On the short uphill straights, no amount of throttle-cable stretching managed to leave an impression on these middleweights. Having plenty of torque is always helpful when exiting slow hairpins, yet not enough to really put me in a position to show'em who's boss; these guys were good. The uphill stretch was well paved, the mild winter sun managed to dry all the wet patches and the road was as good as it gets; perfect conditions.
Alas, the way down on the other side of the mountain was in much worse shape, or maybe better, depending on who you asked, with wet spots lurking under the tree's shadows, some gravel thrown in and quite bumpy too. "Well", you might say, "same conditions for everybody, no?" Well, not exactly...
A few turns into the nasty downhill bit and the 636 simply lets me through as if he's standing still, another stretch and the GSX-R guy gives up as well. Hey guys -- everything OK? Up ahead, the CBR rider is seemingly doing all he can to put on a decent show but after two scary moments in one wet curve with nasty bumps, he declares defeat. At the road's exit I stop to wait: it's almost a sin to not pull out a cigarette, break it in half and light it in order to put on the full "It's half an hour that I'm waiting for you guys" show.
As they pull over I can already hear the cursing:
"What a s%$*y stretch!" says GSX-R guy.
"Yeah , there was gravel all over!" responds Signore636.
"Almost lost the front on those bumps, did you see it?" says CBR while massaging his wrists, looking like the downhill braking loads almost killed him. I bow slightly, acknowledging their pain and ride on towards another direction, a bit shocked at just how unruffled the Multistrada was over the same tarmac. What a heartache indeed, isn't there justice is in this world? I for one never said there was any...
It's been almost four years since I last rode a Multistrada in anger and the treasured memories of following Paul Smart at the Multi's launch in Sardinia are still vivid in my mind. As much as I enjoyed that ride, riding a bike on sinfully perfect roads is one thing, but putting it through its paces in a myriad of conditions is quite another. The other journos and I left that Sardinia launch quite elated by the Multi's capabilities but after a first year of relatively good sales, Ducati's mutant ninja failed to leave an impression on the market and became a bit of an oddity.
On the other hand, during the last three years I've come across a few Multistrada owners and never found one that wasn't deeply attached to his steed; I'm talking about "will never sell it!" levels of attachment. Strange, isn't it? So I've been dying to take a Multi for a proper test for a while now and with perfect timing, Ducati has released the first seriously upgraded Multistrada with a 100cc-bigger engine and other small touches. Will ten days in its company be enough to understand the spell that the Multi has cast over its devotees or at least show me why it fails to click with the public at large so far?
First, the upgrades. Displacement gets bumped up from 992 to 1,078cc courtesy of a simple bore job, and a wet clutch now handles power-disengagement duties while being quieter than the rattly old dry unit to boot. The exposed foam seat was the target of some reproach in the old model. Though my own personal cushions felt OK after a day's ride during the press launch, the unit has been replaced by an upholstered one with a seemingly different shape. It's worth adding that at some point in time the Multi got a taller screen that supposedly increased the wind protection, another problem point of the first model.
Some features are worth pointing out to whoever missed the Multi altogether. The Multistrada was first shown in 2001 and caused massive eyebrow raising as well as some favorable comments. By slotting the air-cooled twin into a Supermoto-like frame that's stiff as a concrete block thanks to heavy triangulation, Ducati created one of their weirdest scoots (that crown still belongs without doubt to the ill-fated TL600). The main debate point wasn't so much about the very idea of a do-it-all Duc but rather the polarizing design. "A scooter face with a Mike Hailwood Replica tail," I wrote at the time and I wasn't the harshest critic by a mile.
