Four years? I can’t quite believe it. Where’d they go? Although, looking back suggests that starting and building a couple of companies alongside the renovation of our old Highland farmhouse is going to swallow up a chunk of years with but a passing whoosh. Which is my excuse for what’s sitting in front of me – an exactly four-year-old Multistrada 1200S which shows a pathetically low total of 8,000 miles. Actually, it displays a mileage of 700, because the clocks have been replaced under warranty. Of which more anon. But those are many fewer miles than I used to do in a year – my 46,000 mile ST4s sits smugly alongside in the stable, on its charger, currently awaiting a light restoration and rodent extraction before being put back into circulation. As mine was one of the first of this new generation of Ducatis off the production line, it’s probably now worth taking a critical look at what’s not worked as well as I might have hoped as well as summarising my thoughts about the bike now and whether my initial opinions have changed.
So my Multistrada should still be very shiny and new-looking, shouldn’t it? The bad news first: It ain’t. The finish in a number of areas has suffered a great deal more than I’d expect from the use it’s had, albeit that quite of lot of its limited mileage has been in fairly foul conditions. But then my previous Ducatis have been used in all conditions that Scotland and climate change can throw at us and have suffered a lot less than Ducati’s latest and finest. I’d say that Ducati’s standard of finish has gone backwards very substantially – my experience suggests that it peaked in about 2002-2005 and that it’s been downhill ever since. That’s especially disappointing given that it’s garaged, is washed regularly and carefully and treated with various anticorrosion potions (FS356 and ACF50).
The better news is that there’s been no ‘core’ problem with the bike that have taken it off the road for an extended period. A complete electrical failure did require it to be carted off to the dealer for a reset and issues with the exhaust valve jamming have stopped me on the road a few times: I haven’t yet been arrested for poking a long stick up a Ducati’s backside, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
So, on with the listing of the bad, the ugly and the good:
Issues, Problems & Cock-ups
- Clocks: These were letting in water and starting to show random warning lights at inappropriate moments. Replaced under warranty without problem.
- Front wheel: Replaced on the AA’s insurance after they gouged it when dropping it off their transporter after a puncture. Gits. Compounded in a rather serious way by Ducati Glasgow not torquing up the the fork spindle pinch bolts afterwards.
- Electric fuel cap: Failed and replaced without quibble under warranty.
- Electrics (all of them): The bike has twice locked up completely and refused to release any electrons. The first time it was conveyed to Ducati Glasgow in a van. The second time, I’d learnt the incantation required to reset the damn thing – sacrificing a small chicken was optional, but recommended.
- Pannier locks & seals: A basic design failing and Ducati provided additional seals and clamps for the pannier lids as a retrofit kit for owners. These are neither elegant nor convenient in use but do at least do the job, albeit as a complete bodge by Ducati, the alternative being for them to have done the right thing by their customers and produced some properly engineered panniers.
- Bolts and fasteners: There’s a lot of corrosion on these, especially exposed engine bolts and brake caliper studs. More in fact than my ST4s accumulated after a decade of hard use. The chain guard bolts have completely seized and one has sheared at the head.
- Rear Brake: This doesn’t. End of story. This has been poked, prodded and recalled multiple times.
- Engine lacquer: This appears to have all the protective qualities of a cellophane sweet wrapper: on forward facing and some other surfaces, it’s bubbling, blistering and/or peeling.
- Swing Arm: within about eighteen months from new, the paint on the swing arm started bubbling. Then it blistered and, finally, fell off. The back end of the machine now looks like it has a bad case of mange.
- Recalls: There have been various of these, not all of which I’ve had done yet. These have covered a variety of things, from potential cracking of the fork lowers (current), replacement of the coolant, and the fitting of a modification kit designed to improve the functioning of the aforementioned rear brake. If you consider a change in brake function from intermittent to consistently useless to be a step forward , then you may consider the last a success.
- Exhaust valve: This thing is a bloody joke: operated through a cable from a remote electric motor under the control of the ECU, it exists only to pass EU noise regulations and piss off owners by seizing closed every time the bike so much as sniffs moisture in the air. When it does so, the bike’s performance drops to that of an asthmatic moped and fuel consumption falls from the usual 40-42mpg to about 25mpg. Easy enough to spot. then, and has lead to many roadside searches for a suitable branch to shove up the exhaust pipe and pry the damn thing open again. I’ve stripped down, rebuilt and copper greased the useless object more times than I care to remember. The easy solution seems to be either to fit either a dummy blanking plate or an electronic box which fools the servo into thinking that there’s a functioning valve on the other end. Why Ducati can’t just bribe the EU inspectors directly, I don’t know…
- Suspension sensors: on two occasions, I’ve had the bike report losing touch with what the front suspension adjusters are up to. This however went away as soon as I pried off the connectors’ rubber boots and dried them out – I suspect the problem to have been my own failing to reinstall the boots properly after adjusting front preload.
- Electronic steering lock: This has failed, twice, fortunately both times when the bike was unlocked.
