If Ducati had its way, it’d likely sell the Hypermotard without a front wheel. That would save the company costs and given its propensity to loft the front end, most riders probably wouldn’t notice the missing donut anyway. That said, you can’t do sick stoppies without a front wheel, and unicycles don’t do well with a kickstand when it’s time to park them.
Supermotard bikes like this originated in the late 1970s: Wild World of Sports introduced the idea of bringing together the best riders from road racing and motocross and pitting them against each other on a tight, technical track that featured some pavement, some dirt and all sorts of craziness. The machines were the bastards of an affair between a dirt bike and a road course racer, and as it happened, audiences loved the zaniness of it all, turning the series into a TV sensation for several years.
When they let the loonies from motocross loose on high-powered bikes with street tires, there was all sorts of leg-out sliding and wheelies and whatever other circus acts they’d perfected, while leaping several stories through the air and riding over each other as they’d jockey for wins. Gentlemanly road racers brought the speed, and the competition was great.
The sport waned in popularity over the decades, then re-emerged in Europe and at the X-Games, and other places where creativity and competitive spirit out-rank common sense and self-preservation.
Rather late to the party, Ducati revealed its first Hypermotard in 2005, decades after the TV spectacles, but the global frenzy over the bike was enough to not only justify its production, but to keep it a staple of the brand’s lineup ever since.
This is the third generation of the Hypermotard, and this bike is still supposed to be all about wheelies and sliding the ass-end around. But “stunting” like that here in Ontario will get the bike impounded for a week and one’s license put through a shredder. Plus, I’m a middle-aged dad, so I prefer to keep both tiny contact patches on the ground when I ride, and since I only get the bike for a week to review, I’d rather not have it in a police lock-up the whole time.
Does that mean that my time with this $15,295 Hypermotard 950 was totally wasted?
Not entirely. There’s still plenty to enjoy here, even for me.
What is it?
First off, it’s a bright red Ducati, which means that it generates lots of positive response from fellow motorists. Folks in minivans eyeball it, and teenagers nod approvingly. Even the toothless old guy riding an E-bike eagerly complemented me on the Italian beauty, before bemoaning the loss of his license and his Harley. [Ah, those were the good old days… – Ed.]
Still, as pretty as its red-painted trellis frame is, the Hypermotard isn’t a sexy machine like the Panigale, nor does it have the gravitas of the XDiavel. The tall, skinny profile is a little awkward, and the beak-nose isn’t really to my tastes either. And yet, when photographing it, I couldn’t get enough of the bike, walking around it again and again, moving it to alternate spots so the light would catch different parts. I’m a sucker for a single-sided swing-arm.
Despite what you might have noticed at your local coffee shops, some Ducatis are purchased to be ridden hard, not just for parking space decoration. Those who buy a new Hypermotard will likely enjoy that characteristic Ducati L-Twin sound as much as I did. With the stock pipes, it’s not loud, but there’s enough gravelly growl to add to the fun of wringing the twin out to the upper reaches of its tach. Redline is a racy 10,250 rpm.
How is it to ride?
At 937 cc, it appears the same on paper as last year’s Hypermotard, but with new computer mapping and a host of internal parts updates, it puts out a few more horsepower (up to 114 now), and more notably, a max of 71 ft-lbs of torque. More than 80 per cent of that torque peak is on tap from as few as 3,000 revs, giving plenty of low-end and mid-range grunt to haul the bike around easily. Getting up to and keeping speed is easy even without a lot of shifting, especially given the 950’s modest 200 kg wet weight.
Much below 3,000 rpms, the Ducati isn’t happy and chugs and bucks, which can become a pain when slogging around in traffic. I had forgotten about that trait from my old Monster 1100 years ago; its poor commuting behaviour was one of the reasons I sold it. And while the fuelling is better than the last few Monsters I’ve ridden, the ride-by-wire system still makes throttle response a bit jerky at low speeds, regardless of whether in Sport or Touring drive modes. There’s an Urban drive mode too, which limits horsepower to 75 and does soften the snappiness somewhat.
The hydraulic, slipper clutch was heavier than most contemporary bikes I’ve ridden lately, though it is smooth in its operation. The shifter gave no guff either, cleanly snapping between the straight-cut cogs.
The pair of 320 mm front discs are each clamped by a radially-mounted Brembo, 4-piston caliper, and together with the 245 mm rear disc, they provide great bite and feel. When the Bosch Cornering ABS is set to level 1, the Hypermotard will reportedly allow up to 10 degrees of slip, which should help to alleviate Costa’s recent ABS concerns with legally undefeatable systems.
That Bosch system is also grouped with Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), each of which can be set to decreasing levels of interference with the sportier ride modes set. It all helps provide the rider with just a bit more confidence when getting a little saucy with the Hypermotard.
Is it any good at what it does?
It’s easy to want to play rough with this bike, since it seems to respond well when doing so. The tapered aluminum handlebars are dirtbike-wide, which provide immediate reactions even with negligible inputs, and the upright riding position puts the rider in a very neutral stance with a commanding view. With robust handguards housing the turn signals, the 950 looks ready to do some serious lane filtering, if it wasn’t also illegal here, of course.
Quick directional changes are a breeze, even if a rider doesn’t use gratuitous throttle and the rear end to achieve it. On a few favourite on-ramps, I found the 950 handles well, but for those used to a more sport-bike posture, the front end of the Hypermotard can feel a little light and unsettled at first. Trust it though, and the Pirelli Diablo Corsa III tires will stick well.
The 45 mm, inverted Marzocchi fork is fully adjustable, and in its factory setting was pretty soft, even for my 160 lb weight. I was happy for it since some of the roads around me look more like a landmine field than a civilized, paved byway; the supple suspension, coupled with serious travel (170 mm) meant that the 950 manages bad pavement well.
The Hypermotard is tall, with a 1,940 mm (34-inch) seat height similar to most ADV bikes, and required me to give a slight lean to one side or the other to put my foot down. It’s also skinny, with the slender tank leading into a saddle that looks almost like a motocross seat in profile, but had a couple of subtle scallops to help position the cheeks just right. It remained comfortable for up to an hour at a time, after which I was happy for a break from the wind blast anyway.
A TFT screen serves as the Hypermotard’s gauge pod and, for the most part, does a good job of communicating the essentials – except for a fuel gauge, for some reason. Given that there’s a trip computer that provides various other fuel consumption figures, it seems a gross oversight to neglect the fuel gauge. This frustration was compounded by the ergonomic gaffe of using the turn signal switch to double as the “OK / RESET” button for the TFT screen’s various menus. I have a habit of randomly hitting the turn signal cancel button when I ride and, on a few occasions, I reset the trip odometer inadvertently. I appreciate that Ducati is trying to keep the switchgear simple with fewer buttons, but this is a silly solution.
The Hypermotard 950 provides more impressive numbers than the Aprilia Dorsoduro 900 – the Ducati’s most obvious competitor – but at more than $15,000, it costs more too. It also slots between KTM’s 790 Duke and its insane 1290 Super Duke in terms of performance and price.
It’s possible to have fun on Ducati’s Hypermotard 950 without breaking the law, but the bike regularly urges you to do criminal things, and certainly those who don’t use a front tire much will enjoy it even more than I did.