BOOMER'S CHOICE | MC COMPARO

Sorta Grown-Up Motards for Sorta Grown-Up Riders

By Marc Cook, Photography by Kevin Wing

Ducati Hyperstrada » vs. « KTM 990 SM-T

Motorcyclists at the tail end of the baby-boomer generation have it tough in a lot of ways, not the least of which is their well-documented propensity for thinking they're younger and cooler than they are. With the youngest boomers easing into their fifth decade redolent of Icy Hot, these riders can't imagine not having a hard-core sportbike well into creeping decrepitude.

But what if you're that special kind of hooligan who feels the motard-style machine is every kind of perfect? You built your own before the category was cool and now delight in the ready-made choices ranging from the DR-Z400SM to the freshly frantic Ducati Hypermotard. Good times. Only you've grown tired of skidding around the neighborhood and feeling like a bit of a human origami when you spend more than a few minutes aboard.

Boomer friends, we have your motorcycles. With the addition of the Hyperstrada to Ducati's 2013 lineup, the number of motard-like machines refined for the sunset years and given a dose of practicality has grown to two. KTM was here first, back in 2010, with the 990 Supermoto T, which we all call the SM-T, and now Ducati's come to play.

The concept here is pretty simple. Turn the aggression dial down from 11—maybe only to eight or nine but just enough to make the beast livable for more than a 15-minute commute—with things like softer suspension and a milder engine tune. But only just. Let's not get carried away with the comfort thing. And then bolt on a few pieces that improve weather protection, never a strong suit of the motard, turn up the comfort level, and even offer a place to carry a box of Depends and a Costco-sized bottle of Advil.

KTM followed almost exactly that script in making the SM into the SM-T. Where there was once a small flange around the headlight to hide the instruments is now a good-sized, frame-mounted fairing that wraps forward from the enlarged (5-gallon) plastic fuel tank to meet a decently sized slab of plastic called a windscreen. Our Austrian friends also recalibrated the SM-T's WP-built suspension for a plusher ride and, for 2013, gave the SM-T a grippy, flat, amazingly comfortable saddle in place of the SM-R's thin, off-road-derived plank. It's like the adults got ahold of the SM late in development and said, "We'll take it from here."

Even though the '13 model of the KTM is largely unchanged—in fact, it's in much the same spec as it arrived in 2010 except that ABS has been standard in the US since 2012—Ducati's undertaken a dramatic amount of work on the Hypermotard. Gone is the air-cooled, two-valve engine based on the legendary 500cc Pantah. In its place is an 821cc version of the Multistrada's 11-degree Testastretta engine, promising 110 horsepower. Color us piqued.

Continuing their technological march, Ducati's engineers adapted ride-by-wire technology to the engine, offering the rider a choice of Sport, Touring, and Urban throttle mapping, with the first two of those offering full power with different response-progression maps. When you switch among the basic ride modes, you also change the intervention levels for the standard ABS and TC. As on the Multistrada, you can configure each ride mode to have certain levels of ABS and TC independent of the factory presets. Other manufacturers, please take note: Ducati's doing this right.

Differences from the base Hypermotard to the Hyperstrada include 20mm-taller handlebar risers, a totally different seat with a much larger rider portion, and a small windscreen sprouting up from the headlight nacelle. The luggage is standard as well. The combination steel-tube and cast-aluminum chassis is the same for all Hypermotards, but the Strada gets a remote-preload-adjuster shock and Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires in conventional sportbike sizes.

This is the first of the new Hypermotards we've tested since the press launch earlier in the year, and we're happy to see just how strong and sophisticated this smaller 11-degree engine really is. On our dyno, the Hyper put down 97.8 horsepower at 9,400 rpm. For perspective, consider that's nearly 20 horsepower up on the old air-cooled 796 and within 20 percent of an 848 but with a much flatter torque curve. As you'd expect, the 821 trails the larger 999cc KTM everywhere, but the final tally has the Austrian up just 9.2 horsepower and 9.0 pound-feet of torque. Not bad for a 178cc difference.

But those are just lines on the specs chart. In person, the Ducati engine is, with a couple of important exceptions, a real delight to use. Power ramps up smoothly from the basement and plays strongly through the midrange. There's a small dip in torque at 6,000 rpm that makes the top-end feel fairly steamy. What's more, the 821 is happy to chug along at low revs, displaying none of the displeasure most of the air-cooled motors would offer under such treatment. By comparison, the KTM's 75-degree V-twin feels much more old school, though only marginally rougher at highway speeds. It has a thrilling amount of grunt that it puts down with a guttural pounding and a fantastic combination of intake honk and mechanical noise. Yet it's also fairly quiet and smooth when just cruising along.

Two pieces of technology absent from the KTM's mature V-twin undermine Ducati's Hyperstrada. We'll start with the ride-by-wire system's responses. Sport mode provides very sharp throttle action—so much so that it's actually difficult to ride the bike smoothly and nearly impossible to hold a given engine speed. Switch to Touring and the picture improves, though there are still times when the engine is a little too eager to lay down the torque at the slightest twitch of throttle tube. So Urban should be just about right, huh? Nope. Soggier than a lemonade sandwich. Eventually, we left the Duc in Touring mode and made an effort to be smooth on the low-resistance throttle. The KTM gets some mud splash, too; its initial throttle take-up is fairly sharp, though it's nowhere as annoying as the Hyper's light switch.

