GRAN CANARIA, SPAIN—The roads around and through the Caldera de Los Marteles nature preserve on this Spanish island are, quite simply, insane. Insanely twisty, smooth, grippy, and narrow. Rock walls on one side, guardrails and sheer drops on the other, and every other corner is blind. The 2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950 is a sane choice to take on these loco switchbacks and hairpins, which is probably why Ducati chose here for its international launch. Smart cookies, those Ducati people.
The new Hypermotard 950 ($15,295) and Hypermotard 950 SP ($18,795) represent the third generation of Ducati’s Supermoto/Supermotard bikes. They’re designed, in Ducati’s words, for the hooligan rider. If your idea of fun is spending most of the time on either the front wheel or back, or sliding either or both, this just might be the bike for you. If wheelies and backing the rear wheel into corners are things you’ve never done but would like to, this is definitely the bike for you. If you like things like wind protection, storage space, or large fuel capacities, well, you might want to look elsewhere.
As a completely redesigned model, the new Hypermotard offers improvements intended for both increased performance and greater confidence and control. On the performance side, the motor comes stuffed with new, higher compression pistons, a 53mm throttle body, and a new exhaust cam, increasing power by 4hp, and providing 80 per cent of max torque from 3,000 rpm.
On the confidence and control side, a Bosch six-axis IMU measures instantaneous roll, yaw, and pitch angles to inform the cornering ABS, traction control, and wheelie control. If the hooligan in you is still taking baby steps, this electronics package will help keep the rubber side down. The ABS system (undefeatable) even features Ducati Slide by Brake when set to its lowest setting, allowing for mid-corner sliding shenanigans via the rear brake, with the ABS safety net still in place. Rider selectable modes are Sport, Touring, Urban and DTC/DWC off, which sets the ABS to low.
The redesigned seat, frame and tank are 53mm narrower, easing the reach to the ground for those short of inseam. At 870 mm and 890 mm for the base and SP respectively, the seat heights are high, but the narrow saddle width actually reduces the required inner leg length to reach the ground versus the Hypermotard 939, which had an 850mm seat height. Those riders who are short of inseam will definitely want to test ride before buying.
Weight-saving measures have trimmed four kilograms from the base model’s weight compared to the previous generation. This was achieved by careful design of the frame’s cross sections, magnesium cylinder-head covers, and with aluminum parts in the fork and brake rotor flanges.
The SP model takes weight savings even farther with carbon-fiber timing-belt covers and front mudguard, and Marchesini forged aluminum wheels. The extra $3,500 for the SP also includes fully adjustable Öhlins suspension front and rear, a quick shifter (an optional upgrade for the base model), and upgraded tires from Pirelli Diablo Rosso IIIs to Diablo Supercorsa SP v3s. The SP’s suspension also features more travel, resulting in a taller ride height, which in turn increases possible lean angles by three degrees. All this results in a more track-focused machine, and one that is another two kilograms lighter than the base model.
WHAT’S IT LIKE ON THE ROAD?
Out on the narrow, winding asphalt of Route GC-60, the base Hypermotard feels right at home. Cars and bicycles are everywhere, with barely enough room for one of each in most sections, so having a sharp but steady precision tool is a necessity.
The Hyper should be any rider’s first choice here. The Brembo brakes scrub speed entering steep downhill hairpins without drama, and the motor pulls out of corners with a consistent wave of torque, even with the power mode set to Touring. I found the throttle a bit too touchy for this type of cut and thrust when in Sport mode, but switching all the way down to Urban mode reduces the power too much (from 114hp down to 75hp). In Touring mode, you get the full 114hp but with a smoother response from the ride-by-wire system.
Marzocchi provides the base Hyper’s fork, fully adjustable, and Sachs makes the rear damper, giving preload and rebound damping adjustability. I had no time for suspension fiddling, but the stock setup was actually quite good, thankfully, with none of the wallowing, bucking or weaving one might expect with long-travel suspension on demanding roads like these. The lack of compression damping adjustment in the rear shock should not be an issue for most riders, and those who feel they need it would likely either go with the SP model, or upgrade the base model’s rear shock anyway.
The street ride revealed no real weaknesses to speak of. The high riding position gave a clear view of the road ahead, the wide bars helped with mid-corner corrections and quick transitions, and the gearbox was virtually flawless. The new hydraulic clutch is a major upgrade from the previous version’s cable-actuated unit. The lack of wind protection and storage space was a non-issue on roads like these, and the only possible missing link might have been the absence of the optional quick shifter. Being able to bang through gears under hard braking or acceleration without worrying about throttle and clutch modulation allows the rider to concentrate more on lines, rock walls, cyclists, work vans, etc.
