We Ask Ducati's Panigale V4 Designer About His Sketches

An interview with Julien Clement and his superbike design

Designing a new motorcycle is an arduous process. It takes years of ideas and crumpled up drawings and scrapped ideas before the actual machine runs and can be presented to the world. These drawings of Ducati’s new Panigale V4 show just how far back and how far-reaching the ideas went before the team in Bologna landed on a finished product. Some of the drawings go back to 2015, or even 2014. To find out which ideas were pure concept and which ones almost made it, I got in touch with Ducati and asked the designer himself.

Julien Clement is the boyish, 29-year-old Frenchman, reserved and polite, who was tasked with penning Ducati’s latest flagship superbike. Originally, he was brought in to Ducati after his collegiate sketch of what would become the Scrambler Icon was picked off the wall by the highest Ducati brass. He was hired to complete it, and then went on to sculpt the Ducati SuperSport and now the Panigale V4.

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This is one of the earliest sketches released from Ducati of the Panigale V4, dated 2014.Courtesy of Ducati

Aside from predating the bike’s release by at least three years, note the shock reaching back from the front of the swingarm. “It was a designer exercise,” Clement said. “I was trying to propose a new suspension layout with shock pull instead of push. But [it was] too technically difficult to realize and with no real benefit.” Pulling on a spring instead of pushing wouldn’t be a first, but it would have been a departure for the Panigale platform. As it stands the production version of the Panigale V4 uses a much more conventional shock setup, riding with a linkage and nearly vertical in between the swingarm spars and in front of the rear wheel.

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Ducati Panigale V4 rendering from 2016.Courtesy of Ducati

Arguably the most interesting thing about this sketch is the shock mounted on the left side of the machine, as it was on the previous generation of Panigale (1199 and 1299). “We decided in 2016 there was no space for the shock to be on the side,” Clement said. It was more than a rendering that decided it—the side-mounted shock made it all the way to testing. “It was giving ergonomic problems to the test rider due to the wider engine,” he explained. The 1,103cc V-4 in this Ducati is shorter (in both length and height) than the outgoing V-twin, but it is wider.

As for the sexy, split tail that leaves a gap at the bottom connecting point, that was never feasible according to Clement. “The tail separated would have been too fragile,” he commented, “and dangerously edgy for the rider moving on the seat.” Fair enough.

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A sketch from 2015 of Ducati’s Panigale V4, showing airflow.Courtesy of Ducati

When I asked Julien Clement which piece of the Panigale V4 he would hang in his house, he replied, “I think I would take the second panel of the fairing. The internal one.” I’ll admit, that was not the answer I was expecting, and my first follow-up question was probably the same as yours: Why? It goes back to part of the concept of the aerodynamics, it turns out. “Having a principal fairing, which is shorter, and then a second layer, which is the air extractor,” he explained, “I really like this concept.”

In his black-and-white sketch you can see the panel he’s talking about, which creates a sleek profile of the Panigale V4 but allows air to flow between the two panels and away from the radiator. Another interesting note about this drawing is that we can see the vee of the four-cylinder engine was already tilted back approximately as much as the eventual production bike’s angle (42 degrees back), even though at this point the exact dimensions of the engine weren’t known.

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An exploded view of a few of the Panigale V4’s components.Courtesy of Ducati

This drawing of the windshield, fuel cell, and tail exploded away from the machine shows some interesting design elements. The frame spars are a little bigger and more prominent than they turned out on the production bike, for one, and the exhaust exit is very experimental. One concept that made its way to showroom floors is the fuel tank’s shape and placement. Note that the gas cap placement is essentially as far forward as the tank reaches—from there it goes back under the seat and reaches as far down as possible. That’s no accident, obviously. Keeping weight low is always a goal in a sportbike, not to mention the intake and airbox takes up most of the room just above the engine.

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A sketch from 2015 of the Ducati Panigale V4’s headlight assembly.Courtesy of Ducati

Here’s a more technical drawing from the backroom at Ducati, of the LED headlight setup for the Panigale V4. The daytime running lights (DRL) sit at the top of the lens, while the more powerful beams are small and nest behind the shadow of the Panigale’s furrowed brow. Ducati was proud to say that this assembly is 1.1 pounds (half a kilo) lighter than the headlight arrangement on the 1299 Panigale.

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Sketch of the Ducati Panigale V4 from 2015.Courtesy of Ducati
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Sketch of the Ducati Panigale V4 from a year later, 2016.Courtesy of Ducati

These two sketches above show a little bit of the evolution of the design of the Panigale V4, the upper one being from 2015 and the lower from 2016. We can see Clement’s concept for the inner fairing in both drawings, as well as the basic shape of the bike. Note how much smaller the frame is in the more recent rendering, not to mention the more realistic exhaust exit. The upper sketch has the pipe exiting directly under the seat—sleek, but Clement admits it was doomed from the start for the most obvious reason. “The exhaust would burn your bottom,” he said, adding, “I discovered engine heat is also an issue for professional riders.” Good to know.

You’ll also notice in the earlier, 2015 sketch that the clutch is covered by bodywork instead of poking out as it does in the 2016 drawing (as well as on the actual production bike). “The production bike has never been close to having the clutch covered,” Clement explained. “But the first sketches were made without knowing the exact width of the engine.”

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A drawing from 2015 of the Ducati Panigale V4 tailsection.Courtesy of Ducati

This last sketch shows just how complicated a seemingly simple piece of the machine can be. The tail of a Panigale has always been a clean and smooth element of the design, but this shows how many layers and pieces go into creating those lines. Note near the top of the sketch that the LED taillight was always made to lay into the underside of the tail. Also, in the bottom left you can see the fuel cell, and how far back under the seat it reaches.