2021 DUCATI SUPERSPORT 950 S | Bike Tests
Ducati’s oh-so sensible SuperSport 950 is more tempting than ever, with improved looks and rider aids
Test Adam Child Photography Impact Images
Back in 2017, Ducati launched the SuperSport 950, utilising the same 937cc Testastretta L-twin engine that can be found powering other models in Ducati’s range. The SuperSport 950 offered a sensible, softer alternative to those who loved Ducati styling, who wanted a Panigale but rationally sought something more real-world; an attractive roadbike that wasn’t going to break the bank balance but was still capable, even on the track.
For 2021 Ducati has stayed with a proven recipe; think of the SuperSport as a practical sportsbike capable of touring and commuting that can also take on the track with knee-dragging fun, while making you feel special every time you open the garage door. Aside from now making the SuperSport Euro-5 compliant without losing any engine performance, the stylish Italians have added even more flair, and improved its design and stance. As well as making the SuperSport more desirable than ever, they’ve also upped the electronic aids with a new 6-axis IMU, which results in more advanced and sophisticated rider aids that are now sensitive to lean angle.
We spent a week and around 1200km in varying conditions, putting the road-focused SuperSport through its paces. So, is this the Ducati road riders should actually buy? Jump on the back and let’s find out.
There is a lovely burble on the overrun, even at low rpm, which pops with character as you roll to a stop. Around town it’s noticeable, but not annoying, simply adding charm. Higher in the rpm, it’s addictive and gives the bike a sporty feel. It sounds soulful for a standard bike, especially one which is Euro-5 compliant. It’s hard not to like.
It has been a while since I’ve ridden a sporty Ducati twin and I quickly remembered why they make so much sense as a roadbike. There is a lovely drive from low down in the revs, accompanied by a snarl and deep breath from the airbox. I’m old enough to remember the original Ducati 916, and my first exciting ride on one. The user-friendly SuperSport makes similar power to the 916 – which makes you think, doesn’t it? – so this is not a slow bike.
Initially, I thought the sensible Duke was a little soft – dare I say, lazy – especially when compared to modern sport bikes that want to rip your arms out of their sockets. But the more clicked-in to the L-twin power I became, the more I enjoyed it. You don’t need to be bouncing off the rev limiter, you don’t need to jump up and down on the (standard) two-way quickshifter…
Instead, there is that lovely spread of torque that allows you to play with just fourth and fifth gear between 100 and 150km/h. That grunt starts to tail off after 8000rpm and power starts to drop after 9000rpm, but 4500-8000rpm is the happy zone that’s perfect for a fast and fluid road ride.
I can see why some may prefer the SuperSport to one of Ducati’s pricier, more focused sporty siblings, especially for the road. You can use the engine, enjoy the sound and feel, drive out of corners and feel in control. You are the boss.
There are multiple rider modes (I’ll explain later), and now lean-sensitive traction control and wheelie control, but arguably they are not needed once you’re up to speed. Sure the 950 will happily lift the front wheel in the first few gears (with the TC disabled), but this is not a bike you have to fight. You’re not clambering over the front to keep the front end down or relying heavily on the electronics to keep you safe like you might on a Panigale V4. And, better still, you’re not doubling the speed limit with every handful of throttle. Yes, it’s quick – 916 quick, if you are old enough to remember – but not scary quick.
At low speeds the fuelling is excellent. Ducati has perfected L-twin fuel injection, the only disappointment being the now-standard quickshifter. Above 50km/h and higher in the revs it works perfectly, but at low rpm it can be snatchy and doesn’t balance perfectly with the revs. It wasn’t consistent either. Sometimes it would work perfectly and sometimes not. Ducati’s quickshifter system on other models, like the new Multistrada, is perfect, but this isn’t. An eight out of 10, maybe, but not perfect like I’ve come to expect from Ducati.
While I’m grumbling, I don’t like the way the bars now trap fingers and thumbs on the new bodywork on full lock. This is only noticeable during slow speed U-turns, usually when one or both feet are down. It’s not dangerous or too dramatic, but annoying and again something I wasn’t expecting from Ducati.
The improved comfort and relaxed riding position haven’t dampened the sporting abilities of the Ducati, but you have to flick into a slightly different mind-set and style of riding to unlock them. The Öhlins suspension is sublime, there is a superb, natural feel from both ends. It copes with everything from fast-flowing stuff to bumpy B-roads taken at speed. I really pushed and asked some difficult questions of the 950’s stability and handling, but the Duke always came back with the correct answers.
The taller riding position will feel more natural for most riders. At 184kg, this is not a heavy bike and you can point and roll into corners with knee-down levels of lean with relative ease. The suspension is on the sporty side of sports touring and holds the chassis once on its side, yet is soft enough to take the strain on the exit, allowing you to dial in the L-twin power early and feel for the grip. Alternatively, simply rely on the very clever electronics, which are now lean-sensitive due to the new Bosch 6-axis IMU.
On track with sticky rubber, an experienced rider will have to have to reduce the suspension’s movement because, in standard trim, the Öhlins set up is a little too soft for serious track action. But for most, especially the target audience, the base set up will work on the road and track, especially if you stay with the standard Pirelli Rosso 3 rubber. It’s easy on track, and far more forgiving than its sporting siblings from Bologna.
The Brembo radial brakes remain as the old model’s, which isn’t a bad thing as they are top quality and more than strong enough for the road and track. Equally, they are not too harsh, there is a nice feel from the lever, perfect for inexperienced riders or those pushing the limits on the track, when you want to brake deep into the turn while feeling for grip.
