World Exclusive: Ducati Multistrada 1200S - Multiple Choice

Everything All The Time

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing, Joe Neric

That's a Ducati? Yes, sports fans, and more to the point, you're looking at the Ducati. Bologna's standard-bearer in the brave new world to come: the Multistrada 1200S. Assembled mere days ago and air-freighted to Ducati North America headquarters here in the aorta of California's Silicon Valley just for us, the first and only example of the breed cools unceremoniously in the afternoon sun. The visiting dignitary from Ducati Mexico who just warmed it up is at a loss for words. "It feels so light. Quick. And fast." It's a Ducati all right. But that's the sort of adrenal euphoria usually induced by 30 minutes on an 1198S, not a Multistrada. That's because beyond its name and mission statement, this one is completely, emphatically, unequivocally different. Officially, this is a Big Deal-una Grande Cosa-for Ducati. with untold millions of lire riding on its success.

That explains the pitched battle back at the home office. Should something this different be called a Multistrada at all? What about guilt by association? What if the blandness of the father is visited upon the son? They shouldn't have worried. If the styling doesn't tell you this Multi has nothing to do with the '03 original, one quick ride should do the trick. Just to make sure, make that a quick, 427-mile ride from DNA's Cupertino headquarters to Motorcyclist's palatial new digs in El Segundo. In the interest of science and staying out of jail, why not invite the missus along to help sort out the bike's multiple personalities? If there's a chink in its shiny new all-purpose armor, we'll find it. But first, a quick pre-flight from Customer Service Manager Tony Munoz to get things started.

Thumbing the red switch to the right with the electronic key fob in your pocket communicates with the bike once you're within a 6-foot radius, initiating roughly the same computing power contained in Nicky Hayden's Desmosedici GP10 MotoGP racer. Ride-by-Wire throttle, Ducati Traction Control, Bosch-Brembo ABS and Ducati Electronic Suspension by Öhlins are all administered according to your chosen ride mode-Sport, Touring, Urban or Enduro-and switchable on the fly via the turn-signal button. That same button also lets you firm up the fork and shock for a passenger, baggage or the absence thereof. Pushing those buttons in the proper sequence lets you revise the aforementioned factory settings, but fear not: There's a default reset on the menu to restore order if you find yourself inexorably bollocked. An actual key flicks out of said fob to unlock the seat and fuel cap. Slide that red power switch up and push the starter. Hold it down again when you want to power down. Hit it again when you want to lock the steering. Got all that? Sure you do. Have a nice ride...

After one last demitasse of inspiration from the corporate espresso machine, it's time to light the 1198cc Testastretta fire. Pre-production fuel mapping makes our bike a bit cold-blooded. Otherwise? No worries. The crush of Tuesday-night traffic in any major metro is usually enough to ruffle any Ducati, but not this one. Percolating through bumper-to-bumper humanity is easy. Instant-on power and 76 degrees of steering sweep make this the next best thing to an urban trials bike. Gearing is relatively tall, but the new wet clutch handles miles of big-city abuse with quiet cooperation. Aside from a minor lean surge on either side of 3000 rpm the factory needs to iron out of the map, fueling is perfect. Change from Touring to Urban, then Enduro mode makes the southbound slog easier, cueing the liquid-cooled, eight-valve V-twin to make more torque from fewer revs and softening the suspension for a more comfortable ride-instantly. We like. Switching modes is easy after a few miles. Pretty soon we're doing it just to take the edge off the occasional rough stretch of freeway or to boost bottom-end response while peeling into suburbia for fuel. Drilling down through a couple of dash menus lets us tailor individual suspension parameters in each mode to deliver the perfect ride: taut but compliant with no harsh aftertaste on hostile square-edged jolts. Mrs. Carrithers doesn't do harsh.

She's happy with the pillion accommodations by the time we hit Salinas. There's plenty of room to stretch long legs below a nicely shaped passenger seat that's just high enough to see more scenery than the back of Mr. Carrithers' helmet. Rider accommodations are generous in the vertical dimension, but by King City it becomes clear that tall riders may wish for more wriggle room between the stepped seat and that tapered-steel handlebar. The ensuing riding position focuses body weight on a point directly below your tailbone, but the seat is still good enough to reel in two hours of U.S. 101 before the dreaded butt-burn says it's time to get off. After topping off the tank, it's all blue skies and big, fluffy clouds for another hour or three.

