The Ducati Hypermotard 950 SP is kind of a weird motorcycle. It's too upright to be a sportbike and too tall to be a naked bike, and its wheels are too small to be useful on the dirt. Its engine is way too powerful to be a supermoto and the 950 SP model costs around $17,000, so it's not exactly cheap, either.
What is it then? It's bad behavior. It's a speeding ticket in bike form. It's blocks-long wheelies and ill-advised burnouts. It's been ruthlessly engineered to be as rowdy and as much fun as possible, and at this, the folks in Bologna have truly excelled.
Engineered for fun
To start, the Hypermotard 950 SP has a big, 937-cc, liquid-cooled, twin-cylinder engine that produces 114 horsepower at 9,000 rpm and 71 pound-feet of torque at 7,250 rpm. That's decent power, but it's the fact that the Hypermotard 950 SP weighs just 392 pounds dry that really puts the hyper in Hypermotard.
The rest of the powertrain is pretty standard Ducati stuff. It's got a good, six-speed sequential gearbox, and the SP has a quickshifter that allows for up- and downshifting without using the clutch. That's a good thing, because the clutch is superannoying, but more on that later.
The suspension is a standout feature on the Hypermotard in general, but especially so on the SP. For this newest generation of Hypermotard, Ducati made the bike both narrower between your legs and a little under an inch shorter in overall height than before, which opens the bike up to a whole new class of riders. Previously, the Hyper was a towering bike with nearly 36 inches of seat height. That made it a dicey proposition for shorter folks to ride in town, likely unable to put both feet on the ground at a stop. Every inch counts.
Despite it being a slightly shorter bike than in previous years, the Hyper has lost little in the way of clearance, allowing it to be leaned to almost impossible angles. The 950 generation also goes back to using a long, flat seat. Like a dirtbike, this allows the rider to move forward and back on the bike to help position weight where it's needed most. This bike's predecessor, the Hypermotard 821, had a more traditional street bike seat that tended to restrict rider movement.
Throughout its life, the Hyper has sported tall, wide handlebars for excellent control and leverage, and the 950 is no different. This, along with the long seat, gives the rider a slightly odd riding position where you're well forward of where you'd normally sit on a motorcycle. The benefit of this is added traction for the front wheel because of better weight distribution. It helps to keep the front wheel on the ground during hard acceleration, too.
The Hypermotard's brakes are typical Ducati fare in that they're sourced from Brembo and they work flawlessly. The front end sports dual M4.32 calipers that clamp on 320-millimeter rotors. The rear uses a single-caliper setup that bites into a 245mm disc. The Hyper SP, in keeping with tradition, rides on 17-inch Marchesini forged-alloy wheels wrapped in sticky Pirelli Diablo SuperCorsa tires. Lean-sensitive antilock braking is standard as part of the Ducati Safety Pack, which also includes traction control and user-selectable ride modes displayed on the bike's clear, easy-to-read TFT dashboard.
Apart from the Hyper's fantastic engine, the bike's other piece de resistance has to be its suspension. Specifically, the SP trim's fully adjustable Ohlins suspenders. The front forks are 48 millimeters in diameter, meaning that they're much beefier than you'd typically find on a road-going bike. (Thethat I reviewed earlier this year has 43mm forks, for example.) Beefy suspension components mean the Ducati can stand up to a lifetime of ripping dank wheelies and riding over curbs.
The Hypermotard SP 950 is a big adjustment from the naked bikes and adventure bikes I've been riding lately. I immediately appreciated the very upright riding position that left little weight on my wrists. The seat is, as I mentioned previously, narrow and flat, which is great, but it also feels like it was made from recycled church pews, so the Hyper isn't something I'd want to spend a whole day on.
Starting the bike up, the first thing that you notice is just how damn loud it is. Keep in mind that my tester has the bog-standard Ducati factory exhaust and not the optional Termignoni cans, yet it's still loud enough to set off a couple of car alarms in my parking garage. This is in no way a bad thing, but don't skip earplugs on Hyper day.
Then there's the clutch, which is miserable to use. The pull on the clutch lever is surprisingly heavy, which is fine, but the real issue is the fact that the bike doesn't like to have the clutch slipped. This resulted in me stalling the bike on more than one occasion before figuring out the best way to use it is to rev the bike to 3,000 or 4,000 rpm, and then basically dump the clutch, letting the electronics sort things out.
Thankfully, the SP's built-in quickshifter is totally great, and means that you're not really having to use the clutch all that often once you're out of stop-and-go traffic. Speaking of traffic, you'll definitely want to use the throttle's least-aggressive setting -- Urban -- in order to ride smoothly. In Sport, the bike's throttle is ultra-aggressive and makes for a real jerky experience.
In general, things improve dramatically once you're up to speed. The Hyper's fancy suspension is stiff, but never rough, and the bike's height makes visibility (both for you and for other drivers) incredible. That height, coupled with the bike's loud exhaust and red paint, means you're unlikely to go unnoticed anywhere.
That conspicuousness is a good thing because, while riding the Hyper, I found myself wanting to constantly be in the upper registers of the rev range, diving through cars, backing into corners and generally behaving like a complete and utter reprobate. The bike encourages you to ride like a maniac, and of the many motorcycles I've ridden, it's one of the tougher ones to try and deny that urge.
While this bike is amazing once you get to know it, it's also pretty intimidating in ways that I wasn't expecting. The Hyper has a short wheelbase, which makes it incredibly nimble, but it also means it doesn't always feel like the most stable companion. I eventually got used to the darty, aggressive nature of the Ducati, even growing to like it, but it took some time. The height does make leaning it over in corners a bit of a dramatic experience, but it also means there's almost no chance of dragging a toe or any part of the bike on the pavement, which is nice.
I do feel like the Hyper could benefit from the addition of a steering damper. This device -- just like it sounds -- works to slow down or dampen the travel of the handlebars. Ducati offers an Ohlins unit for a few hundred bucks, but my tester didn't have it. Also noticeably absent not only from my tester but from the 950 Hypermotard family as a whole is a gas gauge. The tank on the Hyper isn't huge, at 3.8 gallons, and when paired with Ducati's (optimistic) 46-mile-per-gallon fuel economy rating, you're going to be filling up fairly regularly.
So no, Ducati's tall boy isn't an easy, approachable bike, despite being designed to better accommodate a wider variety of riders. For the majority of folks, something like a Monster would likely be better. But for the experienced rider, the Hypermotard SP 950 is nothing short of a riot.