Costa gets the honoured spot of being the only Canadian to be invited to test Ducati’s brand new Multistrada 1200 at the Lanzarote launch last week. Is it really four bikes in one? Did it really end all-CMG?
It’s ironic that Ducati would choose Lanzarote as a location for the media introduction of the new entry into the adventure-touring segment, the Multistrada 1200.
Multistrada loosely translated from Italian means “many roads” and Lanzarote (the easternmost isle of the Canary Islands), at 60 by 25 kilometres wide, doesn’t actually have that many roads.
However, being a volcanic island it does offer spectacular scenery, and some measure of adventure — if not so much of the touring type.
THIRTY DEGREES OF SEPARATION
When first introduced in 2003 the Multistrada used a 992 cc air-cooled V-twin, which was bumped to 1,078 cc in ’06. The latest ’strada gets an entirely new 1,198 cc liquid-cooled engine called the Testastretta 11°.
This new engine is a derivative of the firm’s superbike engines, the 11° representing a change in valve overlap from 41 degrees down to 11 which, according to Ducati, smoothes power delivery, increases fuel economy, and reduces hydrocarbon emissions by 65 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent.
Of course, the downside of this is reduced peak power, but despite losing a few ponies up top (20 compared to the 1198 to be exact), the Multistrada 1200 still pumps out a superbike-like 150 horsepower (the highest power output in its class) as well as producing more torque below 6,800 rpm than the 1198.
A new frame uses a forward trellis steel tube section, die-cast aluminum side plates (to which bolts a massive single-sided aluminum swingarm), and a rear subframe composed of steel tubes and a Techno-polymer (fancy word for plastic) tail section. It is claimed to be 19 percent stiffer torsionally.
And what about those two nostrils placed on the end of its odd looking — but functional — snout? Well, they provide intake air to the engine as well as to the oil cooler hidden beneath.
Claimed fuel economy is 5 l/100 km (56 mpg), which would give the Multistrada a 400-kilometre range from its 20-litre fuel tank so you won’t have to stop too often to fill her up. You won’t have to visit the service department that often either, as Ducati has doubled the interval between valve adjustments to 24,000 km. Other superbike features incorporated into the Multistrada 1200 as standard include DTC (Ducati Traction Control) to help manage that power, and a slipper clutch to reduce rear-wheel chatter on hard deceleration.
THE SWISS ARMY BIKE
Three versions of the Multistrada will be available in Canada: the base model, and two 1200S models: the Sport and the Touring.
The $17,495 base model is ideal if you prefer adjusting your suspension old-school style with manual adjusters, using a Marzocchi 50 mm inverted fork and a Sachs shock, both fully adjustable.
The $20,995 Sport model comes with electronically adjustable Ohlins suspension, a carbon-fibre nosepiece, cam belt covers and inner rear fender, but I can’t see how anyone would choose it over the similarly priced Touring model, which gets the same suspension but substitutes the aesthetic trim pieces with useful saddlebags boasting 58-litres capacity, heated handgrips and a bona fide centrestand.
All bikes include two accessory outlets and DTC is standard on all models; ABS is standard on the 1200S models and a $1,000 option on the base model.
The big claim for the Multistrada 1200 is that it is four bikes in one: sport bike, touring bike, urban runabout and off-roader. How the boys in Borgo Panigale support this claim is by incorporating elaborate electronics to manage four riding modes: Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro.
Selecting one of these modes (see Riding Modes 101 side-article for a full description) is said to transform the machine to match your intended riding style. After spending a day on the Multistrada 1200S (with electronic suspension adjustability), I can only say that those clever Italians tell no lies.
The first hint of the electronic wizardry hidden beneath the bike’s new skin is the absence of an ignition switch. An electronic key pod (which includes a fold-in key for the gas cap and seat locks) tucks into your pocket and activates the bike when within two metres of it.
You then push the kill switch down to turn on the ignition and lift it up to expose the starter button. Foolproof measures are in place to ensure you’ll get home if you lose the key, including a PIN code to start the bike without the key pod.
NO, NO, NOT THE COMFY CHAIR
I was almost in shock sitting on this bike, as I had instinctively set myself in “Ducati mode” and prepared for wrist and arm torture, neck strain and a severe butt beating.
