With long-travel (approximately 6 inches) suspension befitting supermoto bikes, both of these motorcycles require a deft touch to ride quickly. Ham-fisted application of the powerful dual four-piston front brakes causes their chassis to pitch forward abruptly, making for squirrelly corner entrances. Best to drag the rear brake a tad to settle the chassis and keep the rear wheel in line. The Aprilia’s stiffer spring rates make it better here, though our testbike’s rear brake squeaked annoyingly. The Ducati’s suspension is soft, and there’s not much you can do about that as only the shock is adjustable. Supermoto-style, hacked-out corner entrances are best left to professionals, but the Aprilia’s chassis is better at this while the Ducati’s APTC clutch helps prevent stalling if you inadvertently lock up the rear wheel. At 476 lbs. full of gas, the Dorso is nearly 60 lbs. heavier than the Hyper, but you only really notice this at a standstill, where it feels a bit more top-heavy and tippier, especially to shorter riders.
As we climbed up into the colder, higher elevations, we couldn’t help noticing these bikes’ wind protectionor lack thereof. The Aprilia has a slightly more effective windscreen while the Ducati’s hand guards work better. Speaking of which: The Hypermotard’s folding bar-end mirrors are a clever idea and provide an excellent rearward view, but they stick out way too far, measuring 48 inches from tip to tip—fully 14.5 inches wider than the Aprilia’s! Even if you never split lanes, you’ll clobber something. The Ducati’s high-beams proved elusive until we figured out you have to flick the passing-light switch down. Likewise, the Aprilia’s left-hand switches are reversed, so you find yourself honking when you want to signal and vice versa. It takes a while to get used to that.
As for looking forward, with their high seats, wide bars and upright riding positions, both of these bikes are great for commuting, providing a commanding view of the road (and traffic) ahead. But while they both get great fuel mileage (around 40 mpg), they suffer from lack of range. The Aprilia’s low-fuel light illuminates with as little as 85 miles on the odometer and is running on fumes by 120, while the Ducati doesn’t go much farther. Something to keep in mind if the open road beckons.
By the time we got to Wrightwood, we’d reached a consensus. In spite of their obvious similarities, these are two very different motorcycles. The Ducati is smaller, lighter, more plushly suspended, torquier and thus more manageable, and its APTC clutch is a real boon to inexperienced riders. It also has more character, and there’s a fat Ducati Performance catalog full of accessories. If you’re small in stature and longing to belong to the exclusive club of Ducatisti, look no further.
But if you’re looking for the better motorcycle, choose the Aprilia. It’s bigger and heavier but more powerful, and works significantly better in sporting environs. It also doesn’t have the Ducati’s goofy mirrors. Then there’s the price: $500 cheaper than the Hypermotard when we first received our 2010 testbikes, making the Dorsoduro’s victory a slam-dunk, but since raised to $9999 for 2011 so it’s now $4 more expensive. That’s okay: We’ll make coffee at home one morning, save the four bucks at Starbucks and live happily ever after.
Just one question: Does that make us Dorsoduristi?
Off the Record
Age: 29 Height: 5’ 10
Weight: 140 lbs. Inseam: 33.5 In.
The Aprilia had me at ciao. Sure, these bikes share a nasty, Effff Youuu hooligan appeal that immediately transforms one’s inner monologue to that of a pub barback, plus manageable power and responsive steering. But the dividing line was drawn here: The Ducati’s bar-end mirrors make the bike about as deft filtering through traffic as a seafood truck. Sure, they fold in, but am I wrong to want to see things behind me and not pluck off every Volvo’s side mirror while lane-splitting?
Cat reluctantly offered up the Dorsoduro halfway through our day together, and I quickly figured out why: There’s a romance that occurs between this bike’s wheelbase, rake and trail specifications. It feels planted, but still steers nimbly. Its throttle response is smoother, its mirrors are optimally placed and, at the time of our test, it boasted a $500 smaller price tag than the Hypermotard. How do you say Come home with me in Italian?
Off the Record
Age: 49 Height: 6’ 1
Weight: 215 lbs. Inseam: 34 In.
As a former supermoto racer who qualified for the AMA National Championship finals the first year they were held, I’m sad to see the current state of the sport. I sincerely hope that sumo streetbikes like these two can turn the spotlight back onto this oft-overlooked segment. They should, because in the real world in which we ride every day, they’re superb motorcycles.
For me, choosing between these two was no contest—and a righteous "Up yours!" to those who claim I’m on Ducati’s payroll. I loved my long-term Hypermotard 1100—and I’m sure the new EVO version is better yet—but the 796 is cut from different cloth. It’s best suited to shorter, lighter, less experienced riders, which perhaps is the point.
The Aprilia, in contrast, appeals to taller, heavier and more experienced riders. (Read: me.) It’s a sportier, much more willing machine, and as such riders won’t soon outgrow it. That said, I can’t wait to ride the 1200cc version!