2003 Ducati Multistrada
When you learn to trust the front end you get dividends in the shape of very linear turn-in and smooth arcing through the turns unfazed by throttle play. The Multi's power unit is really grunty but never threatening. The motor allows you to play racer if you like, vrooom-vroooming and downshifting before every turn, or simply leave it stuck in one gear and torque out. This engine's useable rev range is 3000-8000 rpm--something that covers nicely a typical slow mountain road of 30-75 mph in one gear. Obviously the racer approach pumps more adrenaline into your veins but in classic Ducati fashion, it's a motor that gives you the choice. The power delivery and throttle response is super friendly, so unlike in the Aprilia Tuono R, you're never afraid of exaggerating with your right hand.
After some hours we do reach a somewhat calmer and straighter stretch of road that seemingly leads from nowhere to nowhere else. A good place to evaluate the Multistrada while not in full attack mode. As the road opens up, the relaxed ergoes and comfy saddle get their chance to shine. It's really nice to straddle the slim tank, and the narrow at the front/wide at the back saddle feels fine after quite a long stretch. Things are less rosy with the fairing. Up to shoulder level and 85 mph it does a really good job. Above 85 mph things could be better; my helmet was left out in the air stream and even shorter riders complained too. After all the talk about the innovative fairing, the wind protection was somewhat disappointing. It has to be added though, that Ducati does already offer a couple of higher screens for the Multistrada as part of its Ducati Performance accessories line. In my humble opinion, the Multistrada (like many other bikes) should be sold with the taller screens to begin with. Talking about speed, in the very short straights that came our way I did see around 125 mph.
Time for a mid-day break. Everybody is pulling into the parking lot of a cozy restaurant, helmets are pulled off and there are plenty of grinning faces around. Even the hard to please British hooligan journos are smilling and seem to constantly mutter "really nice bike." Not that I needed their nod of approval, the Multistrada really spoke for itself, but it was interesting to see that even delegates of the most sportbike-crazed country in the world (Fireblade leading sales) were more than impressed.
For lunch I sat next to some of them and a guy from Ducati USA, all seem to agree that the bike is good but how do you market a Ducati that is so damn practical? The Multistrada has a soul that's 100% Ducati, but it adds a new dimension of versatility that was missing from the Bolognese line-up since the days of the Elefant 900 P-D replica or even the 600 TL. Ducati dealers will need some new words in their vocabulary, like "comfort" and "chuckabiltiy." While the discussion heats up I turn to a bubbly older guy with graying hair and cool English manners sitting next to me and ask him what publication does he work for? I am half expecting to hear something like the "The Oxford Times."
"Well, I am not a journalist, I am just an old racer invited over by Ducati, my name is Paul Smart. Nice to meet you."
Oops, I nearly choked on my food. Paul is the guy without whom Ducati might not be where it is today at all. His win in the 1972 Imola 200 race, the "Daytona of Europe," on the very first 750SS, was the feat that put Ducati firmly on the map as a maker of true road burners. The factory riders of Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Triumph and MV took a serious beating that day. As we stand up it's hard not to notice Paul's typical racer stance, compact and sporty. As we leave the restaurant in small groups I don't miss my chance to ride for a while behind a past champion. A real shame that I didn't have a video camera mounted on my Multi. For long minutes I totally forgot about my task of road tester and was simply riveted to Paul's smooth and flowing riding. Without any of the fuzz and drama of the pathetic knee-dragging journos, Paul throws his Multi into impressive lean angles and proves that there is indeed life after 50. Slowly our riding group spreads out and I am left with Paul and demon riding Ducati engineer Andrea Forni to play with in the twisty bits. Now, with fewer lunatics around, I can go back to doing my job. With