2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200 DVT | FIRST RIDE

Variable Valve Timing Tames Ducati’s Beast

They say: Four bikes in one. (Still!) We say: Let’s call it three but admit that street smarts make up for any dirt deficiency.

Let's not even pretend Ducati's Multistrada is an "adventure" bike where part of the adventure includes dirt. Forget that big handlebar, long-travel suspension, vestigial beak, and "enduro" ride mode—these are all just pretensions. Ducati has no particular history of dirt dominance. The Italian manufacturer is known for building superlative superbikes and all its machines, even its cruisers, reflect this fact. So call the Multistrada what it is—not some dusty Dakar daydream, but a proper touring superbike.

The Multistrada’s greatest asset—its superbike soul—has also been its Achilles heel. As much as the Multi excelled at high-speed, high-mileage travel, it was often out of its element during more casual riding—the last-generation Multistrada simply didn’t like to go slow. Even in retuned-for-road-riding form, the race-bred Testastretta V-twin engine could be stubborn and surly at low revs, responding to small throttle openings with shuddering acceleration totally out-of-character for such a luxury-touring bike.

Not any more. The Testastretta V-twin has been totally redesigned to incorporate Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT), which Ducati says is the first use in the motorcycle industry of variable valve timing for both the intake and exhaust camshafts. Kawasaki has variable timing on the intake cam of the Concours 14 (see First Ride here). And this is totally different than Honda's V-TEC system that opens a second set of intake and exhaust valves above a certain rpm, but still uses fixed cam timing. The DVT mechanism uses hydraulically actuated adjusters to continuously vary timing over the course of 90 degrees of camshaft rotation, based on throttle position, engine speed, and select other factors, to improve combustion efficiency, engine smoothness, and power across the rev range. The results, in this case, are dramatic.

The final version of the Testastretta EVO 1198 superbike engine (since superseded by the Superquadro) used fixed cam timing that delivered 41 degrees of valve overlap (the time period when both the intake and exhaust valves are open, expressed in degrees of crankshaft rotation); the Testastretta 11-degree engine, designed for the last-generation Multistrada and still used in the Diavel power cruiser and Monster 1200, reduced valve overlap to just 11 degrees, sacrificing some top-end power for low- and midrange gains that are more valuable for street riding.

The DVT system, on the other hand, enables valve overlap timing ranging from -37 degrees (both valves stay closed for 37 degrees of crank rotation) to a maximum overlap of 53 degrees, allowing even better high- and low-end performance than either of the previous Testastretta mills with fixed valve timing. The result is a claimed 160 horsepower at 9,500 rpm and 100.3 pound-feet torque at 7,500 rpm, and greatly improved rideability at every rpm level. That’s 7 percent more horsepower and 9 percent more torque than the pervious motor, with those gains are spread over a wider rev range. The Multistrada has always had a thrilling top-end rush; that remains stronger than ever, but with a claimed 78 percent less “engine shuddering,” this new version is just as happy putting around town, chugging through an unexpectedly tight hairpin corner, or passing a truck without downshifting—all scenarios that could give the previous Multistrada fits.

In addition to the performance gains, the DVT engine also exhibits improved combustion efficiency, helping to achieve Euro 4 compliance and also improving fuel economy by 8 percent. A new airbox, exhaust silencer, and engine covers all decrease NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) values as well, another key consideration for Euro 4 compliance. (These changes, along with the DVT mechanism, add nearly 12 pounds to this year’s bike.) The new motor—no treble, all bass—sounds great. And if you’re worried about added complexity increasing maintenance requirements, don’t; the valve check interval of this engine is extended to 18,600 miles.

Of course, DVT isn’t the only big news for the new Multistrada. The addition of a 5D Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) capable of dynamically measuring pitch, roll, and yaw greatly extends the precision and sensitivity of the ABS, traction control, and Skyhook EVO semi-active electronic suspension (on the S model). The new IMU also enables wheelie control—a not-frivolous addition on this motorcycle—as well as a clever new cornering light (also exclusive to the S model), a separate LED aimed away from the bike (into the corner) that only illuminates above 20 mph and at more than 7 degrees lean angle to light up the inside of turns. Electronic cruise control is now standard on both the base and S models.

