With the rise of adventuring motorcycles, the sport-touring segment has been dealt a near-fatal blow. For touring, more motorcyclists prefer the morphing of an ADV motorcycle into a touring mount to the taking a sportbike and trying to take it touring. While I am an unabashed fan of the purely upright adventure-touring genre, the 2020 Ducati SuperSport S Touring makes an insistent argument that the sport-tourer isn’t quite dead yet.
Although Ducati doesn’t sell a SuperSport Touring motorcycle—a shame because the Ducati SST name spurs the imagination—the folks from Bologna are more than happy to present you with a Touring accessory package for $1873. That turns your SuperSport into an SST in short order, with the addition of panniers, a taller smoke-tinted windscreen, and heated grips.
I nabbed a 2020 Ducati SuperSport S—complete with Öhlins suspension and an up/down quickshifter—and turned it into an SST S. That called for a trip to the iconic California Highway 1 to celebrate the magnificent engineering that has gone into the coast-hugging route between Morro Bay and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Needless to say, I strayed inland for additional sporting hijinks along the way.
Starting from my sister’s home in San Luis Obispo, I was greeted by chilly winter morning temperatures. That means low 50s for me, so I was thrilled that heated grips are part of the Touring package. As I flew up U.S. Route 101, including a mockingly fast dispensing of the steep Cuesta Grade, I was able to tap into the heated grips via the button and switch array on the left handlebar. Changing the settings is easy, though in 2020 it’s hard to not feel cheated looking at an old school LCD dash rather than a bright new TFT display. I had the heat at full power, as the mid setting doesn’t feel like it does much.
Approaching Templeton, I peeled off El Camino Real at Vineyard Drive. Leaving the scenic but boring freeway behind, I was headed for the beautiful roads of Paso Robles’ wine country. After crossing California Highway 46—a left turn would have sent me to the coast—vineyards and wineries appear around every bend in the road.
With the chill in the air, I warmed up the SST’s tires and myself gently, letting the Touring power mode work its friendly magic. The middle of three modes, the Touring mode provides full power, with the throttle responding appropriately to my input. When nursing the throttle gently, the power was delivered as expected. Here and there, the siren’s song of speed wafted into my ears, and I twisted the throttle with more authority. When doing that, I’m rewarded by the Testastretta 11° motor’s aggressive throttle response. It’s impressive what ride-by-wire and excellent programming will do.
The backroads of Paso Robles wine country can be dirty and damp, and this morning ride was no exception. Ducati sets the traction control to medium (level 4) in the Touring mode, and it was never bothersome. The Bosch ABS gets cranked up to the maximum level, and I did feel a bit of its effect entering into a dirty corner. I still have to mind my Ps and Qs, as the Ducati SuperSport does not have an IMU for cornering ABS.
Another feature of the SST that makes the ride more enjoyable is the up/down quickshifter. Yes, it’s a race-bred accessory, yet it is also something that reduces fatigue while touring. I was able to glide through the countryside, shifting up and down intuitively and smoothly, without any concern for the clutch. The more you get used to quickshifting, the more liberating it is.
Cutting back toward Paso Robles on the wonderful Adelaida Road, I picked up Nacimiento Lake Drive just before town and headed north. A favorite road of mine, it’s game on once I get past San Marco Road and leave the vineyards behind. That necessitated the pushing of a few buttons to move into the Sport mode, and then reduce grip heaters to medium. It has warmed up a bit, as the dash thermometer reveals.
Although easily accomplished, switching between modes and settings on the Ducati SuperSport is a bit more time consuming than it should be. While it’s not an issue on a freeway or open highway, the time required to lock in a change in the settings is a bit distracting. I would complain more if Ducati’s safety police insisted I stop to alter the setting. However, I’d still like a more instantaneous locking in of the setting when I press in the confirmation button, which is integrated into the turn signal switch.
Nacimiento Lake Drive is a great place to let the SST kick on the afterburners. In Sport mode, the throttle response demands more attention, and rewards you with instant implementations of your desires. The 937cc motor is a short-stroke design, yet it retains the unintimidating power delivery that we often associate with a 90-degree V-twin. The throttle is never jerky, even as it provides satisfying acceleration. On superbikes, I often find myself sticking with a less-than-maximum power mode on the street, as I’m slowed down by an excessively snappy throttle response. The Testastretta 11° makes all the power needed for high-speed sport-touring, and it delivers it in a fantastically usable way, with maximum torque coming in at an early 6500 rpm.