But I found the Multistrada’s riding position to be relaxed and upright with footpegs placed directly below you (offering ample legroom), and a wide handlebar within an easy reach — as accommodating and comfortable as any serious touring or sport-touring machine I’ve ridden, and a true revelation.
We began our ride with the bikes set in Touring mode, in which suspension settings were set for comfort and traction control was set to five of eight levels, eight being the highest intervention.
Once rolling, I was struck by another revelation: the Multistrada’s suspension was plush, compliant and entirely un-Ducati-ish. Lanzarote’s roads are mostly smooth, though we did encounter sections of broken pavement very reminiscent of what we have in Canada. Here the bike really impressed, as bumps and cracks passed beneath the machine nearly unnoticed. Was I really riding a Ducati?
Even with the suspension in Touring mode, the bike glided through sweepers wallow-free. Along the winding lava-rock-lined road that traverses Timanfaya National Park, handling was surefooted with light, neutral steering and confidence-inspiring stability.
At 217 kg (478 lb) claimed wet, the Mulstistrada weighs 12 kg less than the BMW R1200GS and 11 kg less than Triumph’s Tiger. It carries its weight low and has a narrow midsection, however, and feels much lighter than that.
The two-piece seat is flat and wide and the passenger pillion (which caches a three-litre storage space beneath) doubles as a bolster that holds you firmly in place when unleashing the bike’s impressive power. Seat height is 850 mm (33.5 in.) and a modest reach for me (an optional seat is 25 mm lower).
The frame-mounted fairing has a windscreen that is manually adjustable over a 60 mm vertical range. It locks with two easy-to-reach knobs and can be adjusted easily with your left hand when riding.
The fairing/screen combination offers good wind protection, directing the windblast to about shoulder level, and my hands stayed out of the wind behind hand guards that feature integrated LED turn signals. Atop the handlebar are mirrors that offer an unobstructed rear view, a rarity among Ducatis.
As we headed north along scenic roads that lay atop Lanzarote’s volcano-crafted moonscape, I switched the bike to Sport mode and immediately felt the more aggressive power delivery and firmer suspension settings.
The machine rocketed out of corners with the urgency of a superbike, and the additional midrange power transformed it into a hooligan-esque wheelie machine. This thing kicks serious ass from as low as 2,500 rpm and pulls progressively harder until its 10,500 rpm redline. Power delivery is tractable and smooth — there’s just lots of it.
Sport mode’s stiffer suspension settings transformed the ’strada into a sharp-handling sporting machine with near naked-bike agility. The only factor that differentiates this bike’s handling from a sporty naked bike’s is its tall stature, the result of 170 mm of suspension travel front and rear. This tallness slowed tight turning transitions a tad, while the long-travel fork dived noticeably when braking hard, a fair trade-off for the added riding comfort.
Now, this is not a dirt bike, and with a 17-inch front wheel the Multistrada won’t be as off-road worthy as some other adventure touring bikes; anyone with illusions of riding cow trails should look elsewhere. It did, however, handle well enough when kicking up a roost that the fun didn’t end when the asphalt did.
We ended the day on a stretch of hard-packed dirt road, where in Enduro mode the Multistrada’s softly-set suspension easily soaked up the bumps, and with the OEM Pirelli Scorpion Trail dual-compound tires it steered with nearly the same precision it did on pavement.
DTC was set to number two for minimal intrusion, but if you want to perform Rex Beauchamp-style broadslides it can be turned off, as can the ABS. And with power limited to 100 hp in this mode, there was more than enough power to get you into trouble — and I got into big-time trouble (if you’re squeamish, skip the endbar titled A Lapse of Judgement below).
Comparing this machine to other bikes will be difficult. Ducati has set a new standard in versatility through complex electronics, widely adjustable suspension and tuneable power characteristics — all easily tailored for different riding conditions. It will easily butt heads with anything from the new Honda VFR to the BMW GS to Ducati’s own Streetfighter.
It is definitely targeted as a premium product, so riders looking for a bike in the price range of the Suzuki V-Strom will be disappointed. With 17-inch wheels it’s definitely on the sportier, pavement-oriented side of the adventure-touring spectrum, but it doesn’t shy away from gravel roads, of which Canada has an abundance.
