NIPOZANNO, Italy – The trail here is tight, twisty and undulating, and it’s rocky, and rough. Despite riding in early afternoon sunlight, one section of the trail turns dark as night under a canopy of trees.
Standing on the footpegs at a moderately quick pace, I get hard in the gas going up hills, and sometimes need to brake hard for sharp turns at the bottom of those hills. Some turns are off camber and require a delicate touch and lots of counterbalancing to avoid a trip into the woods. It’s relatively easy to steer the machine around rim-bashing rocks at speed, though if the speed is too low, I begin to argue with the handlebar as the bike bounces off obstacles rather than gliding over them. It’s actually easier to negotiate the moderately challenging terrain at speeds above 60 km/h, where the 2019 Multistrada 1260 Enduro just begins to hit its sweet spot.
You wouldn’t expect such a scenario from an Italian V-twin, but the Enduro is the Multistrada’s dirtier sibling. It was introduced in 2016 as an alternative to Ducati’s adventure tourer, for riders looking for near-superbike power and road handling, but with an elevated level of dirt-worthiness than the standard Multistrada — if you can call a 150-horsepower-plus adventure bike standard.
When introduced, the 1200 Enduro had more suspension travel than the Multistrada, dirt-ready tubeless spoke wheels with a 19-incher replacing the Multi’s sportier 17-inch front rim (17-inch rear on both bikes), dirt-bike-like upright ergonomics, serrated metal footpegs, a big skidplate, and an advanced suite of electronics tuned specifically for adventuring where only knobbies should go.
I’m in Tuscany to ride the new and improved Multistrada 1260 Enduro ($24,495) on and off the road, and it proved to be at least as capable as the previous model when the pavement ends, despite some changes that would lead you to believe otherwise.
While targeting riders who don’t mind getting their boots muddy, it seems that the previous Multistrada Enduro was maybe a bit too aggressive for the majority, so aside from a new, bigger, more powerful engine, the redesigned Multistrada Enduro is now slightly more street-friendly, especially in terms of ergonomics and suspension.
Apparently, owners of the previous-generation Enduro found it to be too tall and too upright, so for 2019, suspension travel at both ends is reduced by 15 mm to 185 mm, which has dropped seat height by 10 mm to 860 mm. If that’s still too tall, a 20-mm lower seat is available as an accessory, and if you’re the lanky sort who finds the seat-to-footpeg relationship too tight, you can get a 20-mm taller seat.
The footpeg location hasn’t changed, but the rubber inserts are 10 mm lower for a bit more legroom, or you can just remove them altogether for maximum benefit, as well as a sure grip in mud. The final ergonomic change is a 30 mm-lower handlebar, which proves too low for me when standing up. I’m six feet tall and would have to use riser spacers or change the handlebar to be comfy when standing, whereas the previous model fit right.
The biggest change is the new engine. Last year the regular Multistrada got a longer-stroke 1,262 cc Testastretta V-twin DVT (desmodronic variable timing, otherwise known as variable valve timing), thus becoming the Multistrada 1260. Available alongside it in the showroom was the Multistrada 1200 Enduro, which chugged along on the previous generation’s 1,198 cc DVT engine. The 1,262 cc engine powers the 2019 Enduro, and it gets a lower first gear to handle very tight, woodsy-type riding. The overall gear ratio has been shortened by adding three teeth to the rear sprocket compared to the Multistrada 1260. Valve service intervals are set to 30,000 km.
The engine claims 158 horsepower and 94 lbs.-ft. of peak torque. Only the KTM 1290 Adventure S out-powers the Ducati, with 160 hp and 103 lbs.-ft. of torque. While the new Enduro’s torque output is the same as on the Enduro 1200, it’s the delivery of that torque that sets it apart.
The previous bike’s torque curve dipped to a not-too-shabby 76 lbs.-ft. as the tach needle swept past 5,000 rpm, and then gradually rose to peak at 7,500 rpm. The 1260’s torque jumps to almost 90 lbs.-ft. from just 4,000 rpm, and stays at least that high before peaking at the same rpm as before, while staying there longer before dropping away at higher revs. In other words, the bike has a massive midrange. Despite the bigger engine, dry weight is that same as the Enduro 1200, at 225 kg.
Steering geometry is mostly the same as on the Enduro 1200, though the wheelbase is now stretched 36 mm to 1,592 mm. The standard Multistrada carries 20 litres of fuel; this bike has a 30-litre fuel tank, and is probably the widest fuel container I’ve seen on a bike.
The tank is protected by replaceable aluminum covers in case you drop the bike, though falling off doesn’t seem to damage even those, as one journalist proved after low-siding twice during the off-road ride. The same can’t be said about the turn-signal handguards, as he broke off two of them from two bikes in his spills.
On the other hand, another journalist who owns a first-generation Multistrada 1200 and rides it off road said he’s still on the original turn-signal handguards, so their life expectancy is directly related to your propensity for crashing. (Costa should know, after cartwheeling an early Multistrada 1200 at a launch in the Canary Islands. -Ed.)
