MV Agusta’s F4 is the closest you get to royalty in the world of motorcycling. It is a soul-stirring amalgamation of thermoplastic, fibreglass, chromium-molybdenum, aluminium and carbonfibre. It feels all the more incredible when you consider that it was designed by the masterful Massimo Tamburini, nearly 20 years ago. Yes, look at it again. And underneath that fairing is an in-line four-cylinder motor. Sounds ordinary? But, it just so happens that it traces some of its DNA to Ferrari’s F1 engines. But, that was a long time ago. And in that time, the F4’s status as an icon and a valuable collectible that most people will enclose in glass has only grown. So, does it even matter how this motorcycle rides? Maybe it doesn’t, but, we had to know. And, we are glad we did.
In the flesh, the F4 is as stunning as I expected it to be. There’s a poetic beauty in its lines that will have you marvelling for a long time to come. How planes like the flattish fairing design, the geometric headlamp design, the lacy lines on the wind deflector and hard edges of the fairing combine to make a timeless package is spell-binding.
Connections to the world of racing are hard to miss. The quick-release fasteners for the fairing remind you of the race track. As do the little winglets under the headlamp. Although the LED-encrusted leading edge is a modern-day indulgence. The slots on the rear-view mirror housing suggest aerodynamic efficiency too was critical to the design. And, the single-sided swingers will prove very handy if you ever need to change tyres in a hurry. And, it’ll look gorgeous rest of the time.
There were only a couple of bits that to my eye stood out a bit. The blue backlight for the LCD console looks a bit dated and the resolution of the display felt a bit outdated in a world where colour displays are becoming common on top-end motorcycles. In terms of design, the tail section bloats a bit around the rider's seat. But the generous width of the rider’s seat explained that quirk convincingly. However, comfort clearly isn’t the top priority here, as the seating position is properly racy. It isn’t down to the low-set, clip-on handlebars, rather because of the high seat and the rear-set footpegs. Yes, getting your feet down at stop lights requires a bit of planning.
Our test bike was the F4 R, which uses Ohlins rear damper and forged wheels. However, the R variant is no longer on sale and so, the base F4 will come with cast alloy wheels and a Sachs rear damper instead. But, you will have little reason to complain as the F4 comes equipped with plenty of modern-day tech. A lean angle sensing IMU, Bosch’s 9 Plus ABS with a Race Mode, eight-stage traction control, three-stage engine brake control, throttle sensitivity, engine torque and all of this is available on three preset rider modes – Normal, Sport and Rain. A fourth mode, Custom, allows the rider to set-up the electronic controls as per his or her preference.
We were glad for all the electronic help we could get as our time on the F4 was on a day when rain was belting down. With the rider mode set to Rain, we wound our way through the streets of Pune. It was clear that the throttle response was soft and torque remained well capped for commuting in the city. I found that I needed to give wider throttle inputs than I would have expected on a 195hp superbike, to get it whizzing past traffic. So, job done. The seating position though was very aggressive and caused some amount of wrist ache at these slow speeds. The suspension, slightly softened for street duties, was surprisingly pliant and let us roll over speed breakers and bumpy tarmac with ease.
But, as we chanced upon an open stretch and as the rev needle got past 4,000rpm, things started to get properly smile-inducing. A hard twist on the go-faster bar resulted in a hardening of the exhaust note and worryingly fast acceleration. But, the highlight was the sound. Never has a connection between a motorcycle’s character and an Italian V10 or V12 been so direct. Suddenly, you could see the theatricality of the MV, the fine mechanical buzz through the 'bars, the intake snarl, the burble from the exhaust chamber under you every time you rolled off, and the God-awesome roar from the engine every time you really opened the gas was an Italian flavour that I had only experienced on four wheels till now. Some of this character can probably be attributed to the radial valve setup adopted from Ferrari’s F1 engine. Maybe. Grinning madly, I rolled off the gas, as I tried to piece together the way the electronics worked. Clearly, the electronics cap engine response for low-speed trundling but opens the taps as you get more adventurous. The traction control though remained active in its most aggressive state. Thankfully.
Once properly out of the city, it was time to change to the Normal mode. A few quick stabs at the engine starter button got the required mode even while riding around. Nice! At, the next opportunity, it was time to gas it. And, whoops. Within a few metres of rocketing ahead, the front wheel decides to get airborne on a sopping wet road! Being wheelie nervous, I chopped power immediately! Clearly, there was a lot more to learn. And, as we got to our shoot location, we had plenty more rain to contend with. But, as I rode up and down, it became clear that the electronics were on top of the torrid conditions. On the less soaked roads, the opportunity to use full gas, however briefly, was jumped at. Small patches of standing water would send the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa’s slithering helplessly every now and then, but the electronics would chop power quickly to keep things safe.
Gassing the F4 suggests a certain rawness of the power delivery. The power doesn’t just come on, it erupts. And, it seems to come in torrents. While the first step at 4,000rpm is easy to adapt to, but there are crests that tickle you, until power delivery softens slightly as you head to 10,000rpm. But, from there on as the variable intake trumpets readjust to let the engine breathe better, the run to 14,000rpm is searingly quick. And with electronically assisted upshifts, the temptation to make gear changes without rolling off the gas was too much to pass up. When asked, the smooth six-speed gearbox would shift up with only the slightest pause in the howl form the exhaust. Notably, the F4 also offers clutchless downshifts! And, these aspects are sure to make the F4 quite a hoot on the track. But, even ridden at a pace far below nine-tenths, the MV Agusta F4 felt absolutely enjoyable. The promise of angry power, accompanied by a guttural roar and a haunting howl make it a motorcycle that is thoroughly entertaining off the track too.
While we can't vouch for the depth or discuss the finer nuances of the chassis performance, there is much to be derived from the MV’s ability to instil confidence even on these rain-washed roads. Its grip and stability let us ride with greater speed than would have been considered possible. The feedback from the front end, no doubt, played a large part in that. An adjustable steering damper is offered on the F4 as well, and will prove handy when the conditions dry up. The monobloc Brembos at the front also offered strong, but crucially progressive bite and allowed for dropping speed with precision and an odd sense of calm, given the conditions.
All too quickly, it was time to head back to the Motoroyale HQs to return the F4. And while we regret not being able to ride this motorcycle fully, and closer to its true potential, it was absolutely clear that we can’t wait for that opportunity to arise. Clearly, even 20 years down the line, the F4 doesn’t just rely on its exotica value. Yes, it is a once-in-a-lifetime amalgamation of ultra-exclusive and exquisite craftsmanship, searing power that has been updated with modern technology and is on sale in India for a starting price of Rs 26.87 lakh. Our brief dalliance with the MV Agusta F4 shows that while you could spend that much money just for possessing a slice of history, the real drama begins when you get in the saddle and go screaming down the road.