Track shot of Zack Courts on the 2017 Ducati SuperSport S
2017 Ducati SuperSport S splits the difference between superbike and sport-tourer, true to the Ducati name.Photo: Milagro

Ducati says: “Sport riding experience anywhere, anytime.” Motorcyclist says: “Who needs a Panigale 959?”

Ducati builds performance machines. The Multistrada is made to be the hottest of ADVs, the Diavel is the superbike of cruisers, and the Hypermotard… well, having "hyper" in the name ought to explain it. All Ducati motorcycles are designed to ooze a little bit of the spirit of Borgo Panigale—performance, passion, and speed. So, what happens when Ducati sets out to build a sportbike that isn't supposed to be the fastest? One that isn't supposed to be either high-tech and fancy or raw and uncivilized? We're not sure it's a question anyone asked, but Ducati has answered it with the 2017 SuperSport.

Review of the 2017 Ducati SuperSport
It’s got a whiff of Panigale about it, doesn’t it? That’s no accident. Note the silky white paint on this S, as well as the seat cowl over the pillion pad.Photo: Milagro

If you're having a bit of déjà vu you're probably thinking of the last SuperSport. Or maybe the one prior to the last one. Or even the one before that. Point is, it's not new nomenclature for Ducati. The staff in red even admitted that they all like the name, and appreciate the heritage that the name SuperSport has within the brand. But, they were quick to point out that although the concept is similar, the bike breaks new ground. When I think SuperSport I remember the square headlight, mid-1990s edition SS models—air-cooled cylinders, clattering dry clutches, and single seats. Ducati has come a long way since then, though. Well beyond the Terblanche-era versions of supersport and into the age of liquid-cooling, adjustable-windshields, and all things electronically adjustable.

THE TECH

The basic architecture of the SuperSport goes like this: The engine is essentially from the Hyper 939—for you technical types that’s the liquid-cooled, Testastretta 11-degree powerplant that has evolved in Ducati’s midsized machines over the past number of years, now at 937cc and claiming 113 horsepower. Bolted to the front of that powerplant is a steel-trellis frame, borrowed in part from the Monster 1200 but adapted to this platform. Attached to the rear of the engine is a new, single-sided, cast-aluminum swingarm. It’s all wrapped up in brand-new bodywork designed to emulate the Panigale shape with a distinct road-going personality. And lastly, suspending it all is either a Marzocchi 43mm fork and Sachs shock on the base model, or an Ohlins shock and 48mm Ohlins fork on the SuperSport S.

Base model SuperSport
A base version of the 2017 Ducati SuperSport. No seat cowl, you’ll notice, and that’s a Marzocchi fork instead of Ohlins. Yours for $12,995.Photo: Milagro
2017 Ducati SuperSport dash
The dash on the 2017 SuperSport is the same shape as the Monster 821, but there’s different hardware and software inside. Info is displayed nicely, but it gets messy when you dig into the menus—easily my least favorite part of the bike.Photo: Milagro

A few steps closer and you’ll see a two-color dash, with new switchgear inboard of the left grip, a two-way quickshifter (standard on the S model, a $289 upgrade for the base bike), and if you fiddle with the windshield you’ll notice it adjusts up about 2 inches with a gentle tug via a spring-loaded mechanism. The S model also comes with a seat cowl and suave, white silk paint if you so desire.

SuperSport switch gear
Navigating the 2017 SuperSport’s dash is done by the left/right/enter joystick (which doubles as the blinker control) and the up/down toggle above. Simple, and effective.Photo: Milagro

As simple as it all sounds to bolt these bits together, Lead Engineer Guiseppe Caprara told me the project started around three years ago and has grown slowly into this machine. I’ll say it again: building an everyday sportbike was not easy for Ducati. Combining a full fairing with all-day comfort doesn’t come naturally to the people of Panigale. When asked how smooth the process was, Caprara smiled and said, “Of course when you have many people, you will have many opinions.” The seat, for example, had to be redesigned multiple times because it wasn’t the right balance of comfort and sport. Caprara summed up this new bike by declaring it, even with all of the SuperSport heritage, “a gamble.”

THE RIDING IMPRESSION

My test day started on the S-model SuperSport with track sessions which, yes, goes against Ducati’s mantra of this not being a superbike. Or maybe the staff at Ducati just can’t help it. Flying from apex to apex around the Monteblanco Circuit illustrated right away that the riding position is decidedly laid back. The riser clip-ons feel tall and the footrests almost feel low. Almost. I dragged the pegs once or twice and the muffler a couple of times, but for the most part I wrung the SuperSport out for the better part of an hour and had a blast doing it. As Ducati preached, this isn’t a bike for a track attack but rather a casual track experience, and it was great at that.

Track lean shot of Ducati SuperSport
There’s just something about a Ducati on a racetrack that looks right, don’t you think? The 2017 SuperSport handled a morning at Monteblanco brilliantly, and on stock tires, no less.Photo: Milagro
Ducati SuperSport S Brembo brakes
Brembo 4.32 calipers squeeze 320mm rotors and feel plenty strong for 100 horsepower. ABS has three settings, the least intrusive of which disables rear anti-lock so you can do your best Chaz Davies impression. Careful!Photo: Milagro

Braking is done by Brembo M4.32 calipers squeezing 320mm rotors, and three levels of ABS. That’s not top-tier Brembo stuff, but hey, this is a 100-hp bike and the brakes are more than enough, even slowing down from the 150-mph straightaway into a second-gear hairpin. ABS level 1 disables rear anti-lock, which means lifting the back end on the brakes or sliding toward apexes. No, it’s not a track bike! Again, I guess Ducati just can’t help it. Eight levels of traction control served me well, too, then again the sun-kissed pavement and Pirelli Diablo Rosso III rubber didn’t really need any convincing to stay together. It’s not a track bike! …but it does play one on TV.

