First Ride Review
Funny how things come full circle if you just wait long enough, isn’t it? In the 1950s and ’60s, a British or American twin or single was often used for all kinds of riding, even if it wasn’t necessarily cut out for it. Then in the ’80s we marveled as specialization crept in and the street motorcycle ranks were gradually divided into more and more vertical sportbike, cruiser, touring and dual-sport silos that persist to this day. In the last five years, though, specialization seems to have peaked, and emphasis is once again being put on machines that can do everything. The difference today is that the bikes are actually capable of it.
The Ducati Multistrada is a case in point. Although it has worn the “multiple roads” moniker since it was first introduced for 2003, it wasn’t until Ducati thoroughly revamped the bike for 2010 that it really began to deliver on the sport/touring/urban/enduro promise. Previous 1000 and 1100 versions were bare bones and focused mainly on sport riding, with a little extra suspension travel, ground clearance and semi-upright seating to tackle the nasty, bumpy bits on roads like the mercilessly twisty Futa Pass in Italy where the bike was developed. The 2010 Multistrada 1200 stirred in heaps of two-up comfort, convenience and more dirt-road worthiness to truly earn its “Four Bikes in One” title, especially in Sport mode with the 150-horsepower “Testastretta” (narrow head) engine adapted from the 1198 superbike.
Following a refresh for 2013 that upped its touring capability and user-friendliness with more torque and dynamic Ducati Skyhook Suspension (DSS), the Multistrada subsequently went on to become the company’s bestselling bike in its biggest market—the USA. Many of those buyers were first-time Ducati owners who were drawn to the bike’s versatility and 150 horsepower at the crank, only to be put off by the feisty Testastretta 11° V-twin’s roughness at low revs. The snorting and bucking characteristic of so many high-performance Ducatis when they’re held back at low speeds was a particular annoyance for touring riders, who need civility and smoothness for slow maneuvers and two-up riding.
Ironically, the Multi’s 1,198cc engine had already been tamed by reducing its valve overlap—the brief period during which both the intake and exhaust valves are open—from 41 degrees in 1198 sportbike spec to just 11 degrees, hence the Testastretta 11° designation. Less valve overlap is better for smoothness and torque at low engine speeds; more overlap increases power at higher ones. No matter how much is used, though, a fixed amount is always a compromise, since the valve timing is the same for all engine speeds and conditions.
Rather than reduce valve overlap further and sacrifice top-end performance, Ducati has taken the radical step of adding variable valve timing to the 2015 Multistrada 1200 in the process of thoroughly revamping the bike. This Desmodromic Variable Timing, or DVT, uses hydraulic phasers to rotate the camshafts forward or backward independently relative to the crankshaft, adjusting the duration of the valve overlap a total of 90 degrees, from none for 37 degrees of crank rotation to both valves open for a whopping 53 degrees, even more than the 1198’s maximum.
Incorporating the system was aided by the Ducati’s signature desmodromic valve train, which uses rocker arms to open and close the valves—as such the DVT’s hydraulics don’t have to overcome pressure from valve springs. The result is buttery smooth power and torque delivery at low- to medium engine speeds and maximum performance on top, and the difference was noticeable from the moment we rode slowly out of the hotel parking lot at the bike’s introduction in the Canary Islands. Instead of a lumpy idle and surging at a slow pace in first or second gear, the Multistrada 1200 idles cleanly and accelerates smoothly at low speeds without that characteristic sensation of lugging the engine. The DVT is also responsible for a claimed 7-percent increase in horsepower, to 160 at the crank at 9,500 rpm, and a 9-percent increase in torque, to 100.3 lb-ft at 7,500. From midrange to its 10,500-rpm redline the power delivery is classic Ducati asphalt-buckling superbike, with a spine-tingling growl from the intake and dual silencers. Ducati says surging has been reduced 78 percent, and fuel consumption is down by 8 percent, a benefit we can’t wait to experience once we get a bike stateside for a full test.
Along with DVT, the Multi’s engine also has a new airbox, 56mm throttle bodies and new Bosch 10-hole injectors for more intake efficiency. On the exhaust side there are new headers for better flow, and a new silencer chamber that is Euro 4 compliant. New aluminum clutch and generator covers and magnesium valve covers save weight, and new cam belt covers identify the engine as having DVT. Best of all, valve-clearance checks for the DOHC, desmodromic heads have been increased to 30,000 kilometers, or 18,640 miles, and oil changes are only required every 9,320 miles, or 12 months.
Though the DVT will be remembered for smoothing the Multi’s rough edges, lots more has changed on the 2015 model to make it better overall. A new ergonomic triangle, with a new handlebar, adjustable rider’s seat and passenger grabrails, is roomier and seems more comfortable—more stateside miles will confirm this, too. The bike’s styling is thoroughly refreshed, enhancing its bird-of-prey appearance even further while emphasizing the sensual curvaceousness of the tank, tailsection and even the fob for the keyless ignition. In the process the fairing was widened for more wind protection, and a new windscreen and one-handed adjuster was added that allows easy up-or-down changes of 2.4 inches on the fly. Ducati even moved the engine up in the new frame to increase ground clearance for off-road riding by 20mm to 180mm total, or about 7 inches.
