In a world so soft it makes Andrex feel rough, Ducati’s new Hypermotard 950 is a refreshing breath of insanity
Devoid of eco-friendly exhaust notes, a million-miles-per-gallon fuel consumption, or an apologetically short seat height befitting of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs, the 950 bucks the trends of convention and laughs in the face of political correctness. It is, without doubt, an absolute renegade modelled for pleasure above all other qualities… and unashamedly so. Of course, if you’re familiar with the Hypermotard concept you’ll already know that, but a lot has changed since Ducati’s original hooligan Hyper hit the streets back in 2008. The same can be said when comparing the dumbed-down second-gen 939 to the new 950 that is 4kg lighter, 4bhp pokier and 53mm narrower. Ducati claims the third iteration’s an all-new motorcycle, which is mostly true, the only major crossover parts being crankcases and barrels, which still makes up the 939cc L-twin’s core. That said, the 950’s higher compression pistons are new, its exhaust cam has been reworked, and the Mikuni 53mm throttle bodies add more punch to the package. Another big factor with the motor is its 1.5kg weight loss, having benefitted from magnesium cam covers and lighter crank cases. Peak torque is now up at 7,250rpm, but you’ll have access to 80 per cent of the motor’s 96Nm from just 3,000rpm, and it won’t start dropping off until you’re over 9,500revs. Happy days! The same can be said for the 112bhp on tap, that’s customisable across three different rider maps (Sport, Touring, Urban). On reflection, the 939 was disappointingly basic, but the smarter 950 is in no such club. Via the Panigale-inspired TFT dash, you’ll be able to tweak to your heart’s content, managing everything from wheelie control to ABS levels, power outputs to traction control levels. It’s all there, it’s intuitive to operate and the bike’s all the better for it, even if you can’t turn off the ABS altogether, but we’ll come to that later. Shorter people will also be pleased to know the slimmer, lighter, tubular steel trellis frame facilitates an equally narrowed seat unit, which Ducati claims to make the bike feel 20mm lower than the last model that also had an 870mm seat height.
While we’re talking ergonomics, the bike’s ‘bars have got straighter, the tanks’s got slimmer and the new design of saddle means it’s easier to move around. If you’ve not already got the message, the Hyper’s got a lot more focused, which is bad news for your backside if you were planning to take this bike on a round-the-world rampage. Ducati weren’t shy about admitting the bike had become a little less practical with the changes they’d made, proud to bolster its greater sporting DNA, which was best showcased on the new 950SP. As before, there are two Hypers in the range and the SP steals the crown for being more bling than a white-suited pimp with an ankle-length gold chain. The most obvious additions are the fully adjustable Öhlins forks and shock, but the Marchesini three-spoke wheels aren’t easy to ignore either, or the splattering of carbon fibre that’s used on both mudguards and the exhaust shroud. It also comes as standard with Ducati’s quickshifter and blipper combo (DQS), collectively raising the price of the bike from a fruity `10 lakh(excluding Indian taxes and duties for the standard variant to a tear-jerking `13 lakh for the SP variant. Of course, if money’s no object and you’re particularly desperate for attention, you could always bolt on the official aftermarket Termignoni full system (costing `1.8 lakh a pop), that was kitted to the SPs we got to play with on Gran Canaria’s Maspalomas race track.
Tight, twisty and rough, it was to prove the perfect showground for the 950SP, which boomed into life at the slide of a button. The dash lit up in a multitude of colours, telling me I was in sport mode, with level three traction engaged, ABS on level one (its least intrusive position) and wheelie control on three. This was our pre-determined starting point, intended to ease us into the brutish nature of the Hypermotard that looked hungry for abuse and sounded more than up for a scrap with every blip of its light and a responsive fly-by-wire throttle. Another addition to the mix is a hydraulic clutch (it was cable operated on the 939), which got used ceremoniously just to get the Hyper off the line, before taking a back seat for the rest of my inaugural 20-minute outing.
The 939 was no slouch, but it was instantly noticeable how much lower down the punch of the 950’s engine came into play, sticking with me as I buzzed the backdoors out of the v-twin’s desmodromic valve system well into double figures before hooking another gear from the six-speed ‘box, and unleashing hell once more. The urgency of the engine seemed much greater, the exhaust note much throatier and the fuelling unflappable. Euro4 has ruined a lot of bikes, but that most certainly isn’t the case with the Hyper, which seems to have matured. As well as being smooth, the motor’s delivery was linear, making wheelies easy and corner exits predictable. I’m not a fan of electronics, but I’d be lying if I said the traction control system wasn’t aiding my ride. Even on level three, it hardly hindered my pleasure, allowing for carefree slides out of corners with blind confidence that the tech wouldn’t let the stock fitment Pirelli Supercorsas throw in the towel.
Round and round I went, clocking more laps, taking more risks and coming to realise that despite its animalistic genetics, the Hyper’s bark was fundamentally worse than its bite. I could have the rear wheel sliding, the front wheel lifted and lean angle plentiful without ever being made to feel vulnerable. I didn’t quite know how to feel about that, as it contradicted the essence of a raw, dangerous motard, the likes of which would try to break your legs just kick-starting one. The power might have been up, the weight of the bike down, but the 950 felt effortlessly easier to master than the 939. Even slides into corners were easier. With ABS level one engaged, the Hyper allows for a rear-wheel slide function (Slide by Brake) that will kick the rear out by ten degrees, all the way over to 30° lean, provided you give the rear brake a good stamp. As cheesy as it was, I couldn’t resist the temptation to give a skid a go, and sure enough, it did exactly what it said on the tin – only the moment I released the rear brake the bike got skittish and wanted to stand up as quick as bad date when it’s time to pay the bill. It wasn’t pretty, but hey, it never threw me down the road and the more I practiced it, the more tolerable it became.
