Bike

The Ducati Hypermotard 950 Lives up to Its Name

It has a dirt bike-like appearance, sticky sportbike tyres, and a sporty engine. What exactly is the purpose of this motorcycle?

How often do you get the feeling that you know almost exactly what a bike will look like just by looking at the press images? The Hypermotard’s shouty L-twin is barking away perilously close to my nether regions beneath the long, dirt bike-style bench seat that’s slowly numbing my backside, making light work of reeling the horizon towards me at an alarming rate. The L-twin is housed in a bike that looks like a Frankenstein offspring of a motocrosser and a supernaked. Its appearance almost belies its displacement, thanks to its taut packaging and centralized mass. As a result, the above-mentioned press images rarely show both wheels aligned or on the ground at the same time.

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The name of this Ducati is both spine-tingling and accurate, because the Hypermotard is essentially a supermoto turned up to eleven, and it’s the only one of its kind available in India right now. A supermoto is a perplexing class of motorcycle that results from putting 17-inch wheels, bigger brakes, and sticky sportbike tyres on a dirtbike. The authenticity of this Duc as a supermoto is debatable – it’s a supermoto by definition and isn’t derived from a dirtbike – but what about the ‘Hyper’ part of its nametag? There’s no way to argue with that.

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STABLE WITH SUFFICIENT SUPPLY

This 937cc engine appears frequently in the Ducati catalog, powering no fewer than five different models. However, it produces more power here than in any of the other bikes it drives, and the Italians appear to have shared their espressos with each of the 114 horses, because this motor feels more alive here than in any of the other bikes it drives. The Hyper effortlessly gobbles up its gears up to about 180kph, with a forward pull that’s quite healthy in the lower reaches of the tachometer becoming quite ferocious as the revs climb. Beyond that, you’ll notice the acceleration starting to trail off, which will only be an issue if you take this bike to the track (which Ducati’s test riders seem to do quite frequently and thoroughly enjoy).

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Those caffeine-fueled horses aren’t just great carriage pullers; they’re also a pretty good baritone section. As you approach the redline, the Hyper’s sound shifts from that distinct Ducati metallic hum to angry, brappy growls at low revs, to deep, evocative bellowing. Sharp blips from idle produce delectable little barks from the beautiful twin underseat end cans, which are almost as satisfying as the machine gun-like barrage of pops and bangs you get when off-throttle. Everything about this Testastretta engine feels dialed up on the Hypermotard, whether it’s the way it accelerates, the throttle response, or the sound it makes.

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FINANCE THE DEVIL

You’ll quickly deplete the 14.5-litre fuel tank between the low RPM barks and the high RPM roar. Due to the lack of a fuel gauge, you won’t realize this until the bike’s fuel warning light illuminates and demands a 95-octane fill-up. If you want to enjoy the potent, distilled fun-factor that this bike offers, you must be willing to make a number of compromises. Another is that, despite the high price tag of Rs 14 lakh, there isn’t much in the way of ‘luxury’ on offer.

Remember how this bike was supposed to take on the look of a dirt bike? Well, it does that so well that even if you were blindfolded and climbed aboard, the riding position would most likely convince you that you are riding a dirtbike. You’re perched 870mm above the deck, and the only thing keeping you from planting your feet on the ground is the motorcycle’s slim profile between your legs. Even so, shorter riders will have a hard time, and my 5’8″ self was on my toes.

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Once on board, your feet are tucked away onto the relatively rear-set foot pegs, and you’re pushed right up against the wide handlebar – standard dirt-bike fare. While this position is ideal for carving up a supermoto track, it isn’t ideal for sustaining the kind of highway speeds that this engine is capable of. Your upper body is quite forward, almost bolt upright, and the position of the ‘bars naturally causes your elbows to stick out, effectively turning you into a large human sail. You’re mercilessly exposed to wind-blast without even an ornamental flyscreen peering up above the TFT dash, effectively capping your comfortable cruising speed at around 140kph. Any time spent after that will have to be done in short bursts rather than over a long period of time.

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The seat plays a role in inducing discomfort as well. It’s long, narrow, shallow, and flows all the way up to the back of the fuel tank. There’s very little padding, and what there is is quite firm. In other words, it only takes a half-hour of being astride for the pain to start. In its pursuit of thrills, the Hypermotard as a whole is one-dimensional if the seat is two-dimensional.

Because, whatever you plan to do with this bike, its flaws pale in comparison to the smiles it brings to your face. When you combine the flickability and leverage offered by the wide ‘bars with the mischief-making engine at its heart, you’ve got to screw your head on a little tighter before venturing out on this bike. The city constantly encourages you to reduce the distance between stop lights and seize that traffic gap before another equally opportunistic Charlie does. On this motorcycle, there are no calm, leisurely rides. You shouldn’t expect one from a bike with the name Hyper in it.

