Who woulda thought that a company like Ducati, which puts its life and soul into superbikes and racing, would practically invest its future in a bike like the Multistrada, something clearly not meant to win any races? Maybe it's not so crazy after all. You see, racing is rife with rules, limitations, and boundaries. And if there's one thing engineers don't like when allowed to think free, it's rules, limitations, and, well, you get the idea. So what, then, would be the ideal platform for Ducati's brain trust to incorporate cutting edge technology that wouldn't just one-up its competitors, but downright blow the doors off the motorcycle community as a whole?
You're looking at it. A polarizing bike from the start, the 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200 is what happens when you let a bunch of motorcycle-crazy two-wheel engineers loose on a clean sheet of paper. The only rule was that it had to retain the essence of the original. What they came up with is a motorcycle billed to be four bikes in one, or something that can do it all. But not only is the new Multistrada an exercise in design, it's a technologically mind-blowing machine.
No Stone Left Unturned
Before we get into the software, it's necessary to start with the hardware. Ducati bills this machine as its new flagship and in order to be as such, it needed an engine suitable to the task. Naturally, the obvious choice would be the liquid-cooled 1198cc engine currently powering its superbikes. But that's easier said than done. The superbike engine is tuned to excel in racetrack conditions, where high rpm matters and low-speed drivability is allowed to suffer. These are the exact opposite conditions the Multistrada would be operated in. To counter this, compression ratio is dropped slightly to 11.5:1 (as opposed to 12.7:1), and camshaft timing is revised slightly, as are the intake and exhaust ports in the cylinder head. But the major difference between the superbike engine and this one lies in the valve overlap-or the time both the exhaust and intake valves are open at the end of the exhaust stroke and the start of the intake stroke. On the superbike, its 41 degrees of overlap means a large portion of exhaust gases make their way back into the "fresh" air from the intake stroke. At high engine speeds this is beneficial as the pressure waves maximize volumetric efficiency within the combustion chamber, hence leading to higher peak power.
That power has its sacrifices, however. Low-end drivability suffers in this endless pursuit for more race wins. To counter that, Ducati engineers have now reversed roles and sacrificed horsepower for torque, reducing the valve overlap drastically to just 11 degrees. That's not to say the Multi is weak by any means. The company claims 150 horsepower at 9250 rpm and 87.5 foot pounds of torque at 7500 rpm. Further, the Multistrada engine actually produces more torque under 6500 rpm than its superbike cousin. The changes don't stop there. A single fuel injector per cylinder now resides under the throttle butterfly for better fuel atomization, and the elliptical throttle bodies now measure 56mm in equivalent diameter. Gear ratios are now shorter to allow the Multi to reach its top speed in fifth gear and use sixth as a true overdrive gear. Ride-by-wire is now a feature on the Multi that gets rid of throttle cables in exchange for computers that tell the throttle bodies what to do-a feature that will become very important later in this story. A wet clutch is favored over the dry version of the superbikes, with a self-servo mechanism providing a light feel at the lever. This servo also acts as a slipper clutch during aggressive downshifts.
Possibly the best news for Ducati fans is the new and improved maintenance schedule for the Multistrada. Valve adjustment interval has now doubled to every 15,000 miles. This is due partly to the improved combustion efficiency and temperature management from the 11-degree valve overlap, but primarily to improved valve seat material that reduces thermal stress.
Multiple Personality Disorder
S models come equipped with...
S models come equipped with a 48mm fully adjustable inverted Öhlins fork that is electronically controlled. Standard models get a more traditional 50mm Marzocchi fork with a Sachs rear shock. Amazingly, the electronic Öhlins suspension weighs just 300 grams more than the standard units. Brembo provides stopping power for both bikes with 320mm discs and four-piston, radially mounted calipers. Brakes are typical Brembo fare with excellent power and a soft initial bite. ABS is standard on S models, optional on the non-S model.
All of that pales in comparison to what makes the new Multistrada stand out. To understand this, you first need to understand its purpose in life. When the original Multistrada was released in 2003, it was billed as a do-it-all machine. The air-cooled 1000DS engine (and later the 1100cc version) provided forward motivation, while Öhlins suspension on the 1100S model handled sporty handling duties. Its relaxed seating position gave it touring abilities and the long-travel suspension provided some pretense of off-road prowess. That's all well and good, and the bike garnered many fans, but there was one inherent flaw, at least in Ducati's eyes: these were all static means to fulfill many roles. If there was one thing the international press launch of the new version was going to drive home, it was this: If the Multistrada was ever going to be four bikes in one, it would have to "adapt to its rider, not the other way around." And that's where electronics comes in to play.
