Comparison: BMW S1000XR vs. Ducati Multistrada 1200 S

Trading Punches

Not every fight breaks out in an instant. Some of the best begin innocently enough and then slowly reach a point of spontaneous combustion, where aggressions escalate and no one stops until there’s just one left standing. Bloodied, perhaps, but still on his feet.

So here we are, watching BMW and Ducati glare at each other and trade punches with exceptional new product. BMW currently has the upper hand in supersports with the mind-blowing S1000RR and fairly pummels Monsters with the S1000R, but Germany has no answer to the phenomenally popular Ducati Scrambler. Yet. Nor had BMW a true response to the incredibly strong-selling Multistrada. As flexible and all-around good as the R1200GS is, it won't prevail over the Multi when you emphasize sporting performance. Ducati seemed to be standing there, alone in the class, fists clenched, waiting for someone to step up and say something provocative.

Comparing profiles and shades of red won't tell you just how different the XR and the Multi really are. Ducati is classic laid-back V-twin, especially now with DVT taming the bottom end, while the BMW is classic high-revving inline-four.©Motorcyclist

It didn't have to wait long, now that the BMW S1000XR is here. Let's strip away the artifice of "adventure" styling and "adventure" capabilities, okay? It's long past time to call these machines what they are: tall sportbikes with rational riding positions and considerable touring capabilities. Or slimmed-down sport-tourers with the heart of a superbike. Look past the beaks and serrated footpegs and tires with tread patterns that imply at least a little off-road capability. That's for show.

Especially here. And now. Ducati's latest Multistrada has become the firm's technology leader, debuting DVT (Desmodromic Variable Timing). With variable valve timing on both intakes and exhausts, Ducati has given the refined Testastretta engine the potential for improved top-end power, greater midrange, and smoother behavior at the bottom of the rev range. Where the superbike-spec Testastretta had a substantial 41 degrees of valve overlap, and the retuned-for-torque version in the previous Multi had just 11 degrees, the DVT bike's variability runs from negative 37 degrees to as much as 53 degrees. In theory, the DVT engine can be milder than the Testastretta 11° when needed and hotter than the old 1198 when that's called for.

No question the Ducati can do the backroad dance but, perhaps surprisingly, the new Multi is exceptional on the highway, with a comfortable seat, good suspension compliance, and superb aerodynamics. Who knew?©Motorcyclist
Huzzah! New switches come with the 2015 Multistrada. It's easy to feel which rocker is under your thumb, so switching ride modes or activating the cruise control can be done with quick confidence.©Motorcyclist

In other ways, the 2015 Multistrada is a way for Ducati to flex its technological might. An “EVO” version of Skyhook, Ducati’s semi-active suspension, arrives this year, along with an IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) that senses chassis attitude (including lean angle) to inform the traction-control and ABS functions, as well as to tailor throttle response. As before, Skyhook shifts its damping schemes based on the ride mode chosen—Sport, Touring, Urban, or Enduro. Also new: a gorgeous TFD instrument display, completely revised (and vastly improved) switch clusters, a larger/softer saddle, and cruise control.

Stepping up to tangle with Ducati’s up-tech’d Multistrada is a bike that one of our testers teasingly called a parts-bin special: the S1000XR. Start with the basic bones of the S1000R roadster, which itself is not too far removed from the previous-generation S1000RR, including cast-aluminum frame, potent 999cc inline-four, and about every electronic gizmo in the Bosch catalog. For the XR, BMW fitted new bodywork with a tall/narrow half fairing topped by a two-position-adjustable windscreen shaped like Dali’s shovel.

You can't Snapchat from the Multi's gorgeous TFT display...at least not yet. Multiple layouts are available, plus virtually all of the bike's vital functions can be perceived at a glance. Really nicely done, Ducati.©Motorcyclist

And while the chassis looks much like the S1000R’s, there are a number of refinements for XR duty. Suspension travel is up, 5.9 inches front and 5.5 inches rear (versus 4.7 each end for the R), wheelbase has grown to 61 inches from 56.7, trail gains 0.7 inch to 4.6, and the rake has been kicked out to 25.5 from 24.6 degrees. How does that compare to the Multi? Well, the Ducati has 0.8 inch less wheelbase, 6.7 inches of suspension travel front and rear, 1.5 degrees less rake, and 0.3 inch less trail. By the numbers, the Ducati should be quicker turning and generally more agile than the BMW.

