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4 March 2010

Ducati’s all-new 2010 Multistrada 1200 is just weeks from hitting the streets, and when it does it will be looking to plant its foot (or tire) in the path of BMW’s iconic R1200GS. With the popularity of adventure/touring bikes — cycles with lots of ground clearance, a low center of gravity, comfortable upright riding ergos and the ability to handle both long-distance touring and excursions off the paved road — on the rise, the Italian firm best known for wicked fast street bikes is hoping to finally get its piece of the adventure bike pie. This isn’t Ducati’s first foray into the segment, however. But let’s just say the original left the wrong kind of impression with most riders.

Originally penned by Pierre Terblanche to lure buyers away from the BMW GS, the 2004 Ducati Multistrada 1000DS hit sales floors essentially as a modernizd Cagiva Gran Canyon — a bike also designed by Terblanche. The original Multistrada featured an air-cooled two-valve engine, fully adjustable Showa suspension, Brembo brakes, single-sided swingarm, underseat exhaust, and Marchesini wheels. Like many Italian recipes, it seemed like a mouth-watering blending of flavors and spices. Beauty, unfortunately, was the one missing ingredient. The result was a bike that was angular and confusing at best, and jagged and incongruous at worst.

Adding insult to injury, the name turned out to be a bit misleading. Multistrada literally means “many roads,” implying that the bike was as capable off the pavement as on it. Despite the fact that Gary Eagan set a transcontinental record on the bike starting on the unpaved logging roads in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and romping right down to Key West, Florida, in just 100 hours, Ducati’s own engineering department claimed that with the cast wheels, sport brakes, and road-tuned suspension, the MTS wasn’t to be taken anywhere, well, adventurous. The owner’s manual even stated that the motorcycle was intended only for paved surfaces. The inescapable contradiction left many wondering what the bike was supposed to do, other than sit there looking ugly.

The new Multistrada 1200 sets out to be a more viable replacement for the ugly step-child of the family, as the old Multistrada has often been. Don’t get us wrong, the last Multi 1100 was actually a great bike to ride, you just had to get beyond the polarizing looks and middling off-pavement performance. This new 1200 is already an improvement in the looks department (though it’s still causing a lot of love-it-or-hate-it discussion) but we’ll have to reserve judgement on its off-roadability until we can actually get a ride on one.

Ducati installed a new version of their superbike 1198 mill that makes 150 horsepower — a whopping 40 more horses than the current R1200GS! (Ducati also put the new Multi through a vigorous weight trimming regime and the dry weight comes in at a svelte 417 pounds — nearly 50 fewer than the R1200GS.) To make the 1198 Testastretta Evoluzione motor more livable, Ducati reduced the valve overlap from 41 degrees down to a more reasonable 11 degrees, thus making power delivery more manageable, reigning in fuel economy a bit and delivering an engine that will make a better touring partner. Like most Ducatis, low-end torque is still abundant, peaking at 87.5 lb-ft.

If the 1198 motor wasn’t enough of a surprise, Ducati took it a major step further. The new Testastretta 11 motor has a throttle-by-wire system that permits remapping of the engine characteristics at the push of a button. Ducati has also added Ohlins’ new electronic adjustable suspension to mix. Called Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES), there are four different preset suspension settings (plus customizable individual settings as well) — Sport, Touring, Enduro and Urban. At the push of a button the Multi 1200 will change shock and spring rates and vary power output and throttle characteristics depending on the type of riding you want to do. Better still, there’s a Bosch-Brembo anti-lock braking system (320mm front discs with 4-piston calipers and 245mm rear 2-piston calipers) and full Ducati Traction Control (DTC).

Let’s say you want to carve up some canyon roads? Put the Multi in “Sport” mode and the bike lowers itself, firms up the spring, compression and rebound settings, drops the traction control threshold level, increases the throttle sensitivity and gives you the full 150hp available. Once you’re done in the canyons and go back to superslab highway, you can change the mode to “Touring” and the bike comes back to a standard ride height, the suspension goes into a comfort setting, traction control becomes more sensitive and you still get 150hp but the thottle input is more laxed to suit the type of lazy riding you’re likely doing on the highway. Once you’re back in the city (and let’s say it is raining) you can push the button and put the bike in Urban mode where the suspension raises up and softens to soak up bumps, traction control levels become more sensative and the power is reduced to 100hp to keep things a bit more manageable. Likewise in “Enduro” mode, power is reduced, the ABS and traction control are defeated and the suspension raises up and provides the best settings for rougher terrain. On top of all that, you can also tell the bike whether you riding solo, solo with luggage, two-up or two-up with luggage, and the suspension will compensate for the corresponding load. And if that isn’t working for you, you can program your own individual settings as well.

The rest of the package is typical adventure touring fair — adjustable windscreen, lots of storage and gear space, fairly decent wind protection, ample room for two riders and all their gear and more. There is a new keyless ignition system that senses the key in your pocket within 6.5 feet of the bike and allows for push button starting, something we very much look forward to and expect to become spoiled by. Optional equipment includes an electrically actuated gas filler cap, heated grips, side and top panniers, Ducati-branded Garmin GPS unit and more.

The new Multistrada 1200 will be available in four trim levels — Base, Base + ABS, and S models divided into Sport Edition and Touring Edition. The fully adjustable electronic suspension, ABS and traction control are standard on all “S” models. The “S” Sport Edition features carbon fiber air intakes, cam belt covers, rear hugger and lateral air extractors. The Touring Edition ditches the sporty carbon fiber bits and adds standard heated hand grips, a center stand and side panniers standard. Pricing will start at $14,995 for the base model, while the S models will come in at $19,995 and rise beyond with all the options. This puts it squarely in BMW R1200GS pricing.

Ducatis have long been about performance and the new Multistrada 1200 is no exception. It should come as no surprise that this Ducati still puts the emphasis on the street with occasionally exploration of side roads and hardpack trails thrown into the mix. Most people seeking some adventure touring will find themselves on road more than off anyway which makes the Multistrada a good choice if you can swallow the entry fee (and looks).

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