We didn’t get enough miles on volcanic Lanzarote in the Canaries to thoroughly evaluate the new Multistrada, especially since we switched from the uprated S version to the standard model after just 30 miles or so, and the ride concluded after a total of about 120 miles. Both versions have standard cruise control, the first time Ducati has offered it, and both have backlit handlebar switches for easy use at night. The standard Multi is really quite loaded, in fact—its fully adjustable Kayaba 48mm USD front fork and Sachs rear shock with remotely adjustable preload offer tremendous control and good compliance. New 17-inch wheels are mounted with grippy, perfectly profiled Pirelli Scorpion Trail II rubber, and the combined triple disc brakes use Brembo Monobloc calipers with both the master cylinder and calipers radially mounted in front—with its wide bar and generous cornering clearance suffice to say this bike turns and stops like a sportbike. The LCD instrument is comprehensive and easy-to-read, and Ducati is now one of a handful of makers to offer Bluetooth integration for smartphones and headsets, and will offer a smartphone app for data logging and social media specific to the bike.
After DVT the biggest news on the Multi is that both the standard and S bikes now include a Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) capable of measuring roll, pitch and longitudinal, transverse and vertical acceleration as well as their rate of change. The data enables rear lift detection (under braking), allows the ABS to work in corners and adds 8-level wheelie control (DWC), for those times when the 8-level traction control (DTC) is set for less intervention but you don’t want the bike to stand on its back wheel more than a small amount. Never fear fellow Luddites, all of it can be switched off or individually customized, or simply preset along with one of the Multi’s four riding modes—Sport, Touring, Enduro or Urban—which tweaks the engine output from the full 160 horsepower in Sport, to full power with a softer delivery in Touring, to 100 horsepower output in Enduro and Urban. Each mode also adjusts the ABS, DTC and DWC as appropriate for that style of riding.
Jumping up to the Multistrada S nets more than the usual additional bells and whistles. It gets an LED headlight system with a total of six “eyes” for the low and high beams, plus cornering LEDs that light up when the bike leans more than a certain amount at a given speed. Front brake discs grow 10mm and the S-model’s calipers are Panigale superbike-spec Brembo Monoblocs. The instrument panel becomes a bright, very legible fully backlit TFT, the Bluetooth module is standard and it integrates a multimedia system (DMS) that displays smartphone data and allows you to control it using the handlebar switches.
Perhaps the most important addition with the S model is Ducati Skyhook Suspension Evo, which is enhanced in several ways over the original semi-active suspension offered on the 2013 model. Instead of the Kayaba unit, the S gets a Sachs 48mm low-friction pressurized cartridge fork, which has electrically actuated damping valves like the Sachs single shock in back. DSS Evo allows the rider to set spring preload electronically for solo, solo with luggage or two-up, then—through a series of accelerometers, wheel travel sensors, the IMU and a black-box control unit—continuously varies the suspension damping front and rear to best suit the conditions and the preset riding mode. Whether you’re just cruising, riding on irregular pavement, leaning, braking, accelerating or flying the bike off a jump, the damping is constantly changing to provide the most comfort and control and to prevent bottoming or topping out. And if it doesn’t feel right to the rider in some way, the “zero point” of the continuous adjustment can be changed manually.
Niceties common to both bikes include adjustable levers, comprehensive instrument panel info with a trip computer and two 8-amp power sockets, one up front and another under the seat along with a USB port. The steering locks electronically, and the owner can enter a pin code to start the bike in case the fob is lost. Ducati will also offer Sport, Touring, Enduro and Urban “Personalization Packs” for the Multistrada 1200 DVT that include things like side cases, heated grips, a top trunk, centerstand, carbon fiber goodies and off-road-oriented guards and footpegs from Touratech.
After our short ride we’re quite anxious to get more seat time on the new Multistrada 1200 DVT, especially the S version. Both bikes seem exceptionally comfortable, with good wind protection and a very natural reach to the bars, and even with my 29-inch inseam I was able to get my feet down easily with the seat in the 33.3-inch high position. Lowering it to 32.5 inches requires tools and removing some parts, and a low seat is available that takes it all the way down to 31.5. I noticed some vibration in the seat at times, but overall the bike seems more capable of long distances than before. First impressions on the power delivery are of exceptional smoothness and rideability down low, with amazing drive and snap on top and imminently usable midrange. The bike shifts cleanly and easily thanks in part to its servo-assisted clutch, and on our warm riding day on Lanzarote I only noticed a small amount of engine heat on my right leg at times.
Ducati has gone to great pains to keep the weight of passengers and luggage within the Multi’s 60.2-inch wheelbase for better handling, and though the bike’s weight is up slightly due to the DVT and such, rake and trail have been tightened up slightly so it feels less rangy than before and handles very well. We didn’t get a lot of tight corners thrown at us on this ride, but the bike was an absolute joy in every turn. It helps that it’s riding on those sticky 90/10 percent on/off-road Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires, with an enormous 190/55-ZR17 in back. While the standard bike’s suspension feels well-controlled and taut, the jury’s still out on the new DSS Evo until we get more than 30 miles on it. I did notice that Sport mode tightened it up considerably, closer to how the standard model feels in turns and over bumps, and in Touring the bike was plush on the straights but actually felt a bit loose in fast turns. That should be easy to adjust with a button push.
Whether you opt for classic Ducati red or pony up an additional $200 for the gorgeous white bike with red frame, the 2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200 DVT / S will likely please any sport- or adventure-touring rider who wants an exciting blend of high-performance and civility, and who doesn’t mind dealing with chain final drive. Watch this space and Rider magazine for more on the Multi in the near future.