Sportbike or Sporty-bike? We Ride Ducati’s SuperSport S

By Fish, with Surj Gish
Photography: Angelica Rubalcaba
Rider: Fish

“Ducati” is a polarizing name here at CityBike World Headquarters. Editor Surj tends to emphasize the tiny coffee cups and bike night lifestyle of Ducatisti brand loyalists, An rides one of the most intelligently modified SportClassics I’ve ever laid eyes on, and Max has an older SuperSport in his garage (like Surj used to).

Like Harley-Davidson, Ducati has long been more than a motorcycle manufacturer—it’s a lifestyle brand, and lifestyle brands are complicated things.

The benefits of a dedicated fanbase are numerous, but there’s a huge risk when deviating from the formula that built the following. This is where I give credit to Ducati for introducing and cultivating the Scrambler line.

I’m not here to talk about the Scrambler today, though. We recently spent a few days with the SuperSport (no space!) S, a bike Ducati built for those eager to ride sports-style on everyday roads.

The SuperSport S is quintessentially Ducati. Built around a 937cc liquid-cooled V-Twin, the SuperSport S and its non-S (still no space!) base-model brother features a beautiful steel trellis frame—red, of course—attached to the DOHC cylinder heads. Artfully crafted fairings wrap the front half but leave enough of the engine exposed to remind onlookers that this is not “just” a sportbike.

Despite its relatively reasonable base MSRP of $12,995—the S we tested runs a more precious $15,195—the SuperSport looks and feels exotic in both trims, as you would expect from a Ducati. The S version adds premium suspension, Ducati’s up/down quick-shifter, and a color-coordinated pillion seat cover.

It’s quite obvious to me that this is the bike Ducati built to make sure the purists never forget what Ducati is all about.

What is Ducati all about? Bikes that are more than the numbers. While novelties like noisy clutches and frequent maintenance have (mostly) gone by the wayside, Ducati has continued to set the standard for modern V-Twins. With 200 HP sportbikes readily available, a 110-horse “sporty bike that brings energy and sport emotion everywhere, from weekend to everyday roads” sportbike seems slow and almost quaint on paper, but I don’t have much use for paper these days.

Offering 69 lb-ft of torque, with 80% of that available at 3,000 rpm, the SuperSport S isn’t a high-strung, barely-street-legal race machine, it’s a real-world sportbike. To say that the engine made an impression on me is putting it mildly.

Holding that engine up is nothing less than the finest Swedish boingers. Where the standard SuperSport comes equipped with fully adjustable 43mm Marzocchi units, letting go of an extra $2,200 for the S model gets you a bike sporting (SuperSporting) Öhlins 48mm titanium nitride-coated tubes up front and an Öhlins shock out back.

Öhlins is still the top name in suspension for a reason. The massive fork translates every single bit of information from the front tire directly to the clip-on bars. This is another instance where paper and reality part ways. That information is certainly useful when the road surface is reasonable and the pace is high. The dark side is that the track-ready suspension is simply not up to the task of the dealing with the “unsophisticated” twisty roads that are prevalent in so much of the Bay Area.

As a result, I found myself really at odds with the front suspension. More than once the bumps and ruts simply overwhelmed the bike and I found myself fighting to keep the bike on the road, never mind enjoying the ride.

The other side of that coin comes into play on smoother roads with higher-speed sweeping switchbacks: it’s in that environment that the SuperSport S illustrates what can only be described as gloriously telepathic handling.

The rear of the SuperSport is a little less bipolar. The aluminum single-sided swingarm is controlled by a rebound and preload-adjustable Öhlins shock (the standard model employs a Sachs shock, also fully adjustable). The rear of the bike feels planted and is capable of being the anchor when the front is overwhelmed.

Judicious throttle application on corner exit results in drama-free thrust that plants your body firmly against the rear ridge of the seat. It’s the kind of raw, visceral experience that’s almost exclusive to big-bore V-Twin bikes, and the ability to take advantage of that is something that can only be credited to the geometry and setup out back.

Aiding and abetting that fun is the SuperSport’s comprehensive electronics package. Bosch-supplied ABS with three mappings covers the whoa side, while Ducati’s proprietary eight-level traction control manages the go. In this era of rapidly advancing ride-by-wire and engine management systems, the traction control integration achieves a high standard: it’s absolutely seamless. I had to intentionally apply throttle in gravel to convince the system to intervene in an obviously perceptible way. Even then, my forward motion was not interrupted.

That said, Ducati has some explaining to do in regards to the interface. The bike comes with three modes ( Sport, Touring, and Urban) that have pre-programmed TC and ABS settings, in addition to selected throttle curves and a horsepower cut for urban use.

The upside is that mode selection is simple, can be done on the fly, and provides settings that are spot on. The downside is that personalizing or disabling the ABS, TC, or anti-wheel lift features individually bears an eerie similarity to entering cheat codes on a vintage video game console. As a result, this may be the first bike in my CityBike career that spent more time with the electronics engaged than not.

About those modes… let’s be honest here: Sport mode really is what this bike is all about. It’s the SuperSport, after all. Quick throttle response, minimal ABS intervention, effective and useful traction control. The auto-blip and quick-shifter are just icing on the cake.