Sport mode also reduces the intrusion of the traction control and ABS, and sets rear-wheel lift mitigation to medium. Those settings are all sensible, and the SST’s computer never annoyed me with nagging behavior. If it was kicking in and saving me here or there, I didn’t know it. Through a few more button pushes, you can personalize the traction control and ABS settings to your liking within each of the three modes. I didn’t find that to be necessary, though outliers and fastidious pilots will be rightfully thrilled with that option—I’m glad the choices are there for those who require them.
Even though I had a half-tank, I filled up in Lake Nacimiento, knowing that it would be a while before another gas station would greet me. Filling up the 2020 Ducati SuperSport S, I received a number of laudatory comments from the locals at the Fill & Save. Even if you’re not a motorcyclist, a Ducati sportbike with bags spurs the imagination.
A quick ride over Nacimiento Dam, a 210-foot tall earthfill that created the lake in 1958, assured me that all was well with the water level. A run up the hill took me to my next turn—Interlake Road. It’s aptly named, as it runs between Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio.
Interlake Road is another bit of paradise for motorcycling. Like Nacimiento Lake Drive, it is a lightly traveled road, which also means that law enforcement has found happier hunting grounds—at least on weekdays. Filled with sweepers and no surprises, Interlake Road allows the Ducati SST to stretch its legs. The Testastretta 11° sings its mechanical arias, complete with desmodromic timekeeping.
Once past the amusingly named Bee Rock Store, Interlake Road opens up and the sky is the limit as far as speeds go. The Sport mode does its duty here, along with the quickshifter. The only vehicle I passed on Interlake Road was a trash truck—the driver presented me with an enthusiastic wave as I rocketed by.
Interlake Road terminates in Lockwood, and that means a left turn on Jolon Road with Fort Hunter Liggett as the next destination. Straight and short, another left-hander at Mission Road puts you on the doorstep of Hunter Liggett.
Getting through Fort Hunter Liggett used to be a pain. In years past, lots of paperwork checking had to be done, along with the occasional search, and you were always under a watchful eye. Now, you simply ride onto and through the base—much better. Just before you get to the administrative area, it’s time for a left turn on to the bucket-list worthy Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.
Fort Hunter Liggett is an absolutely stunning piece of real estate, covering 167,000 acres. Accompanying a European journalist on a different ride, we stopped for a break in an open area. He looked out and said, “This is like being in the African savannah.” It’s not that far, so be mindful of the artificially low speed limit, and enjoy the view.
Out of habit, perhaps, I keep it cool riding through Fort Hunter Liggett—I don’t want a federal speeding ticket or, worse, to end up in an Army stockade. Yes, I had clicked the power mode into Urban in a self-policing move. The Ducati SuperSport S is happy to play along, as the L-twin purrs contentedly as it puts out a maximum of 75 horsepower in Urban and has a relaxed throttle response. The ergonomics keep me reasonably comfortable as I sightsee, though it is nowhere near as relaxing as a Multistrada.
Eventually, you pass another unattended security checkpoint, and you’re in the Monterey Ranger District of the sprawling Los Padres National Forest. The need for speed doesn’t return, however, as you’re on a one-and-a-half lane road with plenty of blind corners as it follows the twisting Nacimiento River—nacimiento is Spanish for birth, by the way. Although Nacimiento-Fergusson Road isn’t heavily traveled, you will likely meet oncoming traffic from California State Route 1 (aka Cabrillo Highway and Highway 1) and the small campgrounds in-between.
Urban remains the preferred mode on this narrow mountain road. There are plenty of slick sections under the canopy of trees, and there’s no place to let the motor spin up. Again, this is a place to take it easy and enjoy the natural beauty. Don’t worry, faster roads await.
Eventually, you hit the ridgetop, and the view opens up, if not the road. You are still looking at Urban mode all the way down to Highway 1, as the road is narrow, sometimes littered with debris, and there are no guard rails. However, you are rewarded with a dizzying view of the Pacific Ocean that is jaw-droppingly spectacular—one of the best you will ever experience, weather permitting.
