2013 Ducati Multistrada S Touring | First Ride

Versatility Taken to the Next Level?

By Zack Courts, Photography by Milagro

They say: “Skyhook suspends you ‘from above.’”
We say: “Angels still sing when we ride this bike.”

We hesitate to use words like “passion” and “soul” when describing Italian bikes because they border on cliché. But the way the Ducati Multistrada rides is cause enough to embrace the terms, even if you cringe while saying them. It falls so sweetly into corners, carves effortless arcs, and fires toward the next curve with superbike power. It is for those reasons that the words “update” and “touring” can cause alarm. Or at least a little cognitive dissonance.

Ducati’s development staff listened to current Multistrada owners who said they wanted their bikes to be more touring oriented, and made suitable changes, but promised they have not lost sight of the Multi’s sporting roots. To achieve this feat, the folks in Borgo Panigale have placed most of their chips behind electronic suspension.

“Skyhook” is more than just an unused James Bond movie title; it represents Bologna’s idea for adaptive suspension that makes the bike feel like it is suspended from above. Ducati Skyhook Suspension (DSS) works by comparing data from four chassis-mounted accelerometers that informs electronic damping valves in the Sachs shock and the left side of the 48mm inverted fork. One accelerometer is placed near each wheel on the shock and fork; the remaining two are located above each wheel, in the sprung part of the bike. By processing the contrast between the four points on the chassis the bike is able to “read the road” as it passes and automatically adjusts the suspension damping to suit the situation.

The analogy used by the Multistrada’s project leader, Federico Sabbioni, was to consider how autofocus works on a camera. A lens can be focused on one point, but when conditions change, the image becomes blurry. The Skyhook system is trying to keep the road in focus. The most compelling data presented to illustrate this was a graph showing braking response. Where standard suspension compresses at a consistent rate under braking, DSS can actually increase compression damping, stiffening the fork under load and decreasing dive, therefore leaving more of the suspension stroke available to soak up irregularities in the road surface.

The semi-active DSS damping is an addition to an already extensive suite of electronics on the current Multistrada, including Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) adjustment, Ducati Traction Control (DTC), and Bosch ABS. Skyhook interacts with the other systems via the selected ride-mode setting (Sport, Touring, Urban, or Enduro) as a starting point for adjustment. For example, in Sport mode speed is prioritized over comfort, meaning the DSS adapts more aggressive settings to increase sporty performance. Progressing from Touring to Urban to Enduro settings sees the damping soften in each mode respectively, and DSS response adapt accordingly.

Does it work? Data can show us that adaptive suspension reacts to braking forces and undulations in the road to create a more controlled riding experience, but it is a difficult thing to perceive when riding. From the saddle, it’s mostly the DES that transforms the Multistrada from canyon-carving sportbike-slayer to touring bike to grocery-getter and back. Independent of the DES modes, the system also includes electronic preload adjustability with modes for a solo rider, rider with luggage, rider with passenger, or rider with passenger and luggage.

In Sport the bike is rigid and somewhat unforgiving, with throttle response so sharp that one Ducati engineer on our ride admitted it was too severe even for him. Touring mode delivers the same overall power of Sport, but with a “gentle” map for those who want a friendlier version of 150 claimed horsepower and slightly more compliant suspenders. Urban mode transforms the motor to what Ducati calls a “gentle 100 hp,” instantly making it a more docile commuting machine.

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