World Exclusive: Ducati Multistrada 1200S - Multiple Choice

Everything All The Time

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing, Joe Neric

Cue up Touring mode and the 130-horse fist slips into a velvet glove. Roll on the throttle over an invisible patch of sand exiting a slow corner and DTC circuits sense rear wheelspin before their human counterparts, dialing back ignition timing until the Pirelli all-surface rubber regains sufficient grip. It can't repeal the laws of physics: Pin the throttle in low gear on a deserted dirt shoulder and it feels as if somebody is flipping the kill switch on and off. Otherwise, the effect is subtle. Flashing red lights around the riding-mode display are usually the only sign of electronic intervention. The default Touring setting-level five of eight progressively corrective settings-strikes a nice balance on these unfamiliar roads. Urban takes DTS to level six; Sport backs it down to five and Enduro all the way to two for the minimum level of standard intervention. The system is smart enough to know whether you're easing on the throttle at the apex of a tricky off-camber on the edge of the tires or dead-vertical with the throttle to the stop. It's expensive, but those Superbike-spec electronics mean one less thing to worry about when you're wicking it up on some delicious stretch of twisty pavement 327 miles from home.

Therein lies the true beauty of multiple personalities. Unlike an 1198S, there's no need for lightly repressed masochistic leaning or an elevated pain threshold just to ride some charismatically twisty ribbon of pavement four hours from home. The Superbike is 65 lbs. lighter, 17 bhp stronger and significantly quicker, but squeezing out all that extra speed is a more strenuous, stressful process. And unless most of your seat time is spent at the track, the Multistrada doesn't give up all that much ground anyway. Throw in a few tight, dirty corners and it might not give up anything at all. According to the map, this would be a good time to give Mrs. Carrithers an Americano break at Starbucks and head out for a little solo scrape.

Upright ergonomics can feel a bit weird at speed, especially if you're tall. The whole package is considerably taller than an 1198, but you'll hardly notice after a hundred miles or so. Weighing in at 503 lbs. with 5.3 gallons of super-unleaded onboard, the Multi feels a whole lot lighter. Steering is refreshingly light, and much quicker than you'd expect from a motorcycle with 5 feet of daylight between its axles. Dialed in to the desired degree of sportiness, Öhlins pushbutton suspension soaks up most anything our favorite roads can dish out. The ABS-equipped brakes give away some of the 1198's overwhelming power for reassuringly linear feel-a fair trade in our book. Pirelli Scorpion tires never gave us anything but confidence on the street, and though metal bits touch down occasionally in take-no-prisoners mode, cornering clearance isn't an issue.

This 1198 doesn't spin up as quickly or hit as hard as its more warlike brethren, even in Sport mode. But somewhere near the middle of nowhere, that's a good thing. There's still enough steam to flash your drainplug at oncoming traffic in the first two gears and hammer into the next corner like some projectile from a Desmodromic nail gun. Run the tach out to 9000 rpm in first or second and keeping the front tire below the horizon turns into a full-time job. Switching to Touring mode makes it easier in the tight stuff. And if things get too tight to swing all that stick, the Urban fuel map cuts output to 89.7 bhp at 8500 rpm. Dial the traction control back down to level four and you're good until the pavement turns to dirt. After a few cautious miles and visions of a flattened front header, it's time to turn around. Graded fire roads are well within the Multistrada's bandwidth, but not when you're on the only one in the country.

Back on clean pavement, the Multistrada lays down a pace no other adventure bike can touch. Its suspension, brakes and rock-solid chassis are a match for all but a handful of pure Superbikes, all of which are too cramped for extended interstate play with one full-sized human and his/her essential kit, never mind two. It's a spectacularly capable weapon for urbane warfare. Tune-ups are now as few and far between as anything from Germany or Japan. Assuming you're okay with its avant-garde aesthetic and electronic complexity, the only snag is its $19,995 admission price. But that's only if you present it to the live-in loan officer as one motorcycle. This Multistrada is like getting 3.5 normal niche players for $6665 each, only better. Just think of what you could do with the extra garage space. Crazy? Sure. But after two days on the road, Mrs. Carrithers didn't say no.

Off The Record
Tim Carrithers, Executive Editor
Age: 51 Height: 6'3"
Weight: 220 lbs.
Inseam: 35 in.

My problem with Ducatis is that most of them flunk the Goldilocks Test. They're too small, too hard, too narrowly focused, too tantalizingly fast to let me keep my driver's license and/or too expensive. The Multistrada 1200S presents a different problem. That $20K bottom line is somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn in my current financial universe. It's plenty fast to earn jail time, but there's so much bandwidth below the quasi-legal limit on any sort of road that I'm seriously considering space travel. Aside from the bottom line, what's not to like? The styling is starting to make everything else look dated. Öhlins electronic suspension is as good as it gets. Brakes are flawless. I could be lured into slipping on a set of hard bags and maybe a trinket or two from Ducati's accessory catalog. Otherwise? The Multistrada is just right.

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