Now it's getting dark. That sunset was nice, but by 9:15 p.m. our annoyance threshold is dropping faster than the air-temperature gauge. Meanwhile, the Ducati does nothing to offend, turning 4000 rpm into a steady 73 mph in sixth gear. The engine's subtle mechanical presence is well below anything you could call vibration-rubber handlebar mounts help on that count-but there is enough to turn rear-view mirror images into a blurry mess. It's tough to tell an encroaching CHP cruiser from a '77 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser after dark. On the plus side, rubber inserts in the sawtooth steel pegs stop annoying vibes before they reach your feet. That slim, manually adjustable windscreen and hand guards steer most of the Central Coast chill around us without injecting any turbulence of its own. Leaving the four-lane behind at Paso Robles, the rolling hills beyond the reach of the 1200's excellent headlights are as dark as the inside of a cow.

This latest Testastretta engine is happiest above 3800 rpm, which makes passing slower freeway traffic easier in fifth gear. It delivers enough juice from 4500 rpm to earn your undivided attention with lurid second-gear power-wheelies in Sport mode...later. Cycling through the circular dot-matrix dash display gives us a quick idea of what's going on. It's 52 degrees outside the cockpit. We're averaging 44 miles per gallon and getting 36 rolling around another lumbering Kenworth. At that rate, the remaining half-tank should last another 98 miles. We're not quite ready to bet the farm on that number, but an approximate estimate beats doing the math in your head. Right now we need more of this smooth, linear thrust please. Just the thing for covering a lot of ground in a little time without overheating the neural circuits. Who said computers don't make life easier?

Off The Record
Ari Henning, Associate Editor
Age: 25 Height: 5'10"
Weight: 175 lbs. Inseam: 33 in.
The first thing I noticed on the new Multistrada was the saddle. This thing is like an Aaron Chair compared to the original model's plank of a seat. At just under 6 feet I'm barely able to touch my tip-toes, but once underway the ergonomics are perfect and the handling balances the Hypermotard's responsiveness with the ST3's stability. The engine is freakishly powerful in the midrange, but off-idle fueling is iffy and the motor inexplicably stalled several times while rolling to a stop. The electronically controlled suspension is cool, but I'm not too keen on the overprotective ABS and DTC-I'm grown up enough to be trusted with the throttle and brakes. If I had the choice, I'd tell Ducati to keep those two options and give me an electronically controlled windshield and heated grips. Overall the Multi is a very impressive machine, and one I'd be thrilled to ride from here to just about any destination on earth.

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.

Ducati Multistrada 1200s Sport | $19,995
Hard Parts

Instructions from the fly-by-white throttle are executed via one of three fuel maps in the Mitsubishi CPU. Sport mode lets you lay down all 130 rear-wheel horses as quickly as possible, while the Touring map is a bit smoother, though both peak at 9250 rpm. Enduro and Urban modes deliver 90 bhp to the rear wheel at 8250 rpm.

Using the same basic configuration you'll find on an 1198S, Ducati's Traction Control was tailored to fit the Multistrada's all-surface mission statement and interact with its ABS system. If it senses the rear wheel spinning faster than the front, the first "soft" stage of intervention tells the ignition to retard timing just enough to bring the rear tire back into sync with the front. If that isn't enough, it cues the ECU to use ignition timing and fuel delivery to slow things down, cutting fuel altogether if necessary. Processing an astounding amount of data about precisely what the bike is doing, at what lean angle and how quickly, it crunches data in milliseconds to calculate the most appropriate solution. The result is usually uninterrupted forward progress and flickering red lights around the circular dot-matrix dash display. Each ride mode has a pre-programmed level of DTC intervention, or you can choose one of the eight settings within a given mode that works best for the adventure at hand.

