2010 Ducati Multistrada Review

Ducati steps outside the box to go mainstream


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Ducati has an extensive brand awareness far beyond the Italian company’s actual size, based on its illustrious racing history and lineage of hardcore sportbikes. But the versatile new Multistrada is set to open the Ducati experience to a wide swath of conquest consumers.

“There are a lot of riders out there who are Ducati-curious,” says David James, Ducati international press manager, adding that they may have been intimidated by the firm’s hard-edged reputation.

From our experience testing the new Multistrada 1200 on the varied roads of the Canary Islands, we’re confident that many of the Ducati-curious will really appreciate the flexibility, comfort and performance of this sharp-beaked new bird.

The versatile new Multistrada 1200 was launched on the Canary Island of Lanzarote.

Did we say performance? Hell, yeah! Forget the homely old air-cooled MTS. This one is powered by a revised version of the 1198 superbike V-Twin, cut down from 170 crankshaft horsepower to a still-very-potent 150 hp. The $14,995 versa-bike may have pretentions as a BMW GS competitor, but it, in relative terms, is a racebike in comparison.

The Touring version of the Multistrada S. Note the nostrils that provide air for the oil cooler and airbox intake. Windshield is shown in its upper position.

Helping keep all those horses reigned in when appropriate is standard traction control and rider-selectable engine mapping among four modes.

The thoroughbred setting is Sport, boasting the full corral of 150 horses and aggressive throttle response. A Touring selection softens throttle reaction while retaining the same peak power. More rider-friendly are the Urban and Enduro modes, limiting throttle openings to 60% to cap power at 100 horses.

The different modes also have an effect on the intervention of the Ducati Traction Control system, which can also be independently set to a rider’s preference.

More electronic trickery can be had by ordering the $19,995 S version of the MTS, which offers Ohlins TTX suspension that can be electronically adjusted on the fly. For example, the Sport mode delivers stiffer damping control, while the Urban setting has lighter damping to soak up the bumps and potholes of city streets. Compression and rebound circuits are separated into respective fork legs.

The S version of the Multistrada can be identified by its gold-colored fork legs that indicate the Ohlins electronic suspension.

Electric stepper motors also vary the amount of spring preload among four rider-selectable load settings, from solo rider to rider and passenger with luggage. A 3-second push on the turn signal cancel switch alters the settings. The electric gizmos are said to add just 300 grams to the bike’s 478-lb ready-to-ride curb weight.

Four Bikes in One

Ducati boasts that the new Multistrada is “four bikes in one,” and that’s most evident in the S version with its DES (Ducati Electronic Suspension). Below is a list of the default settings of each.

Multistrada's Versatility
Sport 150 hp, crisp power delivery; stiffer suspension damping; DTC 4 of 8.
Touring 150 hp but with smoother response; lighter damping; DTC level 5.
Urban 100 hp, very smooth delivery, more tractable; softer damping; lowest suspension; DTC 6.
Enduro 100 hp; same power delivery as Urban; tallest suspension (20mm higher); DTC 2 (low intervention).

The Multistrada S – in both Touring and Sport versions – also features a Bosch-Brembo antilock brake system as standard equipment. ABS is a $1500 option for the non-S version which substitutes an ordinary Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock – manually adjustable – in place of the pricey Ohlins electronic suspension. Both models supply a generous 6.7 inches of travel front and rear. The old MTS had 6.3 and 5.5 inches, respectively.

Each electronic parameter, other than ABS (which can be switched off), can also be set independently to a rider’s preference.

Thought was also put into power of the 12-volt variety. The MTS has two outlets for electrifying heated clothing or cell phones or MP3 players, plus a dedicated power outlet for the accessory Garmin GPS that mounts at the center of the bike’s upper triple clamp. Heated grips are a $300 accessory, but they come standard on the Touring version of the Multistrada S.

This is a Multistrada S Touring with its saddlebags removed. The Touring iteration also includes heated grips and a centerstand, also available in white and black.

The Sport iteration carries the same retail price of the Touring model, sharing standard ABS but substituting a few carbon fiber bits (cam-belt covers, rear fender and air intakes) for the Touring’s saddlebags, electric grips and centerstand. To us, the MTS Touring seems like a better value than the Sport unless you have an unnatural obsession for carbon fiber. If you must have the lightweight composite pieces, they can also be obtained from the Ducati Performance accessory catalog.

Vroom With Room

With the demise of the ST line (ST2, ST4, ST3) from the Ducati lineup, the Multistrada takes over as the Italian brand’s touring-oriented platform.  As such, a Multistrada rider is provided with wide array of stowage options.

Hard-shell saddlebags are nicely integrated into the Multistrada’s design.

Standard equipment on all Multistradas is a latching fairing pocket with a rubber interior on the right side, plus a handy and secure 3-liter bin beneath the passenger seat.

