I’ve long maintained that riding a supermoto is one of my favorite forms of motorcycling. I’ve also maintained that I have no desire in owning one with headlights and a license plate. The reason is simple: they are one-way tickets to jail. The idea of a dirtbike – a small, nimble, light, and relatively powerful motorcycle made to jump over things – on road tires is batty. It’s an absolute riot, but it’s also batty and crazy. All this is a way to say I wouldn’t be able to control myself if one ended up in my hands. Which is why I relegate myself to riding supermoto on tracks, or when the occasional press bike comes my way.

The Breakdown

Which brings us to the Ducati Hypermotard 950 SP and KTM 690 SMC R – two very different interpretations on the supermoto-for-the-street theme. On the one hand, you have the Ducati Hypermotard. You can almost call it a caricature of a supermoto. With its trellis frame housing Ducati’s 937cc, 114 hp, Testastretta L-Twin, that’s already twice as many cylinders – and a heck of a lot more power – than a “normal” supermoto (Aprilia’s SXV 450 and 550 notwithstanding). Hell, even if you were to lop one of those cylinders off, the 468cc jug you have left is still bigger than what you’ll find on most converted dirt bikes.

Not the first thing you think of when you think of a supermotard. That’s because it’s a Hypermotard.

The top-shelf Öhlins and Brembo bits (on the SP model) wouldn’t necessarily be out of place on a traditional supermoto, but the single-sided swingarm sure is exotica. Speaking of exotica, electronic bits like a quick shifter, traction control, wheelie control, and ABS definitely qualify. In fact, the ABS even has a setting to help you slide into a corner, if you’re so inclined.

By contrast, the KTM 690 SMC R stays true to supermoto’s roots, at least compared to the Ducati. No surprise there as KTM’s a dirtbike company after all. First thing’s first – you’ve got a big ol’ thumper sitting in the middle, the way god intended. At 693cc it’s putting out a claimed 74 crank horsepower. It, too, is wrapped in a trellis frame with long-travel suspension at both ends; this one of the WP variety. The wire wheels are more inline with supermoto, but like the Ducati, the 690 SMC R’s throttle body is opened and closed electronically, which allows for techie things like traction control and different ride modes. Cornering-ABS is also part of the package, too. The purist might not call either bike a true supermoto, but I think it’s fair to say the KTM stays within the spirit.

Compared to the Ducati, when you look at the KTM 690 SMC R, it’s undeniably a motard. Maybe it’s the wire-spoke wheels. Or the long plastic front fender. Or the single-cylinder engine.

What makes the KTM really stand out between the two is its 3.6-gallon fuel tank that doubles as the rear load-bearing subframe. In theory this helps save weight by having one component serve two purposes, but it also puts a varying amount of weight in a weird location.

What We’re Doing

If these two seem like an odd pairing, they are. Other than being from the same supermoto ilk, putting one against the other doesn’t entirely make sense. The whole supermoto-for-the-street thing never really caught on here in the US, which leaves us with relatively few examples to choose from. Still, we could have thrown in the Aprilia Dorsoduro 900 or the Husqvarna 701 Supermoto (which, let’s be honest, is almost the same bike as the 690 SMC R), but that’s not the point. The Ducati and KTM (and Aprilia and Husqvarna for that matter) represent two distinctly different flavors of the same drink. So, instead of a head-to-head, think of this more as a compare-and-contrast.

The Hypermotard’s bars give you plenty of leverage to throw it wherever you want.

Johnny Burns gave us the lowdown on the Hypermotard when he attended the launch of both the Hyper and Hyper SP back in January, calling them “stupid-fun little motorcycles.” On the road, you sit so high up you have a commanding view of the road ahead, and the thing is narrow enough to easily split between cars and other traffic. Actually, you can say that about both bikes, especially since the KTM is even narrower than its Italian counterpart. If you live in a place where slicing…err…filtering between cars isn’t allowed, good luck holding back the temptation.

