While the second tier of UK motorcycle journos were returning from Qatar after riding a bike that, principally, can’t be ridden anywhere (Kawasaki’s H2R), 44Teeth hotfooted it to Lanzarote with Britain’s elite to ride a bike that can be ridden pretty much anywhere: the 2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200.
When I say hotfooted, I mean royally done up the pooper by easyJet, who booked 184 passengers onto a plane with 180 seats. Guess who was surplus to requirements? The bottom line is, we made it to the Multistrada’s world press launch and got to sample one of the most versatile bikes on the market. And Monarch is far superior to easyJet anyway…
The big news for the 2015 Multistrada is DVT: no, not deep vein thrombosis, but Desmodromic Variable Timing. You could write a book based entirely on the technology but the fundamentals are here. DVT does what it says on the tin, varying valve timing and allowing a smooth bottom-end, punchy midrange, and superbike-like top-end, all without compromise. It sounds enchanting and potentially able to blow the back doors off the motorcycle industry. I was excited.
In fact, we could dedicate an entire website on the 2015 Multistrada’s features. The main highlights include revised Skyhook semi-active suspension, and the introduction of 2015’s must-have toy – Bosch’s Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), measuring roll, pitch and yaw – that allows subsequent technology such as Cornering ABS, Cornering Lights, Ducati Wheelie Control and Cruise Control. Man, you can even answer calls, get email/text notifications, ride along to tunes with the multimedia function. The only thing the 2015 Multistrada can’t do is cure terminal illness.
The subtle aesthetical changes are obvious but without turning a wheel, the ‘Strada’s fresh slimmer, lower physique is also palpable. I have to say, I’m in love with the ergonomics and riding position: it’s a nice blend of relaxed and energetic. Your arms sit parallel with the ‘bars, back nice and straight with a relaxed lower body, and loads of room for manoeuvre. There’s still a mass of cockpit in front of you but the ergonomics correlate nicely with the flickability and input needed to get a move on. Everything feels natural and intuitive.
Since the major facelift in 2010, Ducati has pushed a 4-bikes-in-1 philosophy for the Multistrada: Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro, which are also the four preset riding modes on offer. Of course, these four categories don’t supernaturally appear on demand, nor do they create a unique bike for all occasions. The majority of the Multistrada’s versatility comes with a touch of a button via the all-new switchgear, and the capacity to toggle between power modes, throttle responses, suspension set-ups and rider aid intervention levels, which can also be individually adjusted for personal taste. There’s a vast array of adjustability and even a day riding wasn’t enough time to trial all combinations. To be honest, you can get a little lost among all the parameters.
Given how Ducati plays on the Multistrada’s versatility, we’ve analysed the 2015 model in all four categories after a day of riding in Lanzarote.
Sport: As a sportsbike nut, the 1200’s abundance of sporting talent is hugely welcoming and it’s superb fun to spank. Sharper geometry and revised weight distribution ensure it feels lighter, more nimble, more athletic and more open to being ridden hard at staunch speeds, and unless there’s an onslaught of tight and twisty stuff, the Multistrada will happily play tailgunner with pukka sportsbikes. It really doesn’t feel like a 209kg unit.
The S model’s Skyhook suspension negates any unwanted weight transfer, making the bike stable under braking, reducing squat under gas, and softening damping in between for mid-corner grip and agility. The tech is seamless and you’ll never feel any weird shit going down. That said, the base model isn’t any less effective, only losing a whiff of bump management over gnarly surfaces.
17-inch rims not only provide decent (sticky) tyre options but also more conventional, sportier handling over its big-wheeled rivals. When you start to give it licks, the MS’s limitations become apparent – but that’s not until you start to load the front-end and take sportsbike-spec liberties. For such a big, imposing bike, it has an unbelievable knack of changing direction and being slammed on its side with consummate ease, and there’s ample ground clearance in doing so.
The previous incarnation also had a penchant for mild death-weaving at high speeds, where the ‘bars would flap slightly under hard acceleration. There’s none of that in the new bike’s artillery and it’s more stable and planted at any given moment. And with all the safety gadgetry, the MS holds your hand every step of the way: it doesn’t feel 100% uncrashable but I didn’t have any moments, and the new Pirelli Scorpion Trail IIs did a decent job in having the final say.