The bike still sits tall, though you really fit into this machine, with the tank rising high and wide from the rider’s perch. From the seat, you’ll see a new 5-inch colour TFT instrument screen. Suspension adjustments, engine mapping, traction control and ABS settings, and ride modes are all accessible through this screen using a rocker switch on the left handlebar.
The menus are numerous but intuitively arranged, and I was able to set up the bike to my taste without instruction; about the only thing missing is a home button to get you back to the main screen without having to back out of the various menus. Best of all, though, is that ride modes can be changed on the fly. There’s a USB port under the seat and two 12-volt accessory plugs, one located inside the fairing and one below the passenger seat.
The adjustability of the machine is quite impressive, and among other things, there are apparently 400 possible combinations available within the semi-active suspension alone. While each ride mode — Urban, Touring, Sport and Enduro — has its own default settings for ABS, traction control, wheelie control, throttle response, engine power and suspension settings, you can also fine-tune individual parameters within those ride modes. In Enduro mode, for example, I changed the throttle response from soft (default) to medium, and the suspension damping from medium and hard front and rear, to the next-to-softest setting at both ends. Once you’ve set up the bike, it retains those settings after shutting it off.
Ride modes feature power curves that are tailored to each gear, so you won’t have the same throttle response in first gear as you will in fourth. This allows an aggressive power delivery in the higher gears without being overly abrupt in lower gears. This same technique is applied to the electronically-controlled engine braking, which allows more aggressive engine braking in the higher gears than in the lower gears.
Output is set to 100 hp in Enduro mode, as it is in Urban, which is more than enough to hurl big rocks off the rear Pirelli Scorpion Rally knobbies installed for the off-road ride. Street-friendly Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires are standard, and tire sizes remain at 120/70R19 front and 170/60R17 rear.
An electric quick shifter is standard, allowing clutch-less up and downshifts. It’s really beneficial off road, where you can just tap the shifter to drop a gear instantly without losing any momentum if things tighten up in the trails.
Riding the beast
We began our rides along winding roads that branched away from Nipozanno, and they were surprisingly bumpy and broken, very much like our Canadian roads. On these serpentine paths, I preferred Touring mode, which provides a nice compromise of compliance and control in the suspension, and a smooth, easily manageable throttle. I did switch to the more aggressive and firmer Sport mode, which would have worked better on smoother roads at a quicker pace, though it’s nice to have that adjustability available.
The bike is tall, and the trade-off in handling is a higher centre of gravity, which makes quick-turning transitions a bit more laborious as the bike arcs a long way over the top from turn to turn. With almost 160 hp on tap, power is never an issue – the engine really hauls ass from low rpm and doesn’t run out of breath even when the tach reaches redline. The Multistrada Enduro has superbike power in an adventure-bike chassis, which is a great combination for attacking real-world twisty roads that aren’t glass-smooth.
Switching to bikes equipped with the knobby tires for the afternoon off-road ride revealed the tires’ slow steering response. They also introduced a slight vagueness in the steering, though it’s something you adapt to quickly and isn’t a problem. The trade-off, of course, was confidence-inspiring grip along the steep, rocky, winding roads.
From memory, I’d say the lowered suspension is a bit firmer than on the previous generation, but it soaks up everything that comes at it (without intentionally aiming the bike at obstacles that would fold it in two) and it doesn’t bottom-out, even after landing a couple of modest jumps. The bike steers willingly where it’s pointed, though I had to plan the line carefully: I was manhandling a 500 lb.-plus machine over terrain more suited to single-cylinder dual sports.
The biggest issue off-road is the shorter first gear, which creates a big gap to second. This hampers low-speed riding because the bike is often between gears, with first producing too many revs and second lugging the engine. The solution is to either rev out the engine in first, or to pick up speed in second to allow the engine to spin more freely — I chose the latter and the Enduro did not complain.
The engine in the 2019 Multistrada 1260 Enduro is a marvel, with a tremendous power delivery and a raspy exhaust note. I’m not sure why Ducati has gone backwards a bit and lowered the bike and the handlebar, when the option for someone who wants a more streetable ‘Strada is the regular $21,195 model.
Fortunately, these changes have not hampered the Enduro’s off-road capability, and have probably made the bike more accessible to more riders. And you can still charge through trails, elbows up, and with a roost coming off the rear tire that’ll strip the paint of any bike following. And if you decide to ride with your sport-bike buddies, switching it to Sport mode and keeping the stock tires will let you carve corners with the best of them.
I continue to fail to see the point of bikes like this, at least for the vast majority of people. I’m certainly happy to say that I don’t have the skills to make use of a 500 lb, 160 HP dirt bike. I guess if you don’t mind the idea of wrecking a $20+K bike offroad someplace (doubt if your insurance will cover that), it’s OK. Again, I’m pretty much 100% sure that I’d be happier on the road-biased version of this bike, and that even it would be more than capable of handling any terrain that I’d want to take a bike this size in to.
Then again, the number of people who can actually ride an open class (or even 600cc) sport bike to anything like its limits on the road is vanishingly small.
There are so many great bikes that list at over $20K available. It would be great to know the actual number of sales in Canada for bikes that top $20K, $25K, and $30K. My guess is that the numbers are pretty small. Are figures available?