Ducati's Givi-built bags are standard on the Touring package and represent a massive improvement over the previous three-latch panniers. Progresso!©Motorcyclist

The numbers on the spec sheet also suggest the Ducati is lighter, but our scales say differently: The BMW, sans bags (but including the luggage mounts that are part of the Premium package), weighs 535 pounds wet, while the Ducati is 548. Incidentally, that’s a 20-pound weight gain over the last Multistrada we had, also weighed without the hard saddlebags.

A few more specs don’t quite add up, for both bikes. Ducati claims the new Multi makes 160 hp at the crank, with 100.3 pound-feet of torque available at 7,500 rpm. BMW, similarly, claims 160 hp but with 83 pound-feet of torque at 9,250 rpm. Our Multistrada tester, lashed to the Dynojet 250i, put 131.3 hp to the roller at 9,600 rpm, and 81.5 pound-feet of torque at 7,700 rpm. That’s about 5 hp shy of the last Multi we tested, but, more worrisome, is the big dip in the torque curve between 4,500 and 6,500 rpm. Isn’t DVT supposed to increase torque in this area? (Our bike had 1,500 miles showing and was running the latest software, according to our local dealer.) Oh, and the BMW? Despite claims of just 160 hp at the crank—which we’d expect to be around 135-140 hp at the rear wheel—the XR put out 151.2 hp at 10,800 rpm and 79.3 pound-feet of torque at 9,000 rpm. And except for a mild dip in the torque curve—it leaves 70 pound-feet for 65 at 5,500 rpm but comes back strong 1,000 rpm later—the power is as consistent as it is plentiful. BMW has had a few years to refine this engine, and the benefits are a thing to behold.

Hopes that the Ducati’s dyno showing is a matter of performance anxiety are dashed on the first ride. We’re accustomed to the Testastretta being a little fluffy at low rpm—cobbly throttle response allied to plenty of shuddering below 3,000 rpm—but the DVT is nearly perfect at the bottom of the range. Smooth, predictable, willing to be lugged at just above idle like no V-twin Ducati we can remember. Here, at least, the promise of DVT translates to real-world advantages. In fact, at the typical cruising speeds of this over-geared machine, the engine is eerily smooth and calm. Yay, technology!

But that’s where the good news ends. After an initial hit of torque the engine falls into a hole, losing 10 pound-feet of torque from 4,200 to 5,200 rpm and then rising from 60 pound-feet to 77 at 6,400 rpm. That looks steep on the chart, but it feels even more dramatic on the road, where the Multi lags, causing you to crank in more throttle. Only then does it find its voice and toss out a lot more juice over a very short period of time. In some cases, it’s everything the excellent traction control can do to keep the rear tire under the bike as it hits this incline. Once into the powerband, the Testastretta is a glorious thing, with a Fogarty-esque soundtrack, bellowing through the valve-controlled exhaust and rumbling through the airbox under your chin; it’s a symphony of internal combustion that shoots you down the road like you’d been clipped into the Carl Vinson’s catapult. But keeping it on song through a combination of fast and slow corners is a Pavarottian lot of work, complicated by fueling that’s maddeningly inconsistent, even in Touring, the most intuitive ride mode. Sport is half again too sharp.

Wheelie good fun. (Sorry.)©Motorcyclist
We love BMW's dedicated mode switches. The left rocker manages the tripmeter functions, while the one next to it selects suspension modes and enables or disables ABS and traction control. On the fly! The cruise-control switches are atop the cluster, right where they should be.©Motorcyclist

Over on the BMW, the rider is wondering what happened to the Multistrada pilot’s skills. We begin with preternaturally low-effort and accurate steering, a contradiction of the specs, that makes the BMW uncommonly light on its feet. It arcs in with less trouble than the Ducati, has more cornering clearance, has less steering reaction while trail braking, and generally just feels like a tall version of the S1000R, which is heady praise from this quarter. That wide handlebar is not only comfortable to sit behind but offers amplified feedback from the front tire. Confidence swells with every corner. From the saddle, the BMW feels more stiffly sprung than the Ducati, but the newest version of Dynamic ESA combines uncommonly good small-bump compliance with enough starch to keep the XR level and predictable. Strong brakes, perhaps not quite as full of feeling as the Ducati’s similar Brembos, combine with lean-angle-aided ABS and truly fantastic traction control—especially in the Dynamic Pro mode, which has liberally raised thresholds—to make the XR a formidable back-road fighter. On most public roads, at speeds that would at least keep you out of jail, the XR is easily a match for the committed S1000RR. Really.

