Doug Westly | Safety Editor
Let’s get something straight right now. The Ducati’s Hypermotard SP is not for everyone. First off, it is not a beginner’s bike. The bike reacts to rider input so quickly that it takes an experienced rider to manage it, otherwise over-controlling the bike is a real possibility. Newbies need not apply. Next, the riding position is unlike other “normal” sport bikes. While you sit upright and comfortable, the feeling is more like a giant dual-sport on steroids than a regular sport bike. Nevertheless, if you’re into sport bikes and are looking for something different, I invite you to strap on the Hypermotard SP. My past stable of sport bikes has included V-4s, inline 4s and V-twins. I’ve gone from a Honda 996 Superhawk to a CBR Repsol 1000RR, onto a Ducati 749 and 1098. I’ve done track time on the last three of those, as well as a track-only, race-prepped CBR600RR. However, none of those offer the handling and responsiveness of the SP. Take all of the characteristics of the SP and add in one more nice surprise…comfort, and the SP is one fun bike!
The SP is Ducati’s top of the line motard. You sit on top of the bike, not in it The handlebars are wide, and because of it the bike reacts very quickly to rider input. You’re also sitting on Ducati’s 821cc Testaretta 11 degree V-twin motor. In case you’ve ever wondered, the 11 degree refers to the period during the crankshaft rotation when all the valves of the cylinder are open. No one ever said a Ducati is simple. On the SP, add to that a full super bike suspension, with Ohlin’s rear suspension, fully adjustable front Marzocchi forks, and radially-mounted Brembo brakes on lightweight, forged Marchesini wheels, sheathed in Pirelli Supercorsa SP performance tires. The entire package weighs just 377 lbs. dry… and that’s before you start adding and subtracting components. Carbon fiber almost everywhere helps the weight as well. The engine in its stock form only puts out 110 hp, with about 70 lb/ft of torque. However, the combination of the low rpm power band of the Testaretta motor with the light weight of the bike and quick handling make for a superbly accelerating, braking and handling motorcycle. On the track it runs out of steam at about 155 mph, but it accelerates as quickly as any other superbike, and I will trade the top 20 mph or so for untouchable cornering performance any day!
When I bought the SP, I was looking for a bike that would do three things. First, it had to offer the aforementioned comfort so that I could ride all day, yet still have it perform like a sport bike. Next, it had to work as my teaching mount when I instruct MSF sport bike classes. Finally, the bike had to offer enough performance for my track riding sessions. The stock SP took on the first two requirements without a problem. For the third, I made a couple of modifications. I replaced the stock, low-piped exhaust with Termignoni’s full, high-piped, titanium race version. This came with a new, race-programmed ECU and hi-flow air system. Next, I replaced the stock lead-acid battery with a lightweight, Shorai lithium unit. Between these two modifications, I took another 15 lbs. off the bike, and added approximately 10% in the performance curve. Now the bike weighs in at just over 360 lbs. and is producing over 120 hp, with an equal increase in torque. It’s not just about horsepower, but rather the horsepower to weight ratio that really matters.
Once you commit to the SP, there is another learning curve; electronics. Ducati has worked hard in its current lines to provide the most sophisticated electronics packages available, to help the ride characteristics of its bikes. In the SP, that means a full Throttle by Wire system. If you’re not familiar with TBW, it means the throttle is not directly connected to the fuel management system. Instead, the on-board ECU reads the throttle input and makes the adjustments to the engine and power delivery. This allows almost endless adjustability to the bike’s performance. There are three different riding modes on the SP, rider-selectable from the handlebar controls. These modes include “Race,” “Sport” and “Wet.” In Race mode, the system offers full engine hp with super sensitive throttle input. In Sport mode, the full hp is available, but the throttle sensitivity is slightly reduced. Finally in Wet mode, the ECU chops the power to about 70 hp and decreases throttle sensitivity even more. Add to the TBW Ducati’s full traction control and ABS systems. These systems are adjustable for sensitivity as well, and can be set to certain levels for each mode, all programmed by the rider. For instance, in Wet mode a rider may want full traction control and ABS sensitivity, while in Race mode the ABS will be turned way down and the traction control may be turned off all together to allow for rider-controlled wheel spin when exiting corners. To top it off, you can go between any of the modes at the touch of a button while riding. Remember when I said a Ducati is neither simple nor a beginner’s bike? The owner’s manual has 44 pages devoted just to electronics settings.
So how does it ride? Well, it takes a little getting used to, quite frankly. I spent the first 1000 miles just figuring out suspension settings, as well as traction control and ABS settings for each of the riding modes. I also had to learn new body positions for cornering. You quickly figure out that small rider control inputs result in immediate response. Because you sit more upright, you also learn to get over the front end during hard acceleration, or the bike will rear up like a spurred bucking bronco. Because it gets front end light under full acceleration, it is prone to a little front end lift and head shake coming out of corners. Combine that with some rear wheel spin and things can quickly get interesting. I’m waiting on a new Ohlin’s race steering damper system to arrive, to help cope with the head shake. I may go with some rear sets as well. On the other hand, now that I’ve got a couple of thousand miles on it, as well as a couple of track days, all I can say is “OMG!” I haven’t had this much fun on a bike…ever. I can (and do) ride it all day on the back roads and after 300 miles get off wanting to ride more. Then I’ll take it to the track and absolutely thrash much higher horsepower super bikes through the corners. Yeah, I move over on the long straights to let some of them go by, but it doesn’t matter. When they are hard on the brakes for the next corner, I’m past them again, throwing the SP over into the corner and accelerating out the other side. As is often said, anyone can go fast in a straight line. The fun is in the corners!