Ducati Multistradas At 14,000 Feet

Retracing the road from Newport Beach to the garden of the gods

Pikes Peak has changed, though you probably hadn't noticed. But aim a motorcycle at the 156 corners of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and the 14,110-foot-tall chunk of granite we got in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase looks completely different. The gritty dirt surface that favored bellowing, sliding sprint cars and flat-track bikes is disappearing under a ribbon of pavement: bad news for the Trackmaster Triumph set, but very good news for Ducati and the little race team that could, otherwise known as Faulkner Livingston Racing.

Paul Livingston has climbed this mountain himself. He talked race organizers into letting him put together a stock Honda CRF150 class in 2007, which included a fortuitous conversation with some Ducati guys. Segue to Pikes Peak specialist Greg Tracy winning the 1200 Pro class in '08 on a Ducati Hyper-motard. Alexander Smith-son of 69-year-old living legend Malcolm Smith-rode another Spider Grips/FL Racing Hyper to fourth; not bad considering that was the first streetbike he'd ridden in his life. Not bad for an air-cooled Desmodue twin with quirky steering, either. The important thing was everybody had fun, which is the prime directive at FL Racing, and the main reason they wanted another go.

Since the other teams were bringing more horsepower, Livingston wanted to up the ante with a Ducati Streetfighter. When that didn't pan out, former Ducati boss Michael Lock suggested the upcoming 2010 Multistrada. "I immediately pictured the '09 RoboCop model, which was a good bike, but it's essentially the same two-valve engine we'd run in the Hypermotard," Livingston says. "Michael just said, 'Trust me,' and that we'd like what we saw."

After initial testing with the pre-production Multistrada you might remember from our May 2010 cover, Livingston uncrated three stock S-models; two would become Pikes Peak racers, the third would step in only if one of the others got wadded into a ball or tossed off a 6000-foot cliff.

Unlike the Hypermotard, power wouldn't be an issue. Fortification consisted of a full Termignoni exhaust system and a Dynojet Power Commander V fuel-tuning box, complete with the nifty Auto Tune feature to minimize power loss climbing to the finish line 4720 feet above the start. After dialing everything in at Dynojet's Las Vegas headquarters, Tracy and Smith had about 145 rear-wheel horsepower to work with.

Aside from K&N; air filters and fresh NGK spark plugs, the engines would go to the starting line in stock trim. "We were prepared to do a lot more," Livingston says, "but Greg and Alexander liked the bikes as they were, so there wasn't much to fix." Nice surprise there, especially with race day little more than a month away.

Paul Thede at Race Tech blueprinted the stock fork and shock, filling them with his Ultra Slick suspension fluid. A GMD Compu-track session made sure each chassis was straight. Beyond that and a few bolt-on bits, the biggest change turned out to be a lot of little ones: meticulous setup for each rider. Ducati Performance forged-aluminum wheels and Bridgestone BT003 race rubber replaced the standard rolling stock. After binning the mirrors, passenger pegs, license-plate brackets and assorted other vestigial street parts and swapping others-the pillion pad and headlight, for instance-for carbon-fiber facades from John Mitchell at Carbon Spider, the racebikes shed 23 lbs. apiece in three weeks. A little over a month after that, they were lining up for tech inspection in Colorado Springs.

If you were tuned in to something else last June 27th, Greg Tracy covered the 12.4-mile Pikes Peak course in 11 minutes and 46.55 seconds, taking the 1200cc class win on an FL Racing Ducati Multistrada. Only his brother Gary went quicker, topping the 750cc class on an Italian TM 660SMX supermoto bike that weighs about 200 lbs. less. Alexander Smith finished third on the #55 FL Racing Multistrada despite stepping off in the 156th corner while fighting for second. Never one to be left out, the legendary Malcolm Smith came home 10th in the 750cc division on a Husaberg 570.

Despite flirting with 140 mph on the fastest bits of pavement, the 1198cc Ducatis were no match for their lower, lighter rivals in 2010. "The 750cc supermoto bikes are so fast in the dirt," the younger Smith says. "The top of the course is loose, sandy, decomposed-granite stuff-real sketchy. The Multistrada is a chore to ride fast in the dirt sections. It doesn't like to be leaned, and you really can't back it in. That makes it hard to gain enough time on the pavement to stay ahead through that last dirt section. Things will be different next year when it's all paved. Everything from Glen Cove to the top will be a really fast roadracing course."

Fast-forward to a Secret Undisclosed Location in Southern California, a thousand miles and change from Zebulon Pike's illustrious chunk of granite. No road circuit here. Not much of a road at all, really. As Alexander's #55 racebike emerges from the FL Racing Sprinter, he's talking about the key to riding that mountain. "A lot of Pikes Peak is how comfortable you are," he says. "Start second-guessing the bike and you're in trouble, because there are so many other things to second-guess. It's all about going as fast as you can with just enough cushion to handle something unexpected. Imagine riding around a roadrace course with a dump truck up ahead, and you don't know when or where they're going to drop a load of something!"

Heading up a stretch of dirt that looks more like a chunk of the Baja 1000 with 145 horsepower and street tires, I'm about to drop a load of something else. In Pikes Peak trim, the Multistrada sits noticeably lower than stock. It spins up enthusiastically as well, trailing a plume of dust, rocks and Desmoquattro audio to entertain the free-range tarantulas. Paul Thede's suspension setup proves firm doesn't have to mean harsh, keeping both wheels on the broken pavement that makes the Bridgestones and me much more comfortable at the bottom of the trail. A whiff of throttle above 4000 rpm in second lifts the front one helmet-high, but you get used to that. Dynojet cured the stock bike's 3000-rpm indigestion. Long story short, it's everything we loved about the Multistrada without the stuff we didn't. And a whole lot of fun, which is what Faulkner Livingston Racing is all about.

Height and heft make Mr. Multistrada a point-and-shoot dirt cannon. Weight-shaving carbon-fiber bits abound, along with armor from AltRider to protect the radiator, oil cooler and exhaust header.
The author has a go on the street-legal body-double Multistrada, capable of standing in for either racer in the event of a debilitating mishap on the mountain.
Hukill Custom Paint and Graphics laid down the FS Racing livery on Alexander Smith's Multistrada. Can you say "Pikes Peak Replica"? We knew you could.
Greg Tracy on the gas at 12,780 feet between Devil's Playground and Bottomless Pit. Go off there and you'll starve to death before hitting the ground
Fan Fest in Colorado Springs gives spectators a chance to meet the racers before race day, and to gorge themselves on fire-department chili.