While it does make the best time above 7,000 rpm, the XR’s engine isn’t exactly weak in the bottom half, and positively kills it up top with a combination of perfect throttle response (even in Dynamic Pro, the most aggressive ride mode of the four), a superb up-and-down quickshifter, and a soundtrack that’s part World Superbike and part Formula 1 car. Keeping the XR in the powerband is no effort and rewards you with superbike-like acceleration.

At the dragstrip, the smaller-displacement XR flayed the Multistrada, running 10.95 seconds at 129.4 mph against the Ducati’s best of 11.48 seconds at 123 mph. Not only was the BMW far, far easier to launch because of a progressive clutch and perfect fueling, giving it the edge off the line, but its shorter gearing and hole-less torque curve allowed it to annihilate the Ducati’s top-gear roll-on times, posting a 2.8-second run from 60 to 80 mph compared to the Multi’s 4.2. (A Multistrada 1200 we tested in 2010 did it in 3.3 seconds.)

What’s up with the Ducati? Staffer Aaron Frank first rode the new Multi in the Canary Islands this spring and praised it highly, finding none of the powerband issues of our US-spec bike. We hear actual Multistrada owners complain about the same power issues and a few more, so we’re certain our tester is not the anomaly.

Just as we went to press, Ducati offered an explanation. Apparently, there is some compatibility issue with the Multi’s knock sensor and American fuel. (We’re naturally surprised to learn that the bike wasn’t thoroughly tested on our gas.) Updated programming is on the way, so says Ducati, that will make bikes in the US run like those in Europe. Our testbike won’t go anywhere until we’ve tried the updated maps and can see for ourselves.

Unfortunately, the power-delivery issues are in danger of overshadowing how good the Multistrada is otherwise. For starters, the new EVO Skyhook is marvelous, able to be firm and sporty like the previous version but with newfound suppleness that makes highway travel a revelation. The ability to fine-tune suspension reactions within each ride mode is brilliant, allowing you to create one very firm sporty mode and another very soft touring mode, accessible at the press of a button. Even on the fly.

Instruments borrowed from the S1000R are clean, legible, and functional. We love the analog tach. But this stack is nowhere near as pretty as the Ducati's full-color TFT display.©Motorcyclist

Along with the slightly larger fairing, continuation of already excellent aerodynamics, a genuinely good saddle, and the engine’s aforementioned low-rpm smoothness, the DVT Multistrada is a dramatically improved long-distance traveler. Ducati equals or betters the BMW in terms of suspension goodness and rider comfort. We like the Multi’s riding position—the bar is slightly lower than the XR’s, which feels better to us, and you have more legroom—and the proximity of the five-way-adjustable windscreen to the pilot tends to make the cockpit less turbulent than the BMW’s. These are not massive differences, but the Ducati picks up small wins along the way that suggest its designers have really begun to understand the Multistrada buyer.

In one way, the XR is not as refined: It has an annoying vibration through the handgrips centered on 5,000 rpm, or 70 mph in sixth. Vibes are well controlled at lower rpm, and the XR smooths out again by 6,000 rpm. “Annoying” understates these bar shivers, which we’re amazed BMW let through R&D. Small isolators between the bar clamps and the upper triple say the engineers tried, but they stopped too soon. After all, the S1000R, with a shorter, narrower bar, has none of this vibration. Makes you wonder.

BMW's optional hard saddlebags carry 31 liters each, cost $1,040 (including lock sets), and feature a handy shelf to keep your stuff from falling to the pavement.©Motorcyclist

Both bikes have heated grips and accurate, intuitive cruise controls. BMW’s luggage is terrific, as expected, and the Ducati’s Givi-built, single-lever bags are a massive improvement over the fussy triple-latch vessels from last year. Ducati wins the instrument-panel award with a glorious, easy-to-read color TFT that makes the BMW’s monochrome LCD seem so 2007. The Ducati for a number of reasons—including a much more accommodating seat than the BMW’s plank—is the better, calmer highway machine.