Available on both the standard and "S" versions are four different power modes: Sport, Touring, Urban, and Enduro, all of which can be selected while riding. In Sport mode, all of the Multistrada's 150 horsepower is on tap in all its glory. Throttle response isn't reduced at all and Ducati's Traction Control system, first introduced on the 1098R superbike, is set to level four-the middle of the eight positions-to allow slight wheelspin without getting carried away. On the road the feeling is instantly noticeable. Compared to its racier cousins, the Multistrada delivers more grunt from as low as 2000 rpm with smooth, seamless throttle application. Its short gearing and broad torque mean that second gear power wheelies are easily achieved.
Touring mode still provides all 150 horsepower, but power delivery is reduced for approximately 25 percent of initial throttle, after which there's a noticeable surge as full power is again restored. This initial reduction in power allows the rider with a heavy wrist more leeway especially exiting corners, but if that's not enough, the DTC setting is bumped to level five. All in an effort to curtail wheelspin. For those times when the open road isn't "open" at all, like during the daily commute or strolling through tight city roads, toggle to Urban mode and power is reduced to 100 horses with the same soft delivery as in Touring mode. DTC is bumped up again to level six. Strolling through some cramped towns during the Multistrada's world introduction in Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands just west of Morocco, switching into urban mode and tooling around town gave it a real sense of purpose. When maximum power isn't needed and attention would rather be directed toward navigating the city sprawl, Urban mode is a relaxing escape.
While the engine may share the same architecture as the 1198 superbike, inside it's completely different. Emphasis was placed on low-end torque for better drivability. Intake and exhaust ports were revised to help achieve this, but the primary difference is the 11 degree valve overlap between the intake and exhaust valves (from 41 degrees on the 1198). Gear ratios are also suited to the bike, with shorter gears allowing for quicker acceleration. The bike now reaches its top speed in fifth gear, with sixth gear used as a true overdrive.
On the other end of the spectrum is Enduro mode. While not a true off-road bike by any stretch of the imagination, the Multistrada has always had aspirations to be a fire-trail machine. Switching to Enduro mode sends the same 100 horsepower as in Urban, but DTC drops down to level two to allow significant wheelspin. Oddly, it doesn't disable the ABS-something that shouldn't be difficult at all with the CAN-BUS electronics. To handle all the different terrain Ducati worked in close relation with Pirelli to develop the Scorpion Trail-the largest "knobby" tire in production, coming in a 190/55-17 rear. Though designed to look like an off-road tire, the Scorpion Trail has a steep profile and slick shoulders for quick turn-in and decent edge grip while on the road. The stiffer carcass helps it endure any jaunts off the paved path.
Beyond the four modes, each is then able to be further customized via the dot-matrix display on the dash to differing levels of power, DTC interruption, or ABS activation. Meaning, instead of full power and level four of traction control, the rider has the option of changing it to Touring or Urban mode power delivery and any level of traction control they choose. Just with a few clicks of the left switchgear, the possibilities are endless.
The windscreen is adjustable...
The windscreen is adjustable in 60mm increments, manually, either up or down. Lack of space for the motors is the primary reason the screen isn't electronically operated. Note also the snorkels, inspired from the Hypermotard, that channel air to the oil cooler directly behind.
An Öhlins TTX shock graces...
An Öhlins TTX shock graces the rear of the Multistrada. Electronically adjustable, of course. Surprisingly, it's directly mounted to the swingarm and not through linkages. When asked why this is, the response again resolved around space issues. Or the lack thereof to be more precise.
Instead of routing exhaust...
Instead of routing exhaust gasses up and under the tail like the 1198, the collector and catalyzer for the Multistrada are side mounted. Under the seat you can also see the keyed release that exposes the small compartment area. Look closely and you can also see the right-side power outlet.
But Wait! There's More!
