Living with a Ducati Multistrada 1200

Living with a Ducati Multistrada 1200

The author:
Richard H aka ‘technomad’ (AshOnBikes MTS1200 Forum)
Check out Richards own website where you’ll find lots more interesting articles on his experiences with the Multistrada 1200 and other motorcycle related topics:
Let’s start with Ducatis. Throw in the experiences of a returnee motorcyclist, traveller and photographer, who also happens to be an IAM Observer and RoSPA Gold holder, stir in opinion with tongue firmly in cheek and step back. Et voila! Bon appetit, mes braves… 

Location: Stirling, Scotland, UK

The bike:
Ducati Multistrada 1200S Touring, 2010, Black, purchased May 2010

Living With A Ducati Multistrada 1200 (originally published 27Aug2010)…

Multistrada 1200S 1/4: Brave New World

Multistrada 1200S 2/4: What’s It All About?

Multistrada 1200S 3/4: The Alternatives

Multistrada 1200S 4/4: Faults, Foibles & Thoughts

Multistrada 1200S: review updates (link to Richards website;-)

Multistrada 1200S 1/4: Brave New World

Buying a motorcycle used to be so easy: Thirty years ago, if you wanted to tour, you bought a BMW; if you wanted to go fast in a straight line then eat hedge, you bought a Honda and, if you wanted to forget about the straight line bit and go directly to hedge, you bought a Kawasaki. If however you wanted to actually go round corners and, in the process, develop the mystical thousand-yard-stare of someone who doesn’t know whence the money for the next service is coming, you bought a Ducati. Simples.

But how the world does change: it’s 2010 and we’re in a new age of motorcycling (crystals and tepees optional), where bikes compete on techno overkill, on race-derived kudos and in niches within niches (“Sir is looking for a V8 two-stroke motocross scooter, with built-in penguin catcher? In pink? â??” Step this wayâ??¦”). So it takes a brave manufacturer to launch a machine that seeks to create a niche for itself by filling many niches â??” aiming to be, if not all things to all riders, then at least many things to most of us. Which is exactly what Ducati has done with their new Multistrada 1200, the machine with which they’re pitching – in part – for a share of the lucrative adventure tourer or ‘tall-rounder’ market, a market created and dominated by BMW (latterly aided and abetted by a couple of under-employed actors) with their GS series. It’s also a market segment that’s growing rapidly and is, in the process, squeezing the ‘traditional’ sports tourer market where Ducati’s now-defunct ST range sat. Their own previous offering in the adventure bike market was the original Multistrada, the tall-rounder they launched in 2003, using Ducati’s venerable 4v air-cooled DesmoDue engine rather than the superbike-derived Testastretta power plant. Very much a ‘Marmite’ machine, it’s a complete hoot to ride but does lack the ultimate power and space for most peoples’ idea of sporty touring.

All of which had rather left me out in the cold: I’ve had my ST4s for nearly eight years but had not found any obvious successor to what was the best all-round machine I’d ever owned or ridden. I’d considered and tried the Sprint ST and Tiger 1050 (too-basic suspension and slightly iffy in finish), the R1200GS (a chassis in search of an engine), various KTMs (either too mad or too off-road focussed), the K1300S (tempted but for the engine being as rough as Russian whisky) and the much-hyped VFR1200 (which turned out to be the biggest disappointment of recent years). Which rather left me muttering on the sidelines until I heard the first rumours of a new sports touring Ducati. And, as I’d long since written a pathetic begging letter to Signor Minoli (then CEO of Ducati) to say that, “????my perfect bike would be a Multistrada with the engine from a 1098 and would you please build it?”????, I felt honour-bound to order one, nearly a year before it launched and sight unseen.

Thereafter, it was an interminable, kid-at-Christmas, wait for it to turn up – I finally got the call from the good folks at Snell’s at the end of April, at which point I was off to the airport just as fast as my partner could be bribed to drive me. At the other end of my own trains, plane and automobile saga was my Multistrada 1200S Touring, in damply-glistening black, with a few added extras either fitted or en-route: Termignoni exhaust (unnecessary but pretty), electronic filler cap (which makes the keyless ignition make complete sense and should therefore be standard) and extended pannier lids (for those “Imelda Marcos” moments). And if anyone’s idly wondering why I ordered a bike from a dealer 500 miles from where I now live, I’ve always had great service from Snell’s so had promised myself long ago that they’d get my next new bike order, come hell, high water or the Scottish climate (which is actually the first two happening simultaneously).