For general messing around, the 950 was actually pretty pliable. The bike’s slipper clutch didn’t inhibit old-school backing-in, allowing for ungoverned levels of lean and really good control via the stiff chassis and predictable clutch. The gearbox seemed more than capable of taking a kicking, absorbing two to three downward changes in an instant via the blipper system, but there was one fundamental flaw in the collective fun factor – ground clearance!
Because the SP runs taller Öhlins suspension, the wheelbase is slightly longer, the seat height is increased (890mm) and the ground clearance greater than the stock 950 (47° lean angle vs 44°). However, even the extra 20mm you get with the fancy model isn’t sufficient to stop your toes, pegs and anything else from grinding out, corner after corner. I tried all kinds of things to stop the folding pegs from decking out, such as hanging off more or transitioning slower into corners, but nothing helped. Sparking pegs were as commonplace as a politician’s half-truths, and on some occasions would cause the long-sprung bike to get quite frisky. It was a shame as the general handling of the bike was impressive, being quick to change direction, typically quite stable and reassuringly planted when gassing hard out of corners. That said, I never felt I had
100 per cent faith in the front wheel; it didn’t let go once, but it had a vagueness to it which was hard to ignore. The other complaint I had was the suspension’s tendency to squat under load when transitioning through the track’s two chicanes, unceremoniously firing me out of the saddle as the rebound kicked-off when exiting the turn. The Öhlins were fully adjustable and adding a bit of compression to the units, and slowing the rebound down would have probably done a lot of good, but I was the only tool to be found, so it was a case of shut up and put up. That said, slowing the direction changes down did smooth out the process.
In total we got three sessions on track, which was plenty long enough to prove the Hyper’s potential and grasp how much the game had been moved on. As credible as the motor’s gains were, on track the real star was the electronics. I weaned them down to their minimum as the day went on, feeling more at home with the 950 with every tweak. The ABS was non-switchable, only allowing for a reduction of intervention, but it wasn’t too much of a hang-up as not once did the system kick in when set to level one, allowing for stoppies and hard track braking as and when required, although rolling burn-outs were jerkier than a bronco as the system went into meltdown every time I cracked one off. The new Brembo anchors were a great asset, the TFT dash a clear and easy host for info and the traction control simply brilliant. I don’t know why you’d choose to ride without it on. The wheelie control was frustrating, proving not such a problem when powering wheelies off the throttle (it just limited your height), but if you tried to clutch it up, with even the most minimal intervention selected, it simply slapped you back down. That was no good, so I kept mine switched off. Another thing that didn’t float my boat was learning that you can’t change the Ducati’s setup on the go, meaning every time I wanted to tweak something, I had to stop and fettle.
A two-hour road blast was next in the offing, taking us high into the island’s winding mountain roads. This was our chance to sample the standard 950 that still looked a treat, sounded great, with its dual, underseat cans, but lacked the presence of premium Öhlins suspension and, more noticeably, the SP’s quickshifter and blipper. That proved a pain right from the off, being forcefully acquainted with the harsh selecting stock gearbox. Some other journos claimed to have missed a few gears on the 950, but for me it was more the bludgeoning of my toes that pained me most, needing to really force the bike’s selector to get a smooth gear change. In fairness to the Hypers we were testing, they were only a few hundred miles old, but still, the lure of Ducati’s aftermarket DQS package (`56,230, excluding Indian taxes and duties) was growing by the mile. As far as handling goes, I didn’t miss the Öhlins one bit. I was really impressed at the effortless agility of the 950, which delivered a stable and planted feel while cornering, braking or accelerating.
The electronics on both models are identical, but still I had a good play around with that of the stock model while I was at it. Touring mode wasn’t half as boring as the name suggested, still offering up 112bhp, but delivered a bit less aggressively and was harnessed by higher levels of traction, wheelie control and ABS. I rode for a good hour with the pre-selects in place before spicing things up and switching to Sports mode. The ride was instantly more riotous and endearing. You don’t buy a bike like this in the hope of achieving high MPG, to not pull big wheelies or generally fool around at every given chance. It’s a plaything, and the more I rode the Hyper, the more it grew on me. The motor really won me over, being as impressively competent at the bottom of the rev range as it was up the top. I was able to minimise gear changes, simply pointing and shooting from corner to corner on the mountain routes, skidding and sliding at every given chance. As for crests, each one became the launch point for a big, fat wheelie. Life on the Hyper was good, very good, and it was proving pretty comfortable, too. You’d think on a bike with no fairings, broad bars and a seat that looks like a plank of wood, comfort would be pretty compromised, but that wasn’t the case. Below 120kmph you didn’t really notice the wind and, as for the saddle, it was actually quite accommodating. My knee angle was really relaxed and the stretch to the ’bars was natural enough. They weren’t even vibey, but the pegs and tank made up for that, shaking like a proverbial dog.
The Hyper had proven to be a clear improvement over the 939, but the question begged whether the bike was weekend fun or something I’d bring back to meet the parents? A small tank (14.5 litres), focused stance and limited weather protection would suggest it’s not cut out for everyday escapades. I’d probably be more swayed by the stock 950 than the glitzy SP. From a sheer riding perspective, and assuming you’d use it more on road than track, the standard model offered just as good a ride for a lot less money. Just the ticket then.
Words by Bruce Wilson