Road Test: Ducati Hypermotard V KTM 990SM

What would get you out of bed an hour early in winter just to play on deserted roads? try the new KTM 990SM or Ducati’s Hypermotard. It certainly worked for us...



In the cold winter weather it takes even the most dedicated rider a fair degree of motivation to get on a bike simply for the joy of riding. It can be hard out there to extract real enjoyment from your bike – just see our Lunchtime Debate this month. A bright summer’s morning, no problem, the breakfast club riders are ready to rock. But when the alarm goes off at 6:30am and it’s still dark outside, you really want me to get out there and ride when I’m under my duvet?

But there a few bikes out there that are worth getting up early for, no matter what the weather outside is like. Bikes that are so much fun to ride they cast a warm and cosy glow over even the chilliest of mornings and make the rain an added amusement rather than an irritant. Bikes like Ducati’s Hypermotard and KTM’s new 990SM.

On the face of it both of these bikes seem a triumph of insanity over practicality. Supermotos are amongst the most impractical bikes on the planet, so why on earth create two large capacity machines in that style? Simple. Despite the limitation of a small single-cylinder motor, supermoto bikes are electric to ride over short distances, offer a tremendous grin factor and their skeletal weight means the handling is light and agile. So when you take these basic principles and add a big V-twin engine, all bloody hell brakes loose. And you’ve never had so much fun.

KTM were the first to spot the potential in a large capacity supermoto. Three years ago it unveiled the 950SM, targeted at the ‘committed rider.’ Which is marketing speak for ‘utter psycho.’ With a 950 V-twin engine the SM not only had some serious grunt, but its large size and excellent handling made it a brilliant Jekyll and Hyde bike. Dr Jekyll clinically dealt with commuting thanks to a comfortable riding position, huge steering lock and smooth engine while Mr Hyde was unleashed when the beautifully balanced chassis, strong brakes and wheelie-prone power of the motor were allowed to shine. The SM soon won an army of fans and over 10,000 are still currently mono-ing their way up and down streets all over the world. That’s as many as KTM’s GS-inspired Adventure, which shows the company must be onto something.

Well, Ducati thought so. Last year they launched an Italian take on the big supermoto, the Hypermotard. Under the banner ‘never ending fun’ the 1078cc air-cooled Ducati was radical designer Pierre Terbalance’s swan song for the company. The man who made the car-crash 999 and excellent Multistrada was in his element here. This was a bike that needed to be radical and a head-turner.

Which introduces us to the dilemma facing the big supermoto designers. Do they go radical and risk alienating the masses by creating a very niche market, or go more mainstream and dilute the look?

Having started the whole ball rolling KTM has decided on the latter route with its new 990SM, well in looks anyway. Visually the 990SM is far less aggressive than the old 950SM. The sharp angles of the tank and side fairing are gone, replaced with a more sculpted look that is designed to offer the rider more weather protection around the legs as well a larger tank range. KTM has realised that the original SM was possibly a little too aggressive to appeal to the masses, so it has softened the visuals and added some creature comforts. But, thankfully, it hasn’t softened the engine. Not by a long straw.
In harmonising its product range KTM has stuck its fuel-injected 990 engine into the 950SM’s chassis, and with it comes a whopping 15% increase in power through the entire rev range. And this is in a bike that was far from sensible in the first place! So, having got my hands on a Hypermotard S as well as the 990SM, there was only one thing for it, a morning run before work-bound commuters blocked the back roads. If we were going to get the most out of these two bikes we were going to have to sacrifice something, and it might as well be sleep.

Meeting up with freelancer Warren at the start of our route he was less than complementary about the Ducati. “I’d forgotten about how shit these are,” is, I feel, a little harsh, but it’s time and place with the Hypermotard. The M25, followed by the M3, to get to Winchester is definitely not the place. Unlike the ergonomically pleasing 990SM, the Ducati has a very upright and exposed riding position. Windblast is directed straight into your chest and the seat is less than comfortable. While the brushguard/indicators do a lovely job of keeping the morning chill off your fingers, the rest of your body feels like it has been subjected to a full on assault from the elements. With the KTM long distance touring is possible (panniers and a tall screen are an optional extra), with the Ducati it’s short-hops only. But, what else would you have expected? Just looking at the tiny Duke gives you a clue to its purpose. We set off down the A272 in Hampshire, the South’s legendary biking road and free, so far, from commuting traffic. Time to let ‘em rip.