AND THEN, THERE’S THE TRACK…
Along with the island’s otherworldly roads, there is a race track at Maspalomas. It features multiple configurations from two to 4.4 kilometres, with the longest sharing the runway of the El Berriel Aeroc Airport next door. No dodging planes for me, however, as the track configuration Ducati chose this time around was short but sweet, ideal for the Hypermotard’s skills and easy for journalists to learn. Here, the SP variant definitely made its case for the extra money spent.
Rocketing down the front straight, up a slight incline and toward a left kink leading to a right hairpin, the bike stayed well planted: slightly left then hard right, all under braking over the crest, then squirting down the incline on the exit with the front wheel floating and crossed up. The tires’ profiles allowed for easy tip-in and fast transitions through a tight left-right farther down the track, and grip was plentiful and predictable.
The SP’s stock quick-shifter was a must here, with the short straights and tight corners, although firm foot inputs were needed for best effect. The brakes were strong and fade free, with a slightly spongy lever feel that did not deter from their overall performance. The touchy throttle response in Sport mode that was too much for the street ride was fine on track once you’d adjusted to it, and the taller seat height of the SP made no difference when you don’t have to deal with stop signs and traffic lights. The stock suspension settings for the Öhlins units front and rear were pretty close to optimal, although I might have firmed things up a tiny bit if given more time.
It’s a pretty remarkable bike that could have me dragging knees and toes after only a few laps on an unfamiliar circuit in the middle of the off-season, yet there I was, sparks flying off the metal toe-sliders of my old Oxtar boots, and my Bickle knee sliders slowly giving their lives in the name of motorcycle journalism (hot tip: Bickles last way longer than stock knee sliders). A smidge more preload, to account for my – ahem – above average size and weight, likely would have kept my toes off the ground a little more.
IS IT WORTH IT?
Afterward, reflecting on a glorious day of riding, I turned my attention to the overall package, the styling, the fit and finish. The aesthetic cues are very similar to the original, first-generation Hypermotard, which is a good thing. The dynamic, mechanical, Supermoto styling might not be for everyone, but neither is Supermoto-style riding. The combined handguards and turn signals are a clean touch aesthetically, but I always wonder if the signals are too easy to break when incorporated into the guard. The remote reservoir, radial master-cylinder brake and clutch levers are by Brembo, and give the cockpit a professional look.
For those into customization, Ducati offers exhausts, case covers, saddles, and even saddlebags and tail bags. The 4.3-inch TFT display is clean and legible, with the graphics cribbed from the Panigale V4. Ducati changed the sweep of the aluminum handlebar to be more open, giving more of a Supermoto feel, and the switchgear on the left side controls the rider-selectable functions. The base model comes in red, while the SP gets white accents and red pinstriping on the Marchesini wheels.
What struck me most about the new Hypermotard 950 is its ability to ride fast and loose, right out of the box, especially onto unfamiliar roads and an unfamiliar track. The advanced electronics package is less of a nanny holding you back and more of a confidence-inspiring safety net egging you on. On the track, the SP is the go-to choice, where its upgraded suspension, tires, and stock quick-shifter make all the difference. On the road, the base model could do well with adding the optional quick-shifter, but otherwise is plenty capable for the task.
2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950/SP Key Specs
Pricing: $15,295.00 base, $18,795 SP
Engine: 937 cc V-twin
Curb weight: 200 kg
Power: 114hp @ 9,000 rpm
Torque: 71 ft-lbs. @ 7,250 rpm
Wheelbase: 1,493 mm
Length: 2,280 mm
Seat height: 870 mm base, 890mm SP
Brakes: Dual 320mm discs, 4-piston Brembo calipers front, 245mm disc, dual-piston Brembo caliper rear, cornering ABS equipped
Front suspension: Marzocchi aluminum fully adjustable, upside-down Ø 45 mm base, Ohlins fully adjustable, upside-down Ø 48 mm SP
Rear suspension: Sachs monocross single shock, adjustable preload and rebound, single-sided swingarm base, Ohlins fully adjustable monoshock, single-sided swingarm SP
Tires: 120/70-17 front, 180/55-17 rear