SU­PERS­PORT SHOW­DOWN

NEW DO-IT-ALL DUCATI v VFR800 v Z1000SX

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Front Page - By Michael Neeves SE­NIOR ROAD TESTER

We were be­side our­selves with ex­cite­ment lead­ing up to the World launch of Ducati’s new Su­pers­port in Fe­bru­ary. Had the fa­mous Ital­ian firm pro­duced a ground-breaker? Was it go­ing to be the real-world, every­day sports­bike we’d all hoped for?

It’s not Ducati’s fault it ham­mered it down on the day we rode the £12,995 S model around the Mon­te­blanco cir­cuit and the stan­dard £11,495 ver­sion on the sur­round­ing moun­tain roads. The con­di­tions didn’t suit the new ma­chine and failed to show it in its best light. In fact, the launch raised more ques­tions than it an­swered.

On track its 113bhp 937cc L-twin was breath­less at high revs, as an en­gine de­signed with a punchy midrange would be. On the road, the wet tar­mac was so slip­pery we spent four hours tensed-up try­ing not to crash, de­spite the Su­pers­port’s trac­tion con­trol, ABS and its softer power maps.

The launch was a bit of damp squib, but to­day, as you can see from the pic­tures, is dif­fer­ent and we’re hav­ing a sec­ond stab at find­ing out what the new Ducati is all about.

It’s time to see where the bike fits in and an­swer the ques­tions ev­ery­one’s ask­ing. Is it a sports tourer, or a modern-day in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the mighty Honda VFR800? And isn’t a su­pers­port race-replica just as good on the road?

To find out we’re tak­ing the new Su­pers­port S, a VFR800, Kawasaki’s Z1000SX and Ducati’s 959 Pani­gale on a trip from Bologna, down the A14 to Forli and up over the moun­tains

to Florence, via the SS3 and the SS67 Passo del Muriglione. These are some of the best bik­ing roads in the world.

Is it a sports tourer?

Kawasaki’s Z1000SX is the dic­tio­nary def­i­ni­tion of a big-ca­pac­ity sports tourer. Un­like the cur­rent breed of goany­where ad­ven­ture sports ma­chines such as the BMW S1000XR, the SX is a con­ven­tion­ally-shaped mo­tor­cy­cle. It’s low, long, com­fort­able and smooth.

Up­dated for this year, the Z1000de­rived ma­chine is a big-seller and has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of those who want some­thing sporty, but can man­age big miles with­out break­ing a sweat. It eats Au­tostradas for break­fast and its bulk ac­tu­ally helps to iron out bumps in its path. It will also roll up its sleeves and hoon through moun­tain roads with sur­pris­ing speed and pre­ci­sion. The Kawasaki is also kind on your wal­let, cost­ing a quid un­der 10 grand, or just £95 a month on PCP.

The Su­pers­port feels thin and ex­posed when you jump on it af­ter rid­ing the SX and it’s im­me­di­ately clear the Ducati is not a sports tourer in the con­ven­tional sense. It has a three-litre smaller tank, so you can’t go as far with­out stop­ping and it’s phys­i­cally smaller, so it’ll be a squeeze when you load up with lug­gage.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t cover big miles in com­fort. The Su­pers­port’s slim screen isn’t the last word in wind pro­tec­tion, but it does the job, the seat is snug, there’s de­cent legroom for tall riders and the bar po­si­tion is nat­u­ral. Rid­ing tense on tricky wet roads back at the Su­pers­port launch had fel­low testers rid­ing one-handed to­wards the end, shak­ing life back into their wrists. To­day there’s no such prob­lem.

Like on the Kawasaki you get ABS, trac­tion con­trol and rid­ing modes, but the Su­pers­port S makes life even sim­pler with a quick­shifter and au­to­blip­per you never thought you needed, but when you go back to the more ana­logue SX, re­alise you ac­tu­ally do.

Around town and on the mo­tor­way the Su­pers­port’s twin-cylin­der mo­tor is punchy, un­stressed and smooth, with an added dash of bur­bling Ital­ian char­ac­ter. The ride-by-wire throt­tle re­sponse is per­fect and you’re never left need­ing more go, de­spite be­ing less pow­er­ful than the Kawasaki.

The only nig­gle is vi­brat­ing mir­rors. They’re fine at town speeds, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to see be­hind when you go faster un­less you pull the clutch in for a mo­ment and wait for them to clear.

Is it Ducati’s an­swer to the Honda VFR800?

This is the com­par­i­son ev­ery­one’s talk­ing about. The Ducati and Honda have a sim­i­lar lay­out, an al­most iden­ti­cal rid­ing po­si­tion and have sep­a­rated-at-birth faces, but that’s where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. The Su­pers­port is far

lighter, more ag­ile and sportier. It’s Ducati Whip­pet v Honda Labrador.

Up­dated four years ago the Honda is still the de­pend­able choice. It’s the orig­i­nal sports tourer and even plusher and more solid than the Kawasaki. It’s also the heav­i­est and least pow­er­ful here, but that doesn’t ruin it. It’s not slow and han­dles so well the cheery red beast is al­ways there when you look back, even on the twisti­est of roads.