In Italy, though still not a common sight, we did get used to seeing the thing but still, Terblanche's design decisions mean it's a scoot that you either love or hate. My girlfriend for the last year has already seen me straddling a myriad of bikes. Not really knowledgeable yet, she has still developed some fine taste in the period, really liking the Derbi Mulhacen and the Ducati GT1000, for instance. Over the phone she was excited: "Are you coming to pick me up with a red 1100 Ducati? Wow!" Unsurprisingly, as soon as I pulled into her parking lot, her tone changed: "What the $%!@ is this? A Ducati? Are you sure? Well, it's really strange; I don't like it at all." Don't expect to pull the birds with this one, oh no.
A scooter face with a Mike Hailwood tail"...sounds like some of Al's old girlfriends
However, I am a bit more complicated than that. I do like plain and direct beauty but also find plenty of appeal in strange, even weird stuff. Is a Leatherman multi tool a thing of beauty? Or how about a mountain climber with a big backpack and all his wares hanging from a belt, or a WRC rally car with its huge headlights sticking out like frog eyes and a 10-inch gap between the wheels and the bodywork? Hey, I even like Damien Hirst's sectioned cows, see? None of these are really beautiful objects but the inherent functionality and efficacy imbedded in them turns me on immensely.
Seen in that light, the Multistrada does it for me. I'd even stick a white cross logo, like the one found on Swiss army knives to the side panels. It would fit it to a T, both aesthetically and conceptually. I'd even go as far as adding two huge CIBIE headlamps sticking out at front; it would look a treat, I think.
The Multistrada's efficacy has many faces, one of them is as an insect killer. Say what? See, in my daily life in Milan I have to often deal with plenty of annoying buzzing and humming insects called scooters. They come in a variety of sizes and displacements and usually their riders feel like they must show you they are as fast as a proper bike in the city traffic and always try to steal a yard or two from you when you are waiting in a traffic light. The light turns green, a light touch of the throttle and the Multi simply squashes these little creatures effortlessly, and it's great fun putting them in their place. From lower than ever revs, the 1100 engine kicks the Multi forward while making you wave the front in the air even if you don't intend to. I stretch it to a relaxed 5,000 rpm, hook in second gear and the Multi's delightful rhino gallop makes my grin even wider.
This shouldn't really be surprising. Open your tuning manual of choice and you'll read that -- if all the other parameters remain the same (throttle bodies, valve size, etc.) -- a mere bore job will simply fatten the torque curve while repositioning its peak lower down the rev range. Compared to the first Multistrada, torque gets bumped up -- and how! -- from 61.5 to 76 foot-pounds at a meager 4,650 rpm. By the way, maximum power is up from the previous model's 85hp to 95. When there aren't any insects or bigger creatures around, you can simply release the clutch and the Multi moves on a mere whiff of gas with the needle buried at 1000 rpm; that's how torquey it is now.
The 10-horsepower hike doesn't come entirely from the displacement bump. Last year's 1,000cc engine already had 90-plus horsepower, and according to Ducati the main reason for the extra cubes was to simply enhance the torque and maintain the power level while still complying with the severe EURO3 emission standards.
That torquey "king of the `hood" feel is enhanced in city dwelling by the regal, high and upright riding position. Just like with a big trailie, you are literally looking down on everything else, but unlike, say, a KLR650, here you have this flattering mother of all torque at your disposal.
'At this kind of lean angle, my streetfighter GSX-R750 would be giving serious signs of distress and "shut-that throttle" messages. Not here, not with this one.'
In my daily ride to work course there are two spots that I have long ago identified as optimal suspension, handling and stability tests. The first spot is a roundabout at the end of a medium straight. It's badly paved thanks to never ending road works and at the roundabout's exit there are some really nasty bumps that send most scoots into tank slapping mode. I usually arrive to this spot all warmed and charged up from 20 miles of fighting in traffic, looking forward to bleed off some adrenaline and clean the tire sidewalls before sitting on my office chair.
I throw the Multi right into the roundabout, then quickly lean it full left. The handlebar goes light for a second before the Duc settles down for the next 180 degrees, footpeg skimming the tarmac. Here comes the frightening bumpy bit, yet this ugly red-headed contraption simply doesn't care. At this kind of lean angle, my streetfighter GSX-R750 would be giving serious signs of distress and "shut-that throttle" messages. Not here, not with this one.
