Mr. Mike's Maximum Multistrada

Yes, it is good to be the king

Mel Brooks had it right: It is good to be the king. Or, in this case, the CEO. See, every year Michael Lock, chief executive officer of Ducati North America, gets his pick from Ducati's lineup for his company vehicle, if you will. Yet while some of us might cripple innocent bystanders while lunging for the key to a triple-9 R, Lock instead chose a Multistrada 1000S.

That might seem a peculiar choice, especially for an avowed sportbike enthusiast, someone who runs the North American arm of a company that flies or dies on its success in the sportbike market, and in racing.

"I've been riding sportbikes for 20 years," Lock says. "The further away from a sportbike it gets, for me the less pure it is as a motorcycle. And that, I appreciate, is probably a fairly two-dimensional view."

Fortunately, Lock is savvy enough also to appreciate a motorcycle that's less than perfectly pure in that respect--Ducati's own Multistrada, for example. "When I first rode the Multistrada," he says, "I was just amazed I was able to ride it as aggressively and as confidently as a sportbike, but without any of the prices you pay with a hard-edged sportbike, such as being uncomfortable and not being able to see anything in your mirrors other than your elbows." He'd had the first-year Multistrada in 2003, and when Ducati came out with the S version for '05--upgraded with more-sophisticated hlins suspension components, plus some carbon-fiber bits and other minor mods--Lock was sufficiently intrigued to try the Multistrada once again.

Of course, there was no way the CEO's bike was going to remain stock for long. To the rescue came Ducati's own Performance Accessories 2005 catalog. "I just raided the catalog for upgrades I thought might make it a little bit more individual, a bit more interesting--and a bit nastier as well," Lock says. "If there's one thing about the Multistrada, it's not quite nasty enough." Even now, he reads through the catalog with the zeal of a new owner rather than with a CEO's detachment. ("You have to see this catalog. It is absolutely amazing! Good grief. I hadn't even seen this. There is a racing transmission kit for the Multi! See, I didn't even know that!")

One of the first, and easiest, ways to make the polite little Multistrada start doing a bit of the nasty is to bolt up either a one-tooth-smaller countershaft sprocket or a rear chain-wheel two or three teeth larger than stock. Almost all current Ducatis are overgeared to help them pass noise regulations, and an overall-gearing change is one of the simplest avenues to quicker acceleration. After that, Lock had Ducati's power-up kit installed. It consists of a freer-breathing Termignoni silencer, a less-restrictive airbox cover and filter and a recalibrated ECU. The kit fattens up almost the entire rev range by a couple of horsepower; not a particularly big jump, but remarkable for its consistent increase at most any rpm. Overall the bike feels punchier anytime you open the throttle.

Yet while Lock appreciates the added performance, he also believes there is more to motorcycling than merely power. "The exhaust is an essential on any Ducati," he insists. "You need the sound. And it saves 8.1 pounds of weight; that's worth having. [The Termignoni silencer] looks good and it sounds good." Hard-chargers might wonder why Ducati didn't do something about the heat shield on the right-side head pipe. The shield drags at vigorous lean angles, which can lever a wheel off the ground with potentially disastrous results.

Although Ducati offers another kit that promises even more power--adding cams in addition to the muffler, airbox lid and ECU--Lock wasn't interested. "I decided not to bother going with that," he says. "It changes the complexion of the torque curve, and makes the bike a lot more top-endy. In my opinion, you don't need to do that. Not for this bike. The joy of this bike, as with all of the 1000cc twins, is the useable power anywhere in the rev range. I didn't want to mess with the engine power delivery characteristics."

Lock also had a slipper clutch and a (claimed) 2-pound-lighter flywheel fitted; each has less-clear-cut advantages than the power-up kit. For example, the lighter flywheel makes the normally somewhat lazy-feeling (compared to a current Japanese inline-four middleweight) V-twin positively whippy. It's the sort of modification that completely alters the Multistrada's behavior, making the whole bike feel livelier, more eager. But as staffer Carrithers points out, there's a fine line between responsiveness and being jumpy or jerky, and for some riders the lighter-flywheel Multistrada can be overly sensitive to throttle inputs. Likewise, the slipper clutch draws mixed reviews. It occasionally exhibits some Ducati performance clutches' usual bad behavior, with a noisy, grabby and inconsistent engagement point, especially from cold. Plus, staffers and Lock all agree that while a slipper clutch might be pure gold at the racetrack, it is difficult to hammer the thing hard enough on the street to make it truly worthwhile.

There's similarly unanimous agreement on the best single upgrade to a stock, standard Multistrada's chassis: the S model's hlins fork and shock. The simple brilliance of top-shelf suspension components is that they offer both the precision and range of useful adjustability such that they can be set up for compliance, while their superior valving provides the chassis with a taut, crisp feel. It's what helps give the S such superb handling over pavement that'll make lesser sportbikes shake their heads like wet dogs. As Lock says of his bike, "The Multi has [such a high] grin factor on really bad roads--the worse the roads, the more advantage you feel you've got. I haven't found a road surface that upsets it yet."

The remainder of Lock's upgrades are relatively minor in scope and effect, if not in significance or expense. For example, he had Brembo four-pad calipers fitted to the front, and while they're excellent components, the stockers aren't exactly slouches in stopping power. And although Lock enthused about the forged-aluminum Marchesini wheels ("Those wheels are the business!"), their weight difference just isn't that noticeable on the street. Still, there's no denying the effectiveness--for him--of the 28-liter hard saddlebags. "They're big enough that I can fill them at Whole Foods Market so I can cook my wife dinner at night," Lock says. Your results might vary.

Naturally there's also a wide variety of bling bits that complete this most maximum of Multistradas, from a carbon-fiber rear hugger to a lovely aluminum cap for the fuel tank. And after the orgy of box checking on the catalog order form, an apoplexy-inducing $9500 has been added to the $13,495 for this CEO-mobile.

We can already hear your anguished cries all the way up here on the 17th floor of the Primedia tower. "$9500! That's outrageous/ridiculous/absurd! Why, you could buy any of the Japanese middleweights for that much!"

Yes, you could. But that misses the point: It's not your bike. It's Michael Lock's. For a year. Because he's the Big Boss Man, and he can do whatever he wants. In this case, anyway.

Besides, you don't have to spend that much. Just a 1000S plus the power-up kit will get you precisely the same friendly, broadly capable and all-around competent machine as his. Nothing else is quite the same at any price.

With that in mind, we return one last time to Lock to see, once and for all, if it truly is good to be the king. He laughs uproariously, saying, "Every year I get to choose a new toy, and I get to kit it out how I want. Yes, it's fantastic." MC