Coming down Nacimiento-Fergusson Road on a motorcycle with a grabby (or weak) brake would be an intimidating experience. Ducati sport models can have brakes with an aggressive bite. Appropriate for the mission of the SuperSport S, that is not the case with the Brembo M4.32 calipers, so working down the paved switchbacks isn’t an issue.
Eventually making my way down to Highway 1, I turned right and headed toward Carmel-on-the-Sea. I had a lunch appointment with a friend, so it was time to return to Sport mode and twist the throttle. Sightseeing wasn’t over, and I was quickly rewarded with Limekiln Creek Bridge and the relatively new fortress-like $22 million Rain Rocks Rock Shed at Mud Creek—one of the most unusual public highway structures you’ll run across.
Being a winter weekday with temperatures in the 50s, I had free rein on Highway 1 and made the most of it. There were few oncoming cars, and passes were infrequent and easy. It pays to ride off-season. Sure, the temperature is down 10 or 20 degrees from the summer, but even a fair-weather rider like me will trade that for a wide-open road.
Now running the heated grips on medium and enjoying the helpful protection of the windscreen, I was making serious time toward Big Sur, a 30-mile scamper from Nacimiento-Ferguson Road. The Ducati SuperSport S’s easy handling makes it possible to enjoy some of the scenery as I am cranking on the power. Torque is what the Testastretta 11° is all about, and nowhere is that more evident than on this corner-filled route, and the quickshifter again delighted me with its smooth, non-distracting performance. Braking is forceful when needed, though never overbearing.
I was also finally able to get a real sense of the Öhlins suspension—the main reason for the S designation on the SuperSport. Without a doubt, the Öhlins are fantastic units. The factory settings suited me perfectly, on Highway 1, as I blazed along at varying speeds. The suspension didn’t dive on corner entries or squat on exits, and the SuperSport S felt like it was on the proverbial rails on every single corner.
Still, the Öhlins did remind me that the Ducati SuperSport S is due for an updating. The old school LCD is staring you in the face, so that’s the most obvious. However, I was missing the ability to adjust the suspension electronically. Yes, I’m spoiled, but that’s natural as technology advances.
The SuperSport S Touring edition isn’t a one-trick pony. It’s expected to do all sorts of chores, from touring to sport riding to commuting—all stated goals by Ducati. When that sort of versatility is required, electronically adjusted suspension is critical. No one wants to stop and readjust the suspension every time the motorcycle changes roles. On the upside, the Öhlins do work great on everything from the high speeds of Highway 1 to the first-gear trudge on Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, but I still want electronic adjustability. Hey, at least I’m not being greedy and demanding semi-active electronic suspension—not that I’d turn that down on the SuperSport S.
The Ducati SuperSport S’s natural high speeds brought me to Big Sur in no time. I wistfully whisked past Nepenthe, dreaming of a delicious hamburger as my appetite gnawed at my attention. The range indicator on the Ducati dash told me that I had enough fuel to get me to Carmel. I wasn’t sure that I might outride it, so I gassed up at the Big Sur Shell station to the tune of $5.999 a gallon. Really, the Ducati didn’t take on enough fuel to make me wince. As I continued on, I noted the River Inn Valero station in north Big Sur, though no price was displayed.
North of Big Sur, Highway 1 gets its kinks out and speeds increase. The roads were still lightly trafficked, so the Ducati willingly obliged. There were a few people at Bixby Creek Bridge, so I let the Testastretta 11° serenade them—it’s not that loud with stock pipes. As I entered Carmel, I returned the mode to Urban—no need to get a ticket when I’m not going very fast and having fun.
My friend, a longtime motorcyclist, was justifiably envious of my ride when we met in front of Fourtané Estate Jewelers. After a struggle to find a place to safely park the SST—the zippers on the bags don’t lock, though the bags lock to the motorcycle—we convened for lunch at the Village Corner California Bistro. We later learned that there were padlocks for the zippers ensconced in one of the bags. However, they are easily defeated.
The Village Corner’s Classic French Dip, along with some excellent French fries, did a superb job of filling me up for the ride back to San Luis Obispo. Many discussions were had, and time started to get away, as it always does with friends.