With the 990SM it doesn’t take long for the little demon of stupidity to start whispering in your ear. Despite ‘only’ an extra 50cc the engine is so much stronger than before. From the moment the throttle is opened the 990SM is off, and usually up. The power is instant, brutal and bloody good fun. It’s no messing with the 990, which is both a blessing and a curse. The night before ths shoot I rode the 990 through a congested town, and it wasn’t that good. Although the old 950’s huge steering lock and excellent riding position remains, the throttle response is now extremely direct. It’s partly due to the new fuel-injection system, but also the instant power delivery. The initial throttle opening is quite a kick and doesn’t feel anything like as smooth as the old SM’s, which is a surprise because I know KTM has spent an awful lot of time trying to get it perfect. It could simply be due to the power on tap, but compared to the less grunty Hypermotard (which is also a big V-twin) the KTM isn’t anything like as smooth. Given a choice of the two I’d still have the KTM when it comes to town riding, as despite being super-agile the Hypermotard is cursed with a typical Ducati heavy clutch and uncomfortable seat.

The Ducati, which had previously felt small and awkward in town, is transformed into a back road demon. Yes, it may only have a slightly wimpy 78bhp, but it’s the way the air-cooled V-twin makes it that is so impressive. I love the 1,100 motor and it suits the Hypermotard right down to the ground. Although it lacks the KTM’s enormous amounts of drive the Ducati is still anything but slow. The rev bar on the stylish digital display flicks rapidly around to the 9,000rpm limit and the punchy mid-range provides a good, solid, amount of grunt. It’s fast without feeling overly quick and while it will still see just over 120mph on the speedo, most of the time it’s hovering around the 60-80mph mark, which is just about right for a big naked bike. Fast enough to thrill, but not to get a ban. Which is why many riders are turning their backs on superbikes to buy big supermotos. But while speed isn’t always the danger with these bikes, stupidity is a constant threat. Especially on the SM.

With the old engine the KTM was a fairly bonkers machine, now it’s even sillier. It’s almost impossible not to wheeile the 990SM when you pull away in first gear, just open the throttle and the front comes up. Second requires almost as little effort and by the time you are in third you are giggling inside your lid like a child. It’s so silly and so much fun that it could honestly spell the downfall of motorcycling. It’s so completely and gloriously insane that it deserves to be banned, which is why I love it. But the beauty of the KTM is that although it has such a crazy motor, the chassis is perfectly suited to getting the most from it.

Despite being quite a big bike the 990SM doesn’t feel large when you are riding it. Shorties might struggle a bit at a standstill because the KTM is fairly tall, but on the go the weight distribution is spot on, making the 990SM feel like a big naked bike, just one with a very upright riding position. This may sound a bit like an obvious statement but supermotos with their long travel suspension and 17-inch wheels sometimes feel really front-end biased, which can be off putting and takes getting used to. The KTM instantly feels natural, which is why it’s such an easy bike to hop on and go mental. The Ducati, on the other hand, requires a bit more time.

Initially the Hypermotard feels quite ungainly. Sit on it and your first thoughts are ‘where on earth has the front end gone?’ It’s a fairly unique view on the world as all you can see is the road ahead. No clocks, screen, mirrors, or anything is in your peripheral vision to give you a clue you might be on a bike. You have to make a physical effort to look down to see a red bike below you, which is very odd and slightly unnerving. On the go the Ducati doesn’t feel as natural to ride as the KTM. It’s very front end biased and like smaller supermotos requires being turned into corners. Again, this might sound like another glaringly obvious comment, but it’s the difference between a very natural bike to ride like the KTM and one that requires effort like the Ducati. The more effort you put into the Hypermotard the better it gets. Stick one on a racetrack and it’s brilliant, muscle it into corners and the trellis frame and sorted suspension respond to the force by providing excellent feedback and a sporty ride. But don’t bother really putting this work in, and the Hypermotard becomes hard work, a bit unresponsive and not much fun to ride. It’s a weekend bike, ride it when you are in the mood and you’ll have a ball, ride it when you just want to get somewhere and it’s more of a ball-ache. Especially with its tiny 100 mile tank range.

Which is the big difference between these two bikes. With the 990SM, KTM has taken the big supermoto concept and refined it into a very practical road bike with a totally insane side when you want. The key is it has that switch, which the Hypermotard lacks. With the Ducati it’s all or nothing. It’s crap on a motorway, not great in town but totally brilliant when you are going banzai along the back roads or on track. The KTM is the better bike, no question. Aside from the slightly irritating fuel injection the KTM is a mental do it all machine. Stick a screen and panniers on it and ride to the Ardeche, not a problem, and the bigger tank means less fuel stops on route. It will happily do 130 miles before reserve. When you get there, remove the extra gubbins and go bananas.
It’s as simple as that, which is what motorcycling is all about. Simple, pure, unadulterated fun. Every sportsbike rider should at least have a go on one of these, it might well re-adjust his concept of riding forever. And when you get up at 6am mid-winter to go riding, you know that it’s worth it.

