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First Times Ride: 2014 Ducati Hyperstrada

This is like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bikes.

The bikes are Ducatis -- the venerable, touring Multistrada; the race-ready, asphalt-eating Hypermotard; and the somewhere-in-between Hyperstrada.

The Goldilocks is me: forever trying, like the fairytale figure, to find perfection.

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The wrong bike is easy to identify. It's too slow, too loud, too heavy, too hot or all of the above. It sits too low, too far forward or too far back.

The almost-perfect bike is also easy to identify. Great motorcycles of every size, shape and style are on the market these days. Almost every company makes one or more. 

And finding the perfect collection of bikes is easy, too, if you have the wallet and the garage space to accommodate a sport bike, touring bike, track bike and casual city bike.

But, the perfect bike -- the one bike that you would have, and have no others, and be happy? That's hard.

In an effort to distinguish the great from the perfect, I recently rode these three Ducatis. Each, in its way, approaches two-wheel excellence, but I wanted the perfect match for the kind of riding I do.

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I loved the Multi. I loved the Hyper. But I really loved the Strada, which I found a completely harmonious compromise between the raw hooliganism of the Hyper and the genteel power of the Multi.

The Strada shares many elements with the Hyper, including the awesome 821cc Testastretta Desmodromic engine. It offers the same 110 horsepower and 68 pound-feet of torque, and uses the same gearbox, same exquisite braking systems, same ride-by-wire fuel injection and same traction control and riding modes. (The values for the Multi are greater, of course, it being a 1200cc machine, with 150 horsepower and 92 pound-feet of torque.) The Multi, Hyper and the Strada all run with similar suspension setups, the Hypermotard SP getting the fancier Marzocchi and Ohlins.

But it's a dramatically different riding experience, despite relatively minor differences in the hardware. The HyperStrada is a bit shorter and features a "touring" seat that sits a little comfier and a little lower -- same height as the MultiStrada, and almost two inches lower than the HyperMotard SP -- with handlebars that ride a little higher.

Its sidebags offer a light touring element that puts the "strada" on the "hyper." It runs Pirelli Scorpion Trail (which also go on the Multis) instead of the Pirelli Diablo Rosso II and Supercorse tires found on the Hypermotard SP. At 449 pounds fueled, it's barely 13 pounds heavier than the more naked HyperMotard but almost 50 pounds lighter than the lightest Multi.

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The combination of these elements is Ducati delicious. In Touring mode, in the city, it's strong but not too twitchy off the line. In Sport mode, in the canyons, it forgets its manners and gets aggressive off the corners. On the freeway, it's smooth and sedate, the short windscreen creating a tidy rider cabin and the upright sit position creating good sight lines and matching visibility.

Each side bag is big enough to carry a full-size helmet and a small overnight bag. The bags zip to close, and lock to the bike with the ignition key, and are snap-off easy to remove.

I found it compelling, even addictive. After several hours up the Crest, over to Angeles Forest and down Big Tujunga, I was ready and eager for more, and ran out of time long before I ran out of interest.

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Is it perfect? The Hyperstrada's side bags make it more difficult to swing a leg over, and they are made secure against theft by the tiniest little padlocks, with the tiniest little keys, that I would lose in the first week.

And does perfection come at a price? Not as high as you'd expect. The 2014 Hypermotard has an MSRP of $11,995; the Hyperstrada, $13,495; the Hypermotard SP, $14,995; and the Multistrada 1200 ABS, $16,995. 

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