The Ducati SuperSport is supposed to be a pretty red sportbike just tame enough for everyday use, but with enough teeth on the track to keep experienced pilots excited. In other words, a return to what you might call “classic Ducati.”
(Full Disclosure: Ducati wanted me to ride its new SuperSport so badly that the company flew two dozen journalists to Seville and put us up in a fancy-schmatzy hotel so we could race around the Monteblanco Circuit and buzz the nearby beautiful roads.)
Ducati is finally making a motorcycle for customers who want a sportbike that’s not totally ridiculous.
For the last decade, it’s been cranking out just about everything else you can imagine. It’s been building thousands and thousands of dirt-bikey Scramblers, oddly-styled adventure touring Multistradas, and the naked Monster. Also in its strangely imaginative lineup: the retro-futuristic Diavel cruiser, the Hypermotard—which is an oversized supermoto—and the scary-fast, no-holds barred Panigale superbikes that are too extreme for anything but banzai track days.
Just over a decade ago, Ducati was making a few sporty—though imperfect—street bikes. The 1000SS was a gorgeous supersport, but was not comfortable enough to woo people away from the even more aggressive 999 superbike. The ST3 was an upright, practical touring bike but had dumpy looks and was quickly overshadowed by the upstart Multistrada.
By the end of 2007, both the 1000SS and ST3 had been phased out. The SuperSport is supposed to bridge the gap between extreme speed and actual usability.
The big question, however, is if the new all-rounder’s 113 bhp can offer enough entertainment to justify the $13,000 price tag.
Though it looks similar to the Panigale—as long as the two aren’t right next to each other—the SuperSport will coddle you with its more upright riding position, lower footpegs, and a taller, adjustable windscreen. Looking to tote a friend and gear around too? The bike can be had with optional side-cases and passenger grab rails.
The SuperSport’s engine is a refreshed version of the versatile 937cc Testastretta 11’s V-Twin engine that Ducati has already put in the Monster 939, the Hypermotard 939, and the Multistrada 950. The slight differences are aimed at smoothing the power and boosting the bottom end.
Ducati’s engineers have also updated the ride-by-wire system and redesigned the crankcase, cylinder heads, generator cover, and coils. It results in a nice, torquey engine; Ducati told us it makes 80 percent of its maximum torque of 56.5 ft-lbs from 3,000 rpm all the way to its 10,000 rpm redline.
The standard model comes with fully-adjustable Marzocchi fork and adjustable Sachs shock; the S gets a tastier Ohlins shock and fork. Both bikes come with a single-sided swingarm—traditionally the mark of Ducati’s range-toppers—and powerful Brembo 4.32 radial calipers to haul them up.
At $13,000 (or $14,800 for the “S”), the SuperSport isn’t quite expensive enough to get Bosch’s cornering-ABS, but it does have 3-mode ABS, 8-level traction control, and an optional up/down quickshifter; a feature the “S” gets as standard equipment.
On the road
The defining moment of my weekend riding the SuperSport came from a particularly rough single-lane section of bumpy, gravelly, potholed asphalt.
A little byway connected the quiet side of a small mountaintop village to a main road, it was the type of stretch where you might normally flip your visor up and bounce along just above idle in second gear.
I’d just stopped to adjust my helmet and was on a mission to catch up to the rest of the journalists. I shot across that treacherous, unpainted asphalt as fast as I dared, the bike dancing all over the place as the front tire—already light from acceleration—struggled to stay in contact with the buckled little path.
It was sketchy, but I live for riding bikes outside the conditions they were designed for.
On this stretch of broken pavement the suspension never once hit the stops. It didn’t knock, rattle, or bang as I hung off it this way and that to change my lines at the last second, when I found that a pothole had set up shop just after a crest, or that an apex had somehow tumbled down an embankment.
The SuperSport is at once stable and easy to turn; in these relatively slow corners it was nimble and felt light; I never had to fight it. The suspension isn’t floaty either—this may be a softer bike than a Panigale, but it is a sport bike.
The new SuperSport’s riding position rests firmly on the conservative, comfy side of sporty, with higher bars and lower pegs than both the ’90s model and modern racers like the Panigale. It’s a nice setup for street riding even if you get very aggressive; on the rough road it was easy to unweight the seat and carry lots of speed.
Later, I found myself with a clear road in front of me, in full leathers, astride the bike that was voted “Most Beautiful” at the EICMA 2016 motorcycle show. This time the road was glassy smooth and instead of twisty blind crests, there was one long sweeper after another. It was the type of road you dream about, and, I hope, the type of road this bike will most regularly be enjoyed on.
