2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796 First Ride

October 15, 2009
Adam Waheed
By Adam Waheed
Road Test Editor|Articles|Articles RSS|Blog|Blog Posts|Blog RSS

His insatiable thirst for life is only surpassed by his monthly fuel bill. Whether rocketing on land, flying through the air, or jumping the seas, our Road Test Editor does it all and has the scars to prove it.

2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796
Ducati releases a milder, gentler Hypermotard for 2010. Welcome the $9995 Ducati Hypermotard 796.

It’s hard to believe that almost three years have passed since Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati released its original Hypermotard 1100 motorcycle. This machine created a new class in motorcycling—a mechanical and aesthetic fusion between the world of high-performance sportbikes and supermotos. Starting next year, Ducati expands the category with the introduction of the 2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796.
The 796 was designed to allow a wider range of motorcyclists to experience the unique thrill of a Hyper. To do this, engineers outfitted it with a friendlier powertrain including a smaller engine and easier-to-use clutch, decreased weight, different suspension components, and a lower seat. To see if Ducati got it right we traveled to its home in Borgo Panigale (an enclave of Bologna, Italy) to experience it in the adjacent foothills of this legendary motorcycling company.

Downsized Original?

2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796
2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796
2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796
(Top) The 796 gets an instrument display similar to the Streetfighter only it features orange backlighting. (Middle) Aside from the suspension and tires, it can be difficult to discern the differences between the Hypermotard 796 and the 1100. (Bottom) The 796 has mirrors that can be folded in based on rider preference.

Propulsion is provided by a redesigned L-Twin engine based off the unit used in the Monster 696. The engine utilizes the same 88mm bore but has an 8.8mm-longer stroke (now measuring 66mm total). Different pistons with a reshaped crown boost compression to 11.1:1. Other updated internals include the connecting rods, crankshaft, as well as the cases which are lighter and more compact. One of the key components that is still shared is the 696’s relatively low-tech 2-valve cylinder heads which use Ducati’s proprietary Desmodromic valve actuation system. Despite the engine actually growing, Ducati claims that this engine gets superior fuel mileage as compared to the 696 engine.
Fuel is pumped down from the 3.3-gallon plastic fuel tank into 45mm throttle bodies, each equipped with its own fuel-injector. Meanwhile, exhaust is purged through a 2-1-2 stainless-steel exhaust system and is expelled from Ducati’s signature twin under-tail mufflers. The exhaust uses a sculpted metal pre-silencer which also houses the catalytic convertor for Euro 3 emissions conformity. Furthermore each pipe is fitted with an oxygen sensor in order to help facilitate optimum engine fueling. A 6-speed transmission transfers power back to the rear wheel via a chain final drive, while a hydraulically operated APTC wet clutch with slipper-action functionality augments the gearbox.
The engine is hung within a steel frame of identical measurement as the 1100. The 796’s frame however benefits from a new forming process which reduces weight without compromising rigidity. Both the top and bottom fork clamps are also new. The clamps hold a new non-adjustable 43mm Marzocchi inverted fork. Above is a tapered aluminum handlebar. Rear suspension consists of a Sachs hydraulic shock absorber that moves through a linkage and connects to the aluminum single-sided swingarm. As opposed to the fork, the shock offers adjustment for spring preload and rebound damping. Lastly, the seat itself was shortened by 0.8 inches and now measures 32.5-inches from the ground.

The 796 rolls on similar-spec aluminum wheels as the 1100, measuring 3.5 x 17-inches up front and 5.5 x 17-inches at the rear. The rims are shod with Bridgestone BT-016 multi-compound tires in sizes 120/70 front and 180/55 rear. Brakes consist of twin 305mm rotors up front, which are controlled by radial-mount 4-piston Brembo calipers. The rear brake disc measures 245mm in diameter and is independently controlled by a twin-piston caliper. Stainless-steel brake lines front and rear complement the set-up.

Visually, it’s difficult to distinguish the 796 from the 1100 as the majority of its parts are shared including its plastic hand guards with integrated LED turn signals, flip-out mirrors, and LED taillight that glows brighter during braking. Aside from those components a keen eye will see the differences in suspension, tires, and belly exhaust pre-silencer, as well as the updated orange-backlit instrument panel as used on the Streetfighter (Learn more about it in the 2010 Ducati Streetfighter First Ride.) Likewise, it shares the same slim-line switchgear. Another subtle difference is the conventional box shape of the front brake and clutch master cylinder reservoir. All said and done, the 796 is claimed to weigh 27 lbs. less than the 1100, which means its curb weight should measure just over 400 lbs.

Entry-level Performance?

2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796
The hills surrounding Ducati’s Borgo Panigale factory put a real emphasis on a bike’s low-speed maneuverability. Here the 796 didn’t disappoint.

On paper, the 796 has everything it takes to be classified as an entry-level motorcycle within Ducati’s model line-up. A lower 32.5-inch seat height, 803cc air-cooled engine, minimally adjustable suspension, and a price tag of $9,995. Although it is in fact not as sharp-edged as its larger displacement sibling, it isn’t what we’d exactly term a motorcycle for beginners.