The big change for 2021 is the introduction of a 6-axis IMU, which means the ABS braking can now be lean-sensitive. There are three levels to choose from: Sports mode is level 2, ‘road and track’, and Touring and Urban are level 3, ‘safe and stable’. Option 1 is front wheel only, conventional ABS, not cornering ABS, which allows you to slide the rear on corner entry. Should you want to, obviously…
The SuperSport is comfortable (the seat has increased in comfort) with relatively high bars and low pegs that are not too far back. When I first threw a leg over the surprisingly low seat (810mm, with optional seats offering plus 25mm and minus 20mm) I was actually surprised by the relatively roomy ergonomics. The screen is adjustable by 50mm, the new TFT clocks is neat and clear, and the visual appeal once onboard is high. The way the bodywork swoops under the clocks, the neat actuation of the buttons, the relatively easy to navigate clocks… it all adds up to a sophisticated cockpit.
My first ride on the SuperSport was a 200km stint of just under two hours. With the screen fully upright, wind protection wasn’t too bad while the seat and ergonomics were faultless. But again, little niggles started to creep in. The mirrors give an excellent view behind but once the revs build and vibrations start, the images become blurred. The mirrors have improved over the previous model but they’re not perfect and at high speed it’s hard to see if the car following has a roof rack or blue lights on the roof – you can see my issue.
The screen is adequate but I think taller riders may prefer something larger, and is the fuel range long enough with a 16-litre fuel tank? The fuel light came on at around the 200km mark, with around 60km remaining, depending on conditions. I averaged 5L/100km, which gives a theoretical range of 270-ish kays. Is that enough?
Ducati has improved comfort, and I rode all day without any physical complaints on that comfortable seat while the bodywork deflected the heat generated by the engine away from my legs. You could easily embark on some serious touring on this comfier 950; there are even optional panniers in the accessories catalogue. But doubts remain about the tank range and those mirrors will start to annoy.
Ducati has made significant gains in the rider aids. For 2021 the Bologna factory has fitted the new SuperSport with a Bosch 6-axis IMU, which measures roll, pitch and yaw. This means the bike knows what is happing, how it is moving. The IMU is linked to the ‘EVO’ rider aids, Bosch cornering ABS, Ducati Traction Control (DTC), Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC) and even the Ducati Quckshift (DQS). The parameters of these are linked to the three switchable rider modes, Sport, Touring and Urban. The traction control is set from 1-8 or off, Sports mode is 3, Touring 4, and Urban 6. Wheelie control is out of 1-4 and off, Sport set to 2, Touring 3, and Urban 4.
Aside from pre-setting the rider aids, each mode has a specific power character set by the ride-by-wire. Sport has the full 81kW (108.6hp) power, sporty setup, Touring full power and a ‘road’ throttle, and Urban 56kW (75hp) and a safe/soft set up. You can play around with the modes and customise your own settings. For example, I had Sport set as full power, with no rider aids and ABS set to 1. Alternatively, you could opt for full power in Urban mode, and increase the rider aids further.
As we’ve come to expect from Ducati, the rider aids are excellent, and a big step over the previous model as well as perfect for experienced or returning riders. The cornering ABS and TC are like riding with an expert on your shoulder, keeping you safe and preventing you from doing something untoward. The new 4.3-inch full colour dash makes the settings clear and easy to customise, for a track day for example.
Should you want to go on track there is also an optional full racing exhaust which adds two percent more power, nine percent more torque and reduces weight by 4.6kg. Not all accessories are performance related. The integrated hard luggage looks stylish and there are also optional screens and heated grips, which can be purchased as a touring package with the panniers.
We have on test the SuperSport 950 S, at $21,850 (ride away), opposed to the standard model’s $19,390 (ride away). The key difference between the standard and the S version is the suspension, which is now decked out with fully adjustable Öhlins units on the S with larger-diameter 48mm forks rather than fully adjustable Marzocchi 43mm forks and a fully adjustable Sachs on the rear suspending the standard model. Brakes, weight and engine performance are the same, so you’re essentially paying $2460 for the suspension, oh, and the single-seat cover. The S is also available in white and, for some reason, that’ll cost you $440 more.
As you’d expect, prices have notched up a fraction from the previous model, but still the SuperSport isn’t smashing the bank, especially in today’s market, where big adventure bikes and sportsbikes are close to $30,000. For comparison, a standard V2 Panigale is now $23,000 and the V4 $31,690.
If I was to be critical and tight (which I am), $2460 for Öhlins suspension is a little steep, despite the quality. But there is no argument the gold Öhlins units do add a cherry to a perfectly formed cake. The new looks, with those obvious shark gills, are more Panigale than ever and, along with new LED headlights, make the SuperSport more desirable than ever.
Ducati is on top form and rolling out one great bike after another, and the SuperSport 950 follows that trend. Ducati has increased its desirability: it’s now a stunning bike, with a functional design that features new LED DRL lights and clever bodywork that takes engine heat away from the rider. The electronics are a welcome and significant upgrade, which can be easily personalised. Now Euro-5 complaint, without losing any performance, the engine/exhaust still delivers fun, character, and real-world performance, which isn’t intimidating.
Surprisingly, I’ve uncovered a few niggles. The mirrors vibrate too much at high rpm/speed, and, with comfort improved, I’d like a longer fuel range so I could embark on some serious miles. Also, the ’bars trap your fingers on full lock, and the quick-shifter isn’t perfect at low speeds – not what we’d expect from Ducati.
There is no doubt, however, that the SuperSport is a great bike. It’s also arguable that the target audience may not want a larger fuel tank, and for just over $19K for the standard model, I’m probably being harsh comparing the fluidity of the quickshifter to far pricier models in Ducati’s range. But for me the 950 is a good bike, a nine out of 10, just not 10 out of 10, which is what I’ve come to expect from Ducati of late.