It might be worth adding that I am straddling the S version of the Multistrada 1100, which means that at the front there's a USD gold Ohlins fork and another yellow Swedish device is handling the bumps at the rear. The Scandinavian stuff doesn't disappoint. Unlike the similarly equipped S4Rs that came to me with way-too-soft stock settings, the Multi's got a very good original setup that simply soaks everything up in a cool, controlled fashion.
Riding back home, on the other side of this very roundabout, I've got another interesting challenge. Not bumps, but a long drop over an old and slick stretch. When tackling this, usually all feedback from the front disappears and I feel like I am going to lose it and crash into the guardrail any second. (Yossef, why don't you just slow down? -Ed.) So you are welcome to credit the sublime Ohlins gear or rather the sticky Pirelli Scorpions or maybe the stiff frame; whatever. On the Multi, I tackle this stretch like I'm immortal, as if nothing can really happen, in one clean sweep. Got a case of negative-camber fear? The Multi could be your remedy.
Even without going to these extremes, the Multistrada can lift your self-confidence to misleading levels. Achieving a deep mutual understanding about the important issues in life with the Multi takes one and a half seconds. So out to the curves we head and on to the nearest canyon road, and all the memories from Sardinia start flowing back. As long as the road is slow, technical and in good conditions the Multi can keep up with very sporty, no, make that supersporty stuff. Obviously the big eye opener comes when conditions aren't good. The lack of weight on your hands reduces the wrist's braking blues while the high CG and the wondrous suspension lets you flick the thing in and then attack in places you wouldn't dream possible.
It's only on very fast side-to-side transitions that the very high CG makes the front go light for a jiffy but even that doesn't deter me from pressing on, but it is a small fly in the ointment. After a while, something in the Multi's steering feels slightly odd and indeed, as I brake hard into one slow hairpin I can see the bars moving! Well, it turns out that wanting to improve comfort on the Multi means Ducati has rubber mounted the bars in the 1100. I didn't notice before, as 98 percent of the time it never gets in the way and the Multi tracks superbly. However, when countersteering hard, the slight shift of the bars can be disconcerting at first, especially if you are a die-hard Ducatista.
Rounding up the complaints chapter, I've got to add that my Spidi overalls tended to slip on the new seat upholstery, requiring an effort to keep my family jewels from kissing the tank while using the full braking the wonderful and sensitive Brembos are capable of. Gear shifting wasn't as good as I remember from other air-cooled Ducs, but to be fair, this one had very little mileage on the odometer. Lastly, the taller windscreen is still far from offering the right kind of wind protection.
Regardless of the imperfect windscreen, the Multistrada can be a good platform for midrange touring too, as the tall handlebars limit cruising speed to 85-90 mph anyway. At those speeds, the engine feels very smooth (thanks to those rubbery mounts), steady and relaxed. An open road ahead means that I can also
stretch the Ducs legs. Between 4,000-7,000 rpm the bigger engine is indeed so much torquier, but above 8,000 it is also much less rev-happy than the previous 1000. Not really a surprise; turn the next page in your tuning manual of choice and you'll read that bore jobs also entail some loss of top-end breathing. With such torque at your disposal it's not really an issue but the new engine lost the capacity to ram the tachometer needle into the ignition cutoff at 9,500 rpm that is present in the old model.
In a world where everybody seems more and more interested in "the most" -- having the fastest, the coolest, the edge, the ultimate -- all-rounders will always have problems stating their case.
For a more flowing and faster twisty road, I bump up the damping a bit. Some allen key twirling and turning of the accessible rear preload knob, and in one minute the Multistrada is ready for the faster 85-100 mph bends of this road. Those few clicks to the responsive suspenders make the Multi much steadier over the fast, flowing tarmac. On such territory -- much more suited to a proper supersport mount -- the Multi is still more than fine but the wide handlebars and lack of weight over the front end take a toll. The solution is to ride the Multi in an aggressive but slightly footloose style. The Ohlins let you get way with it, keeping the Multi steady also while leaned way over at high speed. Just avoid unnecessary input through the bars.
