WE'VE SEEN THAT FACE BEFORE. You're looking at this curious red motorcycle like a dog that smells bacon but sees an empty frying pan. Don't worry. The Multistrada gets a lot of that. OK, so what is a Multistrada? To paraphrase Monty Python's Flying Circus, it's something completely different.
From Ducati's refreshingly off-center perspective, the Multistrada is a new breed. More mutant than clone, it's an iconoclast. A heretic. A category-buster meant to blend the best of the resolute 999 Superbike, broadband Supersports and ST sport-tourers--as well as the stylish Monster--into one motorcycle. It's also a tall order. Beyond its adventure-touring stature, the Multistrada has no off-road ambitions. So how do you test the bike that's supposed to do (almost) everything?
We slid it in between two benchmarks: Honda's eminently sporty VFR Interceptor and Yamaha's YZF-R6--the feistiest, most responsive 600 super-sport you can buy. Spec sheets and masters of the obvious suggest the Multi won't be as good a pure sportbike as the R6, nor as good at long distances as the Interceptor. Maybe, but what about all that riding in the middle where we all spend most of our time? Let's see....
MULTISTRADA IN A NUTSHELL
First, a quick Multistrada primer. Ducati started fresh here. No leftovers. The Multi has an all-new frame cut from traditional Ducati chrome-moly steel tubes. It rolls on a longish, 1450mm (57.1-inch) wheelbase--10mm longer than a Monster's, 30mm longer than a 999's and a whopping 55mm longer than a new Supersport 1000's. The rest of its chassis geometry is sportbikelike, with 24 degrees of rake and 99mm of trail. The only other oddity is that long-travel fork--1.8 inches more travel than a SS 1000 DS. The fully adjustable Showa suspension is softer than a pur-sang sportbike's to stay calm on rough roads.
Motivation comes from Ducati's latest 992cc desmodue engine, reverentially air-cooled with two valves per cylinder. But that's hardly fair. Ducati ostensibly lifted the valve covers off its old lump and slid this one underneath. Most of the parts accentuate low-rpm torque and cleaner, cooler running. Cranking out 83 rear-wheel horsepower and 67 foot-pounds of torque, the DS twin--as in dual spark, as in two plugs per cylinder--is 5 horsepower and 8 foot-pounds stronger than the last 900 we tested.
IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK
As with the 999, the Multistrada's beauty emerges slowly, seldom in photographs and for some, not at all. The tall, narrow fairing and wide bar makes it tower over other bikes like Herman Munster at Cub Scout camp. Still, seat height is moderate. Parked next to the Interceptor, the Multi looks compact and purposeful because it is. Ducati wanted an upright riding position behind a conventional tubular handlebar and lots of legroom. Mission accomplished. The upper fairing was split horizontally to accommodate that wider bar, allowing the windscreen to turn with the front wheel (see below). More compact hand controls and clutch/brake reservoirs are also used.
Saddle up and the Multi's ergonomics feel strange at first--partly because of the low, forward-set pegs and thinly padded seat. Wind protection is good except for the air blasting your neck--Ducati's taller touring screen helps there. Still, sitting up behind the wide bar provides amazing control over what the front tire is doing--a sensation at the heart of our testers' comments. Steering effort is low, while chassis feedback and stability are amazingly high. Thanks to its relatively low weight--undercutting most standards and naked bikes at 486 pounds wet--the Multi flicks into corners like a smaller, shorter machine. The suspension strokes with fluidity except over concrete expansion joints, when the fork kicks more than it should.
YEAH, BUT HOW ABOUT THE SPORTY BIKES?
Three motorcycles could hardly be more different. The YZF-R6 is tiny, tight and so responsive it could be Firewire'd to your brainstem. On a tight, indifferently maintained back road the confidence-inspiring R6 edges ahead of the Ducati. It's fast, but you earn the extra speed by spinning the little four above 10,000 rpm. The R6's 415-pound wet weight and quick reflexes let the pilot change direction with minimal time and effort. Decreasing-radius turns are suddenly fun as the R6 proves light really does make right.
Meanwhile, the Multistrada is right on the R6's taillight, having a ball without breaking a sweat. The Italian twin is short on top-end speed and cornering clearance--you'll drag toes, pegs, the exhaust guard on the right and the sidestand on the left. Still, the Multi vaults out of slow corners as only a big V-twin can, gaining ground as the R6 hunts for the fat part of its powerband.
The Multi's riding position provides a confidence-inspiring view of what's ahead, especially for inexperienced riders. In addition, the Multi tolerates midcorner trajectory changes more readily than the R6. So the R6 barrels along on great brakes and trustworthy manners, while the Multi booms from corner to corner, grabbing an advantage whenever the road turns rough.
