contributor Marc Cook was visiting the Ducati factory in Bologna about two and half years ago doing research for his book on the 999 ("Ducati 999 - Birth of a Legend"), he was interviewing Ducati General Manager Claudio Domenicali about MotoGP technology trickle-down when the normally serious Italian suddenly changed demeanor and casually remarked with a twinkle in his eye, "We've got a bike coming that you are definitely going to like...wait and see."
But instead of some fire-breathing race replica sportbike, Ducati unleashed a motorcycle that-while bristling with the latest cutting-edge racing technology - is probably something about as far removed from the racetrack as you can get. The second generation Multistrada 1200S is Ducati's answer for the rapidly growing adventure-tour market in Europe, do-it-all bikes that take the old standard machines of the '70s a step further by adding some off-road capability into the mix. The Multistrada uses that racing technology (variable engine mapping modes, traction control, ABS, and electronically adjustable suspension) to significantly broaden its all-around capabilities.
We were suitably impressed with the Multistrada in our First Ride/Tech Analysis story ("The Second Coming") back in the June '10 issue. When we were given the opportunity to sample a Multistrada 1200S for a month or two back on home soil however, we jumped at the chance to play with its various electronics to see just how much of an asset they were to its overall performance. Is the latest Multistrada the harbinger of a new era of electronic adjustability?
The Role Player
Firing up the Multistrada involves pushing the kill switch to activate the communication between the key fob in your pocket and the Ducati's ignition system. While we've become accustomed to the convenience of keyless ignitions with bikes like the Kawasaki Concours 14, the only problem in the Ducati's case is that the flip-out key in the fob is necessary to unlock the fuel cap and the locks in the hard luggage (unlike the Concours that has a key in its ignition that can be removed to unlock the fuel cap and luggage), which sort of defeats the purpose of its keyless ignition.
Luggage isn't standard with...
Luggage isn't standard with the 1200S model, but the barrel locks for them are included with the bike in case the owner buys them as an $849.95 option. Installing the locks was easy and straightforward.
Speaking of luggage, the 1200S model doesn't come standard with the hard bags as it does with the Touring version; they are an $849.99 option. We decided to ask Ducati for the hard bags, as it completes the adventure-tourer intentions of the Multistrada. Interestingly, despite not coming with hard bags, the matching key lock barrels for the bags come with the bike, because Ducati feels that most S model owners will likely purchase the bags as accessories anyway. Why not include them with the S model? Cost could be a contributing factor; the S model already retails $5000 higher than the standard Multistrada, and including hard bags may have pushed the Ducati over the $20K threshold, a key marketing point that was surely emphasized from the Borgo Panigale corporate offices (although curiously the 1200S Touring model trades the carbon bits of the S model for the hard bags, plus heated grips and centerstand, for the same $19,995 sticker).
The engine lights off after the starter motor slowly gets the big 1198cc V-twin to spin a few revolutions, quickly settling into the usual desmodromic lumpy idle. The twin exhaust exits on the right side offer up a rather muted version of the typical desmo symphony, although considering the Multistrada's intended purpose, that's to be expected. The underengine exhaust collector chamber is fairly large, so it'll be interesting to see what the aftermarket does for this Ducati.
The Multistrada is capable...
The Multistrada is capable of mild off-road duty, but that's all. Note the lack of ground clearance, as well as the exposed front exhaust header; the Pirelli Scorpion Trail rubber is OK on hard-pack soil, but not much more.
Being a motorcycle that has some minor off-road aspirations, the Multistrada's chassis sits fairly high, so seat height is pretty tall. The official listing is 33.5 inches, but it feels taller than that. While we didn't have a chance to try out the one-inch-lower accessory seat, we think that those who have less than a 30-inch inseam and/or aren't accustomed to hanging off to one side at a stop probably shouldn't apply.
Ergos are basic adventure-tour style, with tapered-diameter, off-road-bend handlebars that are wide and high, and slightly forward-set footpegs with ample leg room to allow enough space for body positioning and good leverage while riding off-road (although the Ducati's abilities are more limited than most of the typical adventure-tourers in that respect - more on that later). The small flyscreen actually does a decent job of deflecting windblast away from your helmet and chest area, and the range of adjustment is plentiful enough to work for most riders. The seat is wide and flat toward the rear for decent comfort on long straight hauls, but narrow in front to permit proper lower body positioning in those riding situations that require it.
