Ducati Multistrada Road Test
Since the dawn of time the BMW GS has stood supreme on top of this market and crushed all-comers. Ugly it may be, monstrously huge too, and even controversially famous but no-one can doubt its abilities. Competitors have struggled to produce bikes as bullet-proof, bikes with the ability to cover distance without adopting the barge-like properties of a proper tourer and not be daunted by the odd dirt-road along the way. The only open face helmets in this market are of the off road type, and dusty scarred panniers are preferred to those with built-in vanity mirrors.
So I think the bike world collectively raised its eyebrows when Ducati announced they were aiming at this market, aiming at the mighty GS and looked pretty confident while doing so. Could Ducati build a bike which could take the punishment a GS can? Could it last as long? Will anything in the Touratech catalogue ever fit it? And could Ducati bring themselves to make anything as ugly as a GS?
Londonbikers.com dispatched its Ducati fan and test rider Simon 'DesmoMan' Fraulo to investigate.
The Multistrada: a radically different bike to the last Multistrada and a radically different bike from any past Ducati. In fact, what Ducati has done is produce a motorcycle that is really four machines in one: a touring motorcycle, a sports motorcycle, an endurance machine and lastly an urban motorcycle. However, it doesn’t stop there as you can take anyone of these four configurations and change the setting to almost unlimited combinations of power and traction control setting. On the ‘S’ model the same applies to the suspension: a multiple choice of settings.
Sadly, due to another publication’s slight mishap with a corner, verge and hedge, I was unable to test the Multistrada S. Instead, I was lent a standard Multistrada with ABS, which in hindsight was a blessing as I would have got more than confused with the total number of options available to me on the ‘S’ version (in fact, I’d probably still be sitting on it now, trying to make up my mind what I wanted).
The standard version is a simpler beast in both suspension and electronics. It has good old fashioned traditional suspension, albeit in the fully adjustable shape of Marzocchi USD forks and a Sachs Monoshock at the rear. The more expensive (some £2500 more) model gets electronically adjustable Ohlins front and rear and ABS as standard.
The 'S' comes in a Sport edition with carbon fibre bits or a Touring edition with panniers, heated grips and a centre stand.
All models have the switchable (including while moving) engine maps via the handlebars.
Swinging A Leg
My first impressions as I rode away from Ducati Coventry were of comfort, height, visibility, stability, handling and good rear view visibility. Yes, that’s what I said: in fact, very good rear view visibility – in short, mirrors that work. Seasoned Ducati riders, take a moment to digest that last comment. The impressive MotoGP style instrument panel is clear with lots of information to feed me, including a gear indicator.
Leaving Coventry via the city’s ring road and roundabouts was a joy thanks to the upright riding position and with the engine mapping set on ‘Touring Mode’ I had a very smooth power delivery from the 150bhp motor to cope with the usual slippery roundabouts.
Once clear of the city and well on my way back to London, I had a chance to open the throttle a little and enjoy the comfort the fairing and screen offered me. Coupled with the smooth ride and positive feedback that the standard suspension and Pirelli Scorpion tyres were giving, I soon found myself thumping along at very high speeds quite quickly and confidently.
Purely as part of the roadtest you understand, I seek and find a stretch of almost “private” road that was all but uninhabited, in what shall remain an undisclosed location (long may it remain that way). With no side roads to worry about I was able to pull the pin and very soon I was roaring along at 70+130%mph and still climbing, before I remembered I had fitted panniers and really shouldn’t be doing this sort of speed.
My forgetfulness did prove that this very large motorcycle at high speed is stable despite the panniers, easy to ride, no lying on the tank, no crouching behind the screen and every ripple, bump, undulation and over banding on the road is soaked up by the (basic version’s) suspension. In short: comfortable, effortless and fast.
Two Up Trip to Portsmouth
On arriving in London I had a quick turn around to prepare for a ferry crossing to France. This was going to be a short excursion to see how the Multistrada performed as a ‘touring’ machine. For me it was a forgone conclusion that it would excel itself. But for my partner, who had never been touring or more than 45 miles on any one trip, this was going to be the real test of the bike’s design and ability as a touring motorcycle.
The first thing to do was pack. The (optional on the Standard version) panniers are a reasonable size, although the right hand one is smaller due to it being contoured to fit around the exhausts. Guess which one was mine. For her first motorcycle tour, Lucinda had packed very economically and wisely; on the other hand I was struggling to fit all that I wanted to take. So various camera lenses and other electronic gismos had to be jettisoned and only the bare essentials could go into my pannier, as I wanted to take my SLR camera. (Note to self: next time get a top box). The panniers take 10kg of weight with a maximum speed of 180km/h; the method of attaching and removing each pannier is simple and straight forward. The only issue is that they aren’t rain proof, although showers and light rain are not a problem, which we can vouch for with experience.
This is something that Ducati are aware of and are sorting out.