Also included with any Multistrada are integrated saddlebag brackets that are virtually invisible when not in use. The accessory hard-shell bags ($850; standard on the Multistrada S Touring) are keyed to the bike’s ignition and hold a combined 58 liters. The right-side case has a reduced volume to clear the area behind the trajectory of the bike’s stylish and stubby exhaust, so it’s too small to contain a full-face helmet. Wider bag lids can be purchased ($330) to yield 73 liters total.

If more sealed room is required, a 48-liter top case can be purchased for $600. It’s able to hold two full-face helmets. All totaled with the wider saddlebag lids, the MTS can be rigged for a substantial 124 liters of available stowage.

Still not enough for your needs? More stuff can be strapped to the passenger grab rails framework, and it can be augmented with a $300 accessory luggage rack. Room enough, perhaps, for your kitchen sink.

Seat O’ The Pants

With a seat claimed to be 33.5 inches off the ground, straddling the Multistrada might be a stretch for some. My 32-inch inseam required full use of my toes to reach, so I was happy when I later sampled the one-inch-lower accessory seat ($290). It is more thinly padded than the standard seat. Observations on long-term comfort of each will have to wait until we get more seat time than we received during the press launch.

The Multistrada’s LCD instrumentation is comprehensive, legible and easy to navigate. At right is the DES display, selected to the solo rider with luggage setup. The same circular panel can be toggled to show the ECU’s engine map setting.

The Multi’s cockpit doesn’t disappoint. A narrow windscreen is adjustable without tools over a range of nearly 2.5 inches. Just below is a large and comprehensive LCD gauge package that includes virtually any information you could want, whether it’s ambient temperature or instant fuel economy or gear selection or average speed during a trip or the bike’s range till the fuel is empty. Bonus points for being highly legible and reasonably navigable.

A proximity sensor in the Multistrada’s key fob enables keyless functionality – the bike fires up with a press of the starter button as long as the fob is kept within 6 feet of the bike. A spring-loaded flip-out key is deployed when access to the fuel cap, pillion saddle and saddlebags is needed. A nice feature is steering that locks automatically without the key.

A satisfyingly booming burble is emitted at start-up, sounding nearly as menacing as the 1199cc superbike-derived mill it’s based on but without the jangling of dry-clutch plates. A key distinction between the two engines is the 11-degree valve overlap compared to the 1198’s 41 degrees. Together with reshaped intake and exhaust ports, this design allows for superior low-end performance. Ducati says the Multistrada’s 11-degree powerplant produces more horsepower and torque than 1198 below 6500 revs.

With what is likely more than 130 horsepower at the rear wheel, the Multistrada 1200 is a major-league road burner.

Another important engine distinction, especially for a machine angled toward a touring rider, is extended service intervals. A new valve seat material and better cylinder-head cooling has doubled valve-inspection duration to 15,000 miles. Ducati says the MTS has less maintenance costs than other S-T competitors.

Getting underway from a stop is easy with the Multistrada. The wet-type clutch has an easy pull thanks to similar technology used on the Monster 696’s APTC, which also includes a measure of slipper action on downshifts. Extra flywheel weight allows the bike to trundle away from a stop with negligible input from the 56mm oval throttle bodies. Response from the ride-by-wire system ranges from touchy to tame depending on which of the four ECU maps are selected.

Once in motion, the Multistrada proves to be remarkably adroit. The wide handlebar ensures quick responses in conjunction with a fairly sporty 25 degree rake and 110mm of trail. Its 60.2-inch wheelbase is about an inch longer than the similarly intented Triumph Tiger.

A 76-degree steering sweep makes maneuvering in tight places easier than with any Ducati in decades. It was surprisingly delightful to be able to make U-turns within the tight confines of narrow two-lane roads. And speaking of angles, Ducati claims the MTS has 45 degrees of available lean angle before parts touch down, aided and abetted by dual-compound Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires.

The Multistrada 1200 is able to scythe twisty roads as ably as city traffic.

A die-cast aluminum center frame section joins the steel trellis front frame and rear subframe. Ducati says torsional stiffness is up 19% over the previous MTS. The new machine feels solid when ridden aggressively.

Its only sporting deficiency is the amount of chassis pitching from the long-travel suspension, especially when making full use of the power from the radial-mount Brembo front brakes biting on 320mm discs – the same as used on the Ducati 848. Feel at the adjustable lever is good, and initial bite isn’t nearly as touchy as from the 1198’s monoblock calipers. The brake pedal is a bit too small for the limited range of my wonky ankle, but other journos reported no problem.

The Multistrada uses a bespoke single-sided swingarm and wheels from the 1198 superbike series. The under-engine muffler fires out a deep growl via stylized dual exits.

With nearly 7 inches of travel, suspension compliance is excellent, especially in the Urban and Touring modes of the S models we sampled. We weren’t able to test the Marzocchi/Sachs combo of the non-S Multistrada at the launch.  A non-linkage rear suspension was chosen primarily for packaging concerns for the exhaust and rear damper. The shock’s angled layout provides progressive effect of around 5% for the single-sided swingarm.

