In June 2020, Ducati delivered number 001/500 of the 2021 Superleggera V4—the Italian motorcycle manufacturer’s most expensive production road-legal sport bike yet—to its first customer (rumors point to Tom Cruise). Despite the very limited release, you may have already spotted this red and brawny, two-wheeled beast. It’s the one that Jason Statham recently rode onto The Expendables 4 production set. As Statham shared with his 29 million Instagram followers, the Superleggera V4 is “the only motorcycle in the world approved for road use with a carbon fibre frame, swing arm and rims!” Entry price tag: $100,000.
To bookend Superleggera’s legacy, Ducati North America CEO Jason Chinnock tells me the motorcycle brand will deliver number 500/500 this month to a customer in the U.S. “Ducati has planned something very special for #500,” says Chinnock. So when Ducati extended me an invitation to ride one, I was enthusiastic. Cruise. Statham. 100 grand worth of Ducati’s finest engineering and design capabilities. How could I refuse? As an exclusive to Men’s Journal, I was the only journalist to review the Ducati Superleggera V4 on legal roads (limited tests were done on a track) before the motorcycle was crated, shipped back to Italy and dismantled to preserve integrity of production.
On an inhospitably cold morning, I suited up, rolled the Superleggera V4 down my driveway and, with a twist of the wrist, was headed south on Pacific Coast Highway in search of roads to test the ferocity of the Superleggera’s 998cc, liquid-cooled Desmosedici Stradale V4 motor.
As befits the Italian translation of Superleggera—”super light”—the bike is fast and lofty. I was three clicks up and in the red when—clutch-shift-throttle-and-whammo—I felt the front wheel come off the ground. That was my first indication of the efficiency of Superleggera’s wings (read: downforce generating winglets) that cause the front wheel to remain close to the earth at audacious speeds. As the emanating motor-heat thawed my legs and torso, I found myself at the base of a twisty road that leads to Top of the World—Laguna Beach’s lookout point with payoff coastal views.
Fresh blasts of sage, bougainvillea, and sea salt rushed into my helmet and smacked me right in the cortex while the bike handled hard corners up the mountain. Like a ravenous cheetah closing in on its prey, the Superleggera V4 is intuitive, powerful and nimble, engineered to stabilize, steer, and maintain traction. But where a cheetah gasses after brief bursts of speed, the Superleggera is primed for so much more.
The 998cc, liquid-cooled Desmosedici Stradale V4 powering the Superleggera claims delivery of 234 horsepower (with racing kit). Even with standard 10 percent fall-off calcs, that’s more than 200 ponies at the rear wheel. The bike’s peak power is reached at 15,250 rpm and peak torque at 11,750 rpm—and this motor loves to rev. To commemorate each hand-built engine, there’s a placard on the cylinder head specifying the technician who set the valve clearances.
Heavy on the right wrist, the Superleggera demonstrated refined power and intuitive excellence, roaring up steep hills, punching its way through tight S-turns, and impressively instilling the confidence to probe this daunting superbike to show me more. The Superleggera is outfitted with the latest-generation electronics package, including EVO 2 strategies for “predictive” traction control—quick shifting that made ratcheting through the bike’s six cogs effortless up and down.
Styling and Ergonomics
The styling of the Superleggera is Sexy AF. The satin-black carbon chassis, wheels and swingarm (along with a slew of titanium springs, nuts and bits) not only shave weight off the bike but are flat out stunning on the classic Ducati red sport bike. It’s no wonder Statham chose this bike as his co-star. Similar to the Ducati Panigale front end, Superleggera designers were admittedly inspired by The Joker’s grin (from the DC Comics) when they imagined the front end of the motorcycle stalking the road.
Inspired by past designs from MotoGP, Ducati built Superleggera with downforce-generating winglets to keep the front of the bike from standing up. This will reassure its passenger of a front wheel connection to the ground at speeds well over 100 mph. In other words, this bike literally has wings to keep it from taking flight. The winglets improve stability and create room for better acceleration, braking, and cornering. While I barely scratched the surface of what the bike could do, the experience represented the true naked excitement that motorcycling is all about—sublime and ridiculously fun.
True race bike nerds will appreciate the Superleggera’s bump-absorbing chassis and Ohlins NPX 25/30 fork, providing full-time balance to the rider. Thanks to extensive use of carbon fibre, titanium, and machined-from-solid aluminum components, the Superleggera has a dry weight of just 350 lbs (closer to 400 curb weight)—rev-tastic power-to-weight ratios for a road-legal sport bike.
The Superleggera is a motorcycle that performs at the very highest level and is flat-out handsome. At $100K entry, it’s a flex for select VIP customers fortunate enough to have reserved one of only 500 made. Relatively few will enjoy this luxurious piece of racing history packaged as a street-legal bike. As for me, the stoke is real. The Superleggera V4 is a full-serving of Ducati’s haute design and precision engineering—a bike built with first-class aesthetics, designed for grace, and master-crafted for performance. While there’s no other bike like it, past or present, Ducati has made one thing crystal clear—the only way forward is one down, five up.