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. Having previously demonstrated precisely this, I can report at least one off-road tip over without any damage whatsoever.

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!

 

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