The electronic wizardry doesn't end there. As with most Ducatis, the higher-spec S model outshines its standard stablemate. But this time around it's different. Öhlins once again supplies the fully adjustable suspension bits, including a TTX rear shock, but there isn't a single knob or adjuster in sight. Tuning the suspension is done completely electronically. Within the respective drive modes are preprogrammed settings for a solo rider with no luggage, all the way to fully loaded saddlebags with pillion. All of which are adjustable on the fly. To compensate for different riding styles and preferences, compression and rebound damping and spring preload circuits are all adjustable via the dash display. The bike needs to be at a stop for this to happen, but the rider just has to thumb through the left switchgear to play with 30 "clicks" of adjustability for both the rebound and compression damping. And just like the drive modes, each new setting can be saved into the computer's memory. Once a change is made, the suspension reacts within milliseconds and more often than not it's noticeable from the saddle. Also, should the need arise, there's also a "default" option to return all the settings for both the drive modes and suspension back to their original positions. I could go on about the electronics, but there are simply not enough pages to do that.
The LCD gauge cluster displays all pertinent data and is also the command center for the rest of the electonics. We found the drive mode display on the right to be rather hard to read at speed since it controls a wide variety of functions in such little space. Second, the hands-free system allows the rider to start the bike without the key in the ignition via a key fob with electronic transmitter. Last, the cables and wires leading to the Öhlins fork are part of the Ducati Electronic Suspension that allows every parameter of a conventional shock or fork to be adjusted, that's right, electronically. Note also that the GPS unit is an option and doesn't come standard with the bike.
By now you've probably already guessed that the rider aids on this bike work. And they work well. But what about the rest of the bike? For the most part it performs just as admirably. The first thing to figure out is how to turn it on, as there isn't a traditional ignition. Instead, the included key fob transmits a signal if it's within about one foot of the bike. Then one flips the kill switch to the "on" position and starts the bike like normal. It takes some getting used to, but becomes second nature quickly. Steering lock when turned off is also activated through the kill switch.
Get that figured out and the next thing that stands out is the rather high seat height for the average rider at 33.5 inches, but a low seat option is also available that cuts nearly an inch off that figure. Otherwise riding position is extremely comfortable for the long haul, with high and wide handlebars and low, forward footpegs. The only issue is the wide handlebars that give so much leverage are also susceptible to the elements-strong wind gusts made for a light front end when cornering into the headwind.
Standard Multistrada saddlebags...
Standard Multistrada saddlebags don't protrude past the width of the mirrors, but optional expansion covers for the luggage provide additional storage space at the expense of extra width.
Don't let the Enduro mode...
Don't let the Enduro mode on the dash fool you-while the Multistrada is capable of light off-road duty, one of its main limiting factors is ground clearance. This engine guard protects the oil sump and front cylinder header pipe should one get overzealous in the dirt.
Another unique feature are...
Another unique feature are the attachment points for the luggage. They're all integrated into the rear bodywork, meaning no unsightly brackets to stare at when riding without bags.
Great care was put in to the...
Great care was put in to the single sided swingarm as it had to satisfy both the handling and strength characteristics as well as fit the packaging requirements. The swooping lines and thick main spar are evidence of the former.
Winds aside, the Multi is a surprising road motorcycle. With a 19-percent more rigid frame compared to its predecessor, the chassis feels stable on its side. The profile of the Scorpion Trail tires induces quick turn-in, but edge grip at the extremes is a bit lacking. Not surprising considering their do-it-all nature. Braking is courtesy of Brembo four-piston, radially mounted calipers and 320mm discs in front, with a single 245mm disc and two-piston caliper in the rear. Stopping power is typical Ducati, with strong feel and a progressive lever, though sometimes the pressure on the front could overpower the Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires and activate the ABS.
With so many rider aids on board the new Multistrada, it's easy to think the essence of motorcycling has been stolen from it. But that's where you'd be wrong. From the moment the assembled group of journalists took off on our first ride I was expecting something to either break or malfunction, but every bit works as advertised. Twist the throttle and the progression of the twistgrip reveals no lag between it and the butterflies opening, an issue we've noticed on early ride-by-wire systems. The level of refinement is what we've come to expect from Ducati, and that's a good thing. It'll behoove any owner to thoroughly read through the owner's manual as there is so much to learn with the different drive modes and suspension settings, but once learned it's an effective tool that begs to be exploited. Base model starts at $14,995 but really, anyone thinking about buying something in this category and in this price range ought to spend the extra five thousand for the S model. It's just that good.
Ducati Multistrada 1200
Type: Liquid-cooled, 90-degree DOHC 4-stroke V-twin
Bore x stroke: 106 x 67.9mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Induction: Mitsubishi EFI, Mikuni single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 56.0mm dia. Single injector/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Rake/trail: 25.0 deg./4.3 in. (110mm)
Wheelbase: 60.2 in. (1529mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal. (20.0L)
Claimed wet weight: 478 lb. (217kg)