2010 Aprilia Dorsoduro 750 Vs. Ducati Hypermotard 796 - Motorcycle.com

Pete Brissette
by Pete Brissette

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What’s a modern supermotard supposed to look and act like these days?

The supermoto era began with converted motocross bikes. Suspension is reworked with decreased travel for improved handling on pavement and less dive under braking. Large-diameter dirtbike wheels are swapped out for 17-inchers that allow a broad range of sportbike rubber to choose from. And the front brake is upgraded with a brawnier set-up that includes a larger rotor to handle deceleration from higher speeds.

Wham-o! That’s it in a flash. From high-flying motocrosser to a pavement eating … er, high-flyer, too, if the rider so wishes. A converted MXer is a riot on a canyon road, but it’s incredibly ill-suited to the freeway drones on the way to the twisties.

A pair of dorks aboard a pair of what we’re calling urbanmotards. Are the Aprilia Dorsoduro 750 and Ducati Hypermotard 796 part of the new face of urban supermotoing? We were eager to find out.

More recently, however, manufacturers have issued supermoto hybrids of sorts (no, not the eco-friendly kind of hybrid… blech!). They’re primarily streetbikes powered by a Single or a Twin, but lack the lengthy suspension travel of a motocrosser or a motocrosser’s bare-bones style.

These bikes maintain much of the aggressive dirtbike-gone-street-evil look along with a supermoto’s upright, assertive riding stance that provides good steering leverage. But engine power and smoothness is in a totally different league.

Sticking a foot out supermoto style is easy and feels natural on the Dorso or Hyper.

Supermoto-type looks are joined to the comfort and conveniences often associated with streetbikes, like dual front brakes, full instrumentation and a wide, cozy saddle when compared to the narrow plank of a seat most dirtbike/supermotards employ.

Although a number of manufacturer’s started surfing this street-biased motard wave a few years ago – like BMW’s short-lived G650 XMoto in ’07 and Megamoto in ’08 – perhaps the most recognizable of this new motard breed was, and still is, Ducati’s Hypermotard 1100.

The funky Italian debuted as a concept bike at the 2005 EICMA show; fervor for the thing was undeniable.

The Hyper officially joined Ducati’s lineup as a 2007 model for Europe, and then stateside in 2008. An up-spec S model was also available, boasting Öhlins suspension, Marchesini forged aluminum wheels, Brembo monobloc brakes from the 1098 Superbike, and various carbon fiber pieces.

The Hypermotard’s success seems to have ensured the continued presence of “hyper” or “mega” motard-style bikes in the market today. As evidence we only have to look as far back as the end of last year.

Where it all started for Ducati’s Hypermotard line. This pic is so awesome I’m gonna find a way to use it in every story possible. Just wait, look for it in a cruiser shootout or something…

In October 2009 Ducati launched its all-new Hypermotard 796, a smaller displacement Hyper that looked virtually identical to the 1100. And then in December Ducati gave the big Hypermotard its first major revision in the form of the all-new 2010 1100 Evo, and Evo SP as the high-end version.

But Ducati wasn’t the only firm interested in the motard-for-the-street style when it first launched the Hyper.

In 2008 Aprilia unveiled its Dorsoduro, a supermoto-styled sportbike sharing its 750cc, 90-degree V-Twin with the SL750 Shiver naked bike. Aprilia, one of Ducati’s chief rivals, was no stranger to successful supermotarding.

With a world title in 2006 in the FIM S2 class via the company’s twin-cylinder SXV 4.5, and a near miss for the title in 2008, along with numerous individual victories over the years, Aprilia was as qualified as any company to build a street-oriented motard.

Though we’ve banked individual reviews of the Dorso and 796, the arrival of the 796 to market earlier this year finally created a class-appropriate contender for the Dorso.

Either of these mid-weight hooligans are capable of law-breaking antics. Kevin demonstrates such on the Dorso, a wheelie machine if ever there was one. That goes for Kevin, too.

Urbanmotard smackdown!

The first surprise ‘tween this unruly pair comes from the engine room.

Ride the Aprilia before saddling up to the Duc, and you’ll likely start presupposing the Dorso’s liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, DOHC, 750cc 90-degree Vee is the more powerful of the two. It revs quickly and accelerates aggressively, especially so when in the Sport engine map.

Fueling is instantaneous and can even seem abrupt at times when reapplying throttle. However, switching over to Tour mode softens initial throttle response without sacrificing peak horsepower. And the funky (dare we say not unattractive) underseat exhaust makes a cool burble and pop on the overrun after shutting the throttle.

The Duc’s 90-degree L-Twin, though updated for use in the 796, uses somewhat dated tech by comparison.

Its air-cooled, two-valve with Desmodromic valve actuation looks more attractive, in a mechanical sort of way, hanging out in the breeze than does the Aprilia’s liquid-cooled engine and accompanying radiator. But just knowing the Dorso is a more modern configuration might bias a rider into thinking the little Hyper can’t hang.


