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Two’s Company - '07 KTM 950SM V '09 Aprilia Dorsoduro & Ducati Hypermotard

...Three’s a crowd. Once the choice of the motocross refugee, things are changing in the world of the Supermoto as a new breed emerges. But can a used KTM950SM still cut it?

There was a time, not many years ago, when a ‘supermoto’ equalled a small capacity single cylinder that vibrated your eyeballs loose and had the tank range of a lawnmower.

Then, as fashion dictated, they developed into more road-orientated shadows of their former selves as the Japanese spotted a new trend and jumped on the bandwagon, bringing in a more sanitised breed. After the initial excitement has died down, a new generation of supermoto has emerged.

Big supermotos, designed for entertainment but also with an eye on practicality. Large capacity engines mean that they can survive outside busy city streets or twisty backroads and have the ability to become a day-to-day means of transport, some even a tourer, rather than purely a weekend toy.

KTM started this trend in 2005 with the outrageous V-twin 950SM. Big, ballsy and wheelie-prone, the carburrated 950 set the standard and it wasn’t long until Ducati brought out the Hypermotard. Again using a large capacity V-twin, but this time an 1100 air-cooled motor. Being a Ducati the Hypermotard was never going to slip comfortably into the ‘practical’ category, and instead is nestling up near the ‘stylish and racy’ end of the spectrum.

Then, in 2008, Aprilia decided to get involved. The Dorsoduro (named, rather wonderfully, after a seedy area of Venice akin to Bromley) takes this big supermoto concept of practicality and moves it in a different direction, this time towards the newer rider. With a smaller 750cc V-twin motor the Dorsoduro is targeted at the city commuter who wants an Italian-styled supermoto without too much hassle and aggression. On paper it would seem more of a styling exercise than an exciting supermoto, but it is Italian after all.

Bikes of this ilk are perfect for this time of year, when you want straightline performance but also plenty of grip and feel. They’re too expensive to be a ‘second bike’, but maybe you can look at a used model? Last year KTM updated the 950SM, increasing its capacity and adding fuel-injection. The 990SM gave the bike more balls, but lost some of its charm along the way. With the current economic climate we decided that rather than test a new 990SM, which retails at £8,195, we would dip into the secondhand market, uncovering this 950SMR listed at a shade over £5,000 by KTM specialists Bracken. That’s the benefit of a model update. Canny buyers can often snap up a bargain if they don’t mind riding last year’s bike.

But is this a new category of bike that is likely to stay around or, much like their smaller angrier siblings, will they too remain niche products for the weekend rider? Having gathered together our selection of machinery we took off for a cold, but vaguely dry winter blast from the roads of Guildford to Goodwood to find the answers.

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Ducati Hypermotard

Living 50 miles from the office along a commute that is basically all motorway I was expecting to receive a few ‘choice’ text messages from Cantlie when he arrived home on the Ducati. I’ve ridden a Hypermotard on a motorway in the wet before, it was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. As the Ducati has basically no front end, the first thing to get hit by the rain/snow/blizzard/gales/wildlife is the rider’s body.

The bolt-upright riding position is comfortable, but only at slower speeds when wind-protection isn’t an issue. But no call came, which was a touch disappointing as well as concerning. I honestly wasn’t sure if the pathetic tank range of less than 100 miles until reserve (115 until dry) would have seen him home, or if he was sat at the edge of the A3, huddled under a tree with a dead mobile phone battery plotting my demise.

As it turned out he survived the trip, and meeting up with him and Hogan the next day brought another shock: he actually liked the Ducati. “That’s a proper motorcycle,” he reckoned, “the engine has loads of punch and it handles well once you shove it into corners. It’s a bike that lives for rider input and doesn’t feel sanitised.”

Yes, despite looking a bit ‘style over substance’ the Hypermotard is anything but. Don’t let the slightly fussy but ultimately head-turning style fool you, this is a complete weapon when it needs to be. Rather than take the ‘everything to everyone’ line that Aprilia, and in some ways KTM, has with their big supermotos, Ducati with the Hypermotard has stuck to what it knows best: making bikes that are brimming with character and more than a touch rabid to ride.