So what now follows is a real-world view of the bike from the perspective of someone who’s shelled out their own money for it, rides in all weathers and does so both solo and two-up.

Multistrada 1200S 2/4: What’s It All About?

Firstly, and for anyone who hasn’t come out of hibernation in the year to date, here’s the what of the new Multistrada, which shares only its name with the previous model. This is a machine with longer wheelbase (in fact about 25mm longer than the R1200GS), long-travel suspension, two comfy seats, an adjustable screen, built-in pannier mounts and dual-purpose tyres. Sounds like a GS then, doesn’t it? But wait, these are Italians we’re talking about: Ducati’s brief to their espresso and adrenaline-crazed design team was very simple: “Build the bike you’d want to ride on the road”. They evidently took that to heart so here we have a machine which in its ‘S’ incarnation has:

142 real horsepower delivered at the rear wheel (according to Bike magazine’s dyno – on which the latest GS has just under 100). More to the point, in taking 20bhp off the top-end of the 1198’s engine, they’ve stuck it all back on at the bottom end and mid-range â??” below 6750rpm, the ‘Strada makes way more power than an 1198, which itself isn’t notably short of low-end grunt. For perspective, a 2010 Honda Fireblade puts out roughly 75bhp at 6000rpm. At the same revs, the Multistrada is punting out about 90bhp. Sure, the ‘Blade has another 20+bhp at the top-end, but the rider has to wind it up first. Meanwhile, the Multistrada is over the hills and far awayâ??¦An all-up weight around 225kg – about 20kg less than a GS, about the same as a VFR800 and just under 20kg more than the current generation of litre-class sports bikes.Multiple choices of engine map: full power delivered as fast as you can twist the throttle (wherein it does exactly what it says on the tin), a more relaxed delivery of the same power for touring (especially good for avoiding Nodding Dog syndrome two-up) and a very laid-back 100bhp mode for urban and off-road use.Electronically adjustable suspension for everything bar front preload, with four different modes available, each with four sub-modes (labelled solo, solo+luggage, two-up and two-up+luggage), giving a grand total of sixteen suspension modes, all controlled from a handlebar button by an idiot.ABS, naturally.Traction control, with eight different levels of intervention.

More to the point, all of these bar the ABS are integrated, so that when you switch modes, all adjust at once. And all are completely customisable: you can change settings and assign new settings to any mode or sub-mode. There is also (thankfully) a “Numpty” button to take everything back to stock settings once you’ve terminally confused both yourself and the bike. Oh, and you can switch modes whilst riding â??” something I was a tad dubious about ahead of time, but it does prove to be a real boon on the road â??” I can leave Edinburgh, hack across the wet city cobbles in Urban mode (low power, soft suspension and traction control ready to pounce), flip into Touring mode on the motorway (high but relaxed power and firmer but lightly damped suspension to cope with those tedious motorway miles), chop into Sports mode when I peel off onto the glory of my local Highland roads â??” despatching most visiting sports bikes in the process â??” and, finally, drop into Enduro mode for the last three miles of broken single track into our village and the near-mile of motocross track that masquerades as our drive. Works for me and the modes really do make a difference to the feel and usability of the bike in each situation.

That’s the toys accounted for, but now for the big basic question: Stuff the gizmos and the numbers, how does this bike feel on the road? OK, here goes: it inspires. it exhilarates. it terrifies (but in a good way). It relaxes. It gets me 500 miles in a sitting without a twinge. And it may yet land me in front of The Beak, on charges where all I could plead would be guilty with diminished responsibility and mitigation of, “The bike made me do it!”.

Most frequently used phrases whilst riding: “Wooo-Hooo!!” and “Holy S**t!”.

Least commonly used phrases: “Are we nearly there yet?” and “What’s on the telly?”.

But don’t get the idea that this is an unreconstructed hooligan of a machine: it certainly can be, but it’s biggest talent is being able to adapt to suit your mood and intent: want to bimble along a beautiful coastline? Do so. Want to mix it in the fast group at a track day? Fine, no problem. Commute, Tour, Play – all are within the machine’s ambit and always just a button push away. The toys work.

