Back in October, in a surprise announcement, Italian high-performance motorcycle icon Ducati revealed they were taking over supplying electric racing motorcycles for the FIM Enel MotoE series, the two-wheeled compatriot to the unexpectedly popular Formula E car racing league.
Electric motorcycle maker Energica had been supplying the MotoE race bikes; that company, also based in Italy, started making electric high-performance bikes back in 2014 and produce a trio of well-regarded street machines. Now, a scant two months after announcing their MotoE involvement, Ducati has taken the wraps off of what appears to be a first but very mature draft of their electric race bike, called the V21L. Ducati is due to send electric race bikes to the grid starting in the 2023 season. Ducati does not offer a street-legal electric motorcycle, and never has.
What Ducati does offer, of course, is a wide lineup of high-performance gas-powered motorcycles, the top tier of which include some of the fastest, most powerful and technically sophisticated machines available for street riders. The fact that Ducati has quickly popped up with the V21L – which appears to well along in development – may be a signal that they’ve been working on an electric street bike for a while now.
Ducati did not release any specifications or hardware information for the V21L, but a series of photos indicate the motorcycle is track-ready now to a large degree, with racer and Ducati test rider Michele Pirro wringing it out on the Misano circuit in Italy. It certainly looks the part, with a rakish carbon fiber fairing and bodywork, Öhlins front fork and rear shock, a sophisticated dual-sided swingarm, and what may be a carbon-fiber monocoque frame buttressed by aluminum subsections. If anything was missing (besides lights and turn signals), it would be a gearshift lever and the signature downforce winglets present on Ducati’s fearsome Panigale V4 machines, which crest above 200 horsepower in street trim and over 230 ponies in track spec.
“The bike is light and already has a good balance,” test rider and racer Pirro said in a press release. “Furthermore, the throttle connection in the first opening phase and the ergonomics are very similar to those of a MotoGP bike. If it weren’t for the silence and for the fact that in this test, we decided to limit the power output to just 70% of performance, I could easily have imagined that I was riding my [race] bike.”
Like any motorcycle maker wading into the electric ocean, Ducati has its work cut out for it. Electric motorcycles are still in their infancy, despite the years of development by pure players like Zero Motors and Energica. At this point, Harley-Davidson is the only legacy (and perhaps most unlikely) motorcycle maker that currently offers a full-size electric production machine, the LiveWire.
While electric scooters are gaining in popularity, it’s been a slower growth curve for electric motorcycles due to their perceived disadvantages, especially in terms of range and recharge time, when compared to gas-powered bikes. In terms of performance, electric motorcycles are largely on par with gas-powered bikes due to their prodigious torque output and simplified drivetrains. Battery capacity remains the toughest tech problem for electric vehicles of all types, but especially so for motorcycles with their small form factor and weight sensitivities. New battery technologies will eventually solve those issues.
Indeed, in terms of performance, future electric motorcycles will eventually dominate their gas-fed forbears just as electric cars are now outperforming gas powered machines at pretty much every level. Ducati is clearly aware of the hurdles before them. “The most important challenges in the development of an electric racing motorcycle remain related to the size, weight and range of the batteries,” Ducati said in a press release. “The focus of the project are, in addition to better performance, the containment of weight and the consistency of power delivery during the race, obtained thanks to the attention in the development of a cooling system suitable for the objective.”
And make no mistake, a streetbike will result from the efforts to build a race bike. “Ducati’s experience in the FIM Enel MotoE World Cup will be a fundamental support for product R&D,” the press release continued. “The goal is to create, as soon as the technology allows it, a Ducati electric vehicle for road use that is sporty, light, exciting and able to satisfy all enthusiasts.”
Hopefully the tech “allows” it soon, and if Ducati has a range ace up their sleeve, it could debut alongside the racebike in 2023. If it looks and goes anything like the carbon-clad V21L, Ducati may have another hit on their hands in the electric future.