Exclusive Ducati Superleggera Photo Tour

We got two Superleggeras in the Cycle World studio for an up close view of the most exotic production V-twin ever. Technical Editor Kevin Cameron takes us on a tour.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-380

Here is a feast for your eyes–detailed views of the 2014 Ducati Superleggera (superlight). Textures, colors, surfaces and shapes all speak silently to us in a visual grammar, and we feel, more than know, what is said. This object is beautiful, within and without.

The Ducati accessory catalog has always offered another step in many areas, but the company decided to build this motorcycle (500 machines) as something equally special in all its parts as that gleaming jewelry. It is systematically lightened by use of low-density materials–to 342 pounds dry–and tuned to produce 200 horsepower. Major castings–the forward chassis, clutch cover, cam covers, and fairing strut–are all in magnesium. Plumbing is titanium, writhing in its many colors around the engine. The seat frame and many other details are understated, defect-free carbon fiber. Bodywork is gratuitously shapely, flowing air in stop-motion. In racing, we see that such beauty cannot be destroyed. One moment, the bike endos through the gravel, violently shedding parts as the rider slides to his feet. Everything is replaced in minutes and the machine-Phoenix emerges from its garage perfect.

Ducati Superleggera full-faired
Ducati-Superleggera-detail-296

That deep-dish wheel is forged magnesium, machined from the great lump of material that comes out of the dies. Today’s paper-light racing wheels owe their strength and fatigue resistance to the process of forging, squeezing heated metal into shape with thousands of tons of force. You’ve seen Ducati race mechanics do up that big nut after a wheel change. Just like the prop nuts of large aircraft piston engines, it has just a wire clip to keep it tight. The Army-color coating on the mag parts is what it takes to prevent this active metal from corroding. Those bright matte-aluminum parts are also forgings. Ever try to straighten one? They fight you–hard. The black textile surfaced carbon-fiber stuff is also very stiff–that’s what we are paying for–a much higher stiffness-to-weight ratio than any metal.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-303

Take in the fine detail on the top fork crown. See the U-shaped slot just ahead of the top of the steering stem? See that its edge has a tiny 45-degree bevel? When the software for machining this part was written, it was easy to write in such bevels. If you watched the machine, it would stop, the tool carousel would cycle a small end-mill into position, and it would then trace all those edges, leaving nothing sharp.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-311

Once it becomes possible to make perfect things, it becomes necessary. The Egyptians made wonderful vessels of hard stone, as round as if cut on a lathe–more than 5000 years ago. That impulse to perfection comes with being human.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-321

Carbon fabric arrives pre-impregnated with exactly the amount of uncured resin to make a full-density part. Layup elements are cut out, positioned, and remain in place by the resin’s natural “tack.” The vacuum bag compacts everything hard against the mold, then into the steam autoclave to cure. It looks...perfect.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-325

Superquadro translates to "oversquare," and that is what the Superleggera's engine is, at 112.0 x 60.8mm. In 2003, Ducati had no information on combustion in such big cylinders (A Chevy big-block is only 107mm) but they did the research. Tiny stroke, huge revs.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-346

Casual, graceful brush-strokes, like Japanese calligraphy. Sure, sure, we know the seatback “lives” in separated airflow, so functionally it could just as well have the shape of a big pinecone. But this is how we want it to be.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-349

Before you put your left foot on that peg, inhale what’s happening here. Passing under the forged swingarm pivot support is the shift rod. Housed in black at upper right center is the Öhlins TTX rear suspension unit, with its titanium spring. Its rear end is captured by the suspension rocker, driven by the rod and ball joint linked to the motion of the single-sided swingarm. At bottom right center is one of the springs that secure joints in the rear cylinder’s pipe. The spring is wound in a conical shape, capturing the hook. Why so complicated? Hooks bent from the spring’s light wire break. These don’t. This is knowledge, frozen into physical things.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-353

As the bike accelerates off a turn, the top run of the chain forms an angle with the central plane of the swingarm. The tangent of that angle, times the terrible tension in that Regina chain, becomes a force that supports the rear of the machine against its natural tendency to squat. Everything stays in balance, so the front end is not lifted. And you can steer. Remember Valentino’s words; “The wheelie is the enemy.”

