Age of Indecision

Five years now of Multistradom. And all is not entirely well in the state of Ducati Ecosse. Frankly, I’m a little hacked off.

After years of evangelising the whole Ducati Thing and telling all and sundry that their reputation for expiring gracelessly in embarrassing places was a perceptual hangover from a dim and distant past, the Multistrada 1200 has stopped me in my tracks – in short, this has been the worst finished and least reliable motorcycle I have owned from the modern era. In fact, the only one of my machines that provided any real competition in the “What is going to fail next?” department was my 1957 Royal Enfield.So, having made the assertion,let me now count the ways. No, let me not count the ways – I did so last year, here, and repetition rapidly becomes tedious, so since then, we’ve seen:

  • Yet another recall, this time for the throttle housing. Yes, Ducati is issuing recalls when needed, but the overall impression given is that the early customer for any machine is regarded as an unpaid extension of Ducati’s development department.
  • Complete ABS/DTC failure: This one I tracked down myself: I first swapped out both ABS sensors, to no avail. Ducati Glasgow reported no diagnostic codes showing from the BBS (Black Box System), so the problem was more likely to be a ‘dumb’ component. I then stripped back the insulation from the front wiring harness to find, as many have, that Ducati’s habit of folding electrical wiring 180° back onto its connector then zip-tying it, causes the signal wire to fracture. Who’d have thought?
20150712; 3113

General disintegration

And even all of that wouldn’t have been too much of a problem, given that I’ve always found Ducati to take a considerate view of goodwill towards evident product problems, even when out of warranty.

The ‘But’ there is that, since the Audi takeover, the people in charge seem to have taken an overly middle-management bean-counting focus on the immediate bottom line and thereby entered a strange nether world where absolute product quality and fitness for purpose are deemed irrelevant to how they deal with customer support. Here, rather than supporting their products whilst ramping up the quality until warranty and goodwill costs naturally fell, they seem to be intent on cutting off any form of spiritual consideration for the welfare of their existing and long-term owners.

That’s their call. But it will cost them. Which is why I’m now seriously considering my future, after owning nowt but Ducati’s since 1983. And it does appear that I’m not alone.

I’m concerned, not just about the support provided but about the tendency to design machines as appliances, where everything is cost-engineered to the lowest common denominator needed for a broader target market. That works with washing machines and day-to-day vehicles but it means that the machines do lack the final  “cake icing” conveyed by exquisite touches of engineering and function, that make the cognoscenti continue to buy Ducatis. Increasingly, when I look at a modern Ducati, I see something engineered – more consistently I grant you – but to a lower common denominator of quality and no more, whereas the real desirability of a stand-out product comes, I believe, from those areas where it over delivers (he says, sneaking furtive and appreciative glances at the cast magnesium cam covers on his 749R).

Ducati aren’t alone in that, by any means, but it does knock off that last touch of (often) flawed genius that’s made people like me grovel into dealerships clutching sweaty wads of used fivers. But then I’m probably an outlier and the reason that companies like Ariel exist. More of them later.

Now, I’m not someone who changes their vehicles by season or whim: unless I were deeply unhappy with something, I tend to keep them until either they start running up the running cost curve, my needs change or until something comes along that really offers a step change in meeting those needs.* So I wouldn’t consider changing a machine that’s only got 11,000 miles on it – the damn thing’s only just run in. But this time I’m thinking of doing just that.

20150712; 3115

Not so bad

It has however just had its big service – the 15,000 mile/5-year shims and belts gig, which ran to a tad over £600. This means that total service costs over the five years/11,000 miles have been about £1,000, which is definitely something of an improvement over the older bikes.

Chain and gearbox sprocket are now well worn. With a Scottoiler on the job, that’s surprising, but I do suspect a combination of the OEM Regina (I think) chain being – by repute – made of cheese and the dust from our drive doing a more than passable imitation of grinding paste. Let’s put that in the, “normal wear and tear” category.

I need to replace those anyway, so with that and the recent service, I might as well spend this putative summer getting some good use out of the machine this year, then consider a swap next. But to what? Well, here’s a list of the more and less predictable candidates:

  • Multistrada DVT: Am I a glutton for punishment? quite possibly but, if the new Multistrada has been pushed far enough up the reliability/fit/finish curve, then I could be on for it, if it clears the high bar for quality that I’ll be setting. It is though definitely to be assessed and bought with more of an appliance mentality than I’ve done with Ducatis in the past.
  • KTM Super Duke GT: This one is definitely pushes the glutton for thrills button. I’ve always like the Super Duke, a lot, and the new 180bhp incarnation appears hilariously over-the-top. But trying to tour on an over-powered naked bike is generally an exercise in masochism, so the forthcoming half-faired-ish version might be exactly what was ordered.
  • BMW R1200RS: This is the Mr Sensible option, with ‘only’ 125bhp from the new-generation boxer engine. But that’s actually a smidge more than my ST4s and no-one ever accused that of holding them up.
  • BMW K1300S: Mr Insanely Sensible. I’ve never been a huge fan of the K13 engine, but I do gather that the later ones are a lot smoother than the Russian washing machine incarnation that I rode. But I am a huge fan of the chassis and that fantastic Hossack front end – a massively under-appreciated innovation.
  • MV Agusta Turismo Veloce Lusso: The outside gamble. Ticks all the boxes, if I can live with a mere 110bhp and looks to use many of the same electrickery packages of the Multistrada. But can they build them properly, and will it try to amputate my thumbs at full lock?
  • Ariel Ace: About as left-field as it gets: a semi-custom build around a 1200cc Honda V4. Could I? Should I? This is the one that crosses the line between rational need fulfilment and utter indulgence. And does so at a run. Paging Herr Maslow…

No R1200 GS? No. Not that I dislike it in any way – it’s just that my sensibilities lie with the Sports part of the Sports Tourer/Adventure bike zeitgeist, so it’s just a little too panzerish in image for my taste.

So that’s my current list and I’ll be aiming to get out and about and try at least a few of them in the next month or two. Who knows, I may even be able to get this blog back to being about riding, places and experiences rather than the stuff that’s been preventing me from doing those things. Which is why I have motorcycles.

* For current purposes, the definition of “needs” includes “wants”. Oh yes.


  1. Stephen Halleran

    Stumbled across a post you did on another site that lead me to here. Well written and engaging article and get the brand loyalty etc. Seriously considering after 30 years with Kawasaki ZZR12 trade in next spring for the new multistrada. Going to NEC to see changes for 2016 model as while mostly positive reviews of the dvt I’d rather other peeps were the test guinea pigs!! £70 day return flight from Edinburgh that’s a cost even