Despite its name, the 796 actually displaces 803cc (802.9cc). Still, the Dorso is a modern liquid-cooled four-valver, right?

Ride the bikes back-to-back and the feeling (stress feeling) is still that the Aprilia is more powerful. Yet, a couple of unscientific roll-on drag races from about 10 mph got a big Whoa! out of us when the Aprilia simply couldn’t dispatch the Duc.

Each time Kevin and I got clean starts, the bikes essentially ran side-by-side; and if the Ducati rider got the holeshot, the 796 was able to remain out front by at least a nose or even half a bike length.

Part of what surprised us about the Hyper’s deceptively strong engine performance was its generally friendlier and forgiving character.

Unlike the Aprilia’s rev-happy and snappy Twin, the Ducati’s mill by contrast accelerates in a much more linear, smoother pattern. Kevin said the Duc’s fueling felt more “natural” compared to the Aprilia’s “digital-feeling” throttle.

Throttle response (above 2K-ish rpm) on the Ducati feels softer than on the Aprilia, yet the 796’s fueling is precise.

Our feelings and drag racing aside, the dyno would tell the true tale.

“Somebody, quick! Look over here and make me feel validated! Please?!”

With just under 77 hp at 9200 rpm, the Aprilia out-pulls the Ducati’s nearly 73 ponies at 8400 rpm, but… big deal!

The Hypermotard 796 out pulls the Dorso from just off the bottom all the way to near peak with a small dip in the upper 7K-rpm range from which it recovers quickly. The torque spread is even closer, but in this race the Hyper won by 3 ft-lbs. Not bad for a less-advanced engine design.

Ducati graced the little Hyper with its APTC back-torque limiting clutch, where the Aprilia has only a standard clutch, something Kevin said “can result in rear-wheel hopping during sloppy downshifts.”

Also nice is the 796’s surprisingly light-effort clutch action. However, the clutch engages near the end of lever travel requiring an extra bit of finesse when metering clutch and throttle to, say, tip-toe through a U-turn or ease away smoothly from a stop. The Duc’s gearbox was noticeably stickier at slower speeds; it took some of the shine off of what is an otherwise friendly and enjoyable engine.

Gobbling up corners is the 796’s forte. Good grip from Bridgestone BT015 tires and light, responsive handling encourage the Hyper’s rider to go confidently and deeply into a turn.

Flipping the page over to handling traits we find more surprises.

Both machines utilize a 43mm inverted fork, but the Dorso’s benefits from spring preload and rebound damping (in one leg only) adjustments, while the Duc offers no ability to externally tweak fork performance. Rear suspension is more closely matched, with each bike’s shock providing for spring preload and rebound damping adjustments.

Of note is the Duc’s use of progressive linkage to connect the shock to the sexy single-sided swingarm, while the Aprilia uses a side-mounted link-less connection between the shock and swingarm.

The Dorsoduro’s Aprilia-branded four-piston, radial-mount brakes and wave-style rotors provided just as much power but a better level of feel than the Hyper’s Brembo brakes.

Bikes we’ve ridden in the past – like Aprilia’s Shiver – that use this link-less setup generally don’t provide a sophisticated feel as one that uses a linkage. But we rated the Dorso’s suspension performance superior to the Shiver’s.

The Hyper supplies a forgiving, comfortable ride in most circumstances, but when attacking corners or slicing and dicing with riding buddies, the 796’s soft suspension reveals some sporting limitations.

There’s lots of chassis pitching under braking, and feel at the front is sometimes vague, especially when riding over rough, uneven pavement. But when the going is smooth the 796 provides a planted, confident-feeling front, no doubt aided by the grippy Bridgestone Battlax BT015 tire(s) fitted to our test unit.

Initial turn-in as well as steering response on the Ducati is low effort.

The Hyper’s sportier rake angle (24 vs. 26 degrees), 1.9-inch shorter wheelbase (57.3 vs. 59.2”) and considerably lighter dry weight of 366 lbs compared to the Dorso’s 410-pound dry weight, make hustling the 796 through rapid-fire corner transitions a breeze.

Slim LED turn signals integrated into hand guards and folding bar-end mirrors are a carryover from the 796’s bigger brother, the Hypermotard 1100.

The Aprilia’s handling and suspension are more welcoming of fast, aggressive riding.

Its front end has tighter compression damping than the Duc, and for the most part the Dorsoduro is more stable and surefooted. And while a sticky set of Pirelli’s Diablo Corsa III tires lend to the Aprilia’s great front-end feedback, it doesn’t flick side to side quite as easily as the 796.

No matter the Aprilia model we’ve ridden the past couple years, the company almost always seems to get braking right.