Leaving London for Portsmouth, loaded and two up was easy on this bike as I made use of the engine mapping, by setting off in ‘Urban Mode.’ This made the motor feel a bit lazy and there would be no worries of overdoing the throttle and popping wheelies and or dropping my passenger off!
Once I got going, I did need to adjust the rear suspension a little; I had made it a little to firm whilst loading the bike. This was easily done at a set of traffic lights due to the very large and easy to grab hold of adjustment knob; a few turns at one set of lights then a couple more at the next and I was happy. (Very GS’ish too – Ed.)
Once free of suburbia and well on our way to Portsmouth, we found ourselves cruising along at a nice early evening pace - now I was running on the ‘Touring map’ and everything seemed to be settled and all was relaxed until after 30 miles I noticed some surging from the engine. I checked the revs, just under 4000rpm, speed 70(ish) mph. I dropped a gear, picked the revs up and the problem went away, only to return as I changed back up and started to cruise again at a comfortable and legal speed. I changed the engine mapping back to ‘Urban’ at the next opportunity; still no difference. Then I tried the sports mode; still no difference, so at the next service station I stopped and called a Ducati boffin at the Ducati boffin centre.
After a brief conversation I found out that there was a known fueling problem at around 3500 – 4000rpm, something to do with the ECU and omissions regulations etc etc, and that I was the first journalist to notice the problem.
Had I noticed this because I was using the bike as a normal touring motorcycle with passenger and luggage? And not tearing up tarmac and hedgerows as other hacks would do, or indeed as I would normally do?
Anyway, the way around the problem/irritation was to stay in a lower gear and keep the revs up, or ride faster (a perfectly admissible reason your Honour – Ed); later on I would chose the latter of the two options. Once on my way again I noticed that the problem was no longer there; strange, what had changed? I still had the same amount of weight as before, pulling the same RPM and speed as before, ah but the temperature had dropped from 21 to 18 degrees and all fueling problems had disappeared. Was this my imagination? – a question that occupied my mind until we made the night ferry to France.
Being awoken by some medieval music being played through the PA system was our announcement that we had arrived. Something wasn’t right, in fact something was very wrong and that something was me! I felt like death warmed up!
I had picked up one of those 24hr flu viruses and I really didn’t want to do anything except stay in bed, let alone ride a 150bhp motorcycle loaded with stuff and pillion. But duty calls and the music and announcements were killing me. So off we went.
Now, if I ever needed clarification as to why a motorcycle would need all these gizmos, other than extreme weather conditions, this was it; and it was a comfort to know that I had ABS, Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and an engine that could be tamed a from wildcat to a domestic cat.
I turned it all on, turned it all down and sat on autopilot for much of our journey down through Brittany. Although I was feeling terrible, I was comfortable and nicely cocooned and protected by the screen. We encountered a few rain showers and some greasy slippery roads, but with all rider aids on, I hardly noticed. (A point of consideration for inexperienced riders in Europe: France’s white lines tend to be much more slippery in the wet than English ones, due to the amount of glass they use in their paint.)
No fueling problems: air temp 18 degrees.
On arrival at our hotel, Lucinda felt comfortable and relaxed; we had just done some 240 miles with one stop for fuel and coffee, so the verdict from the back seat was, so far so good. I, on the other hand, still felt like death warmed up, but surprisingly relaxed. From this point on I don’t remember much of anything till midday the next day. Man Flu: it’s a terrible thing!
Midday the next day: “I’m alive! Where am I? Ah yes. Let’s go! I’ve got a great big fat Ducati to ride.” And that’s just what we did, along fast-flowing French Nationals (A roads), anti-clockwise roundabouts and little traffic.
This bike, two up, in ‘Sports’ mode and no panniers, is a joy to ride: sweeping round fast-flowing bends, thumping along straights, flicking round roundabouts everything feeling smooth and precise. The handling on the Multistrada is fantastic, the gear box slick and smooth and the brakes progressive and firm. Passing through sleepy towns and villages at a nice gentle pace allowed plenty of time to soak up the sights and atmosphere, then later a bit of gentle cruising to enjoy the views of rolling French countryside, when a twinge of the fueling problem hit us: air temp 21 degrees.
I opened the throttle to ride round the problem and yes, it worked as quick fix and was a good excuse to continue to ride faster, but it was at this point getting slightly annoying (I emphasise, only slightly).
This bike is fun to ride and with no panniers it is just as much fun as any sports bike (my 748 included); riding two up is a whole lot easier than any sports bike and the lack of complaints from the passenger deck only testify to its virtues in this area.
After another few days of touring around Brittany it was time for a quick dash to Cherbourg for the high speed crossing (well worth booking as it really is very fast). This was done mainly on motorways as I hadn’t done much high speed, long distance, two up and fully laden riding. As to be expected, the Multistrada stretched its legs and ate the road up with a never ending appetite. I realized that should I be inclined to want to ride from London to Moscow pretty well non-stop, then this was the bike for the job: a mile eater of gargantuan proportions – with a pretty good return on fuel consumption it has to be said, although I hesitate to give figures as I was sometimes riding faster that I would have done or riding in a lower gear and higher revs to avoid the fueling issue. But it’s a big 1200 twin pulling a big bike, don’t expect miracles!