Sure, it’s show­ing its age, with its low, non-ad­justable screen, tacked-on trac­tion con­trol but­tons and weighty feel, but it cos­sets you in a re­lax­ing co­coon of easy speed. Al­though snatchy off a closed throt­tle the V4 is smooth at nor­mal speeds and sounds like a firework fac­tory when the VTEC al­lows all four valves to do their thing. There’s no step in power nowa­days, just a tran­si­tion from quiet to rau­cous.

You could say the Su­pers­port is the bike the VFR would be if Honda had given it to the same de­vel­op­ment team who cre­ated the ex­cit­ing new Blade. As it is, it’s still a class act and thor­oughly de­pend­able, but you’ll have more of a dolce vita on the spark­ing Ducati.

Shouldn’t I just get a proper sports­bike?

Ducati’s 959 Pani­gale is the ul­ti­mate evo­lu­tion of the firm’s su­pers­port race replica. It’s grown over the years from 748 through to 749, 848, 899 and now a ma­chine that’s big­ger than the iconic 916. It’s crammed full of speed, tech­nol­ogy and han­dling re­serves that re­main un­touched un­less you visit a race­track.

On the road it’s at the ex­treme end of the spec­trum, with its rigid cast alu­minium air­box frame, stiff sus­pen­sion and wrist-heavy rid­ing po­si­tion. It’s par­tic­u­larly fo­cused and ma­chines like the Day­tona 675 or new R6 are far plusher and for­giv­ing.

The Pani­gale isn’t ac­tu­ally that un­com­fort­able on the mo­tor­way. Pegs are set fur­ther back than the Su­pers­port’s but there’s still lots of legroom and the wide bars don’t hem you in. At higher speed speeds the wind cush­ions your up­per body and takes the weight of your arms and hands.

But the Pani­gale quickly be­comes the ‘booby prize’ bike in this com­pany when we leave the Au­tostrada and head to the sec­ond to fourth gear twists and turns that make up the mag­nif­i­cent Passo del Muriglione.

You can’t deny the 959’s bril­liance on a cir­cuit (it was faster than the old Blade SP on track when we tested them to­gether last year) and on the odd oc­ca­sion you’re pre­sented with a fast, smooth, empty curve on the road. Here in the real world you can’t be­gin to use a frac­tion of the per­for­mance. It’s clumsy, harsh and jars your wrists over bumps.

Life is eas­ier on the Su­pers­port S. Its chas­sis is more pli­able, the Öh­lins sus­pen­sion plusher and the power de­liv­ery softer. You glide over rough ter­rain while you watch the Pani­gale bob­bing in front, re­act­ing to bumps and strug­gling to put its power down.

De­spite its less pow­er­ful, old-tech mo­tor and ex­tra all-up weight, there are very few in­stances where Ducati’s Su­pers­port can’t keep up with a Ducati su­pers­port and only a race­track would sep­a­rate them. It has lots of us­able, un­threat­en­ing grunt, su­perb brakes and pre­cise, sta­ble han­dling. The Ducati Su­pers­port S is eas­ier to ride for more of the time for more types of rider.

Ôy­ouõll have more of a dolce vita on the spark­ing new Du­catiõ

2017 HONDA VFR800F £10,699 104bhp, 242kg Given a thor­ough over­haul in 2014 with new styling, sus­pen­sion, wheels, heated grips, self-can­celling in­di­ca­tors, height-ad­justable rider seats, en­gine tweaks and a new ex­haust. 2017 DUCATI SU­PERS­PORT S £12,995 113bhp, 210kg Launched in Fe­bru­ary it has a re­jigged Hyper­mo­tard 939 mo­tor, a Mon­s­ter­derived chas­sis, rider aids and a man­u­ally ad­justable screen. This S model has Öh­lins sus­pen­sion, a quick­shifter/ blip­per and seat cowl. 2017 DUCATI 959 PANI­GALE £13,795 157bhp, 200kg The 899 grew into the 959 last year with a longer stroke en­gine and spawned those shot­gun pipes to keep the white coats at Euro4 happy, as well as a slip­per clutch, a lower swingarm pivot and styling tweaks.

Both Ital­ians are gor­geous but the Su­pers­port S (right) is the bet­ter road bike It’s hard to ig­nore the VFR’S bulk next to the Su­pers­port S Old-school Zed is a prop­erly ca­pa­ble con­tender 2017 KAWASAKI Z1000SX £9999 140bhp, 235kg Up­dated for 2017 the Z1000SX sports tourer gets the Euro4 ex­haust, plus a new shock link­age to lower the rear, tweaked sus­pen­sion, multi-func­tion clocks and Imu-con­trolled, lean-sen­si­tive trac­tion con­trol and ABS.

The Honda and Kawasaki are never far be­hind

It’s the VFR that’s boss of fuel ca­pac­ity

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