Six corners back, the Honda feels like a 1973 Vega wagon full of anvils. Maybe that's a little harsh, but at speed you fight the Interceptor's heft and relative imprecision in every turn. The linked brakes are vague compared with the R6's or the Multi's. Honda's V-four feels sluggish against the supposedly ancient Italian V-twin until the VTEC kicks in at 7000 rpm, and strained above. On the plus side, the Interceptor is utterly stable, and it will pick up the pace if you insist. Still, compared with the other two, going fast is work.
Beyond such idyllic weekend swervery, the Interceptor redeems itself with superb weather protection, a great seat and ergos, and perceptive aerodynamics that make it a comfortable synthesis of sport and tour. Interceptor fans have always lauded it as the ideal all-around sportbike, and we agree. It's ideal for a 50/50 mix of back-road and highway use, though the '03 model delivers more tour than sport. Good as the Interceptor is at crossing three of four state lines, we miss the old Interceptor's sporting edge. Somewhere under all that overweight techno-gimmickry there's a great motorcycle screaming to get out.
The R6 is a sportbike, if a surprisingly comfortable one. It's small, frantic--turning 7000 rpm at an indicated 80 mph--and aggressive. That's the only knock against it on the long and not-so-winding road. In its sporty element, the R6 is stellar: good seat, humane ergos, effective mirrors and a host of details to make real-world riding easier. Given its overall performance, the little YZF is great at mundane exercises such as getting to work or visiting Uncle Mert in Bakersfield every Easter.
People tour on bikes far less obliging than the R6, but the Multi is in another league. Up to approximately 90 mph, the seating position is great. You settle into the credit-card-thin seat as if you were sitting behind a desk, feet way down there and slightly forward, back straight and shoulders relaxed. For anything but track use and triple-digit touring, the Multistrada is nearly ideal.
We'd prefer a slightly lower handlebar with more pullback, and a softer seat. Hopefully the optional "comfort" saddle will actually provide some. Also, the new 1000 DS engine isn't quite as smooth as the old 900, but it's hardly objectionable on that count.
ANSWER THE QUESTION
As a sportbike--on real roads, with real riders--the Multistrada sticks to the Yamaha's tail on the strength of pure confidence. This Ducati delivers loads of the stuff, erasing most of the R6's power-to-weight edge by convincing you it won't bite. That's especially true on tight roads, where the Multi's bullish low-end grunt reels in those high-strung R6 horses. The Honda? It doesn't even get to throw a punch in that fight.
As a pure sportbike--with maybe a dash of track use thrown in--the R6 wins. Ducati maneuverability overcomes its relative lack of power, but the R6 is a purpose-built sportbike. Advantage: Yamaha.
As a comfy sport-touring bike, it's hard to fault the Interceptor. Especially in terms of high-speed wind protection and long-haul comfort. Advantage: Honda, followed closely by the Ducati.
Commuting comes down to the Multi or the R6. Keep the Interceptor option open if work is 50 or more miles from home. The R6 is light and nimble.
The Multi gives you a see-over-it-all riding position, effortless maneuverability and instant-on torque. The Multistrada's main downfall is those vile mirrors and wide bar. Watch out for oversized SUV mirrors or get bark-busters. Advantage: Take your pick.
You can crunch these numbers all day and miss the big picture. The Multistrada can't beat the Interceptor or R6 in their strongest suits in a straight fight. They're here as reference points. What the Multi can deliver is comfortably stunning back-road performance, utter humiliation to unwary super-sport poseurs, work-week practicality and singular Ducati style. On these merits, it's an out-of-the-park, grand slam home run. Unique, and uniquely accommodating, this is a motorcycle that does almost everything well. In English, compromise usually means you give up more than you get. In the Multistrada, Ducati's translation is different. For $11,999, you get just about everything.
Type...a-c 90-deg. V-twin
Valve arrangement...sohc, 4v
Bore x stroke...94.0mm x 71.5mm
Weight...486 lb. (wet)
454 lb. (fuel tank empty)
Fuel capacity...5.3 gal.
Rake/trail...24.0 deg./3.90 in. (99mm)
Wheelbase...57.6 in. (1462mm)
Seat height...33.5 in. (851mm)
Front...43mm inverted cartridge fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear...single shock, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Horsepower...82.9 hp @ 7750 rpm
Torque...66.9 ft.-lb. @ 4250 rpm
Corrected...1/4-mile* 11.44 sec. @ 113.22 mph
0-60 mph...3.82 sec.
0-100 mph...9.63 sec.
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph...3.92 sec.
