2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950 Takes Manhattan

Realism and escapism in the capital of the world.

2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950 on the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Brooklyn Bridge.Peter Domorak

On the Palisades Interstate Parkway, 30 miles north of the city, I cross over the Appalachian Trail. The road is surrounded by dense woods on either side, and if I didn’t know any better, I could be in rural Virginia. Then, two and a half miles from the George Washington Bridge, I catch a glimpse of it: New York City.

It’s odd to come across it so unceremoniously, this thing almost too legend to be real. It’d be like sneaking up on Marilyn Monroe eating a hot dog, blushing from having spilled mustard on her blouse: a human moment for a being practically fictionalized by her own iconicism. To see it gem-like across the river, the city may as well be its own facsimile, a tourist’s pewter trinket forever romanticized in monochrome miniature. But before I know it, the GW deposits me in the real place: an exploded view of chaos and noise, reeking of sewage; at once holy and depraved, majestic and dismal. And on this July day, as hot as a pizza oven.

Ducati Hypermotard and motorcyclist riding on bridge in New York City.
Ducati claims 80 percent of the claimed 71 pound-feet of torque is available at 3,000 rpm. That certainly feels like the case.Peter Domorak

On a motorcycle, you're vulnerable, self-consciously insignificant. And yet, in a sea of taxis and tour buses and Mercedes with bumper guards and dinged cop cars, I'm behind the controls of a motorcycle that commands attention. I'm on a 2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950 and I feel invincible. In a city that devours strangers and desensitizes its denizens to pretty much everything, the Hypermotard is making people do double takes. They snap photos with their phones, and I give them an obliging rev. The exhaust responds in the brusque and lustful note of a desmo twin in full possession of itself.

Ducati Hypermotard rides on street.
For 2019, Ducati completely overhauled the legendary hooligan, hot-rodding the motor by upping compression, massaging the chassis, improving the ergonomics, updating the electronics, replacing the Magneti Marelli ride-by-wire system with a Continental unit that refines throttle response, and giving the Hypermotard a modern take on styling reminiscent of the loony original. I’m on the base model, which doesn’t have the taller Öhlins suspension, flash paint job, rear ABS slide control, or quickshifter, but at $13,295, I’m not really missing any of it.Peter Domorak

Never mind harsh winters, expensive parking, the fear of theft, and the glaring illegality of lane-splitting—the Hypermotard seems made for New York.

I’m riding with my new friend, photographer Peter Domorak (@peterdomorak), a Slovak expat who’s unafraid to point his lens at any leery cop, or hold his camera to his face with his throttle hand while dodging potholes on the Brooklyn Bridge. Following him through the city he’s called home for a decade and a half, I’m immediately comfortable on the new Hyper.

Ducati Hypermotard on road.
Like most attributes of the Hypermotard, its ergos are more SuperMotard-inspired than strictly supermoto. Ducati pinched its waist, effectively shaving 2 inches off the seat height, so the balls of my feet both hit the ground.Peter Domorak
Ducati Hypermotard on road in between cars.
The seat slopes gently to the top of the tank and allows me to get my weight right over the bars, which are a bit lower and closer than what you’d find on an ADV bike.Peter Domorak

Peter and I are chasing vignettes of New York to put the 950 right in the middle of. It's go, go, go from the moment I start the engine and hear it breathe through the twin underseat exhaust. The Village, the Bowery, Brooklyn, tiny cobbled alleys, the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens expressway)—the Hypermotard doesn't miss a beat. On wrecked pavement swarming with people, I rarely get the Hyper into second gear. I flip it in Urban mode to smooth out the throttle response. The slipper-assist clutch and the hydraulic basin at the lever mean clutch feel is light, and my fingers don't get worn out until hours later.

The Hypermotard’s in-command ergos and torquey powerplant make riding under 30 mph enjoyable in a way few bikes could. I blip the throttle to hear it echo between buildings. I jam on the binders as late as I can at intersections and feel the front-end dive, pushing the 17-inch Pirelli into the pavement. Turning onto side streets, I want to stick my foot out and push the bars down low. The tall suspension begs me to hop curbs. This city is becoming the Hyper’s playground.

Ducati Hypermotard riding on road.
Caution: Hypermotard on the loose.Peter Domorak

It’s already late afternoon and my day in the city is coming to a close. Peter and I end our ride at Barrio Chino, a hip Mexican joint in the Bowery that has a killer steak torta. The place looks like an Instagram photo. Here I am eating a sandwich originating from the French occupation of Mexico, and watching the Women’s World Cup on the television with my Slovakian friend. I’ve got beef jus dripping down my arm and the bartender is stingy with the napkins. The restaurant’s graffiti-covered bathroom is dimly lit and the toilet seat falls off in my hand. Little neighborhood outposts like this one are what give New York its identity.

Ducati Hypermotard riding on Brooklyn Bridge beside car.
Riding on the Brooklyn Bridge. Marzocchi fork and a Sachs rear shock handle the rough pavement with aplomb.Peter Domorak

For all its pretense of being the capital of the world, New York portions out views into little digestible blocks. If in the country, you can lose the forest for the trees, in the city you can lose the world for your neighborhood. Stare at its spectral gaze for too long and it’s easy to become hypnotized and slide into myopia out of sheer self-preservation. There’s too much reality to comprehend. Which means running toward the bucolic embrace of the Hudson Valley or the Catskills is a must. Or in my case, my home in the Finger Lakes, a couple hundred miles west.

2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950 in front of brick building.
Red brick. Red bike. Among the numerous updates, the 950 gets magnesium valve covers.Peter Domorak

Depending on the avenue of escape, getting out of the city is far simpler than fighting endless miles of gridlock through LA sprawl—the silver lining of being able to expand in only one direction: up.

On my left, there are towering buildings, but I’m riding on the FDR, beyond the borders of their shadows. It’s 90-plus degrees and I’m wearing a non-perforated airbag jacket. The Hyper’s fuel light is on and traffic is stopped. After hours and hours of slow city riding, my clutch hand is starting to seize up and my throttle hand is getting itchy. The Hyper’s California dealer plates are peer pressure—I check my law-abiding tendencies and guilty conscience and start barging my way through traffic. What I’m doing is less like lane sharing and more like lane stealing, taking gaps that may not exist on other bikes.

By the time I cross the George Washington Bridge and return to the serenity of the Palisades Parkway, the Hyper is running on fumes and I’m in the red zone of dehydration. Practically before I can get up to top gear off the exit ramp, there’s a gas station on the side of the road. Replenishment at last.

2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950 in front of graffitied wall.
The 950 gets a new TFT display from the Panigale V4. It’s easy to read and the user interface is as intuitive as they come.Peter Domorak

Amazingly, for a bike that seems made to tear up city streets, the Hyper is even better on open roads. Highway cruising? More comfortable than any race-rep sportbike. Back-road blasting? More fun than, well, pretty much anything. The perfect city bike has to be just as handy at escaping the city as it does dodging potholes.

There’s nothing anonymous about New York City. It’s not America’s Paris or a roid-raging version of some small US town; it’s the nearly unfettered expression of America itself. Likewise, the Hypermotard is like no other, an emblem of Ducati’s performance heritage freed of the shackles of racing regulations, clip-ons, and cooler heads. More than most machines, it gets to the heart of why we ride: because it’s more fun than anything else you’re likely to sample—even in the capital of the world, where every possibility is laid out before you, ready to be pawed like a skyline trinket from a gift shop window display.

Gear Box

2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950 on road in front of New York City.
On a Ducati in New York, I don’t know whether to be humming “Rhapsody in Blue” in my helmet or “La Traviata.”Peter Domorak