Ducati calls it a Testastretta 11° engine in reference to its 11 degrees of valve overlap vs. 41 degrees for the Testastretta Evoluzione twin in the 1198. Shrinking that window between exhalation and inhalation prevents incoming fuel and air from being tainted by outgoing exhaust gases, which means smoother, more efficient combustion, a 65 percent reduction in the amount of unburned hydrocarbons flowing into the catalytic converter and a 12 percent improvement in fuel economy. Speaking of economy, more efficient combustion and heat management along with new valve-seat composition put a full 15,000 miles between valve adjustments, doubling the distance you can go between service appointments with any current Ducati.

Exhaust headers converge in an insulated, three-chamber muffler tucked under the swingarm pivot that also carries the catalytic converter. Cam timing has been dramatically reshuffled from 1198 spec. Reshaped intake and exhaust ports as well as slightly less compression enhance power and torque at lower rpm-especially torque. Longer ratios in the six-speed gearbox aim to improve fuel economy and reduce vibration. The Multistrada's top speed arrives in fifth, which means it's usually loafing in sixth.

The new wet clutch uses a progressive self-servo to push its plates together under power. That means lighter springs and less effort at the lever. The mechanism lets the clutch slip if you make one downshift too many entering a bend, preventing the rear wheel from locking up. It also helps make this the smoothest-shifting Testastretta twin we've tested.

The traditional trellis of large-diameter, thin-wall steel tubes gets a little help from a pair of cast-aluminum sections that carry the swingarm pivot and footpegs as well as the upper shock mount and rear subframe. A magnesium front subframe carries the headlights, instruments and assorted bodywork while minimizing weight and structure up high.

Ducati forms the Multistrada's single-sided swingarm with one elegantly curved aluminum casting. Rider, passenger and optional hard luggage are all well within the 60.2-inch wheelbase to keep handling tight and precise, even when you're loaded up for the long haul. The adjustable windscreen offers 2.4 inches of vertical adjustment. A pair of 12-volt power sockets deliver up to 8 amps of juice for electric vests, cell-phone chargers or other personal electronics.

The S-spec Multistrada rides on Ducati Electronic Suspension: a 48mm Öhlins fork and Öhlins TTX shock that allow 6.7 inches of travel at either end. Everything but fork-spring preload is electronically controlled, with four preset load settings: solo rider, rider with luggage, two-up and two-up with luggage. You can stiffen or soften these in seconds-parked or on the fly-by cycling through a couple of menus on the dash. The standard Multistrada comes with a manually adjustable 50mm Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock.

The 10-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels-3.5 x 17-inch front and 6.0 x 17-inch rear-wear dual-compound Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires developed along with the bike. Don't let the dual-purpose pattern fool you: Meaty, asymmetrical tread blocks toward the edges are sticky enough to generate as much grip as more narrowly focused street rubber.

Brembo's four-piston, two-pad radial-mount calipers generate tons of stopping power against these 320mm discs without getting grabby. Excellent Bosh-Brembo ABS is standard equipment on the Multistrada 1200S and optional on the standard model. It's uniformly unobtrusive, and easy to switch off whenever electronic intervention seems inappropriate. The two-piston rear caliper and 245mm disc help slow the proceedings when you're in a hurry.

Engine type l-c 90-deg. V-twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v desmodromic
Displacement 1198cc
Bore x stroke 106.0 x 67.9mm
Compression 11.9:1
Fuel system Mitsubishi EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission 6-speed
Frame Tubular-steel trellis with single-sided aluminum swingarm
Front suspension 48mm Öhlins inverted cartridge fork with adjustable spring preload, electronically adjustable compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Öhlins shock with electronically adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo radial-mount four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
Rear brake Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm disc with ABS
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Rear tire 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Rake/trail 25.0º/4.3 in.
Seat height 33.5 in.
Wheelbase 60.2 in.
Fuel capacity 5.3 gal.
Wet Weight 503 lbs.
Measured horsepower 130 bhp @ 9250 rpm (Sport mode)
Measured torque 79.4 lb.-ft. @ 7500 rpm (Sport mode)
Corrected 1/4-mile 10.74 sec. @ 128.07 mph
Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph 3.1 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.) 44/36/40 mpg
Colors Black, Red, White
Availability Now
Warranty 24-mo., unlimited mi.

Ducati North America
10443 Bandley Dr.
Cupertino, CA 95014

Verdict 4.5 stars out of 5
Much better than the original-and just about anything else you can name.

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