When I think back to how underwhelmed I was at my first read of the upgrades announced for the 2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S, I have to chuckle to myself. The big changes appeared to be focused on the 6-axis Bosch IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) and all the automatic adjustments to suspension, braking, and power delivery it offered. While this was good news, it was hardly the press release that would point to the motorcycle winning the year’s Best Sport-Touring Motorcycle MOBO. But here we are.
Yes, some of you will have quibbles about the 950 S’ adventure tourer looks plus the 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels – with Pirelli Scorpion Trail IIs mounted, no less. While the Duc could do some light off-road tasks, it is clearly more focused on the paved portion of the world. And the twistier the better.
For starters, you have the 937cc Testastretta 11°, a thoroughly modern, Euro 4-rated engine that delivers a claimed 113 horsepower at 9,000 rpm. The torque numbers are equally as smile-inducing, 71 lb-ft delivered at 7,750 rpm. A Ride-by-Wire throttle means ride modes and other niceties, like Ducati Quick Shift (both up and down). While the engine can be wrung out, sportbike style, in the high rpm, the 950 S seemed most at home riding the ample torque curve.
Now, mix in the Skyhook Suspension, which constantly tweaks the rebound and compression damping settings in a semi-active manner to optimize vehicle balance. With a healthy 6.7 in. of travel at both ends, the goal is to keep the chassis attitude consistent by monitoring and adjusting the suspenders to match the road and rider inputs. The Brembo M4-32 monobloc radial calipers were perfectly suited to their role on this bike.
That brings us to why we find ourselves here with the Sport-Touring MOBO. The Ducati Multistrada 950 S is more than capable of putting the sport in your touring – and then not being out of sorts should you encounter a gravel road or two. Yes, to be a proper touring bike, you will need to have the Touring Pack installed for your centerstand, heated grips, and saddlebags. However, when it is all said and done, the Ducati Multistrada 950 S is the most versatile and capable sport-touring motorcycle we’ve sampled this year and deserves the Best Sport-Touring Motorcycle MOBO.
Again, we find ourselves with an unusual sport-touring bike in awards contention. Only this time, it’s the unique front end that sets the Yamaha Niken GT apart from other sport touring fare. Like the Fazer 900 GT (which was the 2018 Best Sport-Touring Runner-Up) that the Niken is so closely related to, the sport-touring chops are part of the bike’s DNA.
We’re not going to beat around the bush. The reason the Niken GT is here is because of the front end and what it brings confidence and safety-wise to sport-touring. When you travel, you don’t always get to choose what kind of weather you are going to ride through. The Niken’s two-wheeled front end provides more traction in every riding condition, but it is most noticeable when grip is limited, say in the rain or in the rain while crossing tar strips. When one wheel loses traction, the other is there as an immediate backup, saving your bacon. When the pavement grip is optimal, the Niken behaves just like your regular old single-track motorcycle. It steers just like the real thing, but it will garner quisitive looks from the uninitiated.
And that’s kinda the point of the Niken. In almost every respect it is a motorcycle, not a trike. It just happens to have three wheels. If you live in – or regularly tour through – an area that gets frequent rain, the Niken GT may be just the mode of travel you’re looking for. However, there is one big fly in the ointment. The saddlebags are neither truly locking nor waterproof. That’s a glaring oversight in a motorcycle that has poor-weather performance as one of its major selling points. Even with that miscue, the Yamaha Niken GT has what it takes to win the 2019 Best Sport-Touring MOBO Runner-up.