While drag racing may not be this bike’s focus, Sport mode resulted in one of my all-time most memorable Bay Bridge metering light launches.

If you’re not looking for brutal launches and relatively little intervention at the rear wheel, Touring mode is for you. I liken it to what I imagine Max wants from every motorcycle. Throttle response is crisp, but not brutal. The electronics intervene long before things are really going badly. There’s still a quick-shifter and auto blip, but the whole bike is softened.

Then there’s Urban mode. Power is cut from 110 HP down to 75 HP and the traction control cuts power when there’s a loose surface anywhere in the zip code you’re riding in. But what stands out about Urban mode is the still-refined ABS function: rear intervention is quicker, but by no means choppy or invasive. The system proves again why Bosch’s tech is tops.

While the Bosch ABS is really fantastic, brakes are ultimately limited by hardware. This being a Ducati, top shelf Brembo components are par per il corso. Dual 320mm rotors and radially mounted Monobloc four-piston calipers aren’t exclusive to the SuperSport S, but Ducati’s flavor of engineered feel is. “Two finger” braking is something of a cliche, but Ducati is still the top of the mark when it comes to fingertip-effort brakes that offer such perfect feedback and feel.

The 245mm rear disc is also squeezed by a Brembo, a two-piston caliper. As a heavy rear brake user, I really appreciate the low effort and high feedback afforded to me by the SuperSport S.

My favorite Ducati salesperson told me that the SuperSport is considered a touring bike by some of the staff and customers at his store. As refined as the SuperSport S is, it’s still a sportbike. Sure, if you just unfolded yourself off of a Panigale, the SuperSport does indeed provide an almost relaxed cockpit. But that’s like describing a Motel 6 as luxurious compared to a prison.

Sometimes only race position will do, and SuperSport’s riding position qualifies for something like “race position light.” The bike feels right at home on the smoother sections of Highway 1, blurring the ocean scenery, making you feel as though your body is another well-integrated component of the bike.

But for me, getting to Highway 1 resulted in much stretching and awkwardly extending limbs one at a time to stimulate blood flow back into my recently unfurled extremities. I’m willing to accept that a reasonable gym regimen and a diet might change the way my body interacts with bikes like this, but until I find some magical desire to do so, I’ll stick to my tall-rounders.

So it all comes back to lifestyle. First and foremost, this is a lifestyle bike. Just like owning a Harley, moving a Bologna bike into your garage (or living room) is about being a Ducati owner first, and a rider second.

That said, if you want to do more than truck your Duc to bike nights and trackdays, this really is the sportbike you can live with. The SuperSport S (and presumably the StandardSport) doesn’t require race leathers with an aero hump to be ridden reasonably. In fact, pre-bent arms and strategic stretch panels were less enjoyable than my beloved Aerostich Cousin Jeremy while seated on SuperSport.

Believe it or not, I actually transported a passenger for an entire evening on the S. That person is not only still speaking to me, but they actually had a nice ride. Most sportbike passenger seats resemble insertables more than upholstery, and this ain’t no AstroGlide—but Ducati does indeed provide acceptable accommodations to take your partner out to dinner, and they’ll probably even ride home with you!

In the end, I’m still not sold on sportbike ownership, but the SuperSport S does shine some light on the mysterious appeal of both sportbike and Ducati ownership for me.

Fish is Founder and President of the CityBike Society for the Preservation of Front Tires. He really did enjoy the SuperSport S, even if the Ducati Safety Pack’s staunch refusal to allow wheelies or burnouts resulted in roadside tears of rage during our photoshoot.

Fish on the Ducati SuperSport S.

Surj: Alleged Ducati Hater Comes Clean

Max and I talked, and figured that since both of us have owned previous generations of Ducati SuperSports, one of us ought to weigh in on the latest iteration. Max actually rides and enjoys sportbikes, what with racing and being on the board of the AFM, so while I’m not gonna say he likes his bikes soft the way Fish did, I did worry he might be too nice.

Here’s what I mean: Max has necessarily accepted the compromises inherent in sportbikes, and might just nod his head at marketing copy like, “The SuperSport perfectly balances sport and comfort to guarantee excitement and riding pleasure.” After all, the SuperSport is way more uh… comfortable than a racebike.

Fish and I are probably gonna have to take Max out for sandwiches and a back rub or something after the shit we’ve said here. We’ll let you know how that goes. But back to the SuperSport!

…but not the new one.

I owned a mid-90s 900SS/CR, a shamefully yellow one. In my opinion, the Ducatis of that era are classically beautiful in a way that most modern Ducatis (and other motorcycles) can’t touch, with perfectly pure, seemingly simple lines. CR stands for “cut rate,” by the way—the down-spec suspension and comparably crappy components mean that the half-faired SSes are considered “inferior” by many Ducatisti, though I suspect some condemning the CR may simply be jealous of the relatively reasonable riding position.

Before I picked up our SuperSport S at Ducati’s Cupertino headquarters, I thought it looked “ok” in photos. You know how Fish said it looks and feels exotic a few paragraphs back? He held back, because he didn’t want to come off as a fanboy. The bike is gorgeous.