It had been chillier than expected all day long and, while I was never cold, I was never quite comfortable. The nip does help keep the mind on the road, so that’s a plus. As it was getting late after lunch, I was facing the decision. I could either head inland for warmer temperatures and the drone of reasonably scenic U.S. Route 101, or taking another stab at Highway 1 all the way down to Morro Bay, 120 curving miles away. Needless to say, Highway 1 won the internal battle, nudged on by the delights the Ducati SST had already provided.
Later in the day, it was even quieter, particularly after Big Sur, where I topped off again—this time at the Valero, where I saved a whole dime per gallon. Again, the Ducati insisted that I could make it, but I wanted to erase any range concern from my mind so I could focus fully on the ride ahead.
With the Sport mode urging me on and a clear road ahead, I was on the gas. The Ducati SuperSport S Touring never disappointed, and didn’t fight with me. As I was well into a 300-mile day almost exclusively of two-lane twisties, I greatly appreciated that the SST was keeping fatigue at a minimum, all the while warming my hands.
I took a single break to say hi to the elephant seals south of Piedras Blancas Light Station. Although the seals do have to worry about getting swallowed up by a shark or orca in the water, they have not a care in the world on the beach.
Exiting Cambria southbound, it’s getting darker, colder, and Highway 1 becomes a less interesting ride, though still scenic. I cut inland on California Highway 46 back to Templeton, which I traversed earlier in the day. Highway 46 has its own enjoyable mountain vibe, so I did appreciate the change of scenery. Once I hit the 101 in Templeton, it was an easy 20 minutes back to my sister’s home as the sun was settling into the job of setting.
There’s nothing like a long solo ride on spectacular roads. The 2020 Ducati SuperSport S with the Touring Package revealed itself to take touring as seriously as it does sport riding. Other than my wish for electronically adjustable suspension, which I knew I didn’t have going in, the SST delivered every single dollop of exhilaration I could have wanted, all the while making the ride as effortless as possible. The Ducati SuperSport S reminds us why the sport-touring genre is one that should be nurtured so it can continue to blossom with extraordinary motorcycles such as this.
Action photography by Kelly Callan
Static photography byDon Williams
- Helmet: HJC RPHA 11 Pro
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Sprint TT
- Back protection: Dainese Pro-Speed G1
- Shoulder and elbow armor: Joe Rocket C.E.
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Pro Street
- Jeans: Joe Rocket Accelerator
- Boots: XPD X-Two
2020 Ducati SuperSport S Touring Specs
- Type: L-twin Testastretta 11°
- Displacement: 937cc
- Bore x stroke: 94 x 67.5mm
- Maximum power: 110 horsepower @ 9000 rpm
- Maximum torque: 69 ft/lbs @ 6500 rpm
- Compression ratio: 12.6:1
- Fueling: Continental EFI w/ 53mm Mikuni throttle bodies
- Cooling: Liquid
- Transmission: 6-speed w/ up/down quickshifter
- Clutch: Wet multiplate w/ slipper action
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: Tubular steel trellis frame mounted to cylinder heads
- Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable Öhlins fork; 5.1 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable Öhlins shock; 5.7 inches
- Wheels: Three-spoke alloy
- Front wheel: 17 x 3.50
- Rear wheel: 17 x 5.50
- Tires: Pirelli Diablo Rosso III
- Front tire: 120/70 x 17
- Rear tire: 180/55 x 17
- Front brakes: 320mm discs w/ Brembo M4.32 Monoblock four-piston calipers and radial master cylinder
- Rear brake: 245mm disc w/ two-piston caliper
- ABS: Bosch (3 levels, plus off)
Dimensions & Capacities
- Wheelbase: 58.3 inches
- Rake: 24 degrees
- Trail: 3.6 inches
- Seat height: 31.9 inches
- Fuel tank capacity: 4.2 gallons
- Estimated fuel consumption: 40 mpg
- Curb weight: 463 pounds (sans bags)
- Star White Silk
- Ducati Red
2020 Ducati SuperSport S Price w/ Touring Package:
- $17,268 MSRP
2020 Ducati SuperSport S Review – Photo Gallery