Climb aboard the 1200 and it’s a tall but narrow bike – seat height, at 850mm, is on a par with a GS in low-seat mode (there’s a 25mm lower seat available as an option). I’m 1.83m, longish in the leg and wouldn’t want to be much shorter and have a ‘Strada. It does carry its weight well though and, once on board, feels much lighter and more compact than a GS. Pulling away, the clutch is no more than moderate by Japanese standards and rather lighter than Ducatis of yore. And the traditional Ducati overture of a dry clutch that sounds like a bag of spanners on a spin cycle is relegated to history by the adoption of a wet slipper clutch. I rather miss that. And, having moved off, the whole plot is light and pliant – the overall feel being that of a well-balanced and responsive machine with the pilot nicely poised at the heart of things. There isn’????t a huge amount of fore and aft space on the seat before you butt up against the step to the pillion perch, but I very quickly got used to that and now find it rather reassuring, especially under enthusiastic acceleration.

Onto the open road and wind it on a bit – in Touring mode, the bike simply leaps forward – any revs, any gear – and accelerates hard until it reaches about 6000rpm, at which point it really starts to take an interest in proceedings. In Sports mode it doesn’t bother with even that modest build-up and just launches itself like it’s been bungee’d to the horizon. This is a seriously quick bike. And, unlike most previous Ducatis, it’s not notably over-geared – sixth gear is described by Ducati as an overdrive (they claim top speed in fifth) which rather concerned me as I much prefer bikes that are geared for optimum performance rather than as a nod to economy. I needn’t have worried – there’s so much power and torque on tap that sixth remains a perfectly usable road gear. It’s also the most town-friendly Ducati, which is a relative term, as v-twins just aren’t that comfortable at very low revs, but whereas most need 3500 revs to avoid the lurch’n’shudder effect, the ‘Strada is quite happy from under 2500rpm and trundles along happily at 30mph in third. There is a slight surging from the engine at these constant low revs, from which some bikes seem to suffer worse than others – there’s now a software update and a tweak to the cylinder air valves (no, I don’????t know what they are either) to address this and mine is having that installed soon, although I don’t find it a major problem. Vibration is low, and mostly of the usual large v-twin variety – a low frequency throbbing that smooths out with speed and which never intrudes – even the large and useful mirrors are tolerably clear at most revs (and are improving as I get more miles on the bike).

This new generation of Testastretta Evo-engined Ducatis are rather different beasts from earlier bikes – the now-classic 748 and 996 would build power quickly and punchily but fairly softly by comparison and the smaller twins were definitely the smoother and sweeter engines. Of the recent machines, I find that the 848 retains that earlier generation of delivery and character whilst the 1098/1198 are something else entirely – with a big torque step in the midrange that makes it very difficult to keep the front wheel down. The Multistradaâ????s 1198 11° (named after the valve overlap angle if you really must know) is more linear and progressive here but, in Sport engine map, has real hair trigger responses – it does take practice to develop the degree of subtlety with the throttle necessary to ride it smoothly in high power mode. After 3000 miles though, I’m finally calibrating my right hand to the fineness of control needed and absolutely loving the responsiveness of the engine, but I can imagine that if you’re coming straight from something like a VFR it would be a bit of a shock.

At constant speed cruising, I am a complete addict of the steady thrumming of V-twins, finding them very relaxing and without that high-frequency component from some fours that can be very tiring. I’d always valued the linearity of the throttle response on the 996 engine in my ST4s but, going back to that now after the Multistrada, the 996 feels like the throttle is attached by rubber bands, such is the linear punch from the newer engine. The ‘Strada does however retain have that bipolar feel of good Ducatis though – below about 6000 rpm, it’s relaxing and very quick, delivering with a rather muffled bellow – above 6000 there’s isn’t so much of a power step (certainly not like a VTEC VFR800), but the delivery changes and – once run in – it then heads for the top end of the rev range like a Scotsman heading for the bar in happy hour, with the engine note changing to that wailing drone that nothing but a Ducati (or indeed a Scotsman heading for the bar) can make. At that point it changes from being merely very quick to utterly, hilariously insane.

And that’s the engine, something which dominates first impressions of the bike – this is truly one of the great motorcycle engines.

