First Ride: 2013 Ducati Hypermotard review

Ducati have ditched the air-cooled engines in favour of a new 821cc water-cooled lump. Isn't it just a Streetfighter 848 with long travel suspension?

CAN A SUPERMOTO have more than one cylinder? You might think it can't but one thing is for certain: the outgoing Hypermotard 1100 EVO was as single-minded as any Supermoto.

It just wanted to wheelie anywhere and everywhere and that, for me, was at the heart of its appeal. Every ride was like taking an excited puppy out for a walk. You were that excited puppy.

The new Hypermotard promises more of the same. However, the 1078cc and 803cc air-cooled engines have been dropped and replaced by just the one Hypermotard model in Ducati's 2013 range, powered by a new 821cc water-cooled engine.

The new Hypermotard puts out a similar amount of power to the old 1100 EVO and weighs about the same too. So if the formula remains largely the same, has anything changed? Just a bit...

At its heart, the new Hypermotard doesn't use a sleeved-down 848 engine, in fact far from it. The bore and stroke of an 848 is 94mm x 61.2mm whereas this engine's bore and stroke are 88mm x 67.5mm so a smaller piston but it has a longer stroke, the longest of any 4V Ducati.

It features a Ride by Wire throttle, 8-stage traction control, ABS and power modes. This is a long way from the 'dirt-bike with road wheels' Supermoto mantra; it's a Supermoto with a 2:1 in IT Studies.

Despite having a longer wheelbase the new Hypermotard looks like it's smaller, thanks in part to the front cylinder sitting closer to the front wheel, which gives the impression it's more compact. The stubby side-mounted exhaust adds to the compact stance. I think it has the silhouette of a 450 motocrosser and looks fantastic.

Our first ride of the bike wasn't in glorious 'let's back it in' sunshine, instead we were out in 'let's get back in one piece' heavy rain; a good test of throttle response, power delivery and chassis feel. Still, at least I packed my warmest ventilated leathers..

Ducati have tried to make the riding position more comfortable by raising the bars and positioning the rider slightly further back. You no longer feel like you're riding with your balls on the filler cap, but I never found that a bad thing on the old model.

You're high up. The new seat is a tall 870mm. There's a low seat 850mm option but even that's 5mm higher than the outgoing 1100's standard seat height. From side-on the seat looks as inviting as a plank but from any other angle you can see the sculpted rider's saddle, which helps you feel a part of the bike. Despite this creature comfort, it's unashamedly not a motorcycle for shorter riders.

In Sport mode, the throttle is so light and so sharp. Too sharp. With no wires to pull, perhaps it's my wrist that needs re-calibrating, but out on the road, I kept it in Touring mode which delivers the same 110bhp, with a softer throttle response.

Although Ducati didn't really play on this, the long stroke, as well as enhancing torque output compared to a shorter-stroke higher-revving engine, gives the water-cooled modern engine an almost air-cooled, 2V character. Although air-cooled Ducati purists would argue it is to air-cooled Ducatis what a microwave lasagne is to Italian cuisine.

Wheelies don't come as easy as they did on the old 1100 EVO. Sure, wheelies aren't the be-all-and-end-all but they're indicative of the engine you've got underneath you. This engine doesn't feel as grunty. It's still a quick bike which responds well to a bit of point and squirt but there's not an excess of power, just enough. Enough is alright, except when you want more of course and Hypermotards are the type of bike that deserve to have more. Excess is the order of the day.

I can't fault the fuelling, the power delivery is super smooth and it'll pull cleanly from walking pace in second gear but I was slightly underwhelmed by the outright stomp of the motor. It's civil and refined and feels like it ought to have a bit more fight in it. I was buying one, I'd fit a full system before it left the dealer.

When it comes to handling, the Hypermotard has a split personality of two extremes. If you don't transfer weight over the front, it doesn't want to get into a corner as well. If you sit back in the seat and roll into a fast corner off the brakes, the bike sits flat and needs a bit of encouragement all the way through. However, pile into the corner and compress the suspension, keeping the front wheel pressed into the ground and the Hypermotard feels self-assured; you get it into the corner and it'll get you out. Just like the last one.

