There is no such thing as a bad trip to Italy. It's sunny and 68 degrees outside Via Cavalieri Ducati 3 in Bologna. Stepping inside for the obligatory pre-ride presentation, two things become clear halfway through the first double espresso: This new midsize Hypermotard isn't the fastest Ducati or the sexiest. But for an upscale brand in a decidedly down market, the 796 is Bologna's most important piece of news for 2010 for one simple reason: You can buy one for less than $10,000.
Building a proper Ducati for that sort of dough was more complicated. The engine, for instance, isn't a 796 at all. Why? The newest desmodue twin's actual 803cc displacement doesn't roll off the tongue nearly as well. And though it shares some bits with the Monster 696 mill-including its 88mm bore-there's more to it than an 8.8mm-longer stroke. Redesigned pistons bump compression to 11:1, working above a new crankshaft with 848-style flywheels. Condensed engine cases are 2.6 pounds lighter, accounting for most of the new engine's 4.2-lb. weight savings.
Intake amendments begin with a new airbox and ductwork feeding 45mm throttle bodies governed by a Siemens CPU. On the exhaust side, a pre-muffler stashed under the swingarm pivot lets the engine exhale through slim underseat cans with a socially acceptable bark while maintaining its alleged 81-horsepower bite. And the 21-plate APTC slipper clutch lets us shift from second to first without creating an international yard sale in some sodden Italian apex when sunny and 68 segues into 55 and torrential rain. Stopping for espresso in the perfect little town of Monzuno, old men smoke cigarettes and give us a look reserved for escaped mental patients. I wring out wet gloves on the patio and question my own sanity.
The non-adjustable fork and downmarket Brembo calipers will be acceptable concessions to t
No stroked 696 here. The 803cc twin's crankcase castings are significantly lighter, and th
A steel handlebar replaces the 1100's tapered-aluminum bit. New switchgear is excellent. T
Who ordered the monsoon? "Just keepin' it real," says one of one of our corporate escorts. It was either Ettore or Massimo, I'm not sure which-wet notes are hard to read. Not to worry. These Apennine mountain roads range from tight and narrow to tighter and exactly wide enough to pass some mental patient in a Fiat Punto without trading paint. The 796 sits noticeably lower than its big brother-too low if you're taller than 5-foot-10-but the 1100 seat will fit, which is good news if you're tall. Ergos invite moving around in the cockpit. These roads insist. Sliding toward the broad, flat handlebar makes steering easier. The front Bridgestone's blunt profile doesn't. Springs are too soft for anyone over 180 pounds. And though they're perfectly adequate for this mission, the Brembo stoppers lack the power and feel of their upmarket brethren. Still, the net result is athletic and nimble enough. Bologna's latest twin has an obliging personality, despite a few endearing/annoying Italian quirks.
Purging forged bits used in the 1100's steel trellis makes the 796's frame lighter and jus
It's all about the midrange: more trusty 7-iron than a Big Bertha titanium driver. This is mostly a good thing. Power builds nicely from idle to 6000 rpm, though delivery is less enthusiastic from there to the 8000-rpm peak. The gearbox that felt stiff leaving the factory gates with 124 miles on the odometer is coming around after another 80. The chasm between first and second is more problematic, especially downshifting into the bottom cog for some soggy decreasing-radius left. Overall gearing is tall as well, so tight corners have the twin spinning above its midrange happy place or lugging somewhere below it. Abrupt low-rev throttle response hardly helps the cause. Take what consolation you can from the flip side: That same long gearing lets you flirt with 50 mpg in cruise mode. And after dripping dry over lunch at Casa Rugiada-one of the top-three bike-friendly eateries in all of Europe-we emerge to actual sunshine and drying pavement.
Pick up the pace enough to lay down some of that midrange in third and the 796 is back in its happy place. Picking it up to the point where metal bits touch down reveals the inevitable limitations of price-point suspension and brakes. But once you adapt to the smaller engine and compact ergonomics, Hypermotard Lite turns out to be a pretty good idea: 27 lbs. lighter than the 1100 on Ducati's scales and, better still, $2000 easier on the wallet. You might be able to buy more motorcycle for less than $10,000 in somebody else's showroom, but you can't buy more Ducati.