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km : First Ride

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24 March 2010

You’re not alone if you consider Ducati the two-wheeled equivalent of Ferrari: sexy, tempestuous, and perhaps a tad too impractical for daily use. But before you assume the Bolognese bike builder can’t step outside of their race-bred comfort zone, behold their all-new, genre-busting 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200.



The Multi is a completely re-imagined replacement for their venerable air-cooled upright. And while spec sheets and dyno graphs can explicate its assets, there’s nothing like the experience of firsthand, seat-of-the-pants riding impressions. So we traveled to the bike’s international press launch in the Canary Islands — just off the western coast of Africa — to put the Multistrada through its paces.



If you’re afraid this next-gen Ducati may have become soft in the paunch, we’ve got two words for you: superbike engine. And if you need more reassurance of its potency, note that the base model weighs in at a lithe 478 lbs. The Multistrada’s 150-horsepower powerplant is plucked from the 1198 superbike, and tuned primarily for torque; below 6,500 rpm, it actually pumps out more twist than its fully-faired, 170-horsepower stablemate. The liquid-cooled L-twin meets a six-speed transmission and a proper slipper clutch, and the bike’s four-piston front and dual-piston rear Brembos are appropriately powerful considering the bike’s immense potential for forward motion.



The Multistrada’s armed to the hilt with high-tech equipment options. The base model ($14,995) comes with an eight-level Ducati Traction Control system (DTC), ride-by-wire throttle, and hands free ignition intended to eliminate key fumbling. An extra $1,500 scores a defeatable Bosch-Brembo ABS system, and stepping up to the $19,995 “S” model gives you a choice of “Sport” or “Touring” editions; the former includes carbon belt covers, air intakes, and a rear hugger, while the latter receives saddlebags, heated grips, and a center stand. Both “S” models feature electronically controlled Öhlins front and rear shocks which utilize stepper motors to manage compression, rebound, and rear spring pre-load settings.



“S” models can be set to one of four modes—”Sport”, “Touring”, Urban”, or “Enduro”—which determine engine output, traction control, and throttle map settings. “Sport” summons the full 150 horsepower monty and a sharp throttle response, with a DTC setting of four. “Touring” also delivers 150 horsepower, although with smoother delivery and DTC set at five. “Urban” limits the engine to 100 horsepower and offers a slightly more intrusive DTC setting of six, while “Enduro” raises rear ride height, caps horsepower at 100, and puts DTC at a relatively unobtrusive setting of two. And if those presets are too, well, pre set, you can also manually change preload, rebound, DTC, and engine output settings, or man up and completely shut off all the electronic aids.



Though it took an in-depth tech briefing from Ducati brass to get a handle on the bike’s multiple electronic systems, once we threw a leg over, pressed the “Start” button, and felt the rumble of the Desmodromically valved L-twin, we had enough reassuring visceral cues to make us feel confident aboard the new Multistrada.



The Multi feels light at a standstill, and its seating position places you more in the bike than on it. Click into first gear and slowly let out the clutch, and your steed exhibits a palpable desire to inhale road. We started off in “Touring” mode, and found abundant thrust despite the slightly softened throttle response. Click through the gears on a twisty road, and the first word that comes to mind is “flickable”; low, centralized mass makes the Multistrada quick to lean over and change direction, with an ease that recalls the bicycle-like qualities of its predecessor.



But what the new Multistrada has that the old one doesn’t is wheel-lifting power—especially in “Sport” mode, which is easily selected using buttons on the left handgrip. With the sharpened throttle response and stiffer suspension, the bike’s personality shifts towards a more mercenary, aggressive temperament. Conversely, “Urban” mode smoothes the power delivery and enables more throttle-whacking abandon, with a plusher ride and a more laid back road presence.



Our time spent attacking the ribbons of black asphalt along Lanzarote’s coastal roads was every bit as involving as we expected it to be. The specially designed Pirelli Trail Scorpion tires offered enough grip to encourage serious lean angles, and wheelies came easily with all that power on tap. Ducati’s superbike roots ring true with the Multistrada, thanks to a potent power-to-weight ratio and the husky stir of its exhaust note. But the counterintuitive twist here is the chair-like seating position and the comfortable seat; benchmarked against the BMW GS’s saddle, the Multistrada’s perch is padded generously enough to accommodate all-day riding.



After testing the Multistrada across a variety of mid-to-high-speed tarmac (and achieving an effortless 130 mph on one stretch), we ventured off the asphalt and found a battered strip of dirt winding its way to the ocean. Set to “Enduro” mode, the Multistrada’s nearly seven inches of suspension travel maximized their ability to compress and release, allowing the bike an even plusher ride which enabled it to float over surface imperfections. At speeds approaching 60 mph, the Multistrada hummed along, eating up the trail with wrist-twisting confidence, thanks to the vigilant (and slightly permissive) traction control system. Negotiating through loose dirt was almost too easy, with wheelspin artificially limited and warp speed achieved at will. In fact, the Multistrada inspired so much two-wheeled hubris and gravel-spraying acceleration, we finally decided to call it a day and quit while we were ahead.



Hanging up your helmet after a day spent riding Ducati’s newest adventure tourer triggers serious food for thought; though its ultimate off-road abilities might be somewhat limited by issues of engine clearance and wheel size, the fact that this Duc is so multifarious in its abilities yields a perspective on the brand that’s nothing short of paradigm shifting.



By stuffing a superbike engine into a lightweight, saddlebag-optional sport adventure tourer, Ducati has created an unusual beast of a bike: a lighting fast, all-road capable motorcycle whose limitations are few. It may not be ready for Siberia’s Road of Bones or the Rubicon Trail, but the Multi is a surprisingly tenacious, versatile specimen of two-wheeled capability. The Multistrada also offers notably more charisma than its competitors—among them the BMW R1200GS, the Triumph Tiger 1050, and Yamaha’s new Super Ténéré.



If you crave form, function and versatility, the Ducati Multistrada delivers on all fronts—along with the added X-factor of its passionate Italian personality. And not only can the Multi’s impetuousness be curtailed at the push of a button, its service interval has been extended to 15,000 miles.



Thanks to this latest effort, Ducati is making it harder than ever to be pigeonholed against its colleague in Modena.


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