Ducati's sequel? The Hypermotard 796, which boasts a smaller engine, lighter weight, and an awfully tempting $9,995 MSRP. How does it compare to the 1100, and does it pack enough of a wallop to satisfy speed-hungry riders? We tested the bike in winding mountain roads near Bologna, Italy to find out.
The Goods: Carefully Managed Downsizing
The weight loss is split evenly between the engine and chassis, which features 43 mm Marzocchi forks (lacking the 1100's adjustability), a rear trellis frame section that’s switched from forged components to precision machined parts, and various trimmed down bits including a new wiring harness. The mill is mated to an APTC wet clutch with a “slipper” function which interfaces with a six-speed transmission .
The new Hypermotard is also more user-friendly, thanks to a lower seat that now measures 32.5 inches. The 796 features the same 4-piston, radially-mounted front and 2-piston rear Brembo brakes, single-sided swingarm, and underseat-style exhaust layout as the 1100, as well as the model's signature handguard and flip-out mirrors.
Swing a Leg Over: Lower Seat, Cleaner Views
The cockpit view of the Hypermotard 796 has been cleaned up; instead of the unsightly master cylinder fluids seen from the Hypermotard 1100's saddle, the 796 boasts elegantly integrated black master cylinders mounted to a handlebar which is now tubular (compared to the 1100's tapered bar.) A small, orange backlit MotoGP-style instrument panel offers digital rpm, speed, and trip computer info, as well as the ability to memorize lap times.
While major ergonomic measurements are essentially the same as the 1100, the 796's lower seat height imbues it with more confidence-inspiring compactness. It still demands tippy-toes from shorter riders, but the lowered saddle is more reassuring, even if some comfort is compromised due to the reduced padding. Incidentally, an aftermarket "comfort seat" will be available for the 796.
A relatively upright riding position makes the Hypermotard well suited for urban traffic, and the bike's hand and foot controls are positioned naturally and comfortably-- though the lack of a windscreen makes the Hypermotard a less likely candidate for long distance rides.
On the Road: Slight but Sure-Footed
Setting our sites on the Bolognese countryside, we flipped the kickstand up and immediately took note that the 796 feels remarkably light on its feet. The clutch operates with minimal effort, though the shifter is a touch notchy going into first. Thrust produced by twisting the right grip is considerable; it may not summon the absolute torque of the Hypermotard 1100, but the 796's combination of a broad powerband, light weight, and shorter gears makes it feel exceedingly fleet. Upshift early and you get none of the driveline chatter of the 1100, and all is forgotten with a slight slip of the clutch, which encourages the L-twin to accumulate momentum. The engine pulls strongly and the fuel mapping and power delivery are completely devoid of surprises-- except when rev limiter cuts in abruptly at 8,500 rpm.
Turns are even more entertaining on the 796; simply shift the bike's weight and lean with light handlebar effort, and the whole motorcycle becomes intuitively obedient to your input. Though the 43 mm Marzocchi forks dive somewhat during aggressive front braking, a touch of rear brake tames much of that tendency. Stopping power is formidable (thanks to those 1100-spec Brembos), and despite the absence of a hard-edged suspension setup, the Hypermotard 796 hauls itself across tight hairpins with confidence.
The Bottom Line: More Fun Than the Big Motor Hypermotard and Cheaper, Too!
Does it have faults? Maybe I'm nitpicking, but the 796's seating position is more forward-oriented than some might like, and its gearbox could be smoother (though that might be a result of our test bike's low mileage.) The gas light also came on just before the 100 mile mark, due to the tiny 3.3 gallon fuel tank... incidentally, Ducati enthusiasts swear by an aftermarket 6.4 gallon fuel tank manufactured by California Cycleworks, which will set you back $799.
But my overwhelmingly favorable impressions of the 2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796 reminded me that I also preferred the Monster 696 to the bigger (and arguably badder) Monster 1100. Going back to the assumption that "more is more," a large-engined bike might look better on paper if you value straight-line speed over handling. But great things happen when weight is shed and refinements are made; executed properly, simplification yields heightened riding enjoyment with the added benefit of cost savings. And for that reason alone, Ducati's Hypermotard 796 proves itself a winner through and through.