Ducati brings a slip-and-assist clutch to the Hyper series this year. Think of a standard slipper clutch with another set of ramps in addition to those that separate the clutch pack when the wheel tries to drive the engine. In the assist mode, this mechanism uses back-cut ramps to squeeze the clutch pack tight. One benefit is that this system can use light springs for low effort at the lever. A potential detriment is that if the system's tuning isn't perfect, the clutch can be grabby. Our testbike's clutch was overly sharp and unpredictable, and worst when cold. Concerned that it was a one-off, we tried another Hyperstrada; it exhibited the same malady.

The Hyperstrada's snappy fueling and quick-to-have-you-look-dumb clutch combine to make the bike feel, well, hyper. Small, really agile, so eager to do anything but just sit there at the light. These impressions are amplified by the bike's riding position. Zack Courts whined that the "seat is uncomfortable and ridiculously far forward." He added, "I think for shorter people it might make more sense, but for someone my size, it just never stops being annoying." Shorties weren't biting, either, acknowledging that the first impression is that you sit high, well on top of the bike, and with your man-parts perilously close to the steering head, much like on a motocross bike. Get accustomed to that pelvis-forward riding position; it's the only choice the Hyper gives you.

If Ducati has taken the idea of motocross ergonomics applied to a streetbike, KTM's engineers have given the premise some rationality. Like starting with a large enduro machine instead. Hop from the Duc onto the Katoom, and the SM-T feels massive. The fairing and angular windscreen could well be attached to the car in front of you. A suede-like seat cover welcomes you onto a broad, flat slab of foam positioned much more down-and-in on the chassis. Two of our testers, NBA-reject Courts included, described the KTM's ergonomic profile as "perfect." In every way you can name, the SM-T comes off as a less-hyper Hyper. The steering is ever-so-slightly slower, though effort at the bars is about the same, with a very minor tendency to stand up when the powerful, radial-mount Brembos take a bite. While the Duc has similarly spec'd stoppers, the KTM's have more power and feedback, though we rate Ducati's ABS slightly less intrusive.

On a twisty road, the bikes do nothing to reverse those first impressions. For starters, they're really close in heft and performance: Just 13 pounds separates them (the Ducati is lighter), and the Hyper's quarter-mile speed would probably have been better if it would launch cleanly. On the handling front, the Ducati is incredibly willing to heel over and clip apexes all day long. The only surprise is how easy it is to touch the footpegs and graze the standard centerstand against the pavement. The KTM will drag its dirtbike-inspired clawed footpegs, too, but you have to work harder at it. The Ducati's suspension is firm but rarely harsh, while the KTM's fully adjustable (including both high- and low-speed compression damping on the shock) suspension by WP is simply amazing. While it has some dirtbike aftereffects—a little bit of additional movement mid-stroke, for example—it has that rare combination of plush and controlled. We set the suspension to the "sport" settings suggested in the owner's manual and never touched it again. Marvelous.

Coming off the corner, the 990's superior midrange torque (read: displacement advantage) lets it pull a couple of lengths while the Ducati works up through the powerband. A beat or two later, the Hyper begins reeling in the SM-T, where it's ready to dive inside at the next bend. Only the KTM rider, so completely confident in the front end's grip, brakes a little later and carries a smidgen more corner speed. And so it goes, all the way up the mountain and back down again.

Highways are the price you pay for these shenanigans, and the pilot on the Ducati puts down double. Back to that confining riding position: Even though the wind protection is good—a clean sliver of solitude extends from your chin to your navel—the tight ergo package gives you little choice but to sit dead upright. The KTM is much, much more comfortable over the distance, with a better seat, room to stretch out, and a margin of weather protection over the Hyper.

Ducati and KTM approach the bagging-up process similarly. Both sets of semi-rigid bags come standard, and both are made from a plastic structural shell covered in nylon and sealed by perimeter zippers. (Yes, they're side loading.) Neither design claims to be waterproof, so rubberized covers come inside.

And now the designs diverge. First off, the Ducati's panniers are much larger, rated for 50 liters total capacity. KTM's stylish vessels are listed as just 26 liters total. We have backpacks that are more capacious. The luggage mounts differently, too. Ducati's locks onto the bike with a key, whereas the KTM's bags snap into place with a simple pull pin. We'll take that over the mechanism on the Hyper that made us resort to pounding and cussing to free the right bag. Both bikes have standard luggage racks, the Ducati's already set up for an accessory top box.

Ducati and KTM might have been aiming for the same Boomer, but their bullets landed on different parts of the target. For the Hyperstrada, the pretense of "touring" goes only as far as making the inherently bad-boy Hyperstrada a bit less committed. Nothing in the basic setup of the bike—from the way the engine gains and loses revs to the tautness of its suspension—is very far from the motard ideal. It's an antsy machine, impatient when you don't feel the need to wheelie through traffic or skid to a stop in front of Starbucks with the steering at full lock and the patio patrons scurrying for cover.