All of which is a major slight to the frame and cycle parts. On the stock, very impressive, expensive and currently unobtainable Pirelli Scorpion Sync dual-purpose tyres (which still just about have useful tread after 3000 miles and a track day) the ‘Strada is a neutral and progressively steering machine – it turns quickly and positively, with a light touch that takes time and practice to get used to if you’re coming from a narrow-barred bike like a sports tourer or outright sports machine. At first I found that it didn’t turn in with the alacrity I’d expected and had a tendency to run wide on corner exits. That was until I realised that, because the steering was much lighter than that of my other bike, I was gripping the bars too hard so that, on countersteering to start a turn, the combination of my grip on the unweighted bar and the leverage of those long bars was slowing and limiting the rate of turn. Workman, not tool. Once I’d worked that out, I found I could turn quickly and accurately, scything through long sweepers and flicking through the twisties like an oversized supermoto – the ‘Strada is a rapier to the 1198’s scalpel: marginally less precise but a damn sight more fun to play pirates with. If you’re really getting a move on, toe sliders are the first things down, followed by the footpegs. If you’ve got the centrestand fitted, the ironmongery hits the road rather sooner. The high riding position is also probably worth 20bhp on it’s own – the longer sight lines it gives you make forward planning and overtake decisions dramatically easier.

The downside of this light steering and the high riding position is that the bike will occasionally react to crosswinds or passing the bow wave of large trucks with a slight and brief wiggle from the bars. It doesn’t remotely affect the bike outside of motorways and mid-corner stability is stupendous, in the defining manner of Ducatis.

The Ö??hlins suspension does its usual magic carpet act and every click of adjustment (via the setup function on the dash for everything bar the front preload and a bloody great spanner for that) makes a noticeable difference. What isn’t so good is the stock rear spring – I’m guessing that Ducati work on something like a 75kg/50kg rider/passenger combo, meaning that us larger Northern European types (ahem) run out of rear preload adjustment very rapidly. After bottoming out a few times two-up, even at maximum preload, I’ve ordered a heavier rear spring, which should sort matters out. Cutting down on the pies may also help.

The brakes – ABS-assisted Brembo radials – work fine but seemed surprisingly weak at times, until I realised that I was entering bends 20mph faster than my thought processes – this machine takes the famous “Ducati Deception” of actual speed relative to perceived speed to a whole new level, even after you’ve allowed for the 8% over-read on the speedo (which Ducati even document in the manual). Some journalists have claimed that the ABS is over-eager, but I’ve so far not found it so, even on track – I’ve only had it kick in when deliberately trying to provoke it. Your experience may vary – braking definitely isn’t my strongest point as, being a Scotsman, I feel culturally obliged to avoid wearing out expensive brake pads – my original RoSPA test report included the nicely understated comment that, “Richard has an occasional tendency to substitute his considerable faith in his machine’s abilities for the Speed phase of The System”. God knows how it would have read if I’d had this bike at the time.

I also now know what the traction control really feels like. I’d initially only had it cut in when the bike had unloaded off crests and gotten a little air, so having the wheel out of contact with the road at the time really didnâ????t count. The other day we had a lot of rain. Then a lot of sun. Then both at once, so by the time I was heading out it was wet, but drying in patches, but the grip ‘should’ have been just fine on that particular bit of road. Left-hander, moderate speed and moderate throttle on the exit when the back end stepped out. I was in Sport Mode so it went a fair way and I was just getting my reactions together to gingerly back off the throttle when the bike got there first – it picked itself up, fishtailed a few times in a nicely and progressively damped fashion and carried on – the immediate sensation was rather like having a rapid puncture. There was no violent correction or over-correction (which I suspect would have happened without the DTC) and it was nicely unobtrusive in action – I could almost believe that I’d gotten it back unaided. Almost. This was the biggest slide I’ve had on a road bike and I simply can’t say if it would have come back without the software, although I’m not prone to throwing bikes up the road. I do however suspect that, because I know the DTC is there, I’m getting on the power harder and earlier in the wet, and this was payback time.

The windscreen is adjustable vertically by about 100mm – I’ve found that I tend to leave it in its lowest position, where I get a certain amount of wind pressure but no serious buffeting. But this is such a personal thing that everyone has their own opinion – one rider’s supportive breeze is another’s howling gale – and there are already a whole range of official and third-party accessory screens available if you so desire. Overall, and for me, I’d rate the wind protection as a slight improvement over the (fully faired) ST range and noticeably better than a GS. Wind noise is certainly there and various owners have commented on it, but I hadn’t actually noticed it until others made comment – again, I suspect this to be a case of what you’????re used to.