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It’s a pleasure/pain situation with the Ducati. In town the low seat height, decent steering lock and punchy engine make the Hypermotard good for zipping through traffic, but soon the heavy clutch and almost too-abrupt fuelling start to get on your nerves. Out of town the lack of any protection and small tank range try your patience, but get it on to fast, twisty A and B roads and it’s an addictive and thrilling machine.

“I thought the old air-cooled 1100 engine would be a bit wheezy and dated,” said a grinning Hogan, “but then it perched itself up on its back wheel and buggered off towards the nearest hedge.”

Despite sounding a bit long in the tooth the 1100 engine is anything but. Ducati has down-geared the Hypermotard quite a lot and as a result you get very instant power that is bordering on the brutal in the first two ratios. It can be ridden gently, the huge amounts of midrange punch in the taller gears see to that, but it’s far more entertaining to go a bit bananas in the lower gears and allow the motor to let its hair down and enjoy the sharp handling.

Despite initially feeling a bit flat and quirky the chassis on the Hypermotard is excellent. It’s a small bike and as such can be bullied around corners with the help of its wide bars, but it also comes with a typical Ducati trait of sports suspension and fairly ferocious brakes. All of which combine together to make it by far the sharpest handling bike in this test, which came as a bit of a surprise to us, because before we turned any ignition keys we were all fairly convinced the 950SMR would rule the roost. Funny how things turn out sometimes.

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Aprilia Dorsoduro

Sportsbikes aren’t much fun when it comes to winter conditions, especially the more powerful ones. Too quick, brakes too sharp. But despite their aggressive styling and large capacity engines big supermotos are very civilised beasts when the need arises.

The night before I’d picked up the Dorsoduro from the Aprilia dealer and had to ride it home through some miserable weather and congested city streets. In all honestly I was expecting the journey to be quite trying, Aprilia don’t usually make very user-friendly machines and often swing towards giving an engine punch and aggressive feel rather than a compliant ride.

Not so with the Dorsoduro, the bloke handing the bike over clocked the weather and spent a few seconds explaining how to activate the different power modes. Now at this point my brain usually turns off, I’m not a fan of power modes and think that riders should be able to control their bike using their right wrist, but considering the time of the year I though I’d give the Aprilia’s a shot. And I’m not saying I’m a convert, but I was very impressed by the change in the Dorsoduro’s attitude.

Stick it in ‘sport’ mode and the engine throttle response is typical Aprilia, direct, sharp and almost a little bit too aggressive, but switch the mode to ‘touring’ and this harsh edge is taken off. Rather than simply cut the power, which is what it feels like the Japanese do with their mapping systems, Aprilia seems to have adapted theirs to specifically calm the throttle response. In the wet, and around town, it’s a genuinely useful feature and having swapped a few times between the modes I left it in ‘touring’ for my journey home.

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As with most Italian things the styling is spot-on and very cool, although John thought the back end reminded him of an Edsel Pacer (reckoned by some to be the ugliest car ever made) but he did concede it was a good looking bike, if not quite what he was expecting to ride. “It looks like it will kick your teeth in and has a general air of attitude, which I really like, but when you ride it I found myself thrashing the living daylights out of it, only to see the two bikes disappearing over the horizon!”

With ‘only’ a 750cc engine the Dorsoduro was always going to feel a bit underpowered against this particular competition, but for its target audience of newer riders it’s perfect. When in ‘sport’ mode the engine’s response is sharp and crisp, but it does feel a bit lacking down low and needs big revs to get the best out of it. In town situations this isn’t a bad thing, but as John commented, it does need to be worked quite hard to keep up with bigger machines, although the handling helps cut this deficit.

Like the Hypermotard the Dorsoduro has a sorted, sporty, chassis with a secure feeling. It doesn’t have the slight bounce in its suspension of the KTM and remains composed and reassured when ridden hard over any number of road surfaces.

