LAST WEEK I went to visit my old man for an hour of tea drinking and tyre kicking in the garage.
He won’t like me telling you that he’s eligible for an older person’s bus pass, but jumping on a double decker isn’t his style because he owns a few bikes, one of which is a Ducati 998 and the day before my visit, he’d fitted a set of bar risers to make it more comfortable and practical for him.
I told him that he should look at something more suitable to the kind of riding he does, the kind of rider he is and the kind of comfort and practicality he’s after. Something sporty, but a little more accommodating. Something like the new Ducati SuperSport.
Ducati calls the new SuperSport its ‘versatile sports bike’ and a look at the front end, with its adjustable screen and high set bars indicates that the isn’t as uncompromising as the Panigales it shares more than a passing resemblance to.
Where the bikes in the Panigale family are the weapons of choice for track-attack, the ergonomics, price and performance that make those bikes so suited to the circuit also mean that they’re not always the friendliest, most accessible machines for riders who spend most of their time on the road.
Here’s where the SuperSport comes in – it’s intended to be the machine that bridges the gap between sports riding and genuine, daily useability and comfort.
It comes in two flavours – the standard SuperSport for £11,495 (which I tested on the road) and the S model for £12,795 in red and £12,995 in white (which I rode on track).
Both bikes share the same 937cc Testastretta, eight-valve, liquid-cooled Desmodromic L-twin engine, which puts 113hp (at 9,000rpm) and 71.3lb/ft (at 6,500rpm) at your disposal. It’s the same lump you’ll find in the Hypermotard and the Multistrada 950, but with new crankcases, generator cover and cylinder heads because in this bike it acts as a stressed chassis member. Both models also have the same eight stage traction control, three stage ABS and three riding modes: Sport, Touring and Urban.
Differences between the standard bike and the S are simple enough: the S gets fully-adjustable Ohlins suspension front and rear, comes with the DQS (Ducati’s quickshifter) for clutchless up and down changes, and a pillion seat cowl. Nice.
Those differences give the S a sportier edge over the standard bike and as I accelerated out of Circuit Monteblanco’s piss wet pit lane, tapping up through the gears was a slick experience with the quickshifter. Changing down is even better because not having to use the clutch means one less thing to think about and of course, a hand free to wave to your adoring fans the next time you do a track day. The DQS works really well and although the gear lever requires a fairly firm left boot, it works with precision and adds so much to the riding experience; it’s fun to use and a massive help on track…
… As is the engine – I find they always come in handy when it comes to motorbikes. The SuperSport’s motor delivers the kind of strong midrange that’s useful on the road but also has a final flourish of top end excitement as the rev counter gets closer to the 10,000rpm. Keep the engine spinning over 5,000rpm and you won’t go far wrong. That’s not to say you have to be pinning the engine to enjoy what it’s got to offer. Far from it – its performance is easily accessible and although 113hp won’t melt your face, there’s loads of fun to be had when it comes to trying to use it all.
It sounds pretty good too. The S model I rode had an Akrapovic silencer and to my plugged-up ears it emitted nice full, thrumbing note. The standard bike is no mute either and the standard system gives off a nice pap-pap-pap burble and pop on the overrun – it reminded me of the sound made by the Scrambler Full Throttle with the Termignoni exhaust.
Being lazy with the engine under 3,000rpm elicits a gentle, chugging reminder that this is a twin-cylinder bike but other than that, the motor is smooth and tractable, with faultless fuelling and the response from the ride-by-wire throttle is spot-on in all three riding modes.
The engine is made all the more exploitable with Ducati’s refined electronics package. During my first track session on the SuperSport S, the bike was Touring mode, with traction at level eight (the highest setting) and ABS on 3 (highest again).
I wasn’t sure the Ducati Safety Pack could prevent a knobber like me lobbing it down the track, even though the bike had Pirelli wets on. But I should have had more faith. Although the traction light was constantly blinking any time I touched the throttle, it works unobtrusively and the engine never feels like it’s being unduly tempered by the software.
For the next session it was time to try Sport mode, with settings suited to the conditions (DTC 7 and ABS 2). Sport mode still delivers the full 113hp that Touring mode offers, but with a sharper throttle response that makes the SuperSport feel a bit more er… super and sporty – friskier.
Urban mode gives a notably softer throttle response and power is cut to 75hp – useful for the rain, poor conditions and making smooth progress in the concrete jungle. It's easy to flick between all the various modes and customise traction and ABS settings using the somple comtrols on the left bar.
On the road, the electronics provide a welcome safety net when conditions and surfaces are poor - simple really. It means that the SuperSport can be ridden on a sodden track day and still reward as much as it will when it's singing at full chat on a sunny day at your favourite track, and has a useful extra element of safety for the road, so it's got your back during a bleary eyed commute on a chilly January morning.
The suspension is similarly accomplished and although the Ohlins kit on the SuperSport S had been softened to suit a soaked track, it delivered the plush, refined feeling I’ve come to expect from bikes with gold bouncy bits. Once I’d gotten over wobbling around on the Pirelli wets and figured out that I wasn’t going to crash at every corner, the suspension did a superb job of communicating how much grip was available.
The suspension on the standard SuperSport, which has fully-twiddleable Marzocchi forks and a Sachs monoshock, also felt very good. Out on the bendy, flowing, rain-soaked roads west of Seville, it gave me a nicely damped and comfortable ride, if not the firmest. It’s about what I was expecting. Importantly, it remained unfazed by a chronically dire few miles of bump-strewn, shonkily surfaced roads, which were the worst I’ve encountered in Spain.
Away from such cack ‘mac, the SuperSport handles beautifully, and gets into bends with agility, deftness and lightness. On track, when hammering in to a corner hard on the brakes and changing down, the S was always stable, balanced and eager to turn.
The standard bike felt superbly connected to the road and was always willing and capable of doing what I was asking. The SuperSportIt lacks the outright aggression of a more focused bike like the Panigale 959, but on road and track it delivers a magic blend of composure, comfort and sporting agility. And it’s superb on the road; Ducati really has got the handling and ride feel spot-on because it fully delivers across the gamut of the riding and rider its aimed at.