell when the system was intervening. Now its operation is so smooth it’s nearly imperceptible.
But the big talking point, aside from everything else mentioned above, are the wings branching out from either side. Love’em or hate’em, the biplane wings offer a legitimate improvement in downforce compared to the single plane wings on the V4R. When you ride them back to back, like I was fortunate enough to do, the planted feeling in the front end is hard to miss. For those willing to overlook aesthetics in the name of ultimate performance, you will be handsomely rewarded with the Superleggera V4.
Of course, obscene performance like this comes at an obscene cost – $100,000 to be exact. Nope, it’s not cheap, but who cares? We’re talking about the best sportbike of 2020, not the one that makes the most financial sense (see our Runner-Up entry for that). The Ducati Superleggera V4 is audacious and crazy, and I absolutely loved it. Not that I had any preconceived notions of what a six-figure sportbike was supposed to be like, but after riding the Superleggera V4, I didn’t leave the track thinking it came up short in any way. It’s just the ultimate thrill ride.
Best Sportbike of 2020 Runner-Up: Aprilia RS660
Bold move, right? Calling the Aprilia RS660 the runner-up in the sportbike category when Yamaha’s YZF-R1 got an update and Honda’s all-new CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP is on the scene. Yeah, it is a bold move, but neither one of those bikes moves the needle in quite the same way the RS660 does. This could be the bike that rejuvenates interest and enthusiasm in the middleweight sporty-bike category, much like the Suzuki SV650 did 20 years ago.
Powered by an all-new 659cc parallel-Twin that’s essentially the front half of the RSV4 engine, its compact nature keeps the whole bike tight and narrow. Better still, its (claimed) 100 crankshaft horses trounces the rest of the middleweight twin competition. With a cushy seat, clip-on bars that sit above the triple clamp, Brembo brakes, and cruise control, the RS660 is an excellent and comfortable streetbike. Sure, it does vibe a little, but the intoxicating exhaust helps you forget about your numb hands. Just turn on the cruise control and shake off those paws.
IMU-assisted traction control is a little silly on a bike like this, but when conditions turn sour, rider aides like TC and ABS, which the RS660 also has, can be literal life savers. For added measure, wheelie control and adjustable engine braking are also included.
On the track, the RS660 is an absolute delight. That Goldilocks amount of power is just the right amount to keep things exciting, no matter your skill level. On the Aprilia you really feel like you’re getting the most out of it, whereas we can’t help but feel like we’re only tapping into a fraction of a literbike’s capabilities. Aprilia knows how to make an excellent chassis, as evidenced by the RSV4, and that expertise continues in the RS660. It bends into corners effortlessly and feels solid on its side despite the fact its basic suspension only has rebound and spring preload adjustability. And again, that exhaust note at full song is absolutely sublime.
Here’s where things get confusing. At nearly $12,000, the RS660 costs as much, if not more, than some 600cc supersports. With a middleweight Twins’ level of power at a 600cc supersport price, what’s so special about the Aprilia? It comes down to the intangibles. The 660 is sure to put a smile on your face each time you ride it. It may not have the power of a 600, but what it does have is broad and easily accessible – something you can’t always say about supersports. It takes a degree or two more to get the most out of a 600, whereas no matter your skill level, the Aprilia delivers on the fun factor. We’re hoping it delivers enough to bring more people back into our sport.
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