So this is a fight we thought would end just short of mutually assured destruction. A healthy Ducati might have made it so, but given the its teething issues, the BMW delivers a fast, decisive knockout punch. And a pummeling that continues to the showroom floor, where the Multistrada S Touring package (including the bags and heated grips) rings in at $21,094. Our BMW S1000XR tester, with every option on top of the Premium package, starts at $18,750—just add $1,040 for the side cases.

Eventually, we hope, Ducati will finish the job, extract the potential benefits of variable valve timing, and make the Multi magnificent. When it does so, the BMW S1000XR will truly have a skirmish on its hands. But it doesn’t. Not yet.

Off the Record

ARI HENNING
ROAD TEST EDITOR
AGE: 30
HEIGHT: 5'10"
WEIGHT: 175 lb.
INSEAM: 33 in.

If you think sportbikes are uncomfortable and impractical but crave a superbike’s speed and handling, these are the bikes for you. The XR and Multi wrap relaxed ergos, decent wind protection, and other amenities around the hearts of true athletes, and the resulting packages are nothing short of fantastic.

Of the two, the XR is the stronger performer—more power, less weight, and a lower price tag—and it’s also a lot easier to ride. From the strong low-end power and perfect fueling to the quick and neutral steering and self-adjusting suspension, it’s a perfect companion for any type of on-road riding you might want to do. True, that buzz in the bars is annoying, but as far as I can tell it’s the XR’s only flaw.

The Multi on the other hand has a handful of quirks that make it a lot less intuitive and enjoyable to ride. I had high hopes for DVT, but they’re not realized in the Multi. Not yet, anyway.

ZACK COURTS
ASSOCIATE EDITOR
AGE: 31
HEIGHT: 6'2"
WEIGHT: 185 lb.
INSEAM: 34 in.

My advice is wait for version 1.2 of Ducati’s new Multistrada. It’s so freakin’ close! The dash, switch clusters, and saddlebags have all been improved immensely and are a treat to use. When it comes to aerodynamics, ergonomics, and handling, the Multi has always been a standout in my mind. The hitch in the Ducati’s giddy-up comes somewhere between the right grip and the crankshaft; to me it feels like ABS, TC, and lean-angle data are all trying to cram into the ECU at the same time like stooges through a doorway, and the result is an incapacitating stumble from the Multi. Or maybe it’s the DVT or the ride by wire?

Point is, if you’re buying one of these bikes tomorrow, it’s got to be the BMW. I’ve been excited about BMW’s S1000XR since it was announced, and it still surprised me; it’s so rowdy! Vicious brakes and a dazzling chassis are topped with a superbike howl and good touring manners. The vibration in the handlebar at freeway speeds is a problem, but other than that it’s a near-perfect machine.

Dyno

Cylinder count trumps displacement in this game. Not only does the BMW own the Ducati in peak power, but it lays down a much smoother torque curve, though the Ducati’s deserves something of an asterisk, as the fueling might be compromised by early calibration glitches.

It's four against two here, with the BMW's S1000R-based engine, nominally rated at 160 crankshaft hp, besting the Ducati's DVT-enhanced V-twin by 20 hp—with a World Superbike-like wail to go with it.©Motorcyclist
Issues with the initial tuning for the US market give the Multistrada a nasty dip in the torque curve that feels like a two-stroke coming on the pipe at 6,000 rpm.©Motorcyclist

Ergos

Gerhard, meet your Italian cousin. The rider triangle on the BMW is subtly tighter, with less legroom, more rearset footpegs, and a taller bar. Ducati’s fine Italian saddle makers did a better job, even with a lower seat height. Both bikes are terrifically comfortable though.