The styling has been updated for this third-generation Multistrada, with cleaner, sleeker lines and higher, wider “shoulders” for a more muscular look and improved weather protection. The upper fairing is now 1.6 inches wider, and the five-position, manually adjustable windscreen, though it looks narrow, does an adequate job of shielding the torso and smoothly routes air over an average-sized rider’s shoulders with minimal turbulence. The saddle has been redesigned to make more space for the rider and passenger both and the seat is now adjustable 20mm up and down (but this change requires tools). It’s more comfortable, and the passenger gets a better grab handle, too.

The cockpit has been systematically improved with this update also, including all new and simplified switchgear that’s backlit for the first time—something we wish every OEM would do. The base model uses a two-tone LCD readout that’s functional if a little plain; the up-spec S model gets the full-color TFT readout that is significantly easier to read at a glance. We had the unique opportunity to appreciate both the lighted switches and the TFT display, as well as the cornering light, during an after-dark test ride—something that never happens during press launches. The conventional halogen headlight on the base model—not a strong point on the old bike—remains average at best, but the LED array on the S model is a face-melter and the cornering light adds a degree of confidence and safety at speed and after dark.

The base model’s Marzocchi suspension is impressive—firm, crisply damped, and essentially flawless on the unnaturally smooth curves of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, where the Multistrada press launch took place. Still, the EVO rendition of the Skyhook system, benefitting from the additional electronic intelligence from the IMU and further upgraded with an even lower-friction Sachs 48mm fork, a new rear spring travel sensor to more accurately measure stroke, and higher-resolution software, is a real revelation. Even aiming for speed bumps and the occasional construction zone damage couldn’t upset the chassis, which remained not only composed but even comfortable over irregularities that would have upset the base model or any lesser bike.

There are four ride modes like before—sport, touring, urban, and enduro—each with power delivery, ABS/DTC/DWC profiles, and, in the case of the Skyhook-equipped S model, suspension calibrations to suit the intended usage, and each for the most part delivers performance exactly meeting to our expectations. For all-around riding we preferred the touring mode that delivers the full-rated 160 ponies in a “smooth” manner that only enhanced the impressively robust and linear power of the DVT mill. Though valve timing is essentially continuously variable, you never feel any difference from the saddle—there are no steps or jumps or other indication that the timing is changing, aside from the slightest alteration in engine cadence that takes a very practiced ear to discern.

Sport mode delivers “sharper” throttle response, but this hardly suits the gentlemanly character of this Multistrada. In fact, our only real complaint about any of the ride modes regarded baseline traction control calibration in sport mode—the default setting is level 4 (of 8) and on more than one occasion, specifically when lean angle increased quickly in sharp hairpin turns, the usually infallible DTC cut power too severely, causing the bike to fall into the corner. Fortunately these settings can be trimmed manually (and saved).

The Multistrada has always been a fun, fast bike. Now it’s even faster than before, but, more importantly, it’s even easier to ride slowly, too. That might sound like strange praise, but as anyone who has ridden the previous-generation Multistrada will tell you, that’s the best possible compliment we can give. If you want adventure styling and fit but never intend to venture off-road, and especially if you want superbike-level performance in a more humane shape, you can’t do better than Ducati’s latest Multi-bike.

tech SPEC

Continuously variable valve timing gives the old Testastretta V-twin a new lease on life.
[Aprilia Caponord][], [BMW R1200GS][], [KTM 1290 Super Adventure][], [Moto Guzzi Stelvio][], [Yamaha Super Ténéré][]
PRICE $19,695
ENGINE 1198cc, liquid-cooled 90° V-twin
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 160.0 hp @ 9500 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 100.3 lb.-ft. @ 7500 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs 48mm fork adjustable for spring preload with dynamic compression and rebound damping; 6.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION 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
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 265mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 24.0°/4.3 in.
WHEELBASE 60.2 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.5/33.3 in.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 511 lb. wet
CONTACT [ducatiusa.com][]
A Multistrada that’s just as happy going slow as it is going fast—which is a huge compliment!