With a claimed 160bhp on tap, it’s no surprise the Multistrada feels rampant when you start abusing the throttle and you’ll soon be reading three-figure numbers on the dash. Although it feels fast, it’s also deceptively fast. The silken bottom-end erupts at around 6,000rpm with a tangible boost in power. I wasn’t the only rider who noticed a VTEC-type surge at around 5-6,000rpm but this was only evident on the S-model with some of the electronic aids switched on. With all the complexities, maybe it was having a moment?
If you want it to be – by putting the engine in ‘High’ mode – the Multistrada can be a raging beast and a little unpredictable. The throttle becomes sharp, belligerent and super-sensitive, heightening the engine’s aggressive attitude. Internally, it spins quickly to the 10,500rpm redline with a very linear but urgent delivery. Switching to ‘medium’ engine output softens the blow slightly and makes the Multistrada much easier to ride without dulling thrills.
While the wheelie control is a nice idea, we’d much rather indulge in a quickshifter. Incidentally, the angrier motor and more remote riding dynamics mean the Multi’ is now horrendous at wheelies.
Touring: Our ride throughout the day wasn’t particularly fruity and death certainly wasn’t on the cards. That didn’t stop the Multi’ drinking fuel with serious thirst, averaging 30mpg in the afternoon and requiring the 20L tank to be topped up. Then again, I was abusing the throttle and riding like a champion tool.
The upsides to its touring capabilities revolve around the ergonomics and just how bloody comfy the 1200 is. I’m nearly 6ft, stocky build, like walks in the park and looking for GSOH, and the wind protection on offer is superb. There was none of the buffeting or excruciating wind noise of, say, some of its rivals, and only the tip of my helmet was molested.
The addition of cruise control is also a bonus, as is the revised riding position. We covered nearly 300km and my botty was in excellent shape until we hit the beers in the evening. Overall, its touring capabilities have been improved.
Urban: The sumptuously smooth DVT-infected motor makes easy work of urban environments at low revs. Testastrettas were designed for racing, therefore lumpy at the bottom-end of the range because racers didn’t need that nugget of revs, so this made for painful slow-speed etiquette.
That’s all changed now with DVT. You can pootle along at 20mph in third gear without any vibrations, lumpiness or manual clutch slip. The throttle and engine sensations feel computerised, digitalised, arcade-like and slightly unnatural but it works. As with most Ducatis, the clutch action is quite heavy but the rest of the controls are fluid and easily exploited. And the gearbox is stereotypical precision from Ducati.
Enduro: Probably the least significant segment of the four, but nevertheless… 99.99% of Multistrada owners will never take their pride and joy off-road, and that’s understandable when you consider the £15k value. Taking a launch bike that doesn’t belong to you takes on an entirely different perspective, and although I’m far from David Knight on the dirt, the 1200 is a doddle to pilot on rough terrain.
At 209kg, there’s a lot of ‘Strada to go down/land on you/destroy, yet the balance of the MS and just how easy it is to ride never threatened. Ducati has raised the motor in the frame, giving more ground clearance so you can now attempt that gnarly 80ft triple jump. Japes aside, it’s rather good: chuck it in Enduro mode, and power is trimmed to 100bhp (like ‘Urban’ mode) and the suspension (on the S model) is set to its softest and raised for better ground clearance.
There’s nothing ground-breaking or overly sensational about the 2015 model. I didn’t get off and want to marry it. But it’s better in every aspect: it’s faster, lighter, stops quicker (thanks to the addition of Panigale brakes) and more capable in any environment. For me, £12,595 for the base model is incredible value for money, even more so when you look at the Ducati’s rivals. Granted, you don’t get some of the S-model’s bolt-ons, and the dash is far less Gucci, but the stock suspension is so well damped and sprung, providing a beautifully plush stroke, you rarely miss the Skyhook’s magic unless toggling between modes is high on purchase decisions. The predicted split between S and base models is the usual 80/20 in favour of the S, which will set you back £15,595 in red. Add another £200 for pearly white.
In either guise, the MS is sportier than a GS and better in town than a KTM Adventure. Being a Ducati, it’s always going to favour the sportier clientele.
Ducati prides itself on L-twin engines. While the DVT motor didn’t blow me away as expected, it’s changed the way we think about V/L-twin engine characteristics, adding versatility and making the 1200 lump – dare we say it – more like a four-pot and widening useable power parameters.
44T Rating: 9/10