Road Test Review
If, as the saying goes, four wheels move the body but two wheels move the soul, then the Ducati Multistrada 1200—a snarling, sexy, technological tour de force—gives my soul whiplash. Among the hundreds of motorcycles I’ve ridden over the past few years, it’s one of a select few endowed with a game-elevating, mojo-maximizing X-factor that makes riding a transcendent experience. I can recall my first ride on the new-for-2010 Multistrada 1200 like it was yesterday: cloudless blue sky, brilliant white bike, 150-horsepower Sport mode, roaring exhaust, high-alpine section of Angeles Crest Highway. Every turn of the handlebar, every twist of the throttle felt just right. Riding near the limit with confidence and finesse, I was immersed in a state of amped-up focus, what psychologists call “flow.”
With adventure-bike styling and ergonomics, a superbike-derived 1,198cc L-twin engine and riding modes that adjust engine output, throttle response, traction control and suspension damping, the multipurpose Multistrada nearly clinched Rider’s Motorcycle of the Year award for 2010. But it was held back by some teething issues, such as balky low-rpm fuel delivery, a mushy rear brake and leaky saddlebags (on the S Touring model), all of which were fixed under warranty or resolved for the 2011 model year (Rider, June 2010, May 2011). By offering Ducati’s unique brand of race-bred performance in a versatile, comfortable, easy-to-live-with package, the Multistrada 1200 became a bestseller.
Hoping to build on its success, Ducati upgraded the Multistrada platform for 2013 and expanded its lineup to include the base model and three S models—Touring, Pikes Peak (which replaces the Sport) and the all-new Granturismo. The Granturismo is the bike that serious sport-touring Ducatisti have been waiting for. In addition to options common to all S models, like Ducati Skyhook Suspension, saddlebags, a centerstand and heated grips, its goody bag also includes a bigger windscreen, a taller handlebar, larger saddlebag lids (increasing total capacity from 58 to 73 liters), a 48-liter top trunk, luggage liners, a rider comfort seat, auxiliary LED lights, engine protection bars and Pirelli Angel GT sport-touring tires. The icing on the cake is special matte gray paint with a gray frame and partial red pinstripes on the black 10-spoke wheels, which match the seat stitching. All of this coolness carries a price tag of $21,995—$5,000 more than the base model and $2,000 more than the S Touring.
Although aesthetic changes from the previous model are few, improvements to the Multistrada 1200 for 2013 are many. The 1,198cc Testastretta 11˚ L-twin got a dual-spark cylinder head for more complete and consistent combustion, repositioned fuel injectors for improved vaporization, and a secondary air-injection system and revised engine mapping for smoother running, particularly at low rpm and under load. At times, our test bike needed some cranking before it would start, but on the road, regardless of rpm or riding mode, the Multistrada feels more refined, purring quietly at cruising speeds and responding precisely to small throttle inputs. Yet, in full-power Sport and Touring modes, it retains every bit of its aggressive character, lofting the front wheel easily in first or second gear and ripping out of corners like the Tasmanian Devil. Claimed horsepower is unchanged at 150, but Ducati says the engine changes boosted both torque and fuel economy. On Jett Tuning’s dyno, the 2013 Multistrada spun up 139.2 horsepower at 9,300 rpm and 85.5 lb-ft of torque at 7,400 rpm at the rear wheel in Sport mode, up from 136.2 horsepower and 82.8 lb-ft on the 2010 model. And, over the course of this test, running the required premium fuel, we recorded an average of 37.9 mpg vs. 35.8 mpg in 2010.
When it debuted three years ago, the Multistrada 1200 was one of the first motorcycles equipped with fully integrated electronics. Four riding modes (Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro) offered different settings for engine output, throttle response and, on S models, Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES). Sport mode, for example, provided full power, aggressive throttle response, mild DTC intervention and firm suspension damping. For 2013, multiple ABS modes have been added to the mix, and the passive, Öhlins-built DES has been replaced by semi-active, Sachs-built Ducati Skyhook Suspension. The Ducati Safety Pack (DTC and ABS) is now standard on all Multistrada models, not just S versions, and revisions to the eight-level DTC software make intervention less noticeable than before. The anti-lock braking system, which uses the latest two-channel Bosch 9ME ABS control unit with four pressure sensors, is now linked front-to-rear and offers three modes: ABS1 (Enduro), with less rear intervention; ABS2 (Sport), with minimal intervention; and ABS3 (Touring and Urban), with more intervention and rear wheel lift prevention. DTC and ABS can be deactivated in any riding mode, and the selection will be saved even after the ignition is turned off.
To stay on the leading edge of technology, the 2013 Multistrada S models are among the first motorcycles to be offered with semi-active electronic suspension. As good as Ducati Electronic Suspension was, Ducati Skyhook Suspension (DSS) is even better because damping is adjusted in real-time rather than in a fixed manner based on particular settings. The DSS control unit takes in a continuous stream of signals from the front and rear accelerometers, throttle position sensor and ABS control unit, and tells the electronic CDCi solenoid valves in the fork and shock how to respond. Each riding mode has its own “zero point”—firmest for Sport, softest for Urban—within the overall range of damping adjustment, but the entire range is available in any mode as needs require. And within each mode, DSS can be further firmed up or softened with two steps of adjustment in either direction. Front preload must be adjusted manually, but setting rear preload requires just a quick push of the button when stopped.