With a comfortable riding position, cool looks and relaxed engine the Dorsoduro is an ideal first ‘big’ bike while the handling has no hidden surprises. The peaky motor becomes a pain compared to the grunt of the other two here, but if you go for looks over substance, the Aprilia ticks boxes. Town commuters who want a sharp-looking tool will love it to bits.

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2007 KTM 950SMR

It could be a case of rose tinted glasses, but we all love the 950SM in the office. It was the first big supermoto that offered it all. A huge and very comfortable riding position, decent tank range, good handling and beautiful V-twin engine whose carburation (yep, no fuel-injection) was just about perfect with heaps of sublime power. What was there to not like about the KTM? Indeed, we wanted it on this test because it set the benchmark and we firmly believed it would still be the best. But Cantlie was left a little deflated.

“I used to love this bike to bits,” he said, genuinely a little sad, “but she’s showing her age.The KTM is physically huge and heavy, and the build-quality is plasticky. When I look down all I can see are the staples holding the seat cover on, and the engine has bizarre and seemingly random power-pulses.” It wasn’t like that just two years ago. That was always the thing with the 950SM, and even this, the slightly sportier R version with its uprated suspension and brakes and smaller petrol tank: controlled lunacy. If you didn’t feel the urge to go mad the KTM would happily transform into a placid commuter with a smooth and gentle engine, but then when the time was right.

But now, when the time is right, the 950SMR felt like it had lost its edge somewhat. The diminutive Hypermotard made the KTM feel oversized and its suspension loose. When the Ducati happily zipped around corners the KTM needed far more input and was less balanced. It almost felt blunted and a touch soft and saggy. But there again, this might be down to their focus.

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KTM has always targeted their 950SM at a road rider who wants to use their bike on a daily basis. It’s not meant to be too ferocious, impractical or barking (er, are we talking about the same bike? - Ed), it just happened it could be ridden in a bonkers fashion so easily. The engine is 120bhp powerful, but it was designed to deliver generous amounts of torque as well as plenty of hairy-chested power.

Despite this one having a few ignition coughs (most likely simply down to needing a damn good service and the carbs balancing) the bonkers nature of the V-twin still shone through. Although the gearbox felt a little sloppy and occasionally missed gears when pushed hard, it didn’t detract from the riding experience. Much. Riding an SM is still outrageous fun when you hit the sweet-spot (there’s no rev-counter so you just have to feel your way), the engine thumps along with a sense of urgent pace and when the occasion arises it’s more than willing to lift the front wheel and play the fool.

Of the bikes here it’s still the most wheelie-prone. It’s funny, but from a few years ago being this new, crazy idea of a large capacity V-twin supermoto the SM has now morphed into a very good sports tourer, something KTM has recognised with the new 990SMT, which is effectively an SM with a set of panniers and a screen fitted.

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Conclusion

These three bikes represent very different ends of the big supermoto spectrum. At the far end is Ducati’s Hypermotard. A bike that looks like no other and delivers a performance that you would expect. It’s bold, brash and wild, yet also has a gentler side. As a day to day bike it would ultimately be frustrating to own, and is almost as limited as smaller supermotos, but when the weather is good it’s sublime fun. There again, isn’t this exactly how most Ducati owners treat their bikes, keeping them for select occasions rather than the daily grind?

For a more rounded riding experience the Dorsoduro hits the spot. It’s not as hairy to ride as the Hypermotard, but still has enough power to be fun with infinitely more practicality built in. Town commuters who want a good looking bike with heaps of character could do very well popping into their Aprilia dealer and haggling out a good bargain. Compared to the Hornets of this world the Aprilia offers a higher spec of components and a much cooler look.

But, right in the middle of both these worlds is the original big supermoto, KTM’s 950SM. When it comes to the crunch it still ticks all the right boxes and provides exactly what most riders are after. The SM is a big, comfortable bike that can hack its way through traffic for mile after mile, filter with the best of them and then come the weekend go absolutely bananas on the road should the need arise. This one needed a fettle and yes, it feels a bit big and wobbly compared to the Ducati, but for the price and level of performance, not to mention practicality, it’s still hard to argue a case against the KTM. At the end of the day, it was the bike we all wanted to ride home on.