Here is where the bike really shines—it can go a little bit faster than you’re willing to ride, but not waaay faster, like a Panigale, R1, or S1000RR can. The SuperSport eggs you on, and when you decide to go for it, you can have an enjoyable dice for miles on end—it’s fast, but you won’t wind up over your head and tumbling through a forest somewhere.
In past tests, I’ve fooled with the riding modes and adjusted all traction control, ABS, and whatever else during the test, but this time I left it all alone—in Sport Mode with the full 113 bhp—and focused all my attention on the road. The bike’s highish bars made it easy to tackle the slower corner. On a curvy road, the SuperSport holds a line through corners and is stable at high speed—and has more than enough power to keep things interesting. If you spend your Saturdays on straight highways racing your friends on their liter bikes, you will have more fun on a Panigale. In any case, I can confidently say that I came in first place during our group ride—at one point a bird bounced off my knee. It broke my concentration for a moment, and made me a vegetarian all the way back to town.
On a race track
We were given two twenty-minute sessions on the SuperSport S at the Monteblanco circuit about 40 miles west of Seville.
Monteblanco has got a massive, half-mile long front straight that leads into a sharp right-hander, and then eighteen more corners, the vast majority of which are tight and low-speed. On the exit of these corners, it was easy to get the Pirelli Diablo Rossi III tires—which are tailored more for the street than the track—to squirm on corner exit.
The traction control would subtly cut-in to hold them on the limit of adhesion. It was quite entertaining; if I had one of these bikes I’d be pulling these computer-controlled slides out of roundabouts daily. The brakes aren’t grabby, but they are powerful and never faded—despite heavy braking during an impromptu multi-lap duel.
The torquey engine was great while flicking the bike through the tight sections, but the bike wasn’t hair-raisingly fast on the straights and the high handlebars made flat-out tucks a touch awkward. I had a blast racing everyone on track, but we were all on the same model. For a couple track days a year, this bike would be more than adequate, but advanced riders will get tired of getting passed by guys on S1000RRs and R1s.
The SuperSport’s killer feature is really its practicality. A handful of little details make this a great, practical bike that’d be a joy to live with. The passenger pegs are removable, and there are indentations under the passenger seat. But if you love your passenger, get the grab rails and the optional comfier passenger seat. You can pull the stock windscreen up two inches, and there’s a larger “touring” screen available too as part of the Touring Pack, which also includes heated grips and side cases.
Though I’ve never ridden one of the bevel-drive 70’s Supersports, the 90’s Supersport I owned a few years ago was wonderfully interactive. It seemed to need me as much as I needed it. It had a manual choke, a tambourine clutch, and made a volcanic rumble even with stock exhausts—though it shook, coughed and sputtered at low rpms. In a word, it was intoxicating; full of noise and vibration, though it wasn’t harsh. Even though you can feel the Supersport heritage in the riding feel of this new model, the old engine’s charming oily gnash hasn’t made it through 25 years of evolution. The good news is that much of that is likely thanks to Euro4 regulations- US bikes might have more sonorous exhausts.
Ducati even showed us one SuperSport that they’d equipped with a banzai Akrapovic high-exit twin race exhaust that looks just like one on the Superleggera. I’d want that with street baffles. At the same time, it’d be nice to have a centerstand and cruise control.
The headline figure for this 406 lb (dry) bike is the 113 bhp that the engine kicks out. For comparison, that’s just 1 bhp shy of the legendary Ducati 916 and on par with the much less expensive Yamaha FZ-09.
It is also, however, fully 60 bhp down on Aprilia’s ultra-aggressive Tuono, which costs the same as the SuperSport S. The Tuono, though, wouldn’t make nearly so good a daily rider, and the FZ-09 doesn’t have the Ducati’s swanky Italian style.
The SuperSport can make any normal road enjoyable, and doesn’t look like the designers were instructed to make a bike that looks cheaper than its more expensive stablemates. In fact, I think it’s gorgeous, and I’d be gazing at it out of my office window throughout the day and would run to it when the clock struck five, or seven or whatever.
It’s comfortable, can pull wheelies, and has the 18,000-mile valve-check intervals Ducati is always highlighting in their presentations. Think of it like a gorgeous, upmarket Suzuki SV650—more of a BMW M3 than the SV-650-ish Toyota FT-86.
If you want a sexy motorcycle that can handle a passenger and everyday life—yet still make you excited to go for a blast through the canyons, this is it. Just make sure to throw a nice exhaust on it.
- Engine: 937cc Testastretta 11° L-Twin Desmodromic
- Power: 113 HP/71.3 LB-FT
- Transmission: Wet clutch six-speed manual
- Weight: 463 pounds (ready to ride)
- MSRP: $12,995 (base); $14,795 (S)