Test Ride: Ducati Multistrada 950

Ducatis are already a unique species in the motorcycle world – coveted, envied, despised, undeniably stylish. The use of steel trellis frames for their superbikes while everyone else employed aluminum perimeter designs, the dedication to Desmodromic valvetrains, and the strong preference for V-twin engines, demonstrates the Italian maker’s willingness to ignore the prevailing engineering winds and sail its own course.

It does look a little different, with that deeply contoured saddle and distinctive nose. Maybe you’ll love it, maybe not, but it’s certainly practical.

Ducati’s approach to the adventure bike segment, the Multistrada series, spans a wide spectrum of capabilities, from trail basher (1260 Enduro and Enduro Pro), to pavement mile muncher (1260 and 1260S), to those that have an abundance of “sport” woven into their DNA (1260 Pikes Peak). The $15,995 2018 Ducati Multistrada 950 is the smallest of the Multistrada lineup, and follows the 1260 Pikes Peak down the path of maximum excitement.

Looking at the hard parts, the 950 employs Ducati’s signature steel trellis frame and V-twin engine with Desmodromic valve actuation. The 937cc, liquid-cooled, four valve power plant bears a “Testastretta 11°” logo on its cases, referring to the narrow included-valve angle design and the 11 degrees of valve overlap employed within. The transmission is a 6-speed with slipper clutch and chain final drive, leading to a 17-inch rear wheel paired with a 19-inch front. Things seem fairly conventional so far.

The rear monoshock stands out from this angle, helping distract from that nose.
Swinging a leg over

Sitting on the 950, you get your initial clue that this bike is a little different: the pegs are noticeably high, and the reach to the bars is surprisingly short. Thumb the starter and the engine awakes into a mechanical burble, all whirrs and ticks like a big, gasoline-powered pocket watch. Pulling away, the power down low is sufficient, but not overwhelming. The engine note has character, but is somewhat muted. Riding through traffic, the bike feels solid, well sorted, and eager. Then you crack open the throttle with authority for the first time, the exhaust note suddenly triples in volume, and your smile instantly triples in width. It is not that this is a peaky or high-strung engine, it just nicely comes alive at bigger throttle openings and higher revs. If the throttle was a volume knob, the numbers would go 1-2-3-9-10-11.

I did not put as many kilometres on the 950 as I would have liked, but I rode it enough to get a decent feel for the chassis on smoother roads and highways. As with the engine, the suspension tuning skews toward the sportier end of the spectrum, with a taut ride that bordered on choppy when I did encounter the occasional rough stretch. It is not uncomfortable, but not plush. Full suspension adjustability front and rear (with remote preload in the rear) means that the rider should be able to reach the desired balance with some fiddling, and account for passengers and cargo when necessary. The Brembo brakes, twin four-pistons up front and a two-piston rear and ABS equipped, are outstanding, with an excellent combination of power and feel.

The weather was wet throughout Dean’s time with the Ducati, but hey – that’s why we have waterproof gear, right?
On the road

Out on the highway, a few niggles arise. The adjustable windscreen works reasonably well, but could be wider for better protection at higher speeds or longer duration rides. I found the mirrors did not have enough of a range of movement for my tastes, and I suspect shorter riders may have more of a problem with this than even I did. The turn signals integrated into the hand guards certainly give the bike a cleaner, more modern look, but one wonders how they would fare in a mild tip-over. And speaking of signals, the turn signal cancel button also acts as a menu button when navigating settings via the LCD dash, so if, like me, you habitually poke at the turn signal cancel button to ensure your blinkers are off, you end up activating certain menu options if the signal is already cancelled.

However, these are minor complaints for what is otherwise a brilliant riding bike. For all its sportiness, the 950 is still a versatile motorcycle capable of touring and commuting. The seat is comfortable, the fit and finish is excellent, and the monochrome LCD display is well laid out. The electronics package, dubbed “Ducati Safety Pack”, has a wide range of useable customization for the engine power delivery, ABS and traction control. Four riding modes – Sport, Touring, Urban, Enduro – each feature specific settings for the aforementioned power delivery (high, medium, low), ABS (1, 2, 3, off), and TC (1 to 8 and off), which all can be further fine-tuned to the rider’s liking. A particularly rainy ride back to Ducati HQ was made easier with the engine set to low and the ABS and TC settings set to maximum intervention, allowing this tester some peace of mind in far less than ideal conditions.

Is it worth it?

Ducati is not alone in offering adjustable electronics for its middleweight adventure bike. The Honda Africa Twin ($15,199), Suzuki V-Strom ABS ($13,499), Triumph Tiger 800 XR ($13,500), and Yamaha Tracer 900 ($11,999) all offer various levels of customization for their engine, ABS and traction control systems. Where the Ducati does differ, however, is in offering a single model in the middleweight range, whereas the others all offer higher trim levels that feature increased content and corresponding enlarged prices. The Africa Twin Adventure Sports ($16,799), Suzuki V-Strom 1000X ABS ($14,099), Triumph Tiger 800 XRt ($18,050), and Yamaha Tracer 900 GT ($14,599), all have various add-ons and improvements to go along with their higher price tags.

The only other question mark relates to the bike’s aesthetics: is it beautifully ugly, futuristically brutal, or simply timelessly unique? Adventure bike styling might already be considered an acquired taste. The significant beak of the Ducati’s upper cowl nose is definitely distinctive, and the design of the spoked wheels was a point of discussion more than once. Just like the 999 and Supermoto before it, the Multistrada 950 will have its lovers and haters, with beauty, as usual, being in the eye of the beholder.

You know, that beaky nose doesn’t look too bad, now we know how it is to ride.

Stylish, eccentric, fast, expensive, anachronistic, and beautiful, Ducati motorcycles have been the stuff of dreams, envy, and lively debate for enthusiasts and casual observers alike. They can be polarizing in a way that only truly unique creations that march to their own beat can be. The Multistrada 950 rides a fine line between greatness and insanity both aesthetically and dynamically. If you are looking for a run-of-the-mill adventure bike, this might not be it, but if a burly ball of controlled energy is more your style, this Multi just might be up your alley.

2018 Ducati Multistrada 950 Key Specs

Pricing: $15,995
Engine: 937 cc V-twin
Curb weight: 229 kg
Power: 113hp @ 9,000 rpm
Torque: 71 ft-lbs. @ 7,750 rpm
Wheelbase: 1,594 mm
Length: 2,280 mm
Seat height: 840 mm
Brakes: Dual 320mm discs, 4-piston Brembo calipers front, 265mm disc, dual-piston Brembo caliper rear, ABS equipped
Front suspension:  KYB telescopic inverted 43mm fork, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Sachs monocross single shock, fully adjustable, remote preload adjustment
Tires: 120/70-19 front, 170/60-17 rear

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