Both bikes can get up and move in irresponsible ways, but they go about their business very differently. With 100-plus horses and 70-odd lb-ft of torque, the Hypermotard’s two cylinders deliver a broad spread of power, perfect for its road-oriented environment. Ducati’s QuickShifter clicks easily in both directions, and you can be fairly lazy with your shifts since there’s enough torque to carry you along.

Tight roads like this are where the KTM thrives.

This is where the 690 feels more like a traditional supermoto. The Thumper gives you plenty of pop to get off the line, but its short gearing means you’re clicking through the cogs a lot more than the Ducati. This is just one clue the SMC R lives for the kart tracks and less so the open road. Another nod to the KTM’s dirt roots (actually, KTM’s origins were in street bikes, but that’s a topic for another time) is the fact the shifter is naturally placed a little high to put it in perfect position if you’re wearing MX boots. Neither motorcycle really vibrates much; not really surprising in a 90-degree V-Twin like the Ducati’s, but really surprising in the KTM. The Austrians combat the dreaded vibe in the 690 with two counterbalancers which are incredibly effective, even just humming along down the highway (pun not intended).

Of course, humming along is not what either motorcycle is meant for. No, both of these machines thrive when you’re searching for the limits of traction. The Hyper lives to embarrass sportbike riders with the ease, and speed, at which it can rail through medium- to high-speed corners and sweepers. You can simply charge to a corner, command the Brembo four-pots and twin 320mm discs to slow you down, flick down a few gears (without the clutch), then yank on the wide bars to put you where you want to go.

Meanwhile, the KTM thrives on the slow- to medium-speed twisties (again, like a kart track), where it can shoot out from tight corners. Before it can do that you first need to get to the corner. The short gearing plays well to tight environments, and grabbing a handful of the single Brembo 4-pot and 320mm disc is plenty to get the nose to dive and weight moved forward – a good thing as the rear subframe/fuel tank places a lot more weight towards the rear than I expected, compromising the balance of the bike. It’s possible some big changes in suspension settings could alleviate the imbalance, and possibly moving the adjustable fork offset to 22mm from its standard 24mm setting, but as it was, I didn’t have the confidence to really attack tight corners. Dirt riders gravitating toward the 690 will also like the fact you can sit right up front and stick your foot out in true dirt fashion, not something the Ducati lends itself to.

My elbows may be up, dirtbike style, but my butt’s scooted back, sportbike style. With the KTM’s fuel giving the bike a rearward weight bias (at least from the saddle), dirt riders who sit forward and stick their foot out might feel more comfortable on it than I did.

What Each Is Good For

Its bigger size compared to a traditional motard helps the Hyper feel right at home on a full-size racetrack.

We stated in the beginning that this isn’t a comparison test, which I’m sure begs the question: Then WTF are these bikes suited for, anyway? In the course of riding these two, it didn’t take long to figure out where each finds their rhythm. It comes down to this: If you’re looking for the more road-oriented supermoto, bikes like the Hypermotard and Aprilia Dorsoduro are ideal. Their bigger engines are less stressed at sustained highway speeds, their slightly wider seats are…well…slightly more comfortable for those times you’re not hauling ass, and they provide more creature comforts by way of electronic rider aids. Of course, when the time comes to shred rubber, the Hyper is equally capable, but the racetracks it prefers are road courses, not short kart tracks.

Conversely, those looking for a road-legal, track-oriented supermoto – and don’t want to go through the hassle of converting something else – will enjoy bikes like the 690 SMC R and Husqvarna 701 Supermoto. It’s a slick little motorcycle those with dirt roots will easily adapt to. All of its components are on equal footing as the Ducati’s, and not many motorcycles will keep up with it on really tight roads or kart tracks. The one caveat, and it’s a big one, is finding the right balance with the fuel tank’s rearward weight bias to suit your riding style.

Price-wise there’s not a lot between them, with the base Ducati Hypermotard starting at $13,295. The S model you see here is $16,695. Meanwhile, the KTM 690 SMC R comes in at $11,699.

So what’ll it be? That’s up to you to decide.

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