Road Test Review
When Ducati introduced the Multistrada 1000 for 2003, it was really launching the Italian company’s first street supermoto bike, but no one was associating larger, twin-cylinder street-worthy bikes with the concept behind the grassroots supermoto singles just yet. Declaring it equally at home on the highway, tightly winding mountain passes, in the city and even dirt, the Multi backed up those claims with quick handling, sticky 17-inch rubber, longer suspension travel, a tallish upright seating position with a wide MX-style handlebar and yards of ground clearance. Sound familiar? It was bigger, sure, but those features are right out of the supermoto playbook.
The Multistrada moniker was well-suited to this fun, fast, funky-looking and faired do-it-all bike, and Ducati sold a boatload of ’em. By 2005 homegrown supermoto street bikes and racing had exploded in popularity and—along with seemingly everyone else—Ducati formally jumped into the street supermoto arena with the 2006 Hypermotard, bringing the on/offroad image if not actual capability of sliding and jumping big twins to the street. It came just in time to take the pressure off the Multistrada to play that role, too.
Fast forward to 2008, and with the departure of the ST3 from the lineup Ducati was left without a true sport-touring machine. Enter the 2010 Multistrada 1200, which Ducati has revamped to fill not just the role of sport tourer, but also sportbike, commuter and enduro—four bikes in one, as Ducati likes to say. To drive the point home, it has developed a system for the S version that provides for on-the-fly electronic adjustment of its Öhlins suspension, traction control and engine power/torque output to four preset modes—Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro—or any custom combination you can dream up. The system works impressively well, though I would add that if the fully adjustable Marzocchi front and Sachs rear suspension on the less-costly standard bike is up to snuff, both it and the S perform three of those four roles better than any upright bike in recent memory.
I say three of four because it’s far too sporty, shiny and breakable to pay much more than lip service to enduro riding, what with those gorgeous 10-spoke wheels, particularly the dirt-shy 17-inch (vs. 19 or 21) front. But hey—it does have new, specially designed Scorpion Trail tires that are about 90/10 on/offroad, longish suspension travel and something of a skid plate, so with guts and skill you could certainly tackle a dirt road. Maybe order up some new handguards and mirrors in advance, though….
You won’t need much bravado to go fast elsewhere, as this bike’s got the chops in just about every department. The new Testastretta 11-degree liquid-cooled, L-twin engine is adapted from the uncompromising 1198 superbike, getting its 11-degree name from the smaller arc of intake/exhaust valve opening overlap vs. the 1198’s 41 degrees. This radical cam timing adjustment helps smooth out and bring the power lower in the powerband, and reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Reshaped ports and combustion chambers and a slightly lower compression ratio also contribute to more torque at low rpm and a broader torque curve for better overall rideability on the street than Ducati’s 1198 racebike-with-lights. On the practical side the Multistrada’s 1198cc engine gets new valve seat material and improved temperature management, doubling its valve adjustment/major service intervals to 15,000 miles. Finally, new gearbox and final-drive ratios help reduce vibes at cruising speed and better match the power to the bike’s various roles on the street (and perhaps even in the dirt).
Lest you get the impression from this taming of the beast that the Testastretta 11-degree is somehow less exciting, less Ducati-ish, allow me to remind you that most of us don’t have the cojones to even start an 1198, never mind ride it WFO without first calling a priest. Thus the changes really amount to whizzing on a bonfire—the Multistrada 1200 is one fast, light rocketship with a ferocious bark right out of the box (and I can only imagine what it will sound like with the accessory Termignoni exhaust). On the Jett Tuning Dynojet dyno it cranked out 138 horsepower at the rear wheel at 9,300 rpm, and 85 lb-ft of torque at 7,700. Even with its side cases, centerstand and heated grips the Touring edition weighs just 523 pounds tank full and ready to ride, so we’re talking nearly the power of a Kawasaki Concours 1400 with the weight of a Triumph Tiger 1050. Whack the throttle open in Sport mode and the Multi leaps forward with an angry snarl from the 2-1-2 stubby exhaust, which you’d never know is chock full of closed-loop catalyzer. Its soul-satisfying acceleration makes you want to hunt down lonely roads and triple digits, and wish for far better rearview mirrors.
That said, the engine changes do bring the Multistrada 1200 into the zone where a middle-aged guy like me can also enjoy it every day, look cool and keep his driver’s license, like a BMW GS or Suzuki V-Strom. The seat is tall at 33.5 inches, but more comfortable than it appears, and a low seat is available. Ducati has indeed tamed vibration at cruising speeds (except in the mirrors) and only directs the pulse feel of that wonderful ripping-velvet engine sound to the seat and grips at full honk. The bike shifts well and has a servo-assisted clutch, so it doesn’t wear out your left hand in traffic. The best part—on the S versions anyway—is the engine management options. Not so much for the rated 100-horsepower option in Urban and Enduro modes, but rather for the 150 Low in Touring mode vs. 150 High in Sport, which makes the throttle response more progressive and rider-friendly. In fact, if you received the bike in Touring mode and never changed it, most riders wouldn’t even miss Sport mode. But it is fun to have when you want full power to the thrusters….
