I had the great fortune to ride the 2014 Ducati Hypermotard and the 2014 Aprilia Dorsoduro, back to back, a couple of weeks ago.
Neither impressed me more than the other -- because they both blew my socks off.
I had previously ridden and really liked the 2013 Hypermotard SP, which I found spunky, spirited and almost too hot to handle.
The new Hypermotard, minus the SP, felt just as spirited, but easier to handle. The seat is improved, and makes a softer saddle, and sits a little lower. The lines are leaner and cleaner. At 386 pounds dry, it's light and lithe as a cat.
The power was just as impressive -- the 821cc Testastretta engine puts out 110 horsepower and 65 foot-pounds of torque, in both the Hypermotard and the Hypermotard SP -- but felt more manageable.
Everywhere I went in the power band, up and down the six-speed transmission, going slow and going fast, there was way more motor than I needed -- but which I could use with a sense of safety and confidence, thanks to Ducati's very effective ABS and traction control.
In the least commanding power mode, the bike is quick off the line and out of the turns. In the "sport" mode, the front end jumps up, needless to say, without any coaxing at all.
The Hypermotard was so inspiring that, truth to tell, I had diminished expectations for the Dorsoduro. How could it be better?
Well, it's not better. It's different, and just as good -- more comfortable, easier to ride, less demanding, but just as exciting.
The Dorsoduro (the name is taken from a district of the Italian city of Venice) sits a little lower, with lower foot pegs -- both bikes run on 17-inch wheels -- which makes for a more casual rider position and easier riding around the city and on the freeway.
But that does not detract from its ability on the twisties and in the canyons. The 750cc V90 twin engine -- which like its slightly bigger Ducati brother is liquid cooled and gets its energy via fuel-injection and ride-by-wire technology -- puts out 92 horsepower and 61 foot-pounds of torque.
It's so powerful, on a frame that weighs barely over 400 pounds, unfueled, that it's shocking to remember that Aprilia used to sell a 1200cc version of the same bike. (The bike is no longer sold in the U.S. in part because it was simply too light and too fast to be enjoyable for most riders.) The traditional options of "sport," "touring" and "rain" make it possible to put limits on the available power, so that there's less danger of having your front wheel come up as you come off a stop light.
And, while it doesn't have Ducati's traction control features, it has very effective ABS. I tried busting the back wheel loose on a slippy downhill near my house, where I've often busted loose without meaning to -- and I couldn't.
The Italians, no matter what they're building, invariably build with an eye to fit-and-finish perfection. Both the Hyper and the Dorso excel in this department. Everything about the two bikes (from levers to fenders to cables to instrumentation) feels solid and top-of-the-line.
So how would one choose between them? The most dramatic difference between the two might be the price -- and even that is hardly a difference that matters.
The Hypermotard has an MSRP of $11,995. (The slightly snazzier SP, which features better suspension and lots of carbon fiber, goes for $14,995, while the Hyper-Multi hybrid Hyperstrada, which comes with touring screen, side luggage and other extras, costs $13,495.)
The Aprilia 750ABS has an MSRP of $10,299.
With the Hyper, you get the bragging rights of owning a Ducati, which seems to have exceeded all brands, in the public mind, in claiming the "cool" label.
With the Dorso, though, you get the bragging rights of owning the lesser-known Aprilia, a brand that may not be familiar to most non-riders but gets the attention of serious motorcyclists.
Either way, you cannot go wrong. These are both outstanding machines. The only thing wrong with them is that owning both would probably look greedy.