Your weight and where you position it makes a noticeable difference to the Hypermotard. On a wet road, the front feels vague unless you get your weight over it and even then you have to work it hard. Softening the front up a touch would help with weight transfer, except the 43mm Kayaba forks aren't adjustable.

Likewise the rear isn't fully adjustable, offering rebound and preload adjustment. The ride is firm, firmer than you might think a bike with suspension as tall as the Hypermotard's would be. While the ride is firm, the seat is comfortable enough to see out the larger 16-litre tank's 130 (ish) mile range. I'm not sure you buy a Hypermotard to do much more than a 50-mile blast but the improved range will at least keep you in the good books of your Superbike riding mates who won't have to wait for you to fill up every hour of every ride.

On dry, twisty, bumpy country roads, the Hypermotard excels and even shows flashes of brilliance. Any Supermoto feels good on roads like this but the electronics on the Hypermotard promote you to another league. A league where gravel and damp patches under trees don't matter as much.

The Bosch ABS system is the same as you'll find on the highest of the high-end Superbikes and features different levels of rear-lift detection. You couldn't want for more brakes on a bike like this - the twin 320mm discs and Brembo M4 radial calipers are again Superbike-spec but at the same time, they offer plenty of feel and don't come on like you've just jammed an iron bar in your front wheel.

The traction control system is an updated version of the 8-way traction control on most modern Ducatis. It works by retarding the ignition rather than cutting it, which Ducati have designed to keep things smooth. In the dry, you'll barely ever have it kick in, if ever, and even in the wet it takes a good handful of throttle to get the rear wheel to brake traction. For a bike like this, it's more than you need but even on its lowest setting it doesn't feel like it wants the rear wheel to spin; it'll wave its safety wand well before you think you're Garry McCoy.

The brilliance comes from the electronics which help you get the Hypermotard working at its best. Brake hard - confident the front will stay put - and the bike will drop into corners as the merest nudge of the bars. The moment you think you can squirt it out of the turn, you can tap on the power with the added confidence of Ducati's Traction Control (DTC). The only thing left for Ducati to do is get the bike to project a racing line onto the road just like on Gran Turismo.

Other nice touches are Ducati's wet slipper clutch which features a ramp mechanism under drive, which means the springs don't have to be as strong and consequently, the action at the bars is very light.

There's no oil cooler, to save weight and keep the bike looking compact. The small radiator features two high-power fans to keep things under control, but during our ride, the bike never tried to overheat and the fans didn't kick in once. Riding modes can be changed on the go but fine adjustments to the traction control and ABS levels have to be done at a standstill. Safety first.

The exhaust sounds fantastic, especially off the throttle where it mimics an old-school thumper-single with a Supertrapp fitted. Finally, completely against the agenda most Supermotos sign up to; service intervals are 9,000 miles for minor services and major ones at 18,000. That will invoke jealousy from owners of Japanese motorcycles and almost makes the Hypermotard a sensible choice.

Except it's not sensible. Despite the refinements this is still a bike that's built for fun, for mucking about and for showing off. It's like a big boys' BMX. On a switchback road, only a pure Supermoto would keep up with a Hypermotard but the Supermoto rider would have to try harder than before.

If you like your games in Simulation mode, get a Hypermotard 1100 EVO SP or KTM 990 SM which both offer more grunt and less computer intervention, you can mess around with the suspension settings but at the same time you've got more chances to get it wrong.

The new Hypermotard feels like a Hypermotard in Arcade mode; it's easy to ride, won't intimidate you and thanks to the electronics, it's more versatile and takes less effort to ride fast. It's not quite the out-and-out wheelie machine the 1100 was but it's still up for some mischief.

Perhaps the next one will project a racing line on the road...

Model tested: 2013 Ducati Hypermotard

Colours: Ducati Red, Stealth Black

Cost: £9,550

Want more Hypermotard? Check out our First Ride review of the Hypermotard 1100 EVO SP and our original battle between KTM's 950SM and the original Hypermotard 1100.