The KTM is smooth, powerful, and yet still encourages you to do silly things on the road. Only it does so with much more refined manners and predictable responses. Where the Ducati wants to hoist the front axle to eye level, the KTM will happily let you skim the tire a couple of inches off the pavement—halfway to the next stoplight if you like.

And that, as much as anything, is the critical distinction between the Hyperstrada and the SM-T. Ducati's made a small, aggressive machine that constantly challenges you. KTM has built a true hybrid—a more relaxed supermoto with a sensible streak. If you're the Boomer who refuses to grow up, pick the Ducati. But if you've embraced the inevitable and are ready to settle down (just a bit), raid the retirement account and buy the 990 SM-T.

ERGOS

Zack Courts | Associate Editor

AGE: 30 | HEIGHT: 6'2" | WEIGHT: 185 lbs. | INSEAM: 34 in.

Ducati's Hyperstrada is a neat concept, but for me it misses the mark. It just reeks of a different motorcycle packaged to do something it wasn't meant to do. The bags and windshield definitely add practicality, but that doesn't displace the true intentions of the urban/motard chassis. The Hyper handles pretty much flawlessly (other than too-stiff suspension), but my lanky frame just doesn't fit the compact riding position. For me, this comparo was all KTM, all the way. Even Ducati's new 821cc mill that produces rev-happy, entertaining thrust doesn't stack up to the KTM's velvet hammer of a powerplant. The 990 SM-T is more mellow and mature, but if you ask it to misbehave, it's happy to oblige (holy crap does it do great wheelies). Big brakes, big power, and near-perfect suspension combined with a more open riding position make for a truly excellent all-around motorcycle.

ARI HENNING | Road Test Editor

AGE: 28 | HEIGHT: 5'10" | WEIGHT: 177 lbs. | INSEAM: 33 in.

It only took a few miles on the freeway to realize that Ducati's Hyperstrada wouldn't cut it on a proper long-distance road trip. With the bar practically in your lap and too little wind protection, the layout caused my back to ache almost immediately. Then there's the absurdly grabby clutch and severe throttle response that make riding twisty roads a challenge. The KTM is a superior motorcycle with better wind protection, a buttery clutch and transmission (though the initial throttle response is still pretty abrupt), and overall better ergonomics. In the end, though, I feel that both of these bikes are trying to be too much; they're too much of a compromise. If I want something fast, comfortable, sporty, and capable of hauling my stuff and me up the coast, I think I'd go for the Ninja 1000 with the accessory hard bags.

Tech SPEC

  Ducati Hyperstrada KTM 990 Supermoto T
Price $13,295 $13,999
Engine type l-c 90-deg. V-twin l-c 75-deg. V-twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v DOHC, 8v
Displacement 821cc 999cc
Bore x stroke 88.0 x 67.5mm 101.0 x 62.4mm
Compression 12.8:1 11.5:1
Fuel system EFI, ride by wire EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper Wet, multi-plate
Transmission 6-speed 6-speed
Frame Tubular-steel trellis Tubular-steel trellis
Front suspension Kayaba 43mm fork WP 48mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping WP shock adjustable for spring preload, high/low-speed compression, and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 305mm discs with ABS
Rear brake Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm disc with ABS Brembo two-piston caliper,
Front tire 120/70-ZR17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail 120/70-ZR17 Continental ContiSportAttack
Rear tire 180/55-ZR17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail 180/55-ZR17
Rake/trail 25.5°/4.1 in. 24.4°/4.3 in.
Seat height 33.5/32.7 in. 33.7 in.
Wheelbase 58.7 in. 59.3 in.
Fuel capacity 4.2 gal. 5.0 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty) 468/443 lbs. 481/451 lbs.
Measured horsepower 97.8 bhp @ 9,400 rpm 107.0 bhp @ 9,300 rpm
Measured torque 58.9 lb.-ft. @ 7,900 rpm 67.9 lb.-ft. @ 7,300 rpm
Corrected ¼-mile 11.29 sec. @ 118.29 mph 11.28 sec. @ 120.07 mph
Top-gear roll-on 60–80 mph 3.21 sec. 3.65 sec.
Fuel mileage 50/35/42 mpg 40/32/37 mpg
Colors Arctic White, Red Black
Availability Now Now
Warranty 24 mo., unlimited mi. 24 mo., 24,000 mi.
Contact ducatiusa.com ktm.com

It’s a little surprising to see the Ducati and the KTM so close in torque near the bottom of the rev ranges. We’re calling dyno artifacts here, since the chart doesn’t correlate with the way these two bikes feel on the street. We will cede the SM-T’s torque advantage, which makes it feel strong and understressed right to the 9,500-rpm redline. With another 1,000 rpm to play with, the Hyperstrada wants to run in the upper third of the rev range but will also chug down to 3,000 rpm without complaint.

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