The bike’s tall profile and the effect of the leverage-inducing wide bars made the Multistrada susceptible to the strong crosswinds we experienced during our ride, yet stability remained quite solid. Adding rear preload – at the touch of a button – noticeably sharpens the steering response.

There were no real freeway sections during our ride, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t see big numbers on the digital speedometer. The windscreen provides reasonable protection, although its narrow width leaves a rider’s shoulders in the breeze. More coverage is offered with the shield in its upper position, but it runs the risk of buffeting a tall rider’s helmet. I appreciated being able to tool-lessly slide the screen into its lowest position when cruising through town. Enhanced coverage is available from a larger accessory shield.

The Multistrada’s adjustable windscreen is shown here in its lowest position.

The bike feels moderately narrow between the knees, and combined with the gripper-style seat, provides a firm hold for the rider. The rider’s seat is abbreviated by a step where the passenger seat meets. I appreciated the way it held me in place under acceleration, but really tall, fat riders might feel crowded by the lack of fore/aft room.

The handlebar places a rider in a slight forward cant that seems perfect for this bike. Footpegs (with removable rubber inserts) are slightly rear-set but still offer plenty of legroom. Hand guards (with highly visible integrated LED turnsignals) offer helpful wind protection, and frontal visibility is enhanced by an LED “lightguide” below the headlights. Mirrors set slightly wider than the bars provide a clear rearward view.

The Multistrada’s engine has beastly power that far surpasses any adventure-style competitor, and yet it’s amazing how well it accepts full throttle from as low as 2000 rpm, something its 1198 brother certainly can’t do. Torque peaks at 7500 rpm with 87.5 crankshaft-measured ft-lbs, but there’s seldom a need to rev it that high due to its deep well of power.

We preferred the engine response in Touring mode, notably smoother than the hair-trigger delivery of Sport mode. But there’s more than adequate power on tap even in the restricted Urban setting. I personally saw the speedometer exceed 130 mph in the low-power mode. The mostly under-engine exhaust design keeps heat from a rider far better than the previous bike’s undertail exhaust, and the sound it emits is pleasantly louder than imagined possible inside emissions regulations.

When a rider writes a check the rear tire’s grip can’t cash, the Ducati Traction Control kicks in, first by retarding ignition timing, then cutting fuel supply at varying levels if wheelspin continues. DTC intervention is monitored by a circular red light that rings around the rider-adjustable instrument display. The system added a sense of security, especially in the morning’s damp conditions we rode in.

Note the accessory GPS at the handlebar’s center and the broad passenger seat.

The tuning of the Multistrada’s V-Twin yields fuel-economy numbers that belie its potent thrust, said to be 15% better than the 1198. Ducati says the MTS can achieve 47 mpg at a steady 75 mph, good for a potential range of nearly 250 miles from the 5.3-gallon fuel tank.

One of the “four bikes in one” Ducati claims from the Multistrada is an enduro bike in the mold of BMW’s iconic GS series. But like the Buell Ulysses and Triumph Tiger, its 17-inch wheels, lightly treaded tires and low bars make it more off-road capable than a serious dirt machine. However, the big Ducati acquitted itself fairly well on the light off-road conditions we subjected it to. Expect to see Greg Trachy on a Multistrada at this year’s Pike’s Peak hillclimb attempting to repeat his victory in 2008 on a Hypermotard.

Like any motorcycle, there are some things we’d like to see changed or improved. Considering all its high-tech systems and ride-by-wire throttle control, it’s surprising cruise control isn’t offered on the Multistrada. Same for the lack of self-canceling turnsignals. We were also disappointed with the awkward routing of grip-heater wires, but we’re told they will be relocated inside the handlebar next year.

The Multistrada has off-road pretentions, but it’s no BMW GS. Still, it has the capability to take on light-duty riding off the pavement.

Verdict

The Multistrada 1200 – pursuer of adventures.

The Multistrada 1200 isn’t just good, it’s good enough to be a contender for bike of the year. It combines mega performance with sophisticated electronics in a vehicle with few compromises. It can perform the duties of a sportbike, tourer and commuter, doing so with an oddly stylish Italian flair. This is a machine that can competently tackle a fireroad, city streets and a highway slog on the way to a trackday, doing so with a proficiency in each that can’t be found on any other bike. 

Diego Sgorbati, director of marketing for Ducati, hopes for sales near 5,000 in its initial year, which would be nearly 13% of Ducati’s 40,000 annual output. He says the key is to also be able to sell 5,000 in its second year.

Considering the Multistrada’s wide-ranging versatility and expansive performance envelope, we think Sgorbati’s forecast is entirely possible. And, given the industry’s intense down-market condition, that’s saying a lot.

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