Here’s the thing: Ducati’s 2017 Supersport 939 is actually a kind of ST lite. And in 2017, that has turned out to be a smart move – despite the fact that conventional wisdom had long declared the death of supersports and sports tourers alike.
The much lauded ‘adventure’ bike was supposed to have sated our ST requirements with more comfort and greater flexibility. As for Supersports (which everyone outside Bologna defines as screaming middleweight IL4s or triples in sportsbike guise): they were considered dead in the water as road bikes. >13k revs and compromised ergonomics wasn’t getting anyone hard anymore. On planet bike, even the hipsters are middle aged these days: comfort is a priority, and marketing plays on the echoes of youth – hence the tedious dominion of retro. Anything which looks like a contemporary sportsbike was gonna be a strictly limited sell in 2017, surely?
But – just maybe, something fresh is surfacing, as sooner or later it must. A feeling that road motorcycling has got kind of boring – there’s only so far you can go with retro before you long for a hint of yodelling top end, just as there’s only so far you can go with 95% of adventure bikes without longing to be a little bit closer to that front hoop, yearning for that indefinable feeling of being totally planted. And if you miss that….. purity, then maybe you might be tempted away from the Clydesdale. By the Supersport.
Manufacturers respond to trends, but most of them are sussed enough to recognise that trends are by definition mutable: what goes around comes around. Ducati get that. They’ve cleaned up on their own history time and again: the Paul Smart Rep, the Scrambler, the GT, and now…. the Supersport.
That name resonates with historic association: the 1973 SS was the bike which changed the face of Ducati forever. It was based on the race bike which Smart had ridden to victory at Immola the year before, and Ducati’s 1 / 2 in that 200 mile event endorsed the brand as a premier sports marque. The SS suffix lived on in various incarnations, but was never used on the water cooled superbikes most strongly associated with the boys from Bologna.
And in terms of nomenclature that is a significant point. The SS designation is a nod to the past, but also one which differentiates the new bike from Ducati’s full on sports machinery. In terms of functionality, ergonomics, and power production, arguably the Supersport’s true antecedent is one that slipped under the radar: the ST4S. (It was heavier than the new Supersport, but the old 996 lump lurking within the 4s knocked out a tad more power.)
So what we have in 2017 is a sporty sports tourer, powered by the proven 939 Testastretta lump (ex Hypermotard, but with different ratios and head work). That means 210 kg at the kerb (slightly more than I’d hoped for), approx 100 bhp at the rear (slightly less). A pillion can be accomodated in reasonable comfort, ie less comfortably than on an ST4 but luxuriously in comparison with the Panigale range. Luggage is available as an optional extra in the form of panniers. The base model features Ducati’s proven Sachs / Marzocchi combo on suspenders; the S model lavishes Ohlins all round and chucks in the DQS / Blipper unit on top of the ABS and switchable TC common to both bikes. You can get the DQS added to the standard bike for around £180, and given that the standard suspension is so good, this option may make more sense than splashing out the extra £1500 on the S. If you fancy the Ohlins as well, a good tip is to order the S in red. It will save you £300 against the white S, not to mention the inevitable grief of trying to clean the latter’s unlacquered finish, more of which later.
Frame wise, the motor is a stressed member with steel trellis attached, making the Supersport a faired Monster – another link with sporty Ducatis of old.
I’m a tad over 6ft and found the ride position excellent: the bars narrowish and high enough for comfort, the peg position pleasingly neutral. Like so many of its predecessors, the Supersport found a congested town centre on a warm day (warm for England at the end of October) enough to challenge its functionality comprehensively. 110 degrees down below, equally vectored to the rear shock and riders thighs, neutral absenting itself, drive chain complaints….. welcome to a disgruntled urban conveyance. Fortunately, one the best petrol head roads in the SW awaited us just a few miles away, and predictably once the Supersport found itself in the clear and headed for the hills everything changed.
The front end on the standard bike was superb: a feeling of real confidence being transmitted via the Diablo Rosso 3s. I suspect
anything with a stiffer sidewall would work as well or even better. The Sachs on the standard bike had quality damping: things were smoothed out without the rider loosing the feel of what the rear was doing.
The Supersport handles like a pre Panigale Ducati sportsbike: when the Pani first appeared the most notable difference between it and its predecessors was a slight reluctance to turn in and hold a line early doors, something the 999 – for example – was sublime at. The Supersport has no such inhibition. Especially on tight tracks, the 939 will challenge more powerful machinery simply by virtue of its assured handling. Confidence comes as standard with this bike.
In fact, so linear and well balanced is the Supersport’s power delivery that it feels like it isn’t missing anything from the lack of DVT (aka variable valve timing) as seen on the latest incarnation of Testastretta lumps. The Brembo mono stoppers have a fair bit of feel, meaning that they are nicely progressive – the kind that encourage you to experiment with trailing the front brake into corners without anxiety. This despite the fact that the switchable Bosch ABS (c/w different levels) is not of the lean sensitive variety. There are various levels of TC which can be interfaced with power modes and ABS to provide custom control mapping. But the Supersport is a real honey. I’d be just as happy riding it off the right wrist alone.
The sole issue with power delivery concerns the machine’s very low rev performance, ie when threading around gridlock, which highlighted the difficulties previously referred to: I’m not sure anyone should be paying good money for the retention of design flaws, however much they reference marque history….
I’ve known far sportier machines cope way better with urban chaos, and my advice would be to stay clear of Dodge on your 939. If you do find yourself emeshed, use urban mode and hope for the best. And strap anything which needs defrosting to the underside of your thighs. (A factory mod to protect the rear shock from the oven is in the pipeline at the time of writing, but the jury is out on the neutral issue.)
The mirrors were hit and miss depending on where you were in the rev range, and the only other complaint I can think of concerns the S model, or rather the white primer version. I speak from experience. I owned a first generation of Street Triple R, which came with a similar unlacquered finish (in gunmetal grey). The surface on the white bikes will scuff, and you wont get rid of the marks easily. If I were convinced that the Ohlins were unquestionably superior to the standard combo, I’d buy a red S and save some money. If not, I’d buy the standard bike and add the DQS.
The Supersport fills a gap in the market. I still think of it as a light Sports Tourer with sublime handling. Yes, there are a couple of issues, but they are treatable and do not negatively impact on key functionality (unless you spend all your time negotiating traffic jams). I really enjoyed riding the 939, and when all is said and done, enjoyment is why we ride bikes.