The L-twin and gearbox unit is solidly mounted in Ducati’s latest hybrid frame, which mates signature front and rear trellis subframes to a pair of central cast-aluminum sections. More rigidity with less weight is the upshot. This bike also gets a subtle- looking but light and effective cast-aluminum single-sided swingarm, nicely showing off the right side of the rear wheel and easing wheel changes. Everything you need is there, but one look reveals how much the Multi 1200 was engineered for lightness, from the spare tailsection (which incorporates the case mounts), to the stubby twin mufflers, blow-molded polymer fuel tank and the controversial-looking “beak” up front that comprises the air intakes for the oil cooler and airbox. The overall look is like a hawk or falcon about to take down its prey.
That power, lightness, the bike’s quick handling and wide bar make it feel quite nervous at first, even kind of twitchy, like an unbroken stallion. Once the rider settles down the bike does, too, though, and then you’ve never quite had so much fun on a motorcycle this good for long rides. Effortless steering and those sticky tires turn it in and plant the Multi in corners like a big dirt bike wearing slicks. With some work I could just touch the centerstand down in tight corners, but unless you’re really fast and ride two-up all of the time I don’t think cornering clearance will ever be an issue.
Once you have the 48mm male-slider cartridge front fork preload dialed-in manually to eliminate excess dive under braking, it’s child’s play to set up the high-end Öhlins suspension from the rider’s seat on an S version. In addition to rear spring preload, the four presets control compression and rebound damping front and rear, and you can dive in and customize each setting within 32 clicks of damping and 16 of preload. If you get messed up, reset them to the defaults and just ride. It’s all controlled by a central computer and a series of servo motors and cables, eased by the use of a special Öhlins reservoir rear shock and rebound and compression damping control in separate fork legs up front.
ABS is a $1,500 option on the standard Multistrada 1200, but is included along with the Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) by Öhlins and Ducati Traction Control (DTC) system on the S versions. Our preproduction test bike was an S Touring, which also comes with side cases, a centerstand and heated grips. The S Sport drops that stuff and has a smattering of carbon fiber covers and bits instead. We’ll have a follow-up test with a production version later on, as this early preproduction unit ran reasonably well in 150 High and Low modes, but bucked and hesitated at the lower speeds for which the 100-horsepower mode was intended in Urban and Enduro modes. Could be the EFI Ride-by-Wire throttle maps still need some fine tuning. In some deliberate tests offroad of the traction control it seemed to work fine and exhibited a broad range of intervention set to its various levels from 1-8, eight being max intervention. Not something I’d want to find the limits of in a corner, but nice to know is there in the rain on a manhole cover, for example, and useful offroad set to a lower level of intervention.
The ABS works fine and delivers just light feedback to the lever and pedal so you know it’s working, and the dual discs up front with their substantial radial Brembo calipers delivered strong and linear braking force without grabbiness. The rear brake was a pedal of mush, though, and almost useless—probably a preproduction setup issue.
On the highway the Multi is a comfortable companion, with what must be the highest handlebar Ducati has ever put on a bike, handguards with integrated LED turn signals (that strangely are not self-canceling) to block the wind from your hands and three-setting heated grips on the S Touring that effectively warm them. The rider’s seat is comfortable, but taller riders may wish they weren’t locked in position by the passenger seat.
The smallish windscreen adjusts up or down about 4 inches and blocks just enough air with some mild buffeting to make the upright seating position sustainable for long rides; a taller, wider ’screen is available. Rubber inserts in the cleated footpegs provide comfort when you don’t need the extra grip, and all of the switch controls—including those to change and setup the Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro modes—can be operated without taking your hands from the grips. That nicely complements how these presets for the engine output, traction control and electronic suspension can be changed on the fly. To customize them and adjust things such as the LCD instrument backlight level, clock and turn the ABS and DTC on or off, you must be stopped.
One of my longer rides on the Multi 1200 included my wife as passenger, who judged its passenger seating OK except for the seat itself, which is sloped rearward and forced her to hang on to me at all times. This might be cured by the optional top trunk/backrest, or with an aftermarket seat. The side cases on our Multistrada S Touring (optional on the standard and S Sport models) look great on or off, latched fairly easily and the left one will hold a full-face helmet. The right has a large scoop out of its back to clear the exhaust, however, which severely cuts into its capacity. Those on our preproduction bike didn’t close well and leaked. The centerstand is a champ, with a flip-out grab handle to make it even easier to use, but if you ever ride with the balls of your feet on the footpegs, the stand and exhaust can get in the way.
Storage comprises a tiny fairing pocket and a generous three-liter compartment under the passenger seat. We liked many of the electronic enhancements, such as the two power outlets, trip computer, keyless ignition and steering lock. The 5.3-gallon tank gives the bike plenty of range, too, even if it is on premium fuel. Such is the price of performance.
Other manufacturers have adopted traction control, ABS, electronic suspension and even variable engine management and given control of these things to the rider. None have combined their control in such a user-friendly way as the Ducati Multistrada, on a bike capable of conquering so many different types of roads and journeys with comfort, safety and performance. And certainly none have done so in a motorcycle that is also as soulful as this Ducati. Make mine red, please….