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-355

Aerospace engineers tut-tut when they see colors on welded titanium. They mean that there was still some oxygen in the glove box when the work was done. But people love the strange splotchy colors. Never heat-wrap titanium pipes. It turns them into crumbling yellow dust.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-366

A new aesthetic has been created by CNC tool paths. Each precise, narrow line on this fork bottom was created by a ball-end milling cutter, as it cut away everything but what was specified on the drawing. Think of the stress on this part during braking; as pad friction with the disc tries to carry the caliper with it, a torque great enough to lift the rear tire off the ground is created. Imagine grasping the bottom of that titanium-nitride-coated fork tube in one fist and twisting. Intensity of force requires excellent parts.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-380

Crouching tiger, hidden dragon. Our Italian-born European Editor Bruno dePrato and other engineers most admire this machine for the solid packaging of its essential organs. The forward frame/airbox is magnesium, carries the steering-head and bolts to the cylinder heads. An accessory shaft occupies the cylinder Vee, driving the water pump. A lot of volume is consumed by this engine's tremendous exhaust pipes, terminating in the under-engine muffler. Crowding masses together enhances agility. The rear suspension unit, pushed out of its traditional place by the rear cylinder's exhaust, bolts to a bracket on the rear cylinder. The front cylinder head wears its "hat" (cam cover) at a jaunty angle for good reason: The front tire on full suspension compression nearly touches that cover. Shortening the exhaust valves and angling the cover brings the engine forward a useful bit. Load forward makes the front Pirelli steer better.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-383

The hidden dragon revealed–two air-hungry single-injector throttle bodies. The carbon seat frame bolts to the rear of the airbox and the magnesium cam cover of the rear cylinder is between its “legs.” Have a look at how the clip-on bar attaches to the fork leg: by a hinged clamp. If damaged, it can be replaced in a single-bolt operation, without disturbing the upper crown. Racing teaches this wisdom.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-389

The essence of a Vee-Twin. It is narrow.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-407

Here is the mag cover over the drive to the accessory shaft between cylinders, and below it the black rectangle of the small oil cooler. You see nothing extra here, yet this motorcycle is so utterly different from the British twins that thrilled riders of the ’50s and ’60s. You could see right through those classics, side-to-side. This engine has twice the displacement and everything is centralized in the name of quick turning. That makes it solid, opaque. Another point: all the swoopy styled parts have been removed, but the thing remains beautiful, urgent.

Ducati-Superleggera-detail-408

You’ve noticed that the front cylinder’s cam drive is on the left, and the rear’s is on the right. This shot emphasizes the volume that must be given to plumbing – big pipes, heat shields, length that used to reach past rear axles compressed for this purposeful package. Drink in complex shapes and textures. Hollywood CG artists labored to draw them into the Death Star, but these are real.

Photo #1

That deep-dish wheel is forged magnesium, machined from the great lump of material that comes out of the dies. Today?s paper-light racing wheels owe their strength and fatigue resistance to the process of forging, squeezing heated metal into shape with thousands of tons of force. You?ve seen Ducati race mechanics do up that big nut after a wheel change. Just like the prop nuts of large aircraft piston engines, it has just a wire clip to keep it tight. The Army-color coating on the mag parts is what it takes to prevent this active metal from corroding. Those bright matte-aluminum parts are also forgings. Ever try to straighten one? They fight you?hard. The black textile surfaced carbon-fiber stuff is also very stiff?that?s what we are paying for?a much higher stiffness-to-weight ratio than any metal.

Photo #2

Take in the fine detail on the top fork crown. See the U-shaped slot just ahead of the top of the steering stem? See that its edge has a tiny 45-degree bevel? When the software for machining this part was written, it was easy to write in such bevels. If you watched the machine, it would stop, the tool carousel would cycle a small end-mill into position, and it would then trace all those edges, leaving nothing sharp.

Photo #3

Once it becomes possible to make perfect things, it becomes necessary. The Egyptians made wonderful vessels of hard stone, as round as if cut on a lathe?more than 5000 years ago. That impulse to perfection comes with being human.

Photo #4

Carbon fabric arrives pre-impregnated ,with exactly the amount of uncured resin to make a full-density part. Layup elements are cut out, positioned, and remain in place by the resin?s natural ?tack.? The vacuum bag compacts everything hard against the mold, then into the steam autoclave to cure. It looks...perfect.

