First Ride Review
We’re living in the golden age of adventure bikes. Because the segment has been a rare patch of growth during a decade of sluggish motorcycle sales, manufacturers have watered and fertilized that patch, investing resources that might have previously gone elsewhere. New models crop up all the time and existing models are updated often.
Occupying the sporty end of the adventure bike spectrum, Ducati’s Multistrada family is flourishing, with five models to choose from. For 2018, Ducati gave its open-class Multistrada the larger 1,262cc L-twin derived from the X-Diavel, boosting torque in the midrange. Also improved, among other changes, is what Ducati calls the “human-machine interface,” or HMI, with revised handlebar switches and a more intuitive menu for changing parameters such an engine output, suspension settings, ABS and traction control within each of the four riding modes (Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro).
It was no surprise, then, that Ducati announced similar upgrades for the Multistrada Enduro, its go-anywhere adventure tourer. Like the Multistrada 1260, for 2019 the Enduro gets the 1,262cc L-twin, the improved HMI and other changes, such as Ducati Quick Shift for clutchless up and down gear changes and the ability to pair the bike via Bluetooth to the Ducati Link app, which allows changes to the bike’s electronics to be made remotely.
Because the previous Multistrada 1200 Enduro was such a large, imposing motorcycle, with an enormous 7.9-gallon fuel tank, an extra 1.2 inches of suspension travel, a 34.25-inch seat height and a claimed curb weight of 560 pounds, Ducati dialed things back a bit on the 1260 Enduro in the name of accessibility. Figuring that the Enduro’s Sachs-built, semi-active Ducati Skyhook Suspension (DSS) Evo can handle whatever punishment a rider dishes out, front/rear suspension travel has been reduced from 7.9 inches to 7.3 and the Skyhook calibration has been revised. Reducing suspension travel lowered the center of gravity and lowered the seat height to 33.9 inches—still tall, but every little bit helps. Other ergonomic changes include a 1.2-inch-lower handlebar and nearly half an inch shaved off the cleated footpegs’ rubber inserts. What hasn’t changed is the spacious cockpit with plenty of legroom, the comfortable riding position and the one-hand-adjustable windscreen.
To offset weight added by the larger engine, the 1260 Enduro’s cast aluminum swingarm has thinner walls, its skid plate has larger cut-outs and its redesigned tubeless spoked wheels are more than four pounds lighter. The net result is, with the big tank full and all other fluids, an unchanged curb weight of 560 pounds, so if you plan to ride off-road, bring a friend in case you need to pick it up.
Ducati hosted its press launch for the 1260 Enduro at the Nipozzano Castle in northern Tuscany, Italy. Nestled in the heart of the Chianti Rufina wine region, the 1,000-year-old castle is surrounded by vineyards and olive orchards. The scenic location in the foothills of the Appenines Mountains also happens to be home base for the Ducati Riding Experience Enduro, an off-road training academy that teaches riders how to get the most out of the Multistrada Enduro. After a 100-mile on-road test on country roads so tight that I never shifted higher than third gear, we did a 35-mile off-road loop on rocky, muddy two-track in the forest, on several laps of an obstacle course in a grassy field and on gravel paths in a vineyard.
For our on-road test, we rode bikes fitted with Pirelli Scorpion II 90/10 adventure tires and equipped with the accessory Touring Pack, which adds aluminum panniers made by Touratech, heated grips and a handlebar bag. Having ridden every iteration of the Multistrada over the past 10 years, I’m consistently impressed with how much better they get with each model change. Grabby clutches and low-rpm fussiness and tempermental throttles are distant memories. Rough edges have been sanded smooth and creature comforts have been steadily enhanced, though the big L-twin still throws off some heat, especially on the left side.
Select the riding mode to suit your mood, and as much as 158 horsepower and 94 lb-ft of torque (claimed) and the very best in electronics to control chassis dynamics are at your disposal. Regardless of road condition or riding pace, the 1260 Enduro is unflappable, and being narrow between the knees with a wide handlebar, much of its heft melts away. Precise throttle control, excellent Brembo binders backed up by cornering ABS and telepathic DSS Evo make the big Enduro easy and reassuring to ride, and a lower first gear and lower overall gear ratio give it plenty of snap.
Off-road riding, however, requires more care and concentration. For the off-road test, bikes were equipped with a short windscreen, the mirrors and footpeg inserts were removed and the wheels were shod with Pirelli Scorpion Rally big-block knobbies. Switching to Enduro mode reduced engine output to 100 horsepower, softened throttle response and adjusted the electronics for low-traction conditions. The wide fuel tank adds a visual sense of mass, but when standing on the pegs the bike feels nicely balanced. And when it came time to dab my foot, like when I target fixated on a tire-sucking section of mud, the lower seat height helped me keep the shiny side up.
Off-road settings for ABS and traction control are nothing short of miraculous, and frankly are all but necessary when navigating such a large bike over technical terrain. Emergency stops are no-drama affairs, and well-controlled power slides bring out my inner child. The skid plate keeps the underbelly safe and aluminum side panels protect the fairing, but the hand guards with integrated turn signals are vulnerable, as one rider demonstrated—after his low-side crash the left hand guard and clutch master cylinder were dangling from wires and hoses.
Even though it has “Enduro” in its name, the Multistrada 1260 Enduro is really well-mannered for street riding, and its extra suspension travel, long-range fuel capacity, good wind protection and cruise control will appeal to touring riders who like to burn miles, solo or two-up. Whether selecting a particular riding mode, customizing various settings or adding one of the four accessory packs, it can be adapted to just about any sport or adventure touring situation. Maybe Ducati should call it the Multitasker 1260 Enduro.