Aprilia Dorsoduro 750 vs. Ducati Hypermotard 796

Sumo lite

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Kevin Wing

Moment of silence, please, for supermoto. The wild-and-wooly, part-asphalt/part-dirt racing discipline that began life as The Superbikers on ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports, then was exported to France as supermotard and re-imported to America as supermoto, is pretty much dead. Though various grass-roots regional series remain, the AMA Pro Series that ran for a few years at the start of this century with such luminaries as Jeff Ward, Jeremy McGrath, Doug Henry and the Boz Bros competing is no longer happening. The story goes that near the end of the first meeting of the Daytona Motorsports Group after it had acquired AMA Pro Racing, someone asked, What about supermoto? The reply: Oh, do we own that too?

Grrr...

But while supermoto racing may be fading into oblivion, supermoto streetbikes have actually been gaining in popularity—and not just 250-450cc singles. The problem with dirtbike-based sumos is they run out of steam at higher speeds; great fun around town, on a go-kart track or a diabolical stretch of twisty 1.5-lane; not so much on a faster two-lane road, let alone a proper racetrack.

That’s where twins come in. Bikes like Ducati’s Hypermotard 1100 and KTM’s 950 Supermoto take the high road, while Aprilia’s SXV450 and 550 take the low. And then there are these two midi-motos: Aprilia’s Dorsoduro 750 and Ducati’s Hypermotard 796.

Talk about striking the perfect balance. These two three-quarter-liter machines are powerful enough not to feel wrung-out on the open road, but lightweight enough to positively dissect the twisties. Note we said balance, not compromise: These bikes’ only concessions are to the bottom line. That’s just shy of $10K, if you flipped open this issue without reading the cover blurbs, which used to be a lot of money for a motorcycle before the economy headed south for the winter. If 50 is the new 35, then $10K is the new $6999.

In the interest of alphabetical PCness, let’s start with the Aprilia. While a 750cc V-twin may not seem like a big deal, this engine represents a huge step forward for the Noale, Italy-based manufacturer. Where previous Aprilia V-twins used engines built by Rotax in Austria, this one is made in-house by parent company Piaggio. Furthermore, where those Rotax twins arrayed their cylinders at 60 degrees, this one is a 90-degree Vee like a certain Bolognese rival. Coincidence? Not a chance.

The Aprilia’s engine isn’t the only thing that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Ducati. Though it’s assembled differently, with its steel main tubes bolting to cast-aluminum swingarm pivots, the frame is a trellis in the best Italian tradition, the engine suspended beneath. The aluminum swingarm is a conventional double-sided design, but it’s a work of art, as exquisite as any part ever made by Bimota. Ditto the kickstand. The minimalist windscreen; the abbreviated bodywork; the long, dirtbike-style seat; the underseat mufflers; even the name Dorsoduro (Italian for hard back, whatever that means) owe a debt to the Hypermotard. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then former Ducati design chief Pierre Terblanche should be well and truly blushing!

The 796 looks just like a Hypermotard 1100 because it effectively is one, with precious few changes. Sometimes, Ducati’s smaller models make do without some of their bigger brothers’ features, for example the single-sided swingarm or radial-mount brakes. But the 796 has both of those, along with the requisite steel-trellis frame and a smaller version of the venerable Desmodue engine. Like all current Ducatis this one’s fuel-injected and equipped with the firm’s trademark desmodromic valve actuation, meaning it uses camshafts and rocker arms to open and close the valves, sans springs.

By Brian Catterson
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