There are five different 1260 Multistradas in the Ducati lineup: a basic one (1260), a souped-up one (1260S), a hot-shot one (Pikes Peak) and, new for 2020, a touring one (GT). All of those bikes, like your neighbour’s SUV, will rarely go off road. They’ll be ridden to Starbucks for a morning of bench-racing, and that’s fine.
If you do want to tackle some serious off-road trails, the Enduro that I’m riding here is the bike for you. Mind you, you’re either brave, foolish, or incredibly talented, because this is a 158 hp machine that weighs 225 kg dry. Fill the enormous tank with 30 litres of fuel and it will weigh considerably more, with all that extra weight high up.
Remember when Ewan and Charley were in Mongolia and they kept falling off their BMW GSs? Charley lamented that they hadn’t stuck to the original plan and ridden smaller KTMs, which would have been far more manageable on the slippery steppes (Lord knows what they thought of the electric Livewire in the South American rainforest, but we’ll find out soon enough.)
The point is, off-road bikes are supposed to be tossable and supplicant. They’re not supposed to be a handful, and Ducati’s Multistrada 1260 Enduro goes against all that. So how is it to ride?
Tall in the saddle
If you want to know all the technical details and history of the Enduro, take a look at Costa’s First Ride story here, where he threw the bike around for a while in Italy. For that matter, read his story if you want to know what a guy who actually knows what he’s doing off-road thinks of the bike.
I, on the other hand, swung a leg waaaaay up and over the seat, thumbed the starter, and set off for a week with the $24,695 Enduro. It was officially a 2019 model, but nothing is changed for 2020 except the price is bumped up by $200, so let’s call it that.
I could have swung that leg even higher if the bike was fitted with its optional tall seat, but I rode with the middle-height seat, for a reach of 860 mm (which is almost 34 inches). There’s also a shorter seat height that lowers your ass by 20 mm, which is close to the height of the regular Multistrada at 825-845 mm, depending on the seat. The bike needs to be tall to clear rocks and obstacles, but it’s intimidating at slow speeds if you have to stretch to your tippy-toes to touch the ground.
I found this out the exhausting way, on a steep and twisting trail. If the tires should slip and you need to dab a foot on the ground to keep everything upright, the bike itself must lean over more than usual to allow you to make that reach. Heaven help you if you just filled it up with gas. In any case, you only need 30 litres if you’re riding the power company roads in Quebec – if I owned a Multistrada Enduro, I’d probably never put more than 20 litres in it.
How smart is it?
The thing to remember about the Ducati Multistrada is that it’s not a dirt bike – it’s an adventure tourer, and a big one at that. Some super-humans can ride a big adventure tourer as if it’s a small toy – Clinton Smout and Amanda Kennedy for example, who teach on big GSs at BMW’s Performance Rider Training Program at Horseshoe Valley in Ontario, or those Dakar-racing daredevils – but most people do not have these skills, and nor do they want to drop their bikes and pay for all the damage. So they stay on gravel and sandy roads, or on the asphalt highway.
That’s fine on the other four Multistradas, but the Enduro is for riders who want to push it all farther. The suspension offers an extra 15 mm of travel, a hefty skidplate protects from underneath, and the engine is mapped differently. Oh, and the fuel tank is expanded to 30 litres from the regular 20 litres, so you don’t need an extra can on your way up the Dempster Highway. Did I mention the size of the fuel tank?
As with all Ducatis these days, though, the true magic is in the software. There are four ride modes – Urban, Touring, Sport, and Enduro – and they alter the characteristics of the throttle response, traction control, wheelie control, power control, suspension, and brakes (leaning ABS!). These can be changed on the fly and easily monitored through the clean and attractive colour TFT display screen; while there are default settings for each of those modes, you can also set them just as you like them. Switch the suspension from Sport to Touring and you can feel the bike sink on the softer springs. If you’re the kind of person who finds it challenging to make up your mind, you’re gonna be screwed.
Fortunately, Ducati knows that most Enduro buyers have greater aspirations than abilities, and the default settings for both Urban and Enduro will tone the engine down to 100 hp. There. That’ll be okay then.
Did the Enduro make me a better off-road rider? Well, it made me braver. I rode on gravel roads considerably more quickly than I normally would, even on most dirt bikes, and I found the motorcycle to be compliant and predictable if I’d only keep the speed up. In other words, if I didn’t want to dab my feet on the ground that was so far away.
What’s it like on the road?
On asphalt, of course, the Enduro is something else: good-looking and very powerful, and comfortable too. The hand guards kept my gloves protected, although their integrated signal lights looked like they’ll be expensive if dropped. The small windscreen, too, was effective. I found I preferred it on the lowest setting in almost all instances, although highway use usually warrants the highest setting for my near-6-feet frame. It adjusts straight up and down, easily and manually with only one hand.
The power of the beast cannot be faulted. 158 hp! That’s more than enough for a capable rider to use on the road, and far more than enough for an inexperienced or incapable rider to get into trouble. That’s where the 6-axis IMU really helps, with electronic traction control and braking assistance.
What does suck, a bit, is the transmission. It’s the same six-gear box that’s in the Ducati Diavel and boy, could it be temperamental. My test bike was tough to find neutral, leaving me clomping up and down at traffic lights, and would sometimes hit a false neutral between fifth and sixth. An electric quickshifter is standard and that helps, but it’s still clunky.
How does it stack up?
The dominating bike in this group is the BMW R 1250 GS, which is BMW’s best-selling motorcycle. It just crushes the market, and all the others can only dream of its success. Its price is actually a little less than the Ducati before you start adding options: the extra-off-road R 1250 GS Adventure starts at $24,000, while the basic R 1250 GS starts at $21,650. Compare these prices to the basic Multistrada at $21,195 and the Multistrada Enduro at $24,695. For these bikes, buyers don’t usually quibble over a thousand bucks here or there.
The Triumph Tiger is now a very capable competitor and also similarly priced in its various editions. It makes five more horsepower than the GS, at 139 hp, which should be plenty for anybody.
The better value buy is the Honda Africa Twin. If you want the 25-litre gas tank for heading up to Tuk, the 2019 Africa Twin Adventure Sports will set you back only $19,999, while the basic 2019 Africa Twin starts at $15,199. Prices, and abilities, are going up with the new generation model for 2020, which will also get a larger engine. For an extra $1,000, you can get the DCT sort-of-automatic transmission, and it will be just as capable of carrying you and your luggage wherever the GS or the Multistrada can go. It’s the least powerful in this class at 94 hp, or 101 hp for the 2020 bike, but again, that’s a paper figure – I didn’t want for more when I rode it last summer.
And then there’s the KTM Super Adventure R, which makes the same 158 hp, is highly capable off-road (but without the semi-active suspension), and costs $20,099, which seems like the best value of the lot.
Each of these bikes has a slightly different appeal and goes about things in a slightly different way. For the Ducati, however, its strength is in its engine, its name, and its seemingly infinite tuning possibilities. If you’re the persnickety sort who likes things to be just so, then it’s probably the bike for you. And if you’re not, then just tell your friends you’ve adjusted everything to exactly the way you need it but leave all the settings on default and peel away with a rooster tail. They’ll never know any different, and probably, neither will you.