The Aprilia-branded four-piston, radial-mount front calipers and pair of 320mm wave-style rotors on the Dorsoduro make for an excellent brake package with plenty of stopping force and good sensitivity. The 796’s Brembo brake package also offers more than adequate power, but lacks the ultimate feel we noticed from the Dorso. It’s a small issue, but with such a tit-for-tat battle here, it was noteworthy.

The Duc’s lower seat height courtesy of shorter rear suspension travel makes this lil’ Hyper attractive for those of us with modest inseam lengths. The 796’s aggressive, Hypermotard 1100-like looks means it doesn’t have much in the way of wind protection.

Ergonomics continue the back and forth, one-does-this-better-or-different-than-the-other-bike-does theme we’ve got going on here.

Although the bikes share essentially the same amount of front suspension travel (6.3 and 6.5”), the 796 has less (5.5 vs. 6.3”) rear travel. The result is a flat-footing 32.5-inch seat height for the Duc, a solid 1.75 inches less than the Aprilia.

On the other hand, the Ducati doesn’t offer the same degree of wind protection as the Priller does with its nominal but effective flyscreen.

Also up front and worth mentioning is each bike’s instrument package.

Although the 796 runs with a high-tech, MotoGP-inspired, all-LCD panel like its sportier Ducati siblings, we preferred the Aprilia’s analog tach/LCD combo. It’s easier to read at a glance, and unlike most Ducs, has a redline indicator. (What is it with Ducati never indicating redline?)

Both machines portend some tie to the dirt world by using hand guards, but on the Ducati the guards house slim and discrete LED turn indicators. And if you’re familiar with the Hypermotard 1100, then you know that part of its distinctive look is its folding bar-end mirrors.

The 796 has the same convenient/annoying set of mirrors.

Kevin was a little absent-minded one day, but honest, too, when he admitted he’d whacked those bar-end mirrors a time or two. “Ordering the accessory stalks would be mandatory for California lane-splitting use,” he said sheepishly.

"...the Ducati doesn’t offer the same degree of wind protection as the Priller does"

The Aprilia’s hand guards, are, well, just guards; but its traditional mirrors offered a good, relatively vibe-free rearward view, even if they are more pedestrian than what the Duc has.

Don’t bet on a 3rd round knockout!

Oft times we anticipate readers’ yearn for a definitive, clear-cut call from the judges when a pair – or more! – of two-wheelers grace the e-pages MO.

Trust us, we wish the task of picking were so obvious; it’d make our jobs infinitely easier.

Surveying one of the many canyons we just carved on the Dorso and 796.

With this pair, however, just like the contemporary crop of supersports, literbikes, and even cruisers of various displacements, OEMs have stepped up and tightened the race so well that, like numerous comparos nowadays, we refer to many of them internally here as “six of one, half-dozen of another” tests.

The Duc, though we wouldn’t go so far as to dub it a “beginner’s bike,” is nevertheless remarkably accommodating for a motorcycle that looks gnarly and stems from a more powerful, almost antagonistic Ducati.

The 796 sacrifices ultimate handling prowess in exchange for a more comfortable, forgiving ride quality complemented by a seat height most riders under 6-foot will welcome. Effort at the hydraulically actuated clutch is notably light, and engine power delivery is not only smooth and linear, but is superior ‘til just near the end.

With so many good qualities in each bike, the battle for the lead seemed in constant state of flux.

And as important as anything, the Hypermotard 796 looks as unapologetic as the Hypermotard 1100.

Aprilia’s Dorsoduro 750 rewards an experienced and/or assertive rider with an urbanmotard machine that’ll stay on track through the arc of a turn almost irrespective of road surface condition.

It brings adjustability to front suspension – something we’d expect from any bike hinting at supermoto lineage – as well as generally better suspension performance. The Dorso’s brakes are perfectly matched to the bike’s weight and snappy power delivery.

The Aprilia’s ass end isn’t as comely as the Ducati’s, but neither is the Duc’s note as raspy and racy as the Dorso’s.

On the surface, the Aprilia’s liquid-cooled, four-valve Twin, along with rider-selectable engine mapping, may give the impression it’s the better value of the two motorcycles, especially when considering the Dorso’s $9,599 tag is $396 less than the Ducati’s MSRP.

Whether bopping through urbanscapes, or seeking out twisted mountain roads, the Dorsoduro 750 and Hypermotard 796 are at home in either environment.

Yep, you might think that when remembering the 796 “only” has an air-cooled two-valve. But as the dyno showed, the Duc has as strong or stronger a mill than the new-fangled Dorso.

And just like the pro/con argument that this two-way brawl is, Kevin and I each found our own reasons to each pick a favorite.

Call these motorcycles what you want: megamotos, urbanmotards or just MOtards. As for us, we’re calling them both winners for the right riders.


Related Reading
2008 Aprilia Dorsoduro Review
2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796 Review
2010 Ducati Hypermotard 1100 Evo Review
All Things Aprilia on Motorcycle.com
All Things Ducati on Motorcycle.com

Pete Brissette
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