Potted History of the Big Supermoto

Some will argue that Yamaha’s TDM850, which was launched in 1991, was the first big supermoto. This is (obviously) complete cock because while it had a 17-inch rear wheel, the front was an 18-inch item and the parallel twin engine duller than an evening out with John Major. The first true big supermoto to hit the roads was KTM’s 950SM in 2005, although Ducati unveiled the Hypermotard concept bike later the same year. Not to be outdone, BMW completely missed the point and offered official supermoto wheels for its HP2 Sport in early 2006 and the hugely expensive Megamoto nearer Christmas. Has anyone actually seen one of these on the road? 2007 saw Benelli’s Tre-K emerge to a largely unwanting audience and there have been a few other offerings from the likes of Moto Guzzi, Moto Morini and, of course, Aprilia in 2008. Oh, and don’t forget Buell launched the Super TT in 2007.

So, what next then?

Big supermotos aren’t going away, in fact many sports tourers are starting to turn towards their design for inspiration. Triumph’s Tiger 1050 has 17-inch wheels rather than the adventure bike standard of a bigger front wheel and there is talk of a 675 engined Tiger next year, again with 17-inch wheels. Consistent rumours surround a new Honda big supermoto to replace the Varadero as well as a new and considerably more exciting TDM from Yamaha. Aprilia has admitted it is making a 1200cc V-twin Dorsoduro, which should be entertaining, and Buell will almost certainly try and stick their new watercooled engine in a supermoto chassis. Kawasaki have already made the charming and surprisingly good Versys and are looking at a large capacity version, and Suzuki are rumoured to be looking at something similar using a re-designed version of the SV1000 engine.

Buying a Big Supermoto?

According to the chaps at www.bracken.co.uk the market for the 950SM is booming. They have cleared over 50 950SMs, both new and secondhand, this year alone. The Hypermotard has also sold steadily, if not stunningly, likewise for the Dorsoduro. Despite a list price of £6,500 you can easily get a Dorsoduro for £6,000 and a few dealers are offering them for £5,500. A year old Hypermotard is £6,500 while a 2008 model with virtually no miles can be had for just over £7,000. That’s a saving of £750 on the list price for the sake of 100-odd miles, or if you can stretch to 1,000 miles you can have an S model for the same cost. It’s tough times for the motor industry as prices of both new and secondhand bikes are falling, but that’s good news for consumers. If you want a big supermoto, as with most things now is a great time to buy!

Specifications

Ducati Hypermotard

Price: £7,950
Engine: 1,078cc, air-cooled, 8-valve 90° V-twin
Power: 78bhp @ 7,000rpm
Torque: 64 ft.lb/ @ 6,000rpm
Front suspension: 50mm fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: 305mm discs, four-piston Brembos
Rear brake: 245mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 179kg
Seat height: 845mm
Fuel capacity: 12.5 litres
Top speed: 132mph
Colours: Red
Visordown rating: 4/5

KTM 950SMR

Price: £5,099
Engine: 942cc, liquid-cooled, 8-valve V-twin
Power: 95bhp @ 8,200rpm
Torque: 65ft.lb @ 6,200rpm
Front suspension: 48mm fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: 305mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 245mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 187kg
Seat height: 865mm
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Top speed: 138mph
Colours: Black/Orange
Visordown rating: 3/5

Aprilia Dorsoduro

Price: £6,469
Engine: 749cc, liquid-cooled, 8-valve V-twin
Power: 79bhp @ 9,000rpm
Torque: 50ft.lb @ 7,100rpm
Front suspension: USD 43mm fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock fully- adjustable
Front brake: 320mm discs, four-piston Brembos
Rear brake: 240mm disc
Dry weight: 186kg
Seat height: 870mm
Fuel capacity: 12 litres
Top speed: 116MPH
Colours: Red, Black, Grey
Visordown rating: 3/5