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If you can get past the highway and into the twisties, the bike will rise to the occasion and reward you for your perseverance, primarily by being a riot through the corners. Yes, all of the press photos show a leather-clad nut putting his foot out into the corner and riding the bike supermoto style. I tried my hand at it as well. However, I was far more at ease (perhaps simply due to familiarity) simply riding conventionally through the twisty sections, with both feet on the pegs and my upper body leaned into the corner. When I did that, the Hypermotard was a blast, with a clearly higher performance ceiling than my own.

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The Pirelli Rosso 3s are perfectly grippy tyres once applied to clean, well-laid tarmac, as slick as they may appear on our terrible city streets. All of this adhesion gives you the peace of mind you need to start enjoying the Hyper’s engagingly responsive chassis and engine package. This bike manages to serve up a tremendous sense of connection even without a windscreen to tuck under or a sportbike-style cockpit facing you, and it’s all too easy to get carried away and find yourself doing some license- and life-threatening speeds on a meandering little two-lane back road.

The bike will go into a little headshake under acceleration now and then, just to remind you of the liberties you’re taking – this RVE variant (the only one available in India) gets special, and somewhat polarizing, graphics, but no steering damper like the ‘S’ version.

Apart from that, it comes with a number of other safety features, including a set of excellent Brembo M4 brakes.

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There are 32 stoppers in total, as well as an excellent electronics suite. IMU-assisted traction control, ABS, and wheelie control are all standard, as are three engine modes, three riding modes, and a bi-directional quickshifter. All of the aids are gentle, but the engine and chassis behave predictably enough that you can keep the majority of them off, or at least at very low levels, the majority of the time. The ‘Medium’ engine mode, which keeps your wagon hitched to all 114 horses while providing a smoother, friendlier throttle response, was my favorite. The advantages are twofold: a less jerky ride in the city, as well as a predictable throttle that allows you to dial down traction control with confidence.

In this department, there are only a few minor disappointments. The first is that, as good as the traction control is at optimizing drive, even at its lowest setting, it doesn’t allow any appreciable amount of slide, which is a bummer on a bike that’s otherwise so fun to ride. The second disappointment is that the rear-wheel ABS cannot be turned off. At least not officially. However, a reliable source informs me that a quick burnout confuses the on-board computer and disables the system. The downside is that ABS and traction control are both disabled at the front of the vehicle. That’s what I’ve been told.

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Turning off the rear ABS on this bike is something you’d do if you wanted to slide the bike into a corner, not for off-road riding like we see on most ADVs. Because, despite its good looks and 170mm of suspension travel on each end, the Hypermotard isn’t really built for off-roading. Sure, you have a lot of ground clearance – 195mm – and you could take this bike off-road if you really wanted to. The Pirellis, on the other hand, aren’t going to like it or be very supportive of it, the stiff suspension feels more like a sportbike than an ADV, and there’s the aforementioned ABS issue.

Even on the road, the suspension is firm, and while it never really crashes or thuds through even large bumps, it’s also not exactly plush. There’s a lot of travel available, and the Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock are both fully adjustable, so you should be able to mitigate this to some degree, but don’t expect a magic carpet ride.

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You’ll want to spend a lot of time in this saddle because it brings out your inner hooligan. But in the time you do spend away from it, you’ll be staring at a suitably ominous machine. With a sinister face permanently plastered with a mischievous grin, its appearance perfectly matches its evil intent. You can tell this bike wants you to do naughty things just by looking at it standing still. It’s not just the bodywork and decorative elements that have been stylised; the bike’s mechanicals have also been stylised to the point where they wouldn’t look out of place in a modern art gallery. The exhaust system, which resembles a metal creeper and gracefully wraps itself around an industrial tree, is particularly striking. Ducati makes a lot of demands on your wallet, but it always ensures that those demands are met with meticulous attention to detail on its motorcycles, and the Hypermotard is no exception. With the exception of the mirrors, which look and feel a little more budget than they should, the materials and finish levels are top-notch throughout the motorcycle.

NOW IS THE TIME TO PONY UP

Even by Ducati standards, this bike places a significant financial strain on your wallet. Because it’s over Rs 2 lakh more expensive at this price than the Monster, which has the same engine and is similarly equipped and capable. It’s also more comfortable and practical. The Hypermotard, however, clearly outperforms the Monster when it comes to putting big goofy grins on your face. At this price point, nothing else comes close in terms of sheer cool quotient and fun factor. So, if you’re lucky enough to already have a more sensible machine or two in your garage and want a bike that does nothing but deliver giddying levels of enjoyment and laughs, the Ducati Hypermotard 950 is hard to beat.

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