Jump into the saddle and one will notice its hybrid seating position. It feels like a cross between the flat pinion of a sportbike and the narrow seat of a dirt bike. Yet it is clearly more aligned with the pavement realm. Equally as apparent is the lower position of the seat. The difference is two-fold: First, it allows a six-foot tall rider to plant both feet firmly on the ground. Second, it elevates the position of the handlebar slightly, which is well appreciated considering how awkwardly low it feels on the 1100. Even though the seat has been lowered it isn’t so much to make the cockpit feel cramped even for a taller rider. Wrap your fingers around the control levers and you’ll be able to adjust their position fore or aft in four increments. Sliding the red starter “trigger” up reveals the starter button. Press it and you’re off and running.
The 796’s APTC clutch makes the clutch lever feel almost weightless. Its first gear matches well allowing the rider to motor away from a stop easily with little clutch slippage. Twisting the throttle reveals an engine that churns out an impressive amount of power. It presents none of the lethargic qualities of the 696 mill, but at the same time it might be too robust for an inexperienced rider. The engine’s rough running manners at low rpm only exacerbates this and makes us wonder why Ducati motorcycles can’t run smoothly at low rpm. Keep the revs above 4000 however, and the engine shows none of the aforementioned characteristic, instead delivering a smooth, fat spread of power all the way to the top of the tachometer. Overall engine sound is throaty but we did hear an irritating metal vibration-type noise that sounded like it was being emitted from the pre-silencer. 

2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796
Although we appreciated the 796’s overall suspension balance front-to-rear it could be significantly improved with even more initial damping front and rear.

Shorter final-drive gearing assists the bike in gaining momentum fast. Unfortunately, its transmission lacks the precision of its Japanese rivals plus it’s almost impossible to find neutral at a stop. Based on previous experience, however, the gears feel like they move more freely after break-in. Despite the clutch offering an extremely light lever pull, we weren’t wowed by the vague feel when the clutch is engaged aggressively or by the ineffectiveness of the “slipper-action” clutch.

The foothills to the south of the Ducati factory put a real premium on a nimble-handling motorcycle and it is here that the 796 really shines. As soon as you even think about changing directions, the bike is already there. Yet its handling manners are neutral and the bike never turns more or less than what the rider inputs. Equally as pleasing is how stable the chassis is, especially considering how softly sprung both the fork and shock are. An elevated pace will cause the rearend to G-out and drag hard parts. Yet, despite the undersprung spring rates, the overall balance front-to-rear is a massive improvement over the 1100.

Although the fork offers zero adjustability, we actually prefer the stock-for-stock damping characteristics of the 796’s fork as compared to the adjustable one found on the 1100. Specifically it offers slightly more initial damping and significantly more return damping. Granted you can achieve a similar set-up with the adjustable unit but you have to literally close the compression and rebound damping circuits to do so. The shock on the other hand offers adjustment for spring preload and rebound damping, but we didn’t have time to adjust it. Overall, the only complaint we have with the suspension is that both ends still lack sufficient initial damping. For instance, whenever you slam open the throttle, the weight transfers rearward and the rearend instantly squats. Conversely, when you let off the throttle the weight instantly transfers forward and causes the frontend to dive excessively. If engineers could just dial in more initial damping front and rear we’d think they’d have a terrific overall package. Lastly, traction afforded by the stock Bridgestone tires is literally amazing especially when you consider just how dirty and wet some of the roads we encountered were.

2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796
The 796’s seat height was lowered by 0.8 inches and it pays big dividends on the road.

We’ve never been a fan of the lower-spec non-monobloc Brembos that come on the base Hypermotard 1100 or 848 Superbike, but on the 796 they’re remarkable. No doubt the 796’s lowered terminal velocity and reduced unsprung weight tax the braking system less, nonetheless they are effective at quickly shedding speed while offering a confident lever feel. We also love how visible the instrumentation is and the high-tech feel of the handlebar mounted switch gear. While we really appreciate the flip-out mirrors, their outright functionality is questionable as they make it more prone for you to clip cars while slicing through traffic and the view they provide isn’t very clear.

A Better Hypermotard?

That depends. There’s no doubt that the Hypermotard 796 isn’t without fault. Its low rpm engine manners definitely could be improved upon, as could its suspension which lacks adequate damping through the top of suspension stroke. Then there is the weird exhaust vibration noise… 

2010 Ducati Hypermotard 796
The Hypermotard 796 is without question the ideal sport motorcycle around the tightest, most windy backroad you can find.

At the end of the day the most important single feature of the bike is that it’s a blast to ride. Even better is that Ducati has made its level of performance more accessible to all riders. Keep the rpms up and you’ll be amazed at how much power the engine cranks out. Conversely, its brakes are strong enough to keep you throughly entertained when slowing becomes a priority. The chassis confidently inhales tight, backroads like few other sport motorcycles, plus it looks awesome and can be mistaken for no other machine on the road. If you’re planning on doing trackdays or blasting around fast sections of roadway then you’re going to want the extra speed generated by the Hyper 1100. However, if your riding game takes place primarily in the city or on the tightest, sketchiest backroads you can find, than the 796 is the motorcycle for you.