Ducati Multistrada 1200 Hits The Track!

PHOTOS: Zack Courts & CaliPhotography

It’s no secret that I love my long-term Multistrada, but taking this bike to the track was yet another reason that it keeps on impressing me. Do I look ridiculous in pictures? Yes. Did people look at me funny at tech inspection? Yes. But, did I pass two 600cc supersport bikes on the front straight and a Panigale in the corners? Also yes.

First things first, I think it looks mean in “race” trim! The angular lights all taped up looked sharp, and stripping off all of the street do-dads lets the Multi show its sleek lines. Adding a slip-on exhaust would have really made it look purposeful, but my goal with the Multistrada long-term assignment has always been simplicity.

In the face of simplicity, let's go through the list of stuff we removed from Ducati's ADV bike to take it to the track. First of all, the windscreen was changed a few weeks ago in the interest of getting some more air in the Southern California summer. California Scientific was nice enough to send over a couple of windscreens for me to try on the Multi, and the Tinted Shorty (www.calsci.com; $125) was ideal for the aforementioned warm weather as well as track use.

The obvious stuff was the first to come off; passenger pegs, mirrors, taillight, blinker/license plate bracket, and centerstand. Equally obvious but more complicated are the handguards with integrated LED blinkers at the front. More complicated because they act as brackets for the brake and clutch fluid reservoirs, so removal of the handguards means the reservoirs dangle in the wind. Our ambitious new Assistant Editor, James, suggested that fabricating brackets to hold the reservoirs would be easy work, and tackled the task.

The brackets came out well—a quick clean, prime, and paint would make them fully complete—and allowed me to leave the handguards off for the track. All told, the bits removed from the Multi added up to just under 15 pounds of weight saved, not to mention many dollars in a potential crash. The last mod for track use was rubber, in the form of Dunlop’s new Q3 tire, which promised good traction and no need to use tire warmers between sessions.

I attended a track day put on by Fastrack Riders at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The motorcycle circuit at Fontana is built into a NASCAR oval, but offers a great selection of corners. The last set of left handers before joining the NASCAR oval banking are reasonably fast, as is the Turn 1 "chicane" that is essentially a fifth-gear left-right-left, which is extremely unforgiving for an ill-handling bike.

The Multi was immediately a blast, although there were some adjustments to make. The wide, tall bars provide excellent feedback and leverage, but feel pretty awkward riding around at speed. The seat, too, is a little strange. It doesn't quite allow the range of motion I'm used to having at the track, although there's plenty of space to comfortably hang off. Lastly, because the Multi is so tail-heavy compared to a sportbike it offers incredible late-braking ability. An ability that, I have to admit, I didn’t really take advantage of, for a couple of good reasons. Foremost, I was there to have fun and see how the Multi handled on a track, not to try to set the world on fire or impress people by trying to break the ADV bike lap record.

Also, I was too distracted by the fun I was having exiting corners, where Ducati Traction Control and I did our best to channel the Multi’s claimed 150 horsepower through the rear tire safely. There are a total of eight settings for DTC, and I settled on level one. What with the Multi’s daunting thrust and tires I had never ridden, I didn’t trust myself to manage traction by myself, especially in the couple sections of the track that are third-gear and wide open.

DTC level one seemed to catch egregious slides on the fat part of the tire, but edge grip was largely in my hands. On a couple of occasions I threw myself out of the seat with a near-highside when trying to lay power down on the very edge of the tire. Later in the day the Dunlop Q3 mounted astern had broken in a little, and slides became more manageable. At that point I took every opportunity to slide as much as possible, especially in the handful of 2nd-gear corner exits. Tremendous fun.

The previously mentioned Turn 1 chicane was one place where I expected the Multi to misbehave, being tall, heavy, and relatively softly sprung. But oh, the wonders of Skyhook. The Multi was incredibly stable through the 100+mph set of corners, and allowed me to take full advantage of the wide handlebar to lever the bike from side to side.

As an added bonus, I was able to take advantage of the Multi's electronically adjustable suspension, and dial in more preload to the shock as my pace increased over the course of the day. As Mr Editor Cook blogged about before, the Multi offers wonderful adjustability from the menu system. At the track, between sessions while munching on a Cliff bar, I went into the Sport setting, selected single rider, and turned the preload in the shock from eight clicks (of 24) to 12. Bingo, slightly stiffer rear suspension. It's true, the same can't be done with such ease on the front, but in the context of an amateur level track day, it's an awesome convenience.

Overall, I rode a total of 99 miles on the track, and I think I did the Multi justice. Indeed, my laptimes were only a few seconds slower than when Ari and I tested a GSXR750 a Fontana a couple of years ago. I even passed a guy on a Panigale at one point, which got me thinking. We already accept that the Multi is probably faster through a twisty canyon road than a purebred sportbike, with an in-command riding position and gobs of torque. Not to mention it’s a great long-distance machine, with stock saddlebags, heated grips, and excellent wind protection. So if a little confidence and rider skill is all it takes to go faster at a track day than your buddy on his Panigale, what argument (other than full-on racing) can you make for the sportbike?

More to the point, the real question now becomes how does the Multi handle as a dirtbike. I would never take a BMW GS to a track day, but once I ride the Multi off-road will I be crying for a GS? Only one way to find out...