Of the three available models, I’d put my money on the Multistrada 1200S Touring — you have to experience the convenience of its different riding modes (which include suspension adjustments) to really appreciate just how flexible this bike is — and pull off its bags and you effectively have the Sport, only without the frilly carbon-fibre.
I’d have no trouble crossing the country loaded with camping gear, scorching winding back roads, taping up the lights and riding track days or taking weekend off-pavement excursions on this bike.
If I have one criticism to make, it’s that Ducati did not fit the bike with adjustable ergonomics (adjustable handlebars, seat height and footpegs). The bike fit me like a glove (I’m six feet tall), but considering the bike’s multi-purpose slant, I think the marketing value alone of such a feature would compensate for the minimal cost to include it.
Ducati has poured a lot of resources into this machine, testing it extensively for two years prior to its release (the company built 110 pre-production models for testing; the usual number is about 80), and it has incorporated just about every rider aid available into one bike.
The hard work has paid off.
BTW, if you haven’t already seen it, we set up a side-artcile on Riding Modes 101 side-article (will open in new window).
A LAPSE OF JUDGMENT – turning CMG
Everything was perfect. I was celebrating my birthday in the Canary Islands, I was riding a remarkably competent new bike and the roads and scenery were surreal and breathtaking.
These factors can lead to distractions while riding; perhaps an extended gaze at the jagged coastline can cause you to miss a turn; maybe the relaxed atmosphere and warm, comforting sun of Lanzarote can lull you into an intoxicating stupor, dulling reflexes.
But it was none of that that caused my mishap. In fact, no external factors caused the unfortunate incident that left my ego bruised and my body battered. It was only the second time in almost eight years of attending press launches that I lost control of a bike (the first being a racetrack low-speed lowside on a Kawasaki ZX-10R that suffered minimal cosmetic damage).
Perhaps it’s a testament to the Multistrada’s exceptionally good behaviour that I felt so confident riding on a dirt road not four kilometres from our hotel, at the end of the day. The bike felt totally at home on the unpaved road, drifting gracefully through turns and hovering over bumps unperturbed; I was getting into a groove.
Well, that groove literally unravelled when I picked up the pace on a straight, flat stretch. Being on an unknown and little-travelled road I should have ridden more responsibly, but it was too late to do anything but brace myself when I spotted a rainwater washout about as wide as a car and about a foot deep crossing my path.
Running into this at about 120 km/h saw the poor Multistrada hit its undercarriage on the far side of the rut, which then launched the bike into the air like the space shuttle.
The bike remained upright while airborne, and for a fraction of a second I thought I was going to make it. But it then landed squarely on both wheels, bottomed hard and bounced me off like a bull on steroids. It was game over, and the hapless bike and I slid and bounced on the hard ground for what seemed a long, long time.
Although I wasn’t saved the black, blue and purple of blunt trauma, I was spared the blood-red highlights of road rash, thanks in large part to my armoured Joe Rocket Alter Ego textile riding gear and Meteor boots. Although the pants shredded like I’d crashed on a cheese grater, my skin remained intact.
The bike fared much worse than I, bleeding out all its liquids onto the ground, shattered, bent and broken. I said a eulogy on the spot and bowed my head in a mixture of tribute and shame.
|MSRP||$17,495 to $20,995|
|Engine type||Four-stroke dohc 90° v-twin , liquid-cooled|
|Power (crank – claimed)||150 hp @ 9,500 rpm|
|Torque (claimed)||87.5 ft-lb @ 7,500 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||20 Litres|
|Carburetion||Ride-by-wire EFI with 56 mm throttle bodies|
|Final drive||Six speed, chain drive|
|Tires, front||120/70 R17|
|Tires, rear||190/55 R17|
|Brakes, front||Dual 320 mm discs with radial-mount four-piston calipers|
|Brakes, rear||Single 245 mm disc with two-piston caliper|
|Seat height||850 mm (33.5 “)|
|Wheelbase||1,530 mm (60.2 “)|
|Dry weight (claimed)||217 kg (478 lb)|
|Colours||Red, white, black|
|Warranty||Two years, unlimited mileage|