It may have S1000RR styling cues, but the XR actually has GS-like ergonomics. More specifically, the XR has slightly more handlebar rise than an R1200GS Adventure, 1.8 inches less legroom, and a shorter seat-to-bar reach.©Motorcyclist
What these numbers don't disclose is that the Multi's cockpit feels lower and closer to the rider. The seat is excellent, though it tips forward just a bit more than we'd like in the lower position. Generous legroom makes the tall types happy.©Motorcyclist
TECH SPEC BMW S1000XR DucatI MULTISTRADA 1200 S
PRICE $19,790 (as tested) $21,094 (as tested)
ENGINE TYPE 999cc, liquid-cooled inline-four 1198cc, liquid-cooled 90° V-twin
BORE x STROKE 80.0 x 49.7mm 106.0 x 67.9mm
COMPRESSION 12.0:1 12.5:1
VALVE TRAIN DOHC, 16v DOHC, 8v
FUEL SYSTEM EFI, ride by wire EFI, ride by wire
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate slipper Wet, multi-plate slipper
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain 6-speed/chain
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs 46mm fork with dynamic compression and rebound damping; 5.9-in. travel Sachs 48mm fork adjustable for spring preload with dynamic compression and rebound damping; 6.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Marzocchi shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 5.5-in. travel Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload with dynamic compression and rebound damping; 6.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS Brembo four-piston calipers, 330mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 265mm disc with ABS Brembo two-piston caliper, 265mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone T30 120/70-ZR17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
REAR TIRE 190/55-ZR17 Bridgestone T30 190/55-ZR17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
RAKE/TRAIL 25.5°/4.6 in. 24.0°/4.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.1 in. 32.5/33.3 in.
WHEELBASE 61.0 in. 60.2 in.
MEASURED WEIGHT (TANK FULL/EMPTY) 535/504 lb. 548/516 lb.
FUEL CAPACITY 5.3 gal. 5.3 gal.
FUEL MILEAGE (HIGH/LOW/AVG.) 546/33/39 mpg 44/34/40 mpg
RANGE 207 mi. (including reserve) 212 mi. (including reserve)
¼-MILE (CORRECTED) 10.95 sec @ 129.4 mph 11.48 sec @ 123.0 mph
TOP-GEAR ROLL-ON 60–80 MPH 2.8 sec. 4.2 sec.
WARRANTY 36 mo., 36,000 mi. 24 mo., unlimited mi.
CONTACT bmwmotorcycles.com ducatiusa.com
Side by side, the new BMW S1000XR and Ducati Multistrada 1200 S seem to be aimed at the same apex. And so they are, melding sportbike performance, sport-tourer comfort, and ADV styling.©Motorcyclist
Comparing profiles and shades of red won't tell you just how different the XR and the Multi really are. Ducati is classic laid-back V-twin, especially now with DVT taming the bottom end, while the BMW is classic high-revving inline-four.©Motorcyclist
Wheelie good fun. (Sorry.)©Motorcyclist
BMW's optional hard saddlebags carry 31 liters each, cost $1,040 (including lock sets), and feature a handy shelf to keep your stuff from falling to the pavement.©Motorcyclist
We love BMW's dedicated mode switches. The left rocker manages the tripmeter functions, while the one next to it selects suspension modes and enables or disables ABS and traction control. On the fly! The cruise-control switches are atop the cluster, right where they should be.©Motorcyclist
Instruments borrowed from the S1000R are clean, legible, and functional. We love the analog tach. But this stack is nowhere near as pretty as the Ducati's full-color TFT display.©Motorcyclist
No question the Ducati can do the backroad dance but, perhaps surprisingly, the new Multi is exceptional on the highway, with a comfortable seat, good suspension compliance, and superb aerodynamics. Who knew?©Motorcyclist
Ducati's Givi-built bags are standard on the Touring package and represent a massive improvement over the previous three-latch panniers. Progresso!©Motorcyclist
You can't Snapchat from the Multi's gorgeous TFT display...at least not yet. Multiple layouts are available, plus virtually all of the bike's vital functions can be perceived at a glance. Really nicely done, Ducati.©Motorcyclist
Huzzah! New switches come with the 2015 Multistrada. It's easy to feel which rocker is under your thumb, so switching ride modes or activating the cruise control can be done with quick confidence.©Motorcyclist
What these numbers don't disclose is that the Multi's cockpit feels lower and closer to the rider. The seat is excellent, though it tips forward just a bit more than we'd like in the lower position. Generous legroom makes the tall types happy.©Motorcyclist
It may have S1000RR styling cues, but the XR actually has GS-like ergonomics. More specifically, the XR has slightly more handlebar rise than an R1200GS Adventure, 1.8 inches less legroom, and a shorter seat-to-bar reach.©Motorcyclist
It's four against two here, with the BMW's S1000R-based engine, nominally rated at 160 crankshaft hp, besting the Ducati's DVT-enhanced V-twin by 20 hp—with a World Superbike-like wail to go with it.©Motorcyclist
Issues with the initial tuning for the US market give the Multistrada a nasty dip in the torque curve that feels like a two-stroke coming on the pipe at 6,000 rpm.©Motorcyclist