At the Multistrada press launch last fall in Bilbao, Spain, I was intrigued but not fully convinced of the benefits provided by Ducati Skyhook Suspension. The system gets its name from the idea of the bike being “suspended from the sky,” maintaining overall stability and keeping both wheels in contact with the ground. The Öhlins-built Ducati Electronic Suspension on the previous model was sublime, and my first ride in Spain on the DSS-equipped S Touring seemed a bit lackluster in comparison. But, back at home months later, with 1,000 miles in the Granturismo’s saddle on local roads, mostly solo but also two-up, I’ve seen the light. The Sachs system is not quite as supple as the Öhlins setup, but DSS never gets out of sorts, and it responds to changes in direction, speed, lean angle and road surface better than any suspension system I’ve experienced. And on those embarrassing occasions when I got discombobulated mid-corner, DSS helped smooth my ruffled feathers. With similar systems now offered on high-end sportbikes and adventure tourers like the BMW R 1200 GS and KTM 1190 Adventure, semi-active suspension—offered along with fully integrated riding modes—is the future.
Because of its riding modes, Ducati’s marketing department touts the Multistrada as four bikes in one—a sportbike, a touring bike, an urban bike and an enduro bike. Really, it’s just one bike—a tall, adventure-styled sport tourer—that can be easily adapted to a range of riding conditions. Changing modes certainly makes a big difference in how the Multistrada behaves, but it isn’t a Transformer robot. It doesn’t adopt a crouched riding position in Sport mode, nor acquire more wind protection, a lower seat and shaft final drive in Touring mode. With a 17-inch front wheel and vulnerable hand guards with built-in turn signals (that cost $121.39 each to replace), calling the Multistrada an enduro is a bit of a stretch, especially on the Granturismo with its dedicated sport-touring rubber. But as a sport tourer, it truly excels.
Both the Multistrada and the BMW K 1600 GT, winner of our last sport-touring comparison (Rider, May 2013), put nearly 140 horsepower to the rear wheel, but at 570 pounds wet the Ducati is 187 pounds lighter than the BMW, giving it a much better power-to-weight ratio. All that power is not only addictive but easy to control, though it can also be dialed back in Urban and Enduro modes (to 100.9 horsepower and 69.3 lb-ft of torque) for a more laid-back, fuel-efficient ride. The Multistrada’s wide handlebar—which is 0.8-inch higher than stock on the Granturismo thanks to taller risers—and fairly sporty steering geometry give it light, effortless handling. Ducati’s signature strong, lightweight trellis frame contributes to the Multistrada’s agility, and the top-shelf, triple-disc Brembo brakes provide marvelous control and stopping power.
Taller riders will appreciate the Multistrada’s riding position, which allows for upright posture, a short, natural reach to the handlebar and plenty of legroom. The lofty 33.5-inch seat height isn’t adjustable, but a 1-inch lower seat is available as an accessory.
The Granturismo’s comfort seat is firm but supportive, and the passenger seat and backpad on the top trunk get high marks from my fiancée (her only complaint was the severe lean angles I carried through most of the corners!). One hand is all it takes to operate the pinch-and-slide mechanism to raise or lower the windscreen, which on the Granturismo is wider and taller than stock and is lightly tinted. Wind protection is as good or better than other adventure bikes, but not as good as most sport tourers since they typically have wider fairings and windscreens. Hand guards and heated grips provide some additional protection against the elements. The Givi-made saddlebags and top trunk are cavernous and are easy to open, close and remove (though they can’t be left unlocked), and use the same key in the remote ignition fob that opens the fuel filler.
Grace notes abound on the Multistrada, like the LED headlight and position lights, keyless ignition and steering lock, Brembo radial-pump clutch and brake master cylinders, removable rubber inserts in the cleated footpegs, storage compartments in the front fairing and under the passenger seat, and two 12V sockets. But it has quirks, too, like mirrors that vibrate too much and turn signals that don’t self-cancel. Also, when riding with the balls of my feet on the pegs, my heels rest on the centerstand (left) and swingarm (right). Given the Multistrada’s mission and broad appeal, cruise control, a tire-pressure monitor and adjustable ergonomics would be useful additions.
Like most Ducatis, the Multistrada 1200 isn’t for everyone. It has love-it or hate-it styling (overall, I’m a fan, but I’ve never warmed up to its sharp beak with flared nostrils), a raucous engine with a barky exhaust and a boatload of technology that some regard as too complex or simply unnecessary. But it has won me over with a potent blend of performance, handling and goosebump-inducing excitement—the very qualities that have made me a two-wheeled addict from the very beginning. The much-improved Multistrada, especially in S Granturismo trim, has fully realized its sport-touring potential.