In a world where everybody seems more and more interested in "the most" -- having the fastest, the coolest, the edge, the ultimate -- all-rounders will always have problems stating their case. But it turns out that at times, faithful do-it-all servants can have some surprises in store and even offer some unexpected and interesting ways of having messy fun. It's not easy to show your kinky side when people judge you just by your ugly red pimples and bowed legs. The Multistrada -- especially now in its new 1,100cc size -- offers a very unique mix that only the KTM 990 Superduke seems to match while being more extreme, demanding and pricey.
One last anecdote might help to explain the unique charm. I have a group of friends that meets in Milan yearly for Alpine touring. One of them, a certain Ori, had always rented peaceful beemers, and if truth needs to be added, he's always been the one we had to wait for in the twisty bits. Alas, it turns out that this year there was only a Multistrada available at the rental agency. We pick it up, head towards Provance -- the two wheeled paradise of France -- and hit our first canyon roads. Well, well, well, who is all of the sudden glued to my GSX-R's tail like a leach, almost grinding fooptegs all over the place? It's Ori, my unassuming friend. At our first break I approach him; "Ori, you're the family guy, a quiet TDM900 rider at home. What the hell was that?"
"I swear it's not me, it's that bike, I have nothing to do with it!" Luckily he was on the old model and not the new 1100S. Yes, an ugly redhead she might be but maybe that's why she so much more fun to be with?
|Specifications Courtesy of Ducati|
|Frame||Tubular steel trellis frame|
|Wheelbase||1462 mm / 57.6 in|
|Front suspension||Ohlins 43 mm fully adjustable upside-down fork with TiN|
|Front wheel travel||165 mm / 6.5 in|
|Front brake||2 x 320 mm semi-floating discs, 4-piston, 2-pad caliper|
|Front wheel||6-spoke in light alloy 3.50 x 17|
|Front tyre||120/70 ZR 17|
|Rear suspension||Progressive linkage with fully adjustable Ohlins monoshock; hydraulic remote pre-load control. Aluminum single-sided swingarm|
|Rear wheel travel||141mm / 5.6 in|
|Rear brake||245 mm disc, 2-piston caliper|
|Rear wheel||five-spoke light alloy 5.50 x 17|
|Rear tyre||180/55 ZR 17|
|Fuel tank capacity||20 L (of which 6.5 l reserve) / 5.3 US gal (of which 1.7 US gal reserve)|
|Seat height||33.5 in|
|Instruments||Speedometer, rev counter, clock, scheduled maintenance warning, warning light for low oil pressure, fuel level, oil temperature, fuel reserve, trip fuel, neutral, turn signals, average speed, average fuel consumption, remaining fuel metre, fuel injection|
|Warranty||2 years unlimited mileage|
|Body colours||(frame/wheels) Red (red/black); Black (black/black)|
|* The weight excludes battery, lubricants and, where applicable, cooling liquid.|
|Type||L-twin cylinder, 2 valve per cylinder Desmodromic, air cooled|
|Bore x Stroke||98 x 71.5 mm|
|Power*||95 hp at 7750 rpm|
|Torque*||76 foot-pounds at 4750 rpm|
|Fuelinjection||Marelli electronic fuel injection, 45 mm throttle body|
|Exhaust||Single steel muffler and pre-silencer with catalytic converter and lambda probe|
|Ratios||1st 37/15, 2nd 30/17, 3rd 27/20, 4th 24/22, 5th 23/24, 6th 24/28|
|Primary drive||Straight cut gears; Ratio 1.84:1|
|Final drive||Chain; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket 42|
|Clutch||Wet multiplate with hydraulic control|
|* Data calculated using an inertia dynamometer|