more saddle time I trust the Multistrada more and proceed to search its limits as well as problems. Both are hard to find. In terms of lean angle clearance, I managed to scrap my right footpeg once or twice. When I checked other bikes at the end of the day, there where only a few that showed signs of heavy peg grinding, and that's after some 90 journos punished the bikes during the three day launch. The niggling problems are't that many . While using the powerful and fade free Brembos (not quite as good as the 999's four-pad jobs), the slippery injected rubber seat surface had me sliding forward. Same thing happened over slower, bumpy stuff when the stiffish rear suspension wasn't really swallowing it all. A stickier cover please. I wouldn't mind having longer mirror stems and more rearward positioned footpegs either. At their current position my right boot was constantly touching the clutch cover.On the other hand, it's hard not to notice the serious thought that was given to so many details, not your typical Italian job here. Turn lights imbedded into the mirrors, a true passenger handle that my girlfriend would love, the easy access to the tool compartment, the fact that there is a tool compartment, ears ready to accept an optional centerstand... At the end of the day, the only thing that could be lacking with the Multistrada might be power, but to find out for real I'll have to test it in more wide open scenery. In Sardinia's twisties there wasn't really a moment where I wished for more power, and the thing is as strong as Yamaha's TDM 900 anyway. In Europe's fast-paced roads and autostradas, five or more ponies on top of the current 85 could be useful. Final verdict will have to wait for a full, month-long road test I am already volunteering for. Another open issue is the Multistrada's true all-road ability. With the thing being much, much lighter than a BMW GS or Triumph Tiger, it would have been interesting to see what it can do on an unpaved road. Ducati clearly vetoed us from trying the thing off-road, and with 100% road-oriented tires, rightly so. It could all mean that a slightly more off-road oriented option is in the works...
By the end of the day Paul, Andrea and I stop at a beautiful marina by the seaside for a last breath of fresh air before turning in the bikes. I don't say it that often, but money allowing--11K Euros in Italy--I could really picture myself owning one of these, I hear myself saying out loud.
"I think I'm going to look for a nice deal on one," says Paul.
When such a new concept manages to convince two sporting types to rethink ownership, it means that Ducati have guessed right with the Multistrada. It's still left to see how the world at large will accept this radical new motorcycle, but if it clicks the Multistrada could easily follow the Monster's precedent as a sales leader for Ducati.
Type: L-twin, 2v/cylinder, air cooled
Displacement: 992 cc
Bore x stroke: 94 x 71,5 mm
Compression ratio: 10:1
Power (claimed): 84 hp @ 8000 rpm
Torque (claimed): 8.5 Kgm @ 5000 rpm
Fuel injection: Marelli electronic fuel injection, two 45mm throttle bodies
Clutch: Dry multiplate with hydraulic control
Trasmissione primaria: straight-cut gears, 1.84:1
Trasmissione secondaria: Chain; 15/42
Frame: Tubular steel trellis
Wheelbase: 57.6 in
Inclinazione cannotto: 240
Sospensione anteriore: 43mm inverted Showa, fully adjustable, 6.5 in. travel
Sospensione posteriore: progressive linkage with fully adjustable Showa monoshock; hydraulic remote pre-load control, 5.6 in. travel
Freno anteriore: two 320mm semi-floating discs, four-piston calipers
Freno posteriore: 245 mm disc, two-piston caliper
Ruota anteriore: New six-spoke design in light alloy, 3.50 x 17 in.
Pneumatico anteriore: 120/70ZR-17
Ruota posteriore: five-spoke light alloy, 5.50 x 17 in.
Pneumatico posteriore: 180/55ZR-17
Capacit` serbatoio benzina: 20 L/ 5.3 US gallons
Claimed Weight w/battery & oil: 441 lbs
Seat heightz: 33,5 in.
Instruments: Speedometer, rev counter, clock, scheduled maintenance warning, warning lights for low oil pressure, fuel level, oil temperature, fuel reserve, neutral, turn signals, average speed, average fuel consumption, fuel injection diagnostic system, immobilizer
**Garanzia: two years unlimited mileage
Versioni - Versions
Tank and fairing colours: Two-tone grey, red
Frame colors: red, black
Wheel colors: light grey