- Rear reflector: This took a whole three years to turn into an amorphous mass of iron oxide.
- Number plate/rear light support: Well-known as a component that only flies in loose formation with the rest of the bike. I calmed mine down with a stern talking-to and four large rubber washers under the retaining nuts.
Passenger footpeg: One of the these went AWOL after a service. Replaced without question however.
- Low-speed surging: Actually, this didn’t bother me too much – I’ve been hacking through towns on V-twins for decades and don’t expect perfect low speed behaviour. Several software updates later, the surging has improved, but at the cost of some throttle response.
- Screen: The stock screen isn’t terrible, by any means. But it is quite noisy and buffets considerably above about 60mph. I’ve replaced it with a MRA Vario Touring screen with an adjustable lip that aims to improve laminar flow. For me, it works.
- Electric tank bag mount: I’m using a Bags Connection Engage Electric tank bag – an excellent piece of kit, with a quick release connector that allows me to charge phone and camera in my tankbag as I ride. Nice piece of kit, even if the opening aperture is a on the small side.
- Short Termignoni exhaust end can: Purely cosmetic – it makes zero difference to performance or noise.
- Electric fuel cap: Running a machine with keyless ignition, it makes no sense whatsoever to have to fish a key out of the depths of your gear to open the filler cap. This was ordered with the bike but delivered late, so I fitted it myself. I then fitted its replacement, supplied under warranty after the first one failed.
- Headlamp wiring: Given that the stock headlights would have Ducati kicked out of the Union of Anaemic Glowworms for underperformance, I have (but haven’t yet got around to fitting) John Webster’s wiring mod that makes both dipped and main beam come on with main beam. It doesn’t solve the fundamental issue of poor beam design but does add some useful spread to the main beam.
- Scottoiler: I’ve added one of their excellent e-oilers. This has been largely trouble-free, with just a few airlock issues from the rather convoluted line from the underseat-mounted reservoir.
- R&G crash bungs & fork sliders. Just in case…
- Centre stand removal: I actually took this off to have the tang shortened to avoid the well-documented problem of it being forced down by the rider’s heels, but have simply never gotten around to remounting it. Saves a useful couple of kilos.
- Belly pan: The standard pressed aluminium belly pan has all the elegance of a rusting JCB. So I replaced it with an infinitely better-looking and beautifully crafted Ilmberger carbon fibre job. Saves about 400g (roughly 1.5 pies).
- Tyres: I wore out the OEM Skorpions after 3400 miles – a surprisingly good tyre for a multi-use model. These were replaced with my default choice of Pirelli Diablo Corsas. Slight mistake: these take too long to warm up in the Scottish climate and wore out with the combination of v-twin torque and abrasive roads in 1200 miles. I then fitted the then-new Michelin Pilot Road 3 – although I use Michelins on my cars, I’ve never had Michelins on a bike before. These tyres are fantastic – with 3,000 miles on them they’re not showing significant wear, they stick like very sticky things and, on an absolutely drookit (Scots: a tad damp – to the point of rivers of mud running across the lower part of the circuit) track day at Knockhill, I was cheerfully lapping many of the other participants.
Still To Do…
- Öhlins suspension ECU: Following the advent of the latest variant of the Multistrada with its Sachs-based semi-active Skyhook suspension, Öhlins themselves have brought out a plug-in control module to add the same features to the original Multistrada 1200S. That sounds like an upgrade worth having. Update: Now done.
- Decat & Remap: I don’t really fancy the looks or the cost of the full Termignoni exhaust system – i find it somewhat bulky and ugly, but a similar effect can now be achieved with a decat pipe that feeds the existing short Termignoni end can, together with an ECU remap to suit the freer-flowing exhaust.
- Exhaust valve delete: as noted above – the original is a poorly engineered pain in the nether regions, so an elegant method for removing it is being sought. Update: also now done. Recommended.
- Gel seat: the stock seat is pretty comfortable but the aftermarket gel seats do give a little better support.
Little has changed in the last four years: yes, others have brought out bikes in the category the Multistrada created for itself, but still the most obvious competitor for my Multistrada is the current Multistrada, with it’s (marginally) improved low-speed running and Skyhook semi-active suspension. I’ve been tempted, but a back-to-back test ride reveals that my own machine, customised as it is for me, is at least the equal of the new machines in most regards. The new water-cooled R1200GS is much closer in performance and attitude, but still lacks the Jekyll and Hyde character that is so compelling about the Multistrada and, despite the issues of finish and detail I’ve had with the Ducati, I remain to be convinced that the BMW is much better. KTM are rumoured to have a truly insane 1290cc version of their Adventure in the pipeline and that’ll probably be a proper Multistrada competitor – time will tell.
Closing with that problem of finish again, there may be some hope: Ducati is however now part of the VAG group, with a newish head of QA from Audi. They’ve needed him, as they do seem to have gone backwards in quality of finish and detail reliability in recent years. Core values however have been maintained and, for my wants, the ‘Strada remains my two-wheeled weapon of choice.