In any of the engine modes, the first thing you notice is that the Multistrada's engine has gobs of quick-revving low-end torque. The testastretta V-twin has never really been lacking in this department, but the "11°" version (so-named because of its shorter 11 degree valve timing overlap compared to the standard 41 degrees in the 1198) puts this Ducati on a whole new level. The Multistrada 1200 basically combines the stump-pulling low-end of the old Buell XB12 with the rev-happy nature of an 1198, making for a potent mix off the line and out of corners. Add overall gears shorter than the 1198 into the equation, and you have the makings of a motorcycle that can squirt between paved corners with a quickness that will surprise even the latest and greatest sportbikes in the right hands.
The Urban and Enduro modes...
The Urban and Enduro modes have basically the same power as the Touring and Sport modes up to 5250 rpm, at which point the Touring/Sport modes leave them behind.
In Sport or Touring mode where the engine has its full complement of power (150 claimed horsepower at the crankshaft, which turned out to be approximately 130 horsepower at the rear wheel on our SuperFlow dyno), the Multistrada continues making good power all the way to its 9500 rpm rev limiter. In fact, it zips through the rev range so quickly from 2500 rpm on up that you need to pay close attention to engine rpm if you grab a handful of throttle - a constant occurrence due to how much fun the engine is to play with - to avoid slamming into the rev limiter, which can be a little tricky with the small bar-graph tachometer on the LCD dash. The power is such that despite its 60-plus-inch wheelbase, the Multistrada easily lofts the front wheel in second gear just from acceleration alone.
When set in Enduro or Urban mode, the same responsive low-end and midrange torque is present on up to about 5500 rpm. But instead of voraciously continuing its climb up to 9500 rpm, the power curve begins a gradual tailing off that actually ends sooner at 8750 rpm. Although we can see this shorter power curve being suitable in the Enduro mode's semi-off-road situations a Multistrada might encounter, we weren't so enamored of the Urban mode's similar setting. Power is clipped at 90 horsepower, which when combined with the Ducati's 503-pound wet weight, makes for a somewhat uninspiring ride unless you're negotiating your way through tight, slick alleyways (which, in retrospect, is probably more of the "urban" Ducati engineers had in mind, rather than squirting into an opening in traffic on 55 mph expressways).
Likewise, in its default setting, Touring mode gives a softer throttle response in the first 25 percent of throttle opening than Sport mode, with engine power remaining the same otherwise. Truth be told, we found the soft response to be more of an annoyance than any help. But in both of these cases, this is where the Ducati's easy individual customization of each mode's engine, suspension, and traction control settings really shines.
Even Ducati's innovative engineers...
Even Ducati's innovative engineers couldn't overcome the Multistrada's packaging restraints for the rear Öhlins TTX electronically adjustable shock, thus precluding any linkage and forcing a direct cantilever mounting arrangement.
While the Öhlins rear suspension...
While the Öhlins rear suspension can be fully adjusted electronically, the fork's spring preload requires a wrench. The wiring controlling the damping circuits must also be disconnected.
The handguards also include...
The handguards also include the LED turn signals, which are bright enough to be easily visible in broad daylight, and their positioning makes them easily noticeable as well. Carbon fiber snorkel feeds air to oil cooler mounted beneath the headlights.
The windscreen is manually...
The windscreen is manually adjustable through a 2.4-inch span to accommodate riders of various heights. It does a decent job of deflecting the wind blast away from the rider's helmet and neck area.
Accessing the setup menu on...
Accessing the setup menu on the LCD dash allows you to change multiple aspects of the Multistrada's suspension and engine characteristics for an impressively wide variety of riding situations.
By accessing the setup menu on the dash display, you can basically change any of the modes to suit your preference. Want the full 130 horsepower for Enduro mode? No problem (although attempting to use that much power in virtually any off-road situation is futile with the stock Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires - and possibly hazardous with a 500-plus-pound motorcycle). Need a little more traction control or stiffer suspension in Touring mode? Easily done. Rebound and compression damping can be altered to any one of 32 "clicks"; as with most adjustable damping setups with this many steps, there wasn't much noticeable difference until you begin to approach 12 or so clicks from full stiff. Spring preload is electronically adjustable only in the rear; a 22mm open-end wrench is required for the front fork, and you must disconnect the wiring to the fork internals. Because of the rear shock's cantilevered setup and lack of linkage, there's not much difference in ride height until you begin to get toward the latter half of the 16 preload steps. And all settings can be reset back to Ducati's default marks if you end up lost. Even the ABS can be turned off if desired.
The radial-mount Brembo four-piston/two-pad...