Back in Blighty
No sooner was I back in London then I was on my way to the WSBK round at Silverstone. The only difference was a change of pillion, partner swapped for 13yr old daughter – again, another person whose experience of biking has been limited to only 30 mile trips. Jess was a little excited and slightly apprehensive at first but on arrival she was happy and confident in long distance pillion riding, something that would never have been the case if we had done this on the 748.
After the Silverstone weekend we rode up to Norfolk before returning to Kent for the BSB round at Brands Hatch. In all we did in excess of 900 miles, so Jess is well qualified to give me some feedback on her experiences as a Multistrada pillion.
In short she liked it very much, feeling very comfortable, safe and relaxed. Occasionally slightly bored but that was due to a lack of conversation and being 13, nothing to do with the Multistrada. She felt that it would have been pretty cool to go to Rome via Paris as pillion, the only problem being, and I quote “Where would I put all the clothes that I’d buy?”
We didn’t go.
During this time I came across another little glitch. The LCD fuel display started to stay at a constant level and I got caught out when I did indeed run out of petrol, fortunately very close to a petrol station and not in the Blackwall tunnel where I had been only moments before! Again, after a quick call to the Ducati Boffin to report this event, I was assured that there was a firmware upgrade to fix this glitch. Firmware updates! A switchable ECU with upgrades! Motorcycles have come a long way since I started way back!
Handing It Back
On the run back to Coventry I possibly had the best ride yet, for I was void of pillion responsibilities and consequently I let rip: the kind of ride where everything clicks and you’re dialed in, at one with the bike, Zen and all that stuff.
As a result I arrived back in Coventry a little quicker than I had expected and was met by (the ironically named) Jinx, the guy who prep’s the Ducati press fleet; he was eager to know what I thought of the bike, as he finds that now it is the only Ducati he wants to ride.
I told him I thought it was great, and after riding some 1800 miles in comfort I thought it was time for me to consider transferring to a more sensible motorcycle such as the Multistrada.
At that point Jinx handed me the key for my next test, an 848 Dark; it looked sleek, cool, and very, very small and cramped compared to the bike I had just got off. As I pulled on my helmet, Jinx lent forward and with a smile said “I’ll give you 10 minutes and you’ll be begging to be back on the Strada. Good luck, see you in a fortnight… or 10 minutes.”
So off I set and in truth, he had a point. I was cramped, sitting on a plank of wood, I couldn’t see behind, I could feel every bump in the road and it felt like my backside was higher than my head!
Well, did I want the Multistrada back? Watch out for the next Ducati instalment, folks.
Now for the £11695 question (or £14295 if you want the ‘S’) - would I buy this bike?
Hell yes, it’s a Ducati with mirrors that work!
Besides that, it’s comfortable, it’s got grunt, it’s got stability, it’s got style, it’s got great suspension, it’s got good brakes, in short it’s got everything for all occasions (that is, when fitted with the right tyres). Knowing that fixes are available for the fueling and display issues and a slight improvement to the panniers is coming, the answer is an even firmer “yes”!
The Multistrada 1200 isn’t the best bike I have ever ridden nor is it the fastest but those bikes were made for one style of riding, one purpose, only.
Ducati’s Multistrada 1200 is, however, the best all round bike I have ever ridden and that is where it wins over anything else. It’s fun, it’s sensible, it’s safe and it’s plenty fast enough.
And it is, at the touch of a button, many bikes in one. The future of motorcycling is with us here and now and it’s not orange, it’s very definitely red! (or pearl white or black).
So it is again with thanks to Ducati UK for the chance to test ride the Multistrada; and to Metropolis Motorcycles for allowing me to photograph the bike in their Vauxhall showroom.
Simon clearly enjoyed his time on the big stick. The Multistrada is very much to be applauded for its audacity and complexity and I can’t find reports online of them going wrong though it is early days. But a service interval of 15,000 miles infers that Ducati are confident of its quality, and remember that despite (or because of) signing Rossi they aren’t big enough to survive a scandle about their new bikes falling to pieces.
The whole “Four Bikes In One” thing is easily dismissed as a gimmick – switchable ECUs are not new (hello Gixxers) but on this application they make sense. What’s the point of taming the power on a sportsbike? Most don’t go out in the bad weather so why have a wet weather setting? We’ll have our sportsbikes full fat please.
The Multistrada is competent enough, flexible and well designed enough to actually be four bikes in one, to be used on occasions which warrant engine changes, to make those changes noticeable and for the good. This machine also demonstrates how far this most iconic of brands have come in the last 10 years. Air cooled wheezy Monsters and fragile 916 race bikes anyone?
Lord it’s ugly though. So full marks to Ducati, they’re fitting right in!