2012 Ducati Hypermotard 1100 EVO
I used to be a stunter. Having one of two wheels in the air was all I wanted my motorcycle to do. Going out for a ride with friends wasn't really my thing. Long rides, short rides, none of these held my attention for too long. How five years as an automotive journalist changes things. My evolution as a motorcyclist has been continuous and I'm a well-rounded (snigger - Ed) journalist today. I now enjoy touring immensely and in the miles I've logged are roads all over this country, in all kinds of places and in all kinds of shapes, from twisty to shattered, scenic to dead boring, crowded to relaxed.
I've been to the Himalayas more than once per year on average and that isn't something most people can lay claim to have done. Mostly in cars and sometimes on some unbelievable two wheelers as well. And I know for a fact that wind in your hair, even if through the vents of my helmet is vastly superior to air-conditioning and music. Plus, motorcycles are smaller, nimbler, easier to live with and most certainly quicker than cars on the mountain roads.
Last month, I was required to visit Srinagar and I had the option of driving an SUV loaded to the gills with equipment, comfort and space. Never made that call. I called up Ducati and instead borrowed a Hypemotard from them. It is one of the few Ducatis I have not ridden yet and riding from New Delhi to Srinagar seemed to be the right way to say hello to the Hyper'.
2012 Ducati Hypermotard 1100 EVO
All of the Hypermotard stories talk of a compact, light motorcycle that is an absolute hoot to ride. And that it wheelies and stoppies beautifully as well. But on the long, open road, you are looking for a good handler for the corners and sweet power delivery for the hours in the saddle. Supermotards are known to be easy to ride, compact and they make sense for us. Hard sportsbikes are fun over short distances but eventually the road will break and shortly thereafter, your spirit and zeal.
The Hyper' would be perfect, I thought, for the long, well-kept straights as well as the hills that lay between me and Srinagar.
This was the first time I looked at Hyper' in the flesh and I was blown away. It's very different in design from the other Ducatis but it is, every inch, something that came from Borgo Panigale. It wasn't red, but it was stunning, sculpted, fat-free and oozed Italian-ness from tip to tip. It was also very, very small. The Hypermotard 1100 looks so tiny, partly thanks to its tiny fuel tank, that it could easily be a 796 or smaller. Maybe that's why the 1100 stickers are so important on this bike.
2012 Ducati Hypermotard Brembo monobloc brakes
The front end is just like a supermotard - the beak-like high mudguard mounts to the bottom of the headlight flanked by the fat upside-down forks. The handlebars are tapered single-piece, again just like a dirt bike, complete with knuckle guards and a touch of class, indicators integrated into the rear view mirrors. And this wasn't just the 1100, it was the Evo model, which means the 50mm Marzocchi's up front were fully adjustable. The 120-section Pirelli Diablo Rosso on the Marchesini forged alloy wheel plus those forks make for a beefy, impressive front-end. Typically supermotards don't really go long distances so the small 12-litre tank is easy to explain. But hard to account for - I was going to have to keep an eye on the fuel levels more closely.
Marzocchi forks on the Ducati Hypermotard
But it is the rear of the motorcycle, to be honest, that is really impressive. The neatly contoured seat ends in the tail lamp mounted on the rear seat cowl. Minimal bodywork at the rear exposes the 180/55 Pirelli, the gorgeous alloy wheel it is spooned on to and the trademark single-sided swingarm. Under the seat is a set of exhaust tips which make for a minimal but powerful looking rear-end. And this being the Evo model, various bits were in carbon fibre rather than plastic - front mudguards, heat guards and so on and so forth. Even on a black motorcycle these snazzy bits attract the eyes and make it look even more expensive.
Twin underseat exhausts is a trademark Ducati design
I left Delhi in a mad thrum from the air-cooled L-twin. The traffic and heat decided they wouldn't let me leave. But the Hypermotard sliced through easily. I was out of the city and on the NH1 very quickly, heading north. Last time around, just last month, I wasn't alone. My Dream Yuga and I were accompanied by two more 100cc motorcycles and Ashok and Alan. What a difference ten times the displacement and ten times the power can make.
The 95PS from the 1078cc engine meant I could fly. The NH1 isn't usually crowded so you can really let the bike play. But right through Haryana, the sport of flyover building is the rage, which means one has to put up with a zillion diversions.
