Saturday, August 14, 2021

Don't buy a Ducati Hyperstrada

I rode an older Hypermotard in Europe, and really had fun.  Probably the most fun I'd ever had on a motorcycle, to be honest.  So I naturally wanted my own.

Unfortunately, I'm too short to be in the Hypermotard club.  I was on tippy-toe the whole week in Europe, and it was not a good feeling.  I needed something shorter.

Enter the late-model Hyperstrada.  Very much like the Hypermotard, but including panniers, all Hyperstradas after 2015 are 939s, and the "low" model.  After test-sitting one I knew it was OK for me.

Don't get me wrong: this bike is fun.  Damn fun, actually.  And far more capable than I am capable of riding it.

Unfortunately, it suffers from some glaring flaws that - somehow - nobody sufficiently points out.

One is the legendary grabby clutch, a seeming constant characteristic of modern Ducatis.  That goes away once warmed up, but is irritating.  Still, no bike it perfect, and it's annoying but tolerable.

Similar is the "false neutral" issue of the transmission, which can rear up at the least opportune times.  Never an issue on any of the other bikes I have ridden, this happens infrequently enough so that might be considered an infrequent quirk, although such a loss of control is (in my mind) far too dangerous to be so easily dismissed.

Of far more day-to-day concern is the horrible throttle response on the low end.  No longer a nice linear ramp, the throttle behaves far more like an on/off switch, resulting in a terrible low-speed riding experience.  Fixing this requires an ECU remap to correct the frankly abysmal low-end tuning of the 939 engine, at considerable cost, just to make the bike properly rideable.  

Still, this issue is fixable - albeit at great cost - and might be chalked up to a combination of Ducati "personality" or - more often - blamed on the European emissions regulations.  Why Ducati engineers simply can't make the bike properly rideable within the confines of the emissions specs, however, indicates to me a lack of expertise that I quite frankly find hard to accept.  Such is, after all, arguably the primary job of their engineering staff.

However, there is one "personality" issue that I have and am finding completely unforgivable:

The bike stalls.

Now, I'm not talking about stalling on startup, or in some kind of unique weather condition, or after tens of thousands of miles.  No, this bike - when NEW - will simply stall, randomly, when you pull in the clutch to come to a stop.

Don't believe me, check here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

This is utterly and completely unacceptable.  There is NO CIRCUMSTANCE - whatsoever - where it is acceptable for a vehicle engine to simply randomly stall under normal driving conditions.  Not now, not in this day and age, nor in any other.  It simply SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. 

This is more than a simple embarrassment on how a "premium" Italian motorcycle is patently inferior to German or Japanese motorcycles.  The safety hazard here is clear and present, and surely has put more than one owner into seriously dangerous situations.  And yet it persists through all Hyperstradas of all model years and engines, as well as some Hypermotards as well.

How on God's green Earth does Ducati get away with this with hardly a peep from anyone?  The safety hazard associated with this is so obvious, yet nobody seems to raise anything more than an eyebrow.  No such issues are ever mentioned in "professional" reviews of the motorcycle, and the owner base seems to simply grin and bear it.

Most astonishingly, there appears to be no fix.  Nobody knows why this motorcycle, or it's 821cc sibling, simply randomly stalls at low speeds when the clutch is pulled in.  No one has developed a way to bump the idle up a few hundred RPM, change the mapping, nothing.  It's simply written off with a shrug as "a Ducati thing".

Some people do blame the charcoal canister,  some the ECU (needing an update), and so on.  But there is certainly no definitive fix.

Now, it seems the newer Hypermotard 950s don't have this issue - although they do / did have some issues with some kind of anti-corrosion gunk clogging up the throttle bodies.

So it seems that Ducati simply can't make their own 821/939 engines behave, and follows on with not knowing how to properly assemble the 950 engine.  So much more Italian engineering expertise.

I really wanted to love this bike, but this issue pisses me off.  With all of the improvements made in computerized engine management, a 30,000km 2001 CBR600 works better than a 3,000 km 2016 Ducati Hyperstrada.

Yes, I realize I'm probably unlucky.  Yes, I realize other owners haven't had issues.  Doesn't change my opinion much.

So, I would advise anyone looking to buy one of these: Don't.

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