Lights. Ah yes, those… Now the Multistrada 1200 has four (count ’em) headlights: the two outers of which are permanently on as dip beam, switching to the two inners for main beam. Flashing from dip lights up all four. Now you’????d think that with a clean design sheet and modern CAD systems to work with, making lighting that ‘????just worked’?? (TM Apple Inc) would be a bit of a no-brainer, wouldn’t you? Not a bit of it: whilst the ‘????Strada’????s dip beam is OK-to-decent, main beam is so bad that, the first time I rode after dark and flipped main beam on, I genuinely thought a fuse had blown – I took to riding on dip and holding down the flasher when I really need a little more illumination. The problem seems to be that they’????ve set the main beam up for range and not spread, so that distant road signs and itinerant UFOs are lit up from several miles away but there’s absolutely nothing closer to the machine, which could be considered something of a disadvantage for night travel. Iâ????m going to try an HID upgrade on the main beams, but without huge optimism – as with the atrocious stock headlight on the ST range, it seems to be a problem of beam design rather than raw output.

Now for that other bane of aspiring touring machines: tank range. The ‘Strada has a 20l tank, which Ducati claim should give a 200 mile range. Now if you kept speeds even vaguely sensible (for which read, “legal”) over a tankful, that would indeed be achievable. And if you can do that, you’ve got a great deal more self-control than I have. I usually end up filling up at about 160 miles, with the range remaining indicator on the comprehensive digital dash showing about 20 miles. The fuel consumption display is about 10% optimistic but the remaining range indicator is Germanically accurate: when it reaches “0 miles”, you’d better be ready to start walking.

Staying briefly on the topic of bodily fluids, I’ve also just put some oil into my machine for the first time: about 150ml needed at 2700 miles, so that’s been consumed since the oil change service at 780 miles. Not bad at all, especially compared to certain flat twins of common experience…

Multistrada 1200S 3/4: The Alternatives

Comparisons may well be odious but I’m not about to let that stop me: as I’ve ridden recent examples of some of the bikes with whose market footprints the Multistrada overlaps, here goes with a few highly personal observations, starting with the much-loved R1200GS. And here there’s one thing to get absolutely clear: if you want real off-road ability, buy a GS (1200 or 800) or a KTM with their larger front wheels – the Multistrada with its 17″ front wheel and more road-biased tyres is not a serious off-road machine. That said, it does fine in Enduro mode on forestry tracks, but then most things do, as those of us who followed, sheep-like, a club mate’s GPS down a French mountain bike track a few years ago discovered.

There’s also been a lot of speculation online about the cost of even a trivial off-road drop on the Ducati – whereas a GS will simply land on its cylinder heads (most of the time), the Ducati will go right down on its side unless the panniers are attached. So, In my unending quest to bring enlightenment and knowledge to the world, I have taken one more tiny step towards Zen mastery, Grasshopper, and can confirm that it is in fact possible to drop the Multistrada off-road and suffer precisely no damage: Turning around on a local forest track, I ran out of steering lock (which is in fact very good) and decided to hop off to back ‘er up, only to discover that, being in Enduro mode, the ground was further away than I thought. A lot further away – the bike went past its balance point, at which point whether or not it’s 20kg lighter than a GS became entirely moot – it’s a big, tall bike, and it was gone. Having convinced a couple of passing deer that very bad-tempered bears had been reintroduced to the Highlands, I hauled it back upright. Not a single, solitary scratch, scrape or ding. Relieved, impressed and relieved, in that order.

When I ride a GS and have gotten past the necessary mental recalibration to the behaviour of Telelever forks, I find it to be a very good machine and one which, as we’ve all seen, an experienced pilot can whack along at an improbable rate of knots (for a 1923 tractor that is…). But the Ducati is just in a different league as a road bike and, whilst after a 500 mile stint in the saddle I was fresh as a daisy, I wouldn’t tip the decision on comfort, it’s just that the Duke is so much more rewarding and fun to ride – it makes me laugh out loud, albeit in a Dr Evil-sort-of-way. And when a GS is pretty much at that slightly breathless limit of what it can deliver, the Multistrada is just getting going to the point where, with an Italian shrug, it’ll simply lengthen its stride and disappear into the distance.

