Photos by Milagro
Lanzarote, Spain – Ducati has updated its Multistrada bike in both standard and S form. CMG’s Costa Mouzouris endured the many flights it takes to get to this volcanic island in the Atlantic to check it out.
The Multistrada started life as an air-cooled, two-valve, 998 cc V-twin back in 2003. Designed by (the now infamous?) Pierre Terblanche and introduced as the Multistrada 1000DS, it featured a fairing that was partially frame mounted and partially handlebar mounted, and styling that was somewhat polarizing.
It’s the second-generation Multistrada that made its predecessor so forgettable, and turned it into Ducati’s biggest selling bike. Introduced in 2010, it received a radical facelift with sharp angles and aggressive lines, and was fitted with a slightly detuned 1,198 cc liquid-cooled Testastretta 11° engine out of Ducati’s 1198 superport machine.
It also got an electronics package that included traction control, ABS, and selectable ride modes, which when combined with the optional electrically adjustable Ohlins suspension, transformed it from plush tourer to taut sport bike with the push of a button. A mild update in 2013, saw the addition of Ducati’s Skyhook semi-active suspension, a revised engine with four spark plugs, and updated ABS.
For 2015 Ducati introduces the third-generation Multistrada, and although it’s not as radically different as the second-gen was from the first, it is an entirely new machine.
I got the chance to ride the new bike on the volcanic island of Lanzarote, part of the Canary Islands, where in 2010 I had ridden (and crashed…) the original Multistrada 1200 .
This is the technical intro for the bike. If you wish to avoid confusing your head with blurbage that may not mean much to you, please feel free to skip ahead to The Ride.
There are quite a few changes on the new model including a new variable valve timing engine, a higher-spec S version, a new electronics package and some tweaks to the ergonomics.
Variable Valve Timing – This is the most significant change and a first for a production motorcycle (as in it seamlessly varies the timing on all the valves, rather than switching from two to four valves at a set rpm like the Honda VTEC system). The new 1,198 cc Testastretta DVT (Desmodromic Variable Timing) is capable of altering valve timing, using pressurized engine oil to hydraulically actuate the variable cam pulleys, thus altering the valve timing depending on engine demand.
Each belt-driven cam pulley offers 45 degrees of range, and each is operated independently and controlled by the ECU. The valve timing is infinitely variable within the total 90-degree range, altering the valve overlap to change the engine’s torque characteristics, and widening the torque band.
The DVT engine is also more powerful, now producing 160 hp (up 10 hp from the previous model), and 100.3 lb-ft of peak torque (up 8.5 lb-ft). However, it’s not just the added peak torque that makes this engine stronger; there’s more torque available at low revs too. Fuel consumption has been reduced by 8 percent, and valve service is now pushed up to the 30,000 km interval mark.
The S version – As with the previous generation Multistradas, there are two versions – the $18,995 Multistrada 1200 base model, and the $20,795 1200S.
The S boasts electrically adjustable, DSS semi-active suspension, and comes with LED headlights that include cornering LEDs that are lean-angle and speed-sensitive, coming on when leaning past 7 degrees at speeds above 30 km/h to light up the inside of a corner. The standard bike gets by with fully, yet manually adjustable suspension and fixed halogen headlights.
The S also gets larger 330 mm discs and Brembo’s monobloc calipers, the latter components lifted directly from the 1299 Panigale. Add a colour TFT screen, and Bluetooth capability that enables basic phone functions via the handlebar switches, though you still need a helmet-mounted headset, and you get a good amount of trickery for your additional $1800.
Electronics – The Multistrada’s electronics package has been enhanced for 2015, and it now has bank-angle-sensing traction control (DTC), cornering ABS, and wheelie control (DWC), all of which offer variable levels of intervention depending on which of four ride modes is selected (Sport, Touring, Urban, and Enduro). Cruise control is standard on both models.
Full engine output is available in Sport and Touring modes, though there’s softer acceleration mapping in the latter, and power is capped at 100 hp in Urban and Enduro modes. DTC, DWC and ABS levels are preset in each ride mode’s default setting, but you can fine-tune any of them within each mode, as well as set maximum power, and save it into memory, essentially customizing each mode to suit your riding style.
In the 1200S, each mode also has preset suspension settings, which can also be adjusted independently and saved.
Ergonomics – are largely unchanged, though the seat can now be adjusted to 825 or 845 mm. The fairing has been widened by 40 mm at its widest point, and the windscreen is now manually adjustable over a 60 mm range up and down. To facilitate riding while standing on the pegs, the bike is now 40 mm narrower at your knees.
Accessories – To further broaden the bike’s appeal, Ducati is offering four accessory packages, each one catering a different riding style. There’s a Street Pack, Touring Pack and Enduro Pack ($1,500 each), and an Urban Pack ($965). Accessories vary with each kit, including items like saddlebags, top case, hand guards, carbon-fibre bits, performance muffler, etc., and none of the kits overlap so you can get all four if you’re the farkle-heavy type.
The tester’s first person account of how the bike actually feels.
