2003 Ducati Multistrada
Vrooom-vrooom, vroooooom-vrooom, vrooom-vroooooom. I'd give a quid or two to read the thoughts of the passengers sitting next to me on the flight back from the Ducati Multistrada launch in Sardinia.
A forty-year-old emitting v-twin engine sounds, tilting his head right and left while twisting an invisible throttle. The Multistrada left an indelible impression on me and it'll take a while to get it all out of my head. This is no classic Italian V-twin vrooom-vroooming we're talking about, like the one performed in a cramped fetal position with your face kissing the instrument panel and your ass propped up ala 916. No. This is another sort of vrooom-vroooming. A new one, really new. Not a "new frame this," "improved engine" that or bold new graphics BS. More like a new idea.
As reference, you might want to use a Suzuki V-Strom or a Yamaha TDM, both Sport/Adventure-do-it-all twins. But as cute as these bikes are, they are also typically Japanese in their softness, niceness and overall mushiness. They're mentioned only to paint the broad direction. The Ducati Multistrada is a sort of do-it-all Sporting twin too, but conceptually it's something else and looks more like a political refugee from the swinging sixties. It is boldly minimalist, it is painted a blaring, communist-party red, it is sexily slim and there's a true air-cooled motor sitting down there, just like they used to make `em. A wonderful bastard, the fruit of a happy collision between a rabid Supermotard, say a KTM Duke, and the comfy and protected habitat of a big trailie--the whole plot held together by an immortal Bolognese space frame. When the Multistrada prototype was first shown at Milan's 2001 EICMA, the collective reaction of the world's motorcycling press (me included) was less than lukewarm. Another Terblanche oddball? A Mike Hailwood Replica tail married to a Paris-Dakar replica front end? What in friggin' hell is that? After a day of flogging the tits off the thing, I have a perfect understanding what the Multistrada is: A stonking ride and I definitely want one parked in my garage.
"I nearly choked on my food. Paul is the guy without whom Ducati might not be where it is today at all."The Multistrada might have a fairing but technically speaking it's so naked that there ain't much left to the imagination. MO-ridians have met the 1000cc power unit at JB's assessment of the SuperSport 1000DS, so we can cut some corners here. The major revamp from 900 to 1000cc and the adoption of another spark plug per cylinder, among other things, have done this power unit mucho good. Not that there is much competition for the crown nowadays, but it definitely deserves the title of Best Air-cooled Engine in Biking. The frame is a classic Ducati affair of dead straight short tubes that create those stiff little triangles in bridge-like fashion. There are some interesting new niceties on the cycle side of the equation. An impressive tubular rear subframe that continues the triangulating theme supplies support for two riders, twin underseat mufflers and optional panniers. Under the subframe, the forgotten single sided swingarm of the 916 (albeit in reworked form) makes a re-appearance. A fully adjustable Showa shock dampens the action on the back through a progressive linkage and has a practical remote preload adjuster. On the front end, the same firm supplies a fully adjustable 43mm USD fork. The suspension components might look similar to stuff on street Ducatis but spec sheet says that there is considerable more wheel travel in here: 165mm at the front is mid-ground between true Dual-Purpose and Adventure Tourer, while on the back, 140mm hints at a more road-oriented direction.
Darn good looking 17-inch wheels are attached to the spindles and these shift the equation even more towards sporting road duties. An interesting surprise up the Multistrada's sleeve are the never seen before the side bar. Triple Brembo Gold series brakes complete the cycle package. Then there is the fairing-fuel tank-seat-tail combo that deserves special mention, as very brave decisions by Pierre & Co have been taken here. At first sight, the mating of the aggressive tail with its two smoking gun barrels to a tall and almost scooter-like fairing seems odd, but I ended up loving it. I seem to have that thing about split personality types. The large flanks of the fairing have also a crucial importance in the Multistrada's lean looks. These side panels hold space-sapping elements such as the battery, electrics, toolbox and more, while shifting weight to the front end. Further space was freed by creating a singular fuel tank that extends from the steering head all the way to the back seat. Why is that important? Have a look at the empty and airy space behind the Multistrada's engine. There's a photogenic shock to be seen, and that's all--a wet dream come true for somebody who loves bare-bones tools. Compare the Multistrada's side view with that of any other big trailie and you'll grasp the considerable achievement of the design team in an era when many bikes seem to get more and more heavy visually speaking.
Banished from the 999, the lovely single-sided swingarm reappears on the Multistrada
Another fresh detail is the upper portion of the fairing, which swings around together with the handlebars. Why go through the trouble of splitting the fairing in two parts? Because to avoid contact between brake and clutch levers and the fairing at full steering lock, windshields usually have to be positioned further away from the rider, thus reducing their efficiency. With the Multistrada's solution, the windshield can be much closer to the rider, protecting him more without being too big. The idea is not totally new, it was first seen in the early `80s on the limited edition Yamaha 1100 Martini, but Terblanche definitely deserves the credit for this new incarnation of a bright idea.
Time for some non-virtual vrooom-vroooming. Even though Ducati claims that the Multistrada was specifically developed to be the ultimate tool for a canyon road near Bologna named Passo Della Futta, the launch was held on the island of Sardinia. A cute and somewhat touristy place with an outstanding statistic: Some 95% of its surface is mountainous. Sounds good on paper and gets better as the island's amazing tarmac rolls under the Multistrada's wheels. Talk about crazy canyon rides, Sardinia's roads left me quite speechless. A paved roller coaster ride and to top it all I was about to ride here with the infamous British motorcycling press lads. As it would turn out, I shouldn't have worried as the Multistrada did its best to make me feel at ease from the word go. It's tall but so am I, seating posture is bolt upright and provides total control of the road ahead, there is plenty of room for long limbs and to move around, all classic big trailie stuff. But here all similarity to Big P-D replicas ends. We head towards a coastal canyon road in an Indian line led by a Fiat full of Ducati mechanics that know the road by heart, and soon enough they are attacking the turns with wheels screeching and all of us in hot pursuit. Thirty moto-journos gassing it on a canyon road lined with sheer 300-foot drop-offs. Cool.