VFRs don’t really get a look-in, I’m afraid: personally and, despite all its manifest virtues, I’ve had no time for the VFR800 since they mangled the once magnificent engine with V-TEC and chain-driven valvegear in 2002. The new VFR1200 – motorcycling’s Jabba the Hutt – is so compromised by its weight, poor tank range and small panniers that it really can’t count. Which is a great shame as, pre-reality, it was the only other machine I’d seriously considered as an alternative to the Ducati.

The closest in both concept and ability to the Multistrada is probably the current Triumph Tiger 1050 – another excellent and improbably quick road bike. I haven’t ridden one for a while, but memory suggests that the Ducati is more comfortable, especially for a pillion, is a deal quicker (the Tiger is about on a par with the ST4s, which is made to feel like a moped when coming back from the Multistrada) and has higher quality suspension. The Tiger however is a very useful couple of grand cheaper than even the entry-spec Multistrada.

A Word From ‘Er on the Back…

I was a teeny bit concerned when my partner, whilst counting the days (and hours, and minutes) until he could collect his new Multistrada, announced that he was about to invest in some new and more effective body armour for the both of us. I guessed that the new beast might just be a little faster than the current one.

It is, of course, and not just a little. But it doesn’t feel like it! It’s smooth, gliding, effortless. And big. Being used to leaping, cat-like (ahem) on to the back of an ST4s, my first comparison was that getting on to the back of the Multistrada is like getting aboard a horse that’s seventeen hands high after riding a 14.2 for years. There’s considerably more effort involved.

But it’s solidly comfortable up there. It’s quite an upright riding position, but that’s fine, just something to get used to. Being able to see over my chauffeur’s shoulder to the display is a new and fascinating addition. I can guess the speed we’re doing, only to find I’m usually short of the mark; the Multistrada’s very deceptive.

I’m still adapting to the almost luxurious cushioning of the seat, for although it will doubtless be a joy on long haul rides, I’m finding that my contact is somewhat lessened as we negotiate the more technical aspects of the ‘climb and drop’ roads around here. Again, something to get used to, and at the time of writing, tweaks are being made to the suspension, so we’ll see. Quite a novelty – that feeling of not so much perching, as sitting comfortably.

I can’t see me ever being tempted to nod off though. It’s a yell – a thrill and a privilege to be on the back of – and at least 9.8 on the Grin Scale. I can’t wait to climb back on again! 

Multistrada 1200S 4/4: Faults, Foibles & Thoughts

Nothing’s perfect and any new product is going to have its share of things that either need fixing for existing customers or improving for future versions – the test for the manufacturer being how openly and clearly they respond to problems. The Multistrada is no exception here, so herewith my nags and niggles for Ducati:

The Pannier Lids: While the panniers are well designed for the most part (particularly the handles and locks), it’s mildly annoying that the cutout for the exhaust in the right pannier prevents it from taking a full-face lid (something fixed by the optional wider lids). What’s a lot more annoying is that the lids themselves are, frankly, pants: there’s a 3-4mm gap twixt lid and body at the front, into which the rain does pour. Not good, but Ducati have acknowledged the problem and claim to be working on a fix.The Centre Stand. Presumably in an attempt to provide the maximum leverage for getting a fully-laden ‘Strada onto the stand, Ducati have made the stand’s arm far too long: it fouls the rider’s left foot and pushes the stand down, causing it to ground out far too early. And, if you’re like me and ride with the balls of your feet on the pegs, as the pace rises and you put more weight on your feet, the stand gets pushed down further and grounds out more readily the faster you go. Not a good combination. Again, an acknowledged problem and we’re waiting for a fix.The Termignoni Carbon Slip-On Exhaust (official Ducati accessory): The heat shield for this bulges out so much that it’s impossible to place your right foot properly on the footrest. It also fouls the centrestand spring, pushing the stand down and causing it to bounce against the bike when riding. Ducati have already issued a redesigned replacement heat shield and I’m just waiting for mine to arrive.Low-rpm surging: I’ve mentioned this above and some bikes seem to suffer more than others. I’ve not been particularly plagued by this, but there is a new software map to install, so at least some attempt has been made to address this.Pillion Position: this gives me an occasional speed-related pain in the kidneys. Nothing to do with the comfort but with the fact that the step up to the passenger perch means that my beloved can easily see the speedo. Ignorance used to be bliss…

And that’s about it: the encouraging thing being that all real problems have been acknowledged by Ducati, so we’ll wait and see what they actually do about it. There are a couple of other warranty tweaks to be done, but nothing that’s affecting the use or ability of the machine.

