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km : First Ride

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2 December 2010

We’ve already shared our pre-SEMA Show adventure in other writings, a trip that included four bikes — a BMW R1200GS Adventure, a Triumph Thunderbird, a Ducati Streetfighter and a Ducati Hypermotard 100 Evo SP. All were excellent machines, but everyone knows there always has to be a favorite. You’ll find mine at the end of that list. I wound up developing a real attachment to the Hypermotard, using it almost exclusively while in Las Vegas, because it was so good at almost everything.



First, a few details. Hypermotards are an oddball species in the bike world, giving the impression of an off-road cycle but with equipment for the street. They ride high on long-travel suspensions and look ready to cross washouts and culverts in the Baja with their generous clearance. They feature straight, high seats that give the rider a sense of being perched on a fence rail instead of tucked behind a gas tank like most street bikes. Surprisingly, it’s these details that actually make them great as city bikes, with their commanding view and tossable feel.



This is particularly true of the version we had, the Hypermotard 1100 Evo SP, the most extreme development of the concept that originally debuted five years ago with the Hypermotard 696. The “Evo” designation indicates the 95-hp version of the 1100-cc L-twin, which is plenty powerful, but whose strength is the torque — lots of it, available at low revs, promising good times. The “SP” specification means higher suspension, higher bars and fifteen pounds less weight than a standard 1100 Evo for even more performance. The overall spec is pretty impressive, flaunting Pirelli Corsa tires and Marchesini lightweight forged alloy wheels, and suspended on an Ohlins rear shock and Marzocchi fronts.



The looks can be polarizing to some — when you tell people you’re riding a Ducati, they turn to look at it and you can see the confused look on their faces. Its beaky nose is definitely more motocross than street bike. To the casual fan, it doesn’t match expectations of what a Ducati should look like, as it isn’t a swoopy superbike or a retro-sexy Sport Classic. Yet this was the bike I kept coming back to when given a choice.



The first couple miles take some adjustment. The high seating position encourages riding in an attack position, keening forward, almost in front of the bars like you’re leading the bike with your helmet. Braking results in some fork dive, and while selecting a firmer setting for the front shocks reduces the dive a bit, it’s still more than expected on the street. But then you take a couple corners, and the bike leans eagerly and solidly, and you start to get a sense of how good the ‘Motard is. The bike is light and feels even lighter, which encourages flicking it from lane to lane, and is direct and accurate in traffic. Once you adjust to the sense of riding high, you feel as if you have the same sight advantage as a lifted truck, allowing the vantage point to anticipate traffic much more easily.



Unlike a truck with a lift kit, the ‘Motard is stable and tracks straight. After a day or two it becomes clear that for city riding, bikes don’t get much better than this. The tall seat would make it tough for anyone with less than about 32 inches of inseam to put both feet down, but you’re up high under way and can see everything. The mirrors are mounted on the bar ends, and for California riders they can be a bit too wide for easy lane splitting through rush hour traffic, but they flip back easily for tight squeezes. The longer you ride it, the better the motor — all 1078 cubic centimeters of air-cooled wonder — really shines. This engine has benefitted from years of development and refinement, and it shows. No flat spots in the power delivery, no buzzy vibrations felt through the grips, power from idle to redline, smooth and full of that Ducati soundtrack, it’s hard to imagine a better powerplant for varied street duties.



As we entered the mountain roads above metro Los Angeles, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t getting killed by windflow. There must be something about the way this bike is shaped, because at speeds under 85 mph the bike is remarkably good at deflecting air around the rider. Crosswinds get a little rough, though; the lack of a steering damper coupled with higher speeds can make the front end very twitchy and nervous.



Through the higher elevation of Tujunga Canyon Road, the bike was a precision instrument, allowing me to place it exactly where I wanted in corners, while bumps and cracks were soaked up by the suspension without ever causing the bike to wander off line. That damper-free front end helps give it an incredibly light and reactive feel, letting me know everything that the front end is dealing with; the back is equally responsive and alive. The controls are so light and effective that picking the bike up and throwing it almost seems realistic. The bike is so stable that as it approaches a corner, the rider can lock the rear brake up and swing the back end out like a dirt tracker, and it never tries to bite back.



What’s not to like about the Hypermotard 1100 Evo SP? The answer to that is fuel range, thanks to the small 3.3-gallon tank. The Evo couldn’t cruise more than 85 miles or so before the low-fuel warning light would come on (it lacks a proper gauge in the interst of minimalist simplicity). On our trip to Vegas, this bike was definitely the limiting factor for making fast time or wandering too far afield without a gas station nearby. The level of dive when hard on the brakes, even when adjusted to a firmer setting, left some of our staff concerned, but this is the trade-off for the long suspension travel. And when running hard out of corners in second gear, the front end like to lift up a bit, resulting in impromtu wheelies just after the apex. But even for us mostly “mature” riders, the Hyper felt completely stable going up on one wheel every now and then.



So who is this bike for? Guys who really appreciate two-wheelers, those who see the inner beauty of this somewhat awkward beast. For urban riders, this thing is a gem, athletic and quick with a great view of everything around and ahead. If you’ve ridden different bikes over the years, you will really appreciate the Hypermotard’s engaging feel and all-around ability, not to mention its great sounds. It checks a lot of boxes in both the wants and the needs columns, so when you go to your Ducati dealer to check out the latest Monster, you really owe it to yourself to try this out. If we haven’t made enough of a case here, the bike should be able to close the deal itself.


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