Goat Riders in the Sky: BMW R1200GS vs. Ducati Multistrada 1200S

MC Comparison

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

They are as different as any pair of tools designed for the same job can be. Sharpened by three decades of going places that would make most street riders wet themselves, BMW's GS is the original choice for going just about anywhere two wheels can take you. Undeniably huge, inimitably German and currently defined by a stronger twin-cam version of the 1170cc Boxer-twin, the R1200GS looks like an adventure sitting still. Just add 21 contiguous vacation days, a clean American Express card and shake vigorously.

Aside from being manifestly smaller, lighter, faster and explicitly Italian, Ducati's new Multistrada 1200S leaves more than a little room for interpretation. Especially when there's a new GS parked next to it. Are these bikes really different means to the same sort of all-encompassing ends? Or just different? After gnawing on that one for all of 5 minutes, we figured the answer was beyond the fluorescent-lit, climate-controlled splendor of Motorcyclist's El Segundo headquarters. How about Randsburg (population 85 or so, depending on who you ask), a.k.a. our favorite desiccated Mojave Desert gold-mining town, sitting near the coccyx of California's Sierra Nevada range?

That's 150 miles north and east of the MC M.C. as the Gold Wing flies, or 293 for those of us who really do have all day to get there and a couple of motorcycles to wring out. Either way, you end up in a dusty little chunk of 1896, surviving on a powerful combination of self-sufficiency, sheer meanness and savvy tourists rolling up from greater Los Angeles (population 17.8 million if you're still counting) looking for an antidote for urban pre-ignition. Though it's too hot in the summer for all but sun-struck desert rats and the occasional tortoise, mile after mile of legal off-highway vehicle trails make Randsburg a Mecca for Southern California's off-road cognoscenti during the winter. Brace yourself for a crush of happy, dusty people on dirtbikes if you head up on Thanksgiving weekend, but we probably won't push the census needle past 87 on this exceptionally unexceptional Friday afternoon.

Rolling up the San Diego Freeway on cast wheels and street tires with delusions of off-road grandeur, we'll steer clear of the rocky single-track and aim for a rough little rollercoaster of pavement draped across those mountains up ahead, just south of the Tehachapi Pass. Thanks to the miracle of modern fuel injection and electronically adjustable suspension, either bike will put 180-200 relatively humane freeway miles in the rear-view between fuel stops, but the BMW feels more comfortable doing it. That goes double for anybody taller than 5-foot-8.

Roomier in every dimension, including the pocket of acceptably calm air in its cockpit, the Beemer trundles along between 70 and 80 mph with just a whiff of vibration from the engine room. The mirrors provide relatively clear images of looming cement trucks and CHP cruisers, unlike the Multistrada's frustratingly undecipherable blurs. The Ducati's seat is comfortable enough to keep most riders happy for 2 or 3 hours, but there's considerably less fore/aft fidgeting room. That slim adjustable windscreen allows more turbulence into the cockpit than we'd like, but the airflow evens out a bit beyond 75 mph. It's enough to get by until you save enough lunch money for the larger one in the accessory catalog.

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