The Value Thing

The Multistrada ‘S’, in either Touring (panniers, centre stand & heated grips as standard) or Sport (lots of carbon fibre) guises, comes in at a wince-inducing £14295 – admittedly only a little more than a fully-loaded GS but still a goodly chunk of dosh. There is however a base model that’s a very good value at £10995 (£11700 with ABS) – it lacks the panniers, stand & heated grips (which total the best part of £1000 as options) and substitutes Marzocchi and Sachs suspension for the S model’s Öhlins. But it still has the traction control and engine modes, so what you’re missing there is the electronic suspension adjustment and the basic quality of the Öhlins suspension. Both worth paying for in my book, but a personalised revalve of the Marzocchis and a rebuild of the shock to suit your weight and riding style will also yield major benefits for a lot less than the difference in price between the two.

Myth and Mystique

There are a few myths that really should have been be put to rest years ago: that England can play football, that buying a GS will fill you with an irresistible urge to head for the Polish border and that Ducatis are prone to breaking down if you insult their mother’s cooking. This is about the last of these.

I’ve done about 120,000 miles on my various Ducatis and have broken down exactly twice on the road, both times within a month, one due to undiagnosed corrosion in the electrical harness of my ’02 ST4s, which now has 50,000 miles on the clock and the other to a faulty third-party replacement ECU, which had gone in as part of the diagnostic process. That’s it.

In the meantime I’ve lost track of the amount of time I’ve spent on tour waiting for tow trucks for GS’ with broken gearboxes or final drives, hunting for new rectifiers for VFRs (a problem they did share with late 90s Ducatis) or scouring Northern France on a Sunday for oil for BMW boxers. So nothing’s perfect, but my longish experience of Ducatis tells me that, used properly (ie ridden hard and serviced on the nail) they’ve certainly not been more of a long distance risk than anything else out there.

Servicing is another matter: not only have servicing costs been cut (Ducati claim by 50%), but service intervals for the Multistrada are now up to 7,500 miles for an oil change and 15,000 miles for a full “Desmo” service.

There certainly was a time when the Ducati factory would create an inspirational engine, wrap it in a finely-honed and minimalist frame, then clear off for a vino and rather forget about the rest (mostly rooted in the Italian government’s protectionist measures of the 70s that stopped Ducati – then state-owned – from buying non-Italian peripherals). But even my 1980 Pantah had German electrics and Japanese instruments and, with the exception of a dodgy patch in the early to mid-nineties, things have been improving ever since. And, with the Multistrada, it’s clear that Ducati are making a bigger effort than ever before – recognising that they’re pulling in people used to BMW levels of service (actual or mythical), they’ve got a new head of QA who used to do the same job for Audi and the factory has even called me on a couple of occasions to check how things are going and to respond to my complaints about the panniers and centre stand.

And I don’t usually name my machines, but the Multistrada was crying out for one, so it’s now officially The Raven – ‘cos it’s black, beaky and has an evil glint in its eye. ‘Nuff said.

Da Capo

The world turns and bikes – good and bad – come and go. But here we have an all-rounder that doesn’t just excel at sporty touring: in my ‘umble opine it moves the experience to a whole new level. And it just happens to be a Ducati. Meanwhile and elsewhere, there’s a new king of the ultimate sports bikes, and THAT turns out to be a BMW. That’s not so much the world turning as turning on its head. My self of thirty years ago wouldn’t have believed it. I’m not sure I believe it now. But I’m still buying Ducatis. At least I can afford to service them now.

Dont forget to visit Richard’s own website

  • Dear Richard
    This must be the best bike article I’ve ever read. I’m Italian and I love wine, lasagna and bikes, especially if they have 2 big cylinders in a L or a V!!
    Well… it’s 2021 and for some miracle I’m about to put my hands on a 2010 Multistrada 1200s with just 2700km (crazy Japanese buying stuff they don’t deserve!!) the bike it’s perfect with yearly service even when not needed!
    Reading your article just put me in a special mood like a little kid on Christmas Eve!! Thanks buddy for your incredible passion for the 2 wheels, especially the ones coming from Borgo Panigale!!!

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