With the Angeles Crest Highway open again after the past few years’ landslides and brush fires, we pointed these two midi-motos north toward La Crescenta-Flintridge. Throw a leg over the Aprilia and the first thing you notice is how much it feels like a dirtbike. The next thing is how awkward its high-mounted, enduro-style kickstand is. The stand tucks well up out of the way next to the left side panel, but watch your leg when you flick it upand good luck finding it with your toe when it comes time to deploy it again! The seat is hard, and taller riders will find themselves sitting on the passenger grab strap; we removed the seat and replaced it with the strap tucked underneath. That seat is also high, the bars wide and the reach from one to the other quite long. The suspension doesn’t sag much when you climb aboard, either. This bike is definitely better suited to taller riders.
Toggle the Dorsoduro’s starter button and you find it’s cold-blooded, coughing and sputtering before coming to life. It takes a while to warm up, too, which is unusual for a fuel-injected motorcycle. Once it does, however, it’s a willing accomplice, quick-revving with a sound more like a Suzuki SV650 than any Ducati. In fact, one of our testers—a former SV650 owner who’d moved on to a GSX-R750—found herself longing for her old bike, and wondering how much fun a supermoto-style SV would be. Are you paying attention, Suzuki?
In motion or at rest, the Hypermotard 796 is the spitting image of its 1100cc sibling. Onl
The Ducati feels much smaller when you sit on it, and smaller yet as the suspension settles beneath your weight. Riders as short as 5-foot-4 should have no problem getting their feet down—or at least one foot down. Fire up the desmo engine and it barks to life, sounding like a muted World Superbike. It’s almost too quiet, but there’s no mistaking that inimitable Ducati V-twin sound.
Heading up into the mountains, more differences became apparent. While neither bike buzzes badly, the Aprilia’s dirtbike-style serrated-metal footpegs tingle noticeably. With its smaller, liquid-cooled, four-valve-per-cylinder, dohc engine, it makes more power (75.2 bhp) at higher revs (9250 rpm) than the Ducati. It’s geared quite low, first dispatched almost as soon as you let out the clutch and sixth a tad short for freeway cruising, though it shifts positively. That helps in acceleration, as the Dorso nipped the Hyper by a tenth of a second in our dragstrip testing.
The engine that launched a thousand imitations started life as the 1977 Pantah 500, and ha
The Ducati’s instrument panel doesn’t have quite as many functions as the Aprilia’s, but c
The least-liked feature of either bike was the Hypermotard’s folding bar-end mirrors, whic
The Ducati is coarser and more mechanical feeling, and tingles through the bars. Its bigger, air-cooled, two-valve-per-cylinder, sohc engine churns out more torque (49 lb.-ft.) than the Aprilia, but doesn’t rev quite as high (peak power comes at 8000 rpm) in spite of its desmo valve train. Blame the fact that it has two big valves per cylinder as opposed to the Aprilia’s four small ones. The six-speed gearbox has perfectly spaced ratios and shifts well, and downshifts are aided by the APTC (Adler Power Torque Clutch), which is effectively a slipper, though it uses a threaded spline as opposed to the more common spring-loaded ramps. You need to exercise care while getting underway, however, as the engine’s torque coupled with the wet clutch’s narrow range of engagement can smoke the plates if you’re not careful. All that said, most of the time the 796 feels exactly like the 1100; you just find yourself turning the throttle farther.