hypoactive

2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950 SP Review: Finding the Right Balance


July 11, 2019 Cars : Motorcycles By
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Long before Audi acquired Ducati in 2012, the Italian bikemaker’s grand ambitions could be traced to a misfit model that bowed at the 2005 EICMA motorcycle show in Milan. Ducati was intent on breaking past their familiar road racing-inspired tropes, and the new machine combined dirtbike traits — long suspension travel and minimalist bodywork — with the reassuring power of a massive 1,100-cc twin-cylinder engine topped with their signature dry clutch rattle.

The Ducati Hypermotard wasn’t the first of its type to hit the market, but the machine — named perhaps for its over-the-top take on the genre — proved a big bore outlier that disrupted smaller, status quo supermotos with engines hovering around the 400-cc mark. Ducati’s new third-generation Hyper is the latest take on the genre, but is it as groundbreaking as it was in the mid-Aughts?

The Good: Striking a balance between entertainment and livability is tough, but the Hypermotard’s third iteration nails it like a charm. This bike is fully engaging to ride around the neighborhood, yet stable enough to bomb down the highway securely at triple-digit speeds. Years ago, I cannonballed a first-gen Hypermotard across northern Italy; its steering was so loose at high speeds, it required constant corrections. The new bike feels remarkably planted compared to its antecedent, yet is still a riot to hoon through urban cityscapes.

Who It’s For: Thrillseekers who want a bit of refinement with their stripped-down, adrenaline-inducing rides, but will do anything to avoid losing their edge. It’s hard to imagine mature riders being drawn to the Hypermotard 950 SP, which resembles the unholy union of an offroader and a race machine; those types are likelier to be drawn to a more conventional naked bike, like the classically-styled Monster.

Watch Out For: Ducati has eliminated the Hyperstrada, a touring-friendly strain of the Hypermotard that bundled more comfortable ergonomics with easily-attachable saddlebags. Riders seeking those levels of versatility should shy away from the new Hypermotard, which may be comfier and more usable than its predecessor, but still cannot accommodate saddlebags.

The Hyper’s lack of wind protection can also make it tiring on long rides. And especially in full-fledged 950 SP configuration, the Hypermotard’s MSRP can be prohibitive for all but the spendiest of enthusiasts.

Alternatives: Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 ($11,999), Indian FTR 1200 ($13,499), KTM 790 Duke ($10,499)

Review: Hooligan. It’s a motorcycle cliché, yes. But truth is, the well-worn word is actually less relevant than ever with regard to Ducati’s third-generation Hypermotard — even though this latest iteration is a 114-horsepower screamer that revs to 9,000 rpm, has a delightful tendency to elevate the front wheel and wears deconstructionist styling that screams arrest me even standing still.

Allow me to explain.

The new Hypermotard presents itself well, for a purported ruffian. For starters, this latest iteration gets a MotoGP-style 4.3-inch TFT screen inherited from the Panigale superbike. The resolution is crisp and clear, and automatically inverts its colors in dark conditions. The screen manages and controls the electronic info offered up by a six-axis IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) that enables enhanced traction control, wheelie control and a lean-sensitive ABS system that lets the rider to slide the tail into corners in its least restrictive setting.

Though it’s a towering thing with daddy longlegs-like forks, the resculpted saddle makes it easier to reach pavement: With my 32-inch inseam, the balls of my feet were planted and confidently earthbound at stoplights. (The base model, which I didn’t test, sits 20 millimeters lower.) Three ride modes can be switched between on the fly via the lefthand switchgear, while each parameter can also be fine-tuned if the rider so chooses.

Despite the myriad ways to customize those electronic settings (which must be done while the bike is stationary, and thankfully includes the option of switching all the nannies off), the 2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950 SP tester punched me in the gut with one irrepressible initial impression: charisma.

When the 936-cc twin sparks to life, the senses are overwhelmed with the mechanical directness of two massive cylinders firing between your legs. Unlike the automotive experience of being insulated within a cocoon, the Ducati’s interactivity assaults your thighs, your tympanic membrane and your brain. And compared with many motorcycles — particularly those thoughtfully engineered Japanese models with pristinely balanced engines and modulated exhaust notes — this Italian is a bit ruder, saucier and more flamboyant.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Unlike its predecessor, which had twitchy fuel delivery and a stiff clutch, the new Hypermotard reacts with easy, intuitive responsiveness. A new engine management system delivers smooth throttle response and can be sharpened or softened within ride modes; Race is razor-like, Sport is smoother and Urban trims power to 75 hp. The old cable-linked clutch is replaced by a hydraulic unit with lighter effort. But launching from a standstill still requires care: despite being a slipper clutch, the engagement point is extremely narrow and rather abrupt, requiring a slow, smooth release of the lever to ensure a stall-free sendoff.

Once in motion, the revised powerplant delivers loads of linear torque, 82 percent of which is available at just 3,000 rpm. And wheelie control does a seamless job of keeping the nose from excessive escalation, a welcome feature for those of us who lack throttle-twisting discipline.

The SP variant I tested, priced at $16,695 (a considerable $3,400 premium over the base model) picks up an Öhlins suspension, Marchesini forged aluminum wheels clad in Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP rubber, a few carbon fiber trim pieces and a standard quick shifter that can be added a la carte to the non-SP bike. The SP’s top-shelf suspension from Sweden was a particular delight; it delivered a surprisingly compliant ride, given its ability to maintain body control while cornering.

Also highly rewarding: the quickshifter, which enables clutch-free cog swaps during both upshifts and downshifts. The system works more seamlessly when you shift at higher rpm and stab the shifter quickly; change gears at lower rpm or tap the lever tentatively, and you can get brief interruptions of power. But under optimal conditions, gearshifts become brief blips in the torque continuum. It’s the kind of efficient, pure-power-to-the-rear-wheel that’s racetrack worthy enough to almost make it feel inappropriate for the street. (Almost.)

And therein lies the paradox of the Ducati Hypermotard 950 SP: It’s overflowing with personality, but has been kissed with enough technology to contain that exuberance within an air of civility. It’s spry, it’s brash — it’s a lot of things. Just don’t call it a hooligan.

Verdict: The Hypermotard manages to be more focused than ever on comfort and user-friendliness, without sacrificing any of the engaging personality that made it so groundbreaking when it first debuted. It’s a delicate balance, especially considering how motorcycles can easily tip into becoming annoying or anodyne when their winning formula is messed with. The latest Hypermotard isn’t everything to everybody, especially if you’re looking for a long-distance bike that carries saddlebags. But for an undeniably fun bike to ride that’s more than just an urban runabout, Ducati’s latest iteration of the Hyper is just about ideal.

2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950 SR Specs

Powertrain: 936-cc L-twin, six-speed manual transmission
Horsepower: 114
Torque: 71 pound-feet
Lean Angle: 47 degrees
Curb Weight: 436 pounds

Ducati provided this product for review.

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