Fuel mileage (low/high/average)...33/46/41
*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)
Cheers & Jeers
Engine 9...Torquey, accessible, yet still a Ducati
Drivetrain 8...Still-heavy clutch offset by nice gearbox
Handling 9...Up to the limits of cornering clearance, among the best
Braking 8...True sportbike power and feel
Ride 7...Emphasis on sporting behavior hurts compliance
Ergonomics 8...Funky riding position becomes comfortable; seat does not
Features 8...Well-executed instruments; lots of options; some storage
Refinement 8...Happily, there are few rough edges
Value 7...Reasonably priced for a Ducati; still, it's $12,000!
Fun Factor 9...Everyday riding (and sport-touring) don't get much better
verdict: A true category-busting motorcycle, the Multistrada easily merges the best attributes of big-bore dual-sport and sport-touring bikes into one amazing, distinctive--and sporty--package.
THERE YOU HAVE IT:
The raison d'etre for a large-cube, two-valve V-twin. Gobs of torque right from the bottom of the rev band characterize the Dual Spark engine. Of course, the Honda gets kicked around the block by this measure, but revs far beyond the Ducati's capabilities, as does the Yamaha. Notice that the VFR's torque curve towers above the R6's? Out in the real world, the VFR's meaty midrange is largely absorbed by the bike's great heft. Indeed, the R6 feels more willing than the charts suggest because it is so light--still, get caught in the wrong gear and the Multistrada rockets on by.
OFF THE RECORD
Height: 5 ft. 10 in.
Weight: 190 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.
The Butcher was adamant, in effect saying: The Multistrada is not a hard-core sportbike with a high bar. Don't judge it as such. Yeah, fine, whatever you say, boss.
But I couldn't help thinking of the Aprilia Tuono as I rode the Multi. They're essentially the same price and fulfill similar missions. Yet the Tuono is much more capable and, for me, more comfortable. I'm fairly sure that on the same roads that hosted this three-way flog the Tuono would lead the pack. No, you can't have hard luggage on the Tuono--without it looking ghastly, anyway--but at least there's storage under the seat. For all the touring I get to do these days, the Tuono with soft luggage more than suffices.
Still, I really like the Multi, and found myself defending its styling and approach to the staffers who had not yet ridden it hard. I'm in agreement with Ducati's management and design team in that it will open whole new markets for the brand and prove the company can succeed with something other than pure sportbikes. I happened to be at the Ducati factory when the preproduction examples were completed, and the excitement generated by the bike resonated throughout the company--in many ways, the Multi is viewed as more important than the 999.
As a consumer, I am not numb to the Multi's charms. But now that I'm used to regular doses of the Tuono's dynamic remedies, I may have to wait for the Testastretta-powered Multistrada. You just know one's on the boards. --Marc Cook
Height: 6 ft.
Weight: 225 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.
I tried to tell my good friend Marc Cook that his precious Tuono isn't in quite the same league as the Multistrada--and therefore shouldn't be compared directly with it--but he ignored me, as usual. He's just gotta spout off about that thing! I mean, is it not obvious that while the Tuono's a top-shelf sporting literbike stripped bare of its clothes, the Multi's a less-serious and slightly more all-around machine powered by an engine two or three clicks below its maker's high-end (Testastretta) powerplant? It is. (Quick, someone steal that thing from his garage before he writes again! :)
The Multistrada's a superb all-around motorcycle and grade-A hoot, and I'm not the only one saying so. Michael Lock, Ducati North America's new CEO, tells me the thing is a major hit both here and in Europe, where dealers can't get enough, waiting lists are forming, and where Bologna is working to build more than it'd planned. It's a nice problem for Ducati to have, especially in the wake of the relatively soft worldwide response to the 999 and the need for the company to branch out beyond its "sportbikes-only" niche. The upcoming ST3 sport-tourer will help this expansion further, and from what Lock tells me, next year (2005) holds plenty of exciting new products from the Ducati folks. Are we finally looking at a new Monster? We might be.
Hey Lock, I need a new long-termer, and I was thinkin' the Multistrada might be the perfect bike. Plus, I've gotta go teach Cook and his pesky Tuono a lesson.... --Mitch Boehm
Multistrada at the crossroads. Ducati says its gifted new child is equal parts sportbike a
What the Multi can deliver is comfortably stunning back-road performance, utter humiliatio
Particularly at home on the tightest of twisty roads, the Multistrada makes time thanks to
Elements of Multistrada style. Now de rigueur high exhaust does not use a catalytic conver
graceful cast-alloy wheels;
substantially reworked (and restyled) desmodue engine;
and clear and clever instruments featuring trip and fuel computers.
New design wheels are lighter and stronger than even the 999's sturdy hoops, thanks to ext
The Showa shock with plenty of travel mounts to a new single-sided swingarm through linkag
The 1000 Dual Spark engine has major low-end grunt and a full-bodied Ducati aroma....