Smart Money Tips: 2003–2009 Ducati Multistrada

Tips on buying into the pre-owned Ducati family without the backbreaking ergonomics, PLUS three appealing alternative choices.

Pretty much all you need to know about the Ducati Multistrada ("many roads") is in the name. Introduced in 2003, the Multi had the looks to qualify it for membership in the growing adventure-bike category that these days commands a significant slice of the motorcycle market. But even though the occasional dirty detour doesn't rattle its composure much, like many of its competitors in the segment it's happier if those "many roads" are paved.

2003–2009 Ducati Multistrada©Motorcyclist

The first Multi came with an air-cooled 992cc V-twin—the 1000DS, or dual-spark engine, shared with the Ducati Monster—styling that raised more than a few eyebrows (the top half of the upper fairing was divided so the windscreen turned with the front wheel), and a seat once described in these pages as "a vinyl-covered sheet of plywood"—not an auspicious feature on a bike with a comfortably sit-up riding position well suited for long-distance riding. Such is the difficulty of building a bike that kind of looks like a big dirt bike without the seat actually being so high. It didn't help that the Multi's fuel tank ran beneath the rider.

In 2005 the seat problem was addressed—with varying success, depending on the sitter—and the formerly optional touring screen was promoted to OE, reducing the buffeting caused by the original. An S model was introduced that year with Öhlins suspension and a blacked-out finish on some components to set the bike apart visually. In ’07 the engine got a displacement bump to 1,190cc, with more torque and a wet clutch instead of the 992’s dry clutch.

When the Multi first came out it suffered from an identity crisis; it looked like a big trailie but handled and rode like a sportbike. But riders put off by its homely mug were missing out on a great do-it-all motorcycle. It was most at home on twisty roads where the engine’s thump pulled it out of corners from low in the rev range and where the flickable, light-steering chassis made short work of changes in direction. With soft bags and a tank bag—or fitted with Ducati’s optional hard panniers—it made a creditable sport-tourer too.

Ducatis of this period are known for being maintenance-intensive, and the 1000 and 1100 Multistradas are no different. The desmo valve train is more difficult to adjust than the more common shim-and-bucket types, and it’s certainly not a job for the casual mechanic to undertake without a shop manual and some experience. Replacing the timing belts is another job that must be done right, every time. Some riders report the front brake rotors tend to warp, and others tell of carrying a shower cap to put over the instrument cluster when they park the bike in the rain to mitigate water intrusion. Even owners who love their bikes admit the Multi is a quirky beast, though, and say having a Ducati dealer nearby is a big plus.

Cheers

Oddball looks belie all-around competence. Draws a crowd wherever you park it.

Jeers

Difficult routine maintenance, spotty reliability. Commitment to the Multistrada goes well beyond the buy-in.

Watch For

Glitchy electronics, warped brake rotors, lack of maintenance records.

Verdict

Quirky and quietly confident. An affordable entry to the Ducati family without the backbreaking ergonomics.

Value

2003 / $4,325
2004 / $4,780
2005 / $5,625
2006 / $5,755
2007 / $6,045
2008 / $7,215
2009 / $7,800

Also Smart...

2008–2014 Kawasaki Versys©Motorcyclist

2008–2014 Kawasaki Versys

Think of the Versys as a pint-sized Japanese version of the first Multistrada, a genuinely good all-arounder that wasn’t expensive when new and is totally affordable used. Using a version of the Ninja 650’s 649cc parallel twin in a taller chassis with more suspension travel, the Versys hit the “versatile” side of its name dead center. First-gen bikes run 2008–2009 in the US, with a styling rework and minor changes for 2010.

2001–2006 Triumph Tiger 955i©Motorcyclist

2001–2006 Triumph Tiger 955i

Like the Multistrada, the Tiger 955i was more at home on road than off. The three-cylinder engine pulled like a locomotive, and even with the top box and panniers full the suspension kept its cool on twisty roads. By the time it was replaced by the 1055 in 2007, it was already dated, but it’s still a solid performer.

1999–2004 BMW R1150GS©Motorcyclist

1999–2004 BMW R1150GS

Geared more toward off-road riding—and better at it—than the Multistrada, the R1150GS nevertheless found a place in the hearts of sport-touring riders with little taste for roaming the wild (those who did, or wanted to look like they did, got the Adventure model). Loads of torque from the Oilhead engine makes up for the lack of top-end power.

Four Smart Money ADV buys.©Motorcyclist
2003–2009 Ducati Multistrada©Motorcyclist
2008–2014 Kawasaki Versys©Motorcyclist
2001–2006 Triumph Tiger 955i©Motorcyclist
1999–2004 BMW R1150GS©Motorcyclist