Hooning complete, I traded knee pucks for armored denim and the S model in white for the base bike in Ducati red. Soon I was bombing along straight and narrow two-lane Spanish blacktop at freeway speeds—genuine sport-touring country, and the SuperSport felt right at home. Adjusting the windshield up took the windblast from the bottom of my ribcage to the middle of my sternum. At 6-foot-2 I was found myself pretty satisfied considering the SuperSport’s sleek and skimpy screen.

Leaning right on the Ducati SuperSport
Ducati imagines this as the SuperSport’s natural weekend habitat—an escape to twisty roads after a week of commuting through the city. It’s excellent on roads like this.Photo: Milagro
2017 Ducati SuperSport windscreens
The two stages of SuperSport wind protection. Notice the trouble Ducati went through to have no visible mechanism. You simply pull up or push down on the screen and it moves.Animated GIF: Brody Cox

The road twisted up in the foothills and a dropped the windshield into attack position. I had meant to switch the ride mode from Sport to Touring, but the fueling was so smooth that I forgot. When I remembered, I found that I liked Touring mode the best (as I do with most Ducatis)—it’s perfectly linear with excellent response and all of the power when you want it. I tried Urban, too, incidentally. Maybe it was because I was in the country but I didn’t like having less than all of the power. This isn’t a superbike, remember? Plus, Touring is just that good.

Ducati SuperSport turn signal
Details like the front turn signals being integrated into the mirrors allowed Ducati to make the 2017 SuperSport’s bodywork very clean and sleek.Photo: Milagro

On harsh and bumpy sections of road I felt like I missed the more precise damping of the Öhlins suspension from the S that I rode on the track. But honestly, the basic suspension did just fine. The only thing I found myself worried about is what it would feel like with a passenger and two full panniers (44 liters total, a factory option). I think the shock might start to feel pretty soggy. I won’t speculate any further—you’ll cross that bridge when you get to it, right? Mostly, the pavement in the twisties was excellent, and the faster the lefts and rights came at me the more the SuperSport proved its name. Ducati says this bike tips the scales at 463 pounds, but it feels and acts lighter than that. It’s a treat to ride, especially if your goals in motorcycling align with Ducati’s concept with this bike.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It’s all about context. The SuperSport might be heavier than, say, a 1299 Panigale or a Yamaha R1. But it’s also lighter than a Kawasaki Ninja 1000, Honda VFR800, or Suzuki GSX-S1000F, which are more in line with the SuperSport’s intentions. Ducati’s aim was to make a bike that fit in between, and in design the Italians have succeeded. The SuperSport has been made to be “visually light,” and when you flick it through a set of corners you’ll swear it has helium in the tank.

2017 Ducati SuperSport wheel and exhaust
Could this be any bike but a Ducati? Simple twin pipes, a single-sided swingarm, and available Öhlins suspension are present on the 2017 SuperSport, just like they are on most Ducatis.Photo: Milagro

For a 2017 SuperSport from Ducati you will pay no fewer than $12,995 American dollars. That’s for a base bike. The S version (with Öhlins, quickshifter, and seat cowl, mind you) will be $14,795 in red and $14,995 in white silk. There’s also a Sport pack (including carbon bits, LED blinkers, an Akrapovič pipe, and more), a Touring pack (panniers, heated grips, and a smoke windscreen), and an Urban pack (with rubber footpeg inserts, a magnetic tank bag, and an alarm). Pricing is TBD for the Touring pack with bags, but the Sport pack will cost $969 and the Urban pack $569.

2017 Ducati dash
Up close on the SuperSport’s dash. Note the icons for Bluttooth, headsets, and phones. The 2017 SuperSport’s dash is “multimedia ready,” meaning Ducati’s tech-connective software can be plugged in and used.Photo: Milagro

So, this all gets back to Giuseppe Caprara’s so-called, “gamble.” Is there room in the market for a $13-$15,000 sportbike that isn’t a superbike and isn’t a sport-tourer? There are surely aging Ducati fans weary of superbike ergonomics but feel too young at heart for a touring bike. And Ducati thinks that there are sprightly newcomers who want Panigale looks without the terror of 160hp. Makes sense. I, for one, hope the SuperSport is a success. It’s a stately and venerable concept that deserves to be alive and well.

2017 Ducati SuperSport panniers
An example of the 22-liter pannier available on the 2017 SuperSport. Ducati classifies them as “semi-rigid,” and they come in the Touring pack, along with heated grips and a smoke windscreen.Photo: Milagro

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
Not an evolution, despite the name. A new bike, comprised of a Hypermotard 939 engine, Monster 1200 frame, and Panigale-shaped bodywork.
TECH
PRICE $12,995 ($14,795 for S)
ENGINE 90-degree, liquid-cooled V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIV(E 6-speed, chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 113 hp @ 9,000 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 71.3 lb.-ft. @ 6,500 rpm
FRAME Steel trellis, with engine as stressed member
FRONT SUSPENSION Marzocchi 43mm fork, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping (Ohlins 48mm on S); 5.1-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shock, adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping (Ohlins shock, fully adjustable, on S); 5.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo M4.32 calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 24°/3.6 in.
WHEELBASE 58.2 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 31.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.2 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 463 lb.
AVAILABLE Spring 2017
CONTACT ducatiusa.com
VERDICT
Splits the difference between superbike and sport-tourer, true to the Ducati name.