My Ducatisti friends will love this, because I’ve got another Harley comparison for ya: the SuperSport’s paint, despite being a simple shade of non-metallic red, looks—and even feels— thick and luxurious. It’s exquisite and ravishing, and the only other OEM that consistently achieves this level of “daaamn…” is—you guessed it—Harley-Davidson.

The lines of the bodywork are similarly impressive, but I didn’t get that part until I loaded and unloaded the bike in and out of Big Vancy a couple times. From afar, and in photos, it’s easy to write off the overall shapes with a shrug and “eh, sportbike or whatever.” But spend some up-close-and-personal time with a SuperSport, let your eyes linger a bit, and it’s hard to ignore the elegant lines and striking presence of the bike—even if its shapes are more complex than the “perfect” Ducatis of the Nineties.

But for me, that’s the end of the gushing. Almost. The Testastretta engine is awesome, delivering an engaging, grunty-but-somehow-still-smooth feel. The problem: that feeling doesn’t really get interesting until your eyeballs are pressing back into your sockets and you’re trying to figure out how to scan for The Fuzz while tucked in behind the adjustable screen—in the down position, where the mirrors are useless, because that’s sportier—and praying the brakes are as good as Fish said, because this ain’t no closed course.

To clarify: despite the SuperSport’s relatively “low” horsepower figures, it’s plenty fast. It feels good ripping toward redline, especially when you’re quickly closing in on the ton. But the problem lies in what Ducati says about the bike, how it “brings energy and sport emotion everywhere, from weekend to everyday roads.”

On my everyday roads, the bike is near-useless. Sexy as fuck, but not much fun. The S’s Öhlins suspension is killer, but it’s really sensitive—proper setup is key. I was never able to get it dialed in a way that worked with the diverse—read shitty—road conditions of the Bay Area, though Fish had some enjoyable experiences on the smoother roads out along the coast.

So even though Ducati basically says this isn’t really a sportbike, its setup in S form makes it way more enjoyable on the track, or in track-like conditions. Those aren’t conditions I encounter very often.

Am I applying unfair criteria to the SuperSport? Wouldn’t be the first—or fiftieth—time, but I don’t think so. Consider more marketing copy: “The SuperSport blends comfort with versatility thanks to solutions that make it perfect for everyday road riding – but without ever compromising its sporting spirit.”

Sure, it has an easily adjustable windscreen and you can put semi-rigid luggage on it, but in my testing the SuperSport was neither versatile nor comfortable enough for daily use—or maybe even weekly—use.

So who’s it for? Beyond the obvious devotees, I could see a SuperSport making a reasonable mount for someone who might be better served by a Monster in the day-to-day, but who prefers might-be-confused-for-a-Panigale styling, or is a competent and frequent enough track rider to make use of the more appropriate sporting riding position. Or—and I’m bracing for some indignant responses to this—someone who doesn’t ride that much and can’t quite justify (or afford) a Panigale, but wants a really good-looking sportbike.

You know, like most sportbike “riders.” Or motorcyclists.

Look: beyond the conceptual mismatch regarding comfort and versatility, the SuperSport S is legit. It rails, on the right surfaces, and looks damn good doing it. Or parked at a DOC bike night. Or in daily Instagram photos. Or in any other stereotypically Ducatisti-y scenario you can imagine.

Surj is the Editor and Jackass of All Trades here at CityBike. He sold his 900SS because as any Guzzista will tell you, Moto Guzzi motorcycles are more authentic and soulful, more truly Italian. If you like excessive swearing and weird attempts to connect early punk rock and  Canadian post-hardcore music to motorcycling, you’ll love his Uneasy Rider column.

More Ducati SuperSport S Photos

In Motion: Fish on the SuperSport S

Beauty Shots (which is kinda all of ’em, eh?)

More Details

11 Responses

  1. Cru Jones

    I really want to like this bike. I have ridden sport bikes as basically sport tourers for the past 10+ years, so the riding position to me is likely very relaxed and enjoyable on an everyday basis compared to most full-on sport bikes. The problem I have is that this bike to me is a bit like a hybrid bicycle; works well enough for most terrain, but not great at anything in particular.

    Reply
    • Surj Gish

      I’ve been thinking about your comment, Cru. One of the things we talked about a lot was how Ducati is sorta downplaying the “sportbikeyness” of this bike down, but while some won’t see it as a “real” sportbike, it is. So it’s good at sportbike stuff, for sure, especially if the pavement quality you ride on is better than the roads we mostly ride on. When I was able to open it up on fast, smooth roads, it was truly awesome.

      Someone’s gonna get pissed about this comparison (of course), but in my mind, it was like a really good late Nineties VFR, but lighter and sexier. Leaving out all the new tech stuff, of course. A gentleman’s sportbike, or something like that. 😀

      Reply
  2. Max Klein

    My takeaway from this article is that if the cast of The Grand Tour were cast in “CityBike Wrecking Crew: The Movie” James May would play me.

    I am fine with that.

    Reply

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