The radial-mount Brembo four-piston/two-pad calipers and 320mm discs provide outstanding stopping power with plenty of feel, but the ABS threshold is set too low in our opinion, and cycling is pretty coarse at low speeds.
Speaking of which, while we like having the added safety net of ABS, we found the Multistrada's ABS threshold to be too intrusive. The overall grip of the Pirellis was excellent for the most part on pavement, and combined with the superb engine, outstanding suspension, and stable chassis, allow you to ramp up the pace to surprising levels. But the very aggressive braking afforded by the twin 320mm discs and two-pad/four-piston/radial-mount Brembo calipers up front often triggered the ABS, and the cycling was a bit coarse, making for some elevated heart rates as the momentary drop in braking power would cause you to speed up when you least want it. Ducati reps informed us that an ABS update consisting of reflashing the ECU will be available by the time you read this, but we didn't have a chance to try it.
Another update consists of a reflashed ECU to cure the overly lean fueling at light throttle settings between 3000-4000 rpm that plagued early production units. Our test bike exhibited this problem, with a noticeable surging that would be very annoying in the lower gears, and even led to the bike occasionally stalling when not fully warm as we rolled to stop. The update cured this issue for the most part, with only the slightest hint of surging present.
A Whole New Player
With the new Multistrada, Ducati has changed the face of the adventure-tour genre by vaulting the illusive "fun factor" to a whole new level. In a category that previously was occupied by an eclectic mix of machinery with somewhat boring performance, the Ducati's cutting-edge electronics, as well as its standout power and handling - on pavement at least - allow it to fulfill the majority of roles (touring, commuter, canyon carver) with an aplomb the others can't match. Granted, for the serious adventure-tour rider there are probably better choices because of the Ducati's limited off-road capability - its 17-inch front wheel imposes limitations on both tire choice and off-road handling, as does its exposed exhaust and oil sump down below - but the vast majority of these bikes aren't traversing the Serengeti desert while circumnavigating the globe anyway. The Multistrada's mild off-road capabilities are enough to satisfy the bulk of riders who are in the market for these bikes.
Ducati has a lot riding on the Multistrada's success. The company knows it can't depend on just sportbikes and the Monster series to survive. With the ground-breaking overall abilities and just plain fun-to-ride quality of the Multistrada 1200S, we're pretty confident Ducati won't have to worry.
|2010 DUCATI MULTISTRADA 1200S
||Electronically adjustable suspension
||Great power characteristics
||Strong brakes, stable chassis
||ABS threshold too low
||Limited off-road capability
||Front fork preload requires wrench
|| A new era of electronically adjustable motorcycles has begun
Suggested Suspension Settings
TOURING (RIDER With Luggage): Front: spring preload-16 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping-position 16; compression damping - position 11; Rear: spring preload-position 11; rebound damping-position 16; compression damping-position 11
Sport (RIDER With Luggage):
Front: spring preload-12 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping-position 10; compression damping-position 6; Rear: spring preload-position 16; rebound damping-position 12; compression damping-position 6
Urban: Default settings
Enduro: Default settings
2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200S
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90-degree V-twin
Bore x stroke: 106.0 x 67.9mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Induction: Mitsubishi electronic fuel injection, Mikuni elliptical throttle bodies equivalent to 56mm diameter
Front suspension: 48mm Öhlins inverted fork, 6.7 in. (170mm) travel; electronically adjustable for rebound and compression damping, manually adjustable spring preload
Rear suspension: Single Öhlins TTX shock, 6.7 in. (170mm) travel; electronically adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Front brake: 2, radial-mount/four-piston/two-pad calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 245mm disc
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Rear wheel: 6.00 x 17in., cast aluminum alloy
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Rake/trail: 25 degrees/4.3 in. (110mm)
Wheelbase: 60.2 in. (1530mm)
Seat height: 33.5 in. (850mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal. (20L)
Weight: 503 lb. (228kg) wet; 471.2 lb. (214kg) with all fluids except fuel
Instruments: Liquid crystal display (LCD), with bar-graph tachometer, digital speedometer, odometer, dual tripmeters, coolant temp, fuel gauge, DTC, clock, gear indicator, Drive Mode/DES display; warning lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, low fuel, low oil pressure, ABS malfunction
Quarter-mile: 10.80 @ 127.57 mph (corrected)
Top speed: NA
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/3.3 sec.; 80-100 mph/3.1
Fuel consumption: 38 to 44 mpg, 40 mpg avg.