There are many factors that come into play when choosing a new motorcycle. Budget, performance, handling, comfort, ergonomics, and let’s be honest, styling, all likely play vital roles or varying degrees. The final verdict can often come down to a fierce face-off between two motorcycles.
The shortlisted models could be from different brands, or it could be as simple as choosing between trims levels of the same bike. The Ducati Supersport and Supersport S both strike a balance between a true supersports and sport tourers, but which one to pick?
The spec sheets start off the same: 110 hp, 69 lbs.-ft. of torque and a dry weight of 183 kg (403 lb). Aside from the colour differences, they may look the same to the untrained eye. The reasons may be few, but they add up to a lot.
What are they?
The name Supersport is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, it may have seductive Italian superbike looks, but its acceleration won’t set the world on fire and it’s actually comfortable to ride. The 810 mm (31.9 in) high seat is accessible, with handlebar and peg placements that allow a riding position that resides somewhere between neutral and sporting but not aggressively so.
Power is more than ample for the real world, but not nearly as potent as its high-revving Panigale stablemate . Firing up the 937cc twin-cylinder brings about a subtle rumble that has some character but isn’t over the top. It sets realistic expectations of what’s to come.
Available only in Titanium Grey with Ducati Red frame rails and wheels, the Supersport starts at an MSRP of $14,895. The S brings a $2,500 premium, ringing in at $17,395. Beyond the Ducati Red or Star White Silk colour options, it gets some added hardware for the extra money, including a fully adjustable Ohlins suspension, an up-and-down quickshifter, and a pillion cover. And with those added bits and pieces comes an entirely new, noticeably more aggressive, and quite welcome personality change.
The testing of these two bikes took place in Los Angeles while the snow was still flying in much of Canada. My best friend and frequent motorcycle road-trip companion Grant arrived in town to help out, so we could take turns swapping back and forth to evaluate under a variety of conditions. Each morning, we’d roll up the door of the storage locker and flip a coin over which bike to ride. Whichever side the coin landed on, we both won.
How are they to ride?
Starting with the “base” Supersport, its agility and ease of use allowed it to comfortably steer past the copious potholes, strewn piles of garbage, and aimless Los Angelinos who wandered haphazardly into the streets. Finding neutral at the many stoplights was light and easy. The narrow footprint also allowed us to filter to the front of the line, smoothly and effortlessly accelerating to leave traffic behind, until the next light.
Getting up to highway speed on the Santa Monica Freeway took no time at all. Wind protection was respectable, and any buffeting was easily countered by hunkering down behind the screen. Merging onto the Pacific Coast Highway, I was met with more traffic until it started to thin out north of Malibu. There we finally got to enjoy some smooth, gently winding asphalt.
Vincent Spina, the owner of Motorcycle Mover LA who delivered the bikes to us, joined us on his Monster 1100 to show us his favourite roads. Meeting up at Duke’s Restaurant at the base of Las Flores Canyon Road, we added extra layers because the morning had turned grey, misty and cool. A few short minutes later, the sun was shining brightly above the clouds after we’d climbed steeply up into the hills on smooth switchbacks and tight radius turns of various grades and camber.
The destination was the Rock Store, a legendary meetup spot, gift shop and restaurant that attracts motorcycles (and motorcyclists) of all styles, shapes and sizes.
Getting down to business
About an hour into the ride, I noticed the inside of my thighs getting warm. Really warm. In addition to providing an enjoyable amount of forward thrust, the engine also gives off a lot of heat. It certainly wasn’t an issue in stop-and-go traffic or the winding canyon roads that required constant throttle adjustments, but I couldn’t help but think that cruise control would definitely have been appreciated on the longer stretches of road where my hand started to go numb.
As is expected on most models these days, various riding modes are available (Sport, Touring and Urban), as are levels of interference from the ABS and traction control systems. None of which were particularly intrusive or overbearing under blue skies while riding responsibly.
After reading the spec sheets, looking the bikes over, and then riding them, we were both surprised at how different they felt from each other. While the Supersport offers buttery smooth gear changes with a light clutch that definitely came in handy while navigating LA traffic, the S’s quick-shifter was firm and stiff with less play. It wasn’t as easy to find neutral with a gentle foot but required some gusto to bang through the gears. It did become second nature after some time in the saddle, and would certainly be welcomed when on the track.
Braking is handled by Brembo hardware and Bosch ABS software. Dual 320 mm rotors and radially mounted Monobloc four-piston calipers reside up front, and a 245 mm rear disc squeezed by a two-piston caliper sit out back. Braking is predictable and lever feel is light, easily managed with two fingers.
Both bikes certainly lent themselves to a spirited ride through the canyon roads north of Los Angeles. They’re eager to lean over but not so twitchy as your typical supersport, with a redline of (only) 11,000 rpm. The angle and texture of the contrast-stitched seats make it easy to maneuver from side to side or stay in place. The S adds a removeable pillion seat delete cover.
The fully adjustable Ohlins front and rear suspension of the S made the ride noticeably firmer but not to the point of being harsh, unless the road was truly terrible. While the more supple Supersport would tend to undulate to absorb road irregularities, the S felt more dialed-in and planted, inspiring confidence to stay committed to a turn and even continue to push it harder.
Are they any good?
Parking the Supersport after a full day of riding, in a variety of conditions ranging from canyon carving to mind-numbing gridlock, I couldn’t help but think that it’s a versatile motorcycle I’d be more than happy to commute on or take away on a weekend trip.
It’s possible to strap saddlebags to the side of either model, but long-distance touring may be limited by the lack of range and creature comforts (like cruise control, or heated hand grips), rather than riding position or suspension harshness. The exhaust boasts a mellow rumble at low rpm and gurgles when downshifting, but doesn’t scream at high speeds.
When it came to pick a winner, we simply couldn’t come to an agreement. Grant enjoyed riding the Supersport so much that he was reluctant to give up the keys anytime I suggested a trade. In fact, he liked it so much that he’s actually decided to buy one.
There’s no higher endorsement than putting your money where your mouth is. He’s done a few track programs on higher calibre machines, but he prefers to use the school’s bikes and have something more sedate for weekend rides and commutes to work. He also liked the more subdued hue of the Titanium Grey paint.
I, on the other hand, would gladly spend the extra money for the exclusivity, handling and performance of the S. I also enjoy lapping days and would prefer to do it on my own machine in order to appreciate its full potential. The silk white paint and red trellis frame are also more my style.
Regardless of which you pick, you’ll enjoy a versatile motorcycle with an approachable riding position and ample performance that’s complemented by striking Italian design and character. I could easily and quite happily live with either of these motorcycles as my daily rider. It’s less a question of which is better, and more a case of which is best for you.