Photo #5

Superquadro translates to ?oversquare,? and that is what the Superleggera?s engine is, at 112.0 x 60.8mm. In 2003, Ducati had no information on combustion in such big cylinders (A Chevy big-block is only 107mm) but they did the research. Tiny stroke, huge revs.

Photo #6

Casual, graceful brush-strokes, like Japanese calligraphy. Sure, sure, we know the seatback ?lives? in separated airflow, so functionally it could just as well have the shape of a big pinecone. But this is how we want it to be.

Photo #7

Before you put your left foot on that peg, inhale what?s happening here. Passing under the forged swingarm pivot support is the shift rod. Housed in black at upper right center is the Öhlins TTX rear suspension unit, with its titanium spring. Its rear end is captured by the suspension rocker, driven by the rod and ball joint linked to the motion of the single-sided swingarm. At bottom right center is one of the springs that secure joints in the rear cylinder?s pipe. The spring is wound in a conical shape, capturing the hook. Why so complicated? Hooks bent from the spring?s light wire break. These don?t. This is knowledge, frozen into physical things.

Photo #8

As the bike accelerates off a turn, the top run of the chain forms an angle with the central plane of the swingarm. The tangent of that angle, times the terrible tension in that Regina chain, becomes a force that supports the rear of the machine against its natural tendency to squat. Everything stays in balance, so the front end is not lifted. And you can steer. Remember Valentino?s words; ?The wheelie is the enemy.?

Photo #9

Aerospace engineers tut-tut when they see colors on welded titanium. They mean that there was still some oxygen in the glove box when the work was done. But people love the strange splotchy colors. Never heat-wrap titanium pipes. It turns them into crumbling yellow dust.

Photo #10

A new aesthetic has been created by CNC tool paths. Each precise, narrow line on this fork bottom was created by a ball-end milling cutter, as it cut away everything but what was specified on the drawing. Think of the stress on this part during braking; as pad friction with the disc tries to carry the caliper with it, a torque great enough to lift the rear tire off the ground is created. Imagine grasping the bottom of that titanium-nitride-coated fork tube in one fist and twisting. Intensity of force requires excellent parts.

Photo #11

Crouching tiger, hidden dragon. Our Italian-born European Editor Bruno dePrato and other engineers most admire this machine for the solid packaging of its essential organs. The forward frame/airbox is magnesium, carries the steering-head and bolts to the cylinder heads. An accessory shaft occupies the cylinder Vee, driving the water pump. A lot of volume is consumed by this engine?s tremendous exhaust pipes, terminating in the under-engine muffler. Crowding masses together enhances agility. The rear suspension unit, pushed out of its traditional place by the rear cylinder?s exhaust, bolts to a bracket on the rear cylinder. The front cylinder head wears its ?hat? (cam cover) at a jaunty angle for good reason: The front tire on full suspension compression nearly touches that cover. Shortening the exhaust valves and angling the cover brings the engine forward a useful bit. Load forward makes the front Pirelli steer better.

Photo #12

The hidden dragon revealed?two air-hungry single-injector throttle bodies. The carbon seat frame bolts to the rear of the airbox and the magnesium cam cover of the rear cylinder is between its ?legs.? Have a look at how the clip-on bar attaches to the fork leg: by a hinged clamp. If damaged, it can be replaced in a single-bolt operation, without disturbing the upper crown. Racing teaches this wisdom.

Photo #13

The essence of a Vee-Twin. It is narrow.

Photo #14

Here is the mag cover over the drive to the accessory shaft between cylinders, and below it the black rectangle of the small oil cooler. You see nothing extra here, yet this motorcycle is so utterly different from the British twins that thrilled riders of the ?50s and ?60s. You could see right through those classics, side-to-side. This engine has twice the displacement and everything is centralized in the name of quick turning. That makes it solid, opaque. Another point: all the swoopy styled parts have been removed, but the thing remains beautiful, urgent.

Photo #15

You?ve noticed that the front cylinder?s cam drive is on the left, and the rear?s is on the right. This shot emphasizes the volume that must be given to plumbing ? big pipes, heat shields, length that used to reach past rear axles compressed for this purposeful package. Drink in complex shapes and textures. Hollywood CG artists labored to draw them into the Death Star, but these are real.

Studio full faired right-side view.