Lanzarote is an island located in the Atlantic, just off the west coast of Morocco, so the weather was refreshingly warm and dry. I began the day on a 1200S (all test bikes were pre-production models), equipped with the optional Touring Pack ($1,500) that includes 58-litre side cases, a centre stand and heated grips.
The first thing I noticed, immediately after accelerating from a stop and rowing through the lower gears for the first time, was that the new Multistrada is much, much smoother than before; gone almost completely is the low-speed shuddering that was so prevalent on the previous model.
This is a direct effect of the variable valve timing, which Ducati claims has reduced the engine “surging” by 78 percent. This means you can shift the Multistrada into top gear at 90 km/h without experiencing the magnitude six quaking of the former model — in other words, a huge improvement, and a much better setup for riding in town.
Even in Touring mode, the Multistrada pulls harder than any adventure bike out there should. For an even mightier seat-of-the-pants experience, Sport mode transforms the bike into a full-blown, sport-bike chasing back-road weapon, especially on the 1200S, where Sport mode also firms up the suspension.
In this mode, I managed a few fourth-gear roll-ons to the upper end of the rev range, and the Multistrada just pulled progressively harder and tugging hard on my arms as the tach climbed up the rev range at speeds I’d rather not mention. That’s serious power, and the variable valve timing, whatever it may have been doing under the engine covers, was utterly seamless in operation.
The base model’s suspension is adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping at both ends. Realistically you can probably get by very well with this suspension, its range of adjustment easily capable of handling everything you can throw at the Multistrada, but the convenience and speedy adjustability of the S model’s DSS is hard to beat.
In Touring mode, the DSS active suspension is designed to offer plush compliance when riding moderately straight, and it’s supposed to sense the higher loads of cornering and bumps, and firm up automatically to maintain composed handling when the road gets twisty.
It worked as claimed, providing a soft ride without the bike wallowing through corners, though admittedly the roads surrounding Lanzarote are quite smooth. Regardless, I think the active suspension is worth the $1,800 premium you have to dish out for the S version, especially since the bike comes with a host of other premium features as well.
I usually have an affinity for analogue gauges, but the new TFT screen on the 1200S is a marvel of information, providing all the necessary info, as well as ride mode info, which includes the individual DSS, DTC, DWC and ABS settings for quick reference.
Despite their complexity, menus are surprisingly easy to navigate using a large multi-function switch on the left-hand switch pod, adjacent to the equally large cruise control switch. Selecting a ride mode is done by pressing the button repeatedly to scroll through the different ride modes, and holding it down to select the desired mode, though you still have to shut the throttle when moving to confirm your selection.
There was one glitch a few riders experienced while riding the Multistrada, and which I experienced on the 1200S I rode in the morning. On two occasions, I pitched the bike into a left-hand turn and twisted the throttle to exit, only to encounter solidly illuminated DTC lights in the dash and no acceleration. Power was restored, rather abruptly, as the bike levelled out.
It seems this was an unexpected software glitch, and the folks at Ducati were immediately on it, so I don’t expect it will make it onto production bikes. The standard model I rode in the afternoon did no such thing.
The tester’s final thoughts on the bike .
There’s a reason the Multistrada is doing so well for Ducati, replacing the Monster as the Italian firm’s sales leader – it’s a damn good bike. It wears many suits, capable of taking on everything but more technical off-pavement excursions, its 17-inch wheels being its Achilles’ heel when the going gets rough.
The BMW R1200GS reigns supreme with off-road adventurers anyway, while the Multistrada is a much sportier, more powerful motorcycle, and closer to a pure sport bike in handling. It remains, however, a versatile machine, with its ride modes readily transforming it from long-haul tourer to switchback attacker.
The new Testastretta DVT engine has managed to transform the Multistrada into a more refined adventure bike, while maintaining the supersport lineage that is the hallmark of the Italian bike maker. Add up all of these factors, and I think Ducati should be quite comfortable with whatever the competition throws at the new Multistrada.
A comparison of the bike against three of its closest competitors from the CMG Buyer’s Guide. You can also see the Multistrada’s spec sheet in the Buyer’s Guide, here.
While it seems that the R1200GS is safe, probably for a long while, BMW is not standing idly by, muscling in on Multistrada territory with the new S1000XR. And the Multistrada faces competition from a couple of other bikes to: the Aprilia Caponord and the all-new Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT.
The Kawasaki with its low $14,999 is nonetheless a high-tech bike with an aluminum frame, and standard traction control and ABS, though it has a basic suspension setup with adjustability limited to front and rear preload and rear rebound damping.
The Aprilia comes in at $1,000 more than the Kawasaki and it turns out that pricing is quite aggressive, as the Caponord comes with standard traction control and ABS, as well as an electrically adjustable semi-active suspension, saddlebags, and a V-twin engine too. The downside of the Aprilia in Canada is limited availability due to a thin dealer network.
Then there’s the BMW, which is the closest to the Ducati in performance, and it’s coming in at almost $1,400 less in standard form. Its engine shares specs with the S1000R naked bike, claiming 160-hp, on par with the Ducati. Although the Multistrada can no longer claim the top spot in horsepower in the category, it still outguns the BMW by 18 lb-ft of peak torque, and torque will take you a long way when loaded with luggage and a passenger.
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