SPECS

DUCATI

Price: £9,250

Engine: 1,078cc, air-cooled, DOHC, 4 valve, two cylinder, V-twin

Power: 78.1bhp @ 7,200rpm

Torque: 63.6bhp @ 4,750rpm

Front suspension: 50mm Marzocchi usd fully adjustable

Rear suspension: ÷hlins monoshock fully adjustable

Front brake: 305mm discs, four-piston radial monoblock calipers

Rear brake: 245mm disc, single-piston caliper

Dry weight: 177kg (claimed)

Seat height: 845mm

Fuel capacity: 12.4l

Top speed: 131mph

Colours: Red, Black

KTM

Price: £8,195

Engine: 999cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8 valve, two cylinder, V-twin

Power: 109.2bhp @ 9,130rpm

Torque: 68.7bhp @ 7,200rpm

Front suspension: 48mm WP usd fully adjustable

Rear suspension: WP monoshock fully adjustable

Front brake: 305mm discs, four-piston radial calipers

Rear brake: 240mm disc, two-piston caliper

Dry weight: 191kg (claimed)

Seat height: 865mm

Fuel capacity: 19l

Top speed: 142mph

Colours: Orange, Black

In the cold winter weather it takes even the most dedicated rider a fair degree of motivation to get on a bike simply for the joy of riding. It can be hard out there to extract real enjoyment from your bike – just see our Lunchtime Debate this month. A bright summer’s morning, no problem, the breakfast club riders are ready to rock. But when the alarm goes off at 6:30am and it’s still dark outside, you really want me to get out there and ride when I’m under my duvet?

But there a few bikes out there that are worth getting up early for, no matter what the weather outside is like. Bikes that are so much fun to ride they cast a warm and cosy glow over even the chilliest of mornings and make the rain an added amusement rather than an irritant. Bikes like Ducati’s Hypermotard and KTM’s new 990SM.

On the face of it both of these bikes seem a triumph of insanity over practicality. Supermotos are amongst the most impractical bikes on the planet, so why on earth create two large capacity machines in that style? Simple. Despite the limitation of a small single-cylinder motor, supermoto bikes are electric to ride over short distances, offer a tremendous grin factor and their skeletal weight means the handling is light and agile. So when you take these basic principles and add a big V-twin engine, all bloody hell brakes loose. And you’ve never had so much fun.

KTM were the first to spot the potential in a large capacity supermoto. Three years ago it unveiled the 950SM, targeted at the ‘committed rider.’ Which is marketing speak for ‘utter psycho.’ With a 950 V-twin engine the SM not only had some serious grunt, but its large size and excellent handling made it a brilliant Jekyll and Hyde bike. Dr Jekyll clinically dealt with commuting thanks to a comfortable riding position, huge steering lock and smooth engine while Mr Hyde was unleashed when the beautifully balanced chassis, strong brakes and wheelie-prone power of the motor were allowed to shine. The SM soon won an army of fans and over 10,000 are still currently mono-ing their way up and down streets all over the world. That’s as many as KTM’s GS-inspired Adventure, which shows the company must be onto something.

Well, Ducati thought so. Last year they launched an Italian take on the big supermoto, the Hypermotard. Under the banner ‘never ending fun’ the 1078cc air-cooled Ducati was radical designer Pierre Terbalance’s swan song for the company. The man who made the car-crash 999 and excellent Multistrada was in his element here. This was a bike that needed to be radical and a head-turner.

Which introduces us to the dilemma facing the big supermoto designers. Do they go radical and risk alienating the masses by creating a very niche market, or go more mainstream and dilute the look?

Having started the whole ball rolling KTM has decided on the latter route with its new 990SM, well in looks anyway. Visually the 990SM is far less aggressive than the old 950SM. The sharp angles of the tank and side fairing are gone, replaced with a more sculpted look that is designed to offer the rider more weather protection around the legs as well a larger tank range. KTM has realised that the original SM was possibly a little too aggressive to appeal to the masses, so it has softened the visuals and added some creature comforts. But, thankfully, it hasn’t softened the engine. Not by a long straw.

In harmonising its product range KTM has stuck its fuel-injected 990 engine into the 950SM’s chassis, and with it comes a whopping 15% increase in power through the entire rev range. And this is in a bike that was far from sensible in the first place! So, having got my hands on a Hypermotard S as well as the 990SM, there was only one thing for it, a morning run before work-bound commuters blocked the back roads. If we were going to get the most out of these two bikes we were going to have to sacrifice something, and it might as well be sleep.