Then I noted that the low fuel light - there is no gauge - hadn't come on and that Karnal was the next town. Parathas and lassi, anyone? The chap at the dhaba came running when I parked up - he had recognized me from the helmet and jacket. And he had also spotted that my motorcycle had grown a bit in size. Having answered his questions on price, engine, average and so forth, I settled in for a good, quick meal. After the food, I'd probably have to answer more questions on the motorcycle and then head to Dalhousie where OD's old friend, ex-rally champion Hari Singh was waiting for me.
I was guessing the 12-litre tank should last about 250km - that's what most big bikes manage - but the light had still not come on at 250km. And then just as I passed a fuel station, the Hyper' ran dry. I was lucky that the push back to the fuel station wasn't long but this was the only time the Ducati's engine stopped on me.
Punjab's smooth, arrow-straight roads were next and if the speed limit was raised to 150kmph, you'd be able to cruise at those speeds without concern or worry. The Hyper' was, of course, more than happy at whatever speed I chose and when I gave it its head on empty deserted stretches, the sound of the engine and that sensation of power reaching the rear wheels was marvelous. The suspension is a bit stiff but the seat is well-cushioned which makes the overall feel sporty, but comfortable. I only wished the motorcycle had a flyscreen because if you choose to ride it faster, the wind is a bit of an issue.
The parathas and lassi kept me going and I decided to skip lunch - I only stopped for fuel. Once I turned off the NH1, the roads became narrower but the surface was still smooth and the going became beautiful. Lush green fields on both sides and a sharp black motorcycle blatting through the scene. At five in the evening I passed Pathankot. I could have chosen to stay the night here, but Hari's place was now only 70km away in Dalhousie. And if you think of that as Hari's driveway, it's the curviest driveway in the world.
The climb into the hill station was absolutely lovely. Despite a day's riding, I was feeling fresh as was the Ducati and we kicked it into high gear on the climb. The Hyper' is extremely impressive in the corners. It feels way more nimble than you expect and flicks from side to side with a lightness and precision that is amazing. The Pirellis offer seriously good grip levels and the chassis works very, very well with them. The low-down torque was great when you weren't high up in the revs though like all the V-twins, the Hyper' also judders below 3000rpm.
2012 Ducati Hypermotard 1100 EVO
I almost wished someone could move a racetrack to Dalhousie when I parked so the fun wouldn't stop. Imagine riding it like a supermoto and then a sportsbike every other lap. I also realised when I climbed off, that despite what it looks like, the Hyper' is very comfortable in all-day riding. The seat and the footpeg-bar relationship both work very well.
But the good roads ended the next morning. Jammu and Kashmir's roads are undulating and the surfaces aren't something you would write home about. But then the Hyper' has long-travel suspension. Which, though stiff, wasn't uncomfortable. I just stood up on the pegs - and the tall, wide handlebar really falls right into your hands when you do - and allowed the suspension to do its work.
The roads may be uninteresting but the landscape they pass through is breathtaking. So much so that despite being on such a happy motorcycle, I was forced to stop again and again to take pictures. And on one such stop, a truck pulled up and out hopped two youngsters. They'd seen me pass them a while ago and wanted to know more about the motorcycle. One of them, I kid you not, wanted to go racing professionally. If only our country made that easier. Sigh. Anyway, after I'd chatted with them for a while, clicked their pics of the bike on their cellphones, I carried on.
2012 Ducati Hypermotard 1100 EVO
Arriving in Srinagar is almost an anti-climax. You climb down from the mountains into the valley the city is in and suddenly the roads become straight again. The ride was, then, quick. The 900-odd kilometres that had passed under my wheels had been absolutely lovely. The most fun I'd had on a big motorcycle in India so far. The Hyper' seems to me, the perfect big bike for India. It performed brilliantly getting out of Delhi's rabid traffic, it was at home on the good, fast highways, it was adept at handling the worst of J&K's roads and it was brilliant in the twisties going up to Dalhousie (and back down again). Few large displacement motorcycles in India can pull this off with such effortlessness and good cheer.
It also felt small which is important because Indian riders are typically short on the inseam. Heck, even the pillion seat isn't an illusion. I guess tank range would be a concern, but not if the fuel light was working on the day.
Super, super impressed, I was now wondering how to find my way to a racetrack with the Hypermotard. Which looked ominously difficult. But then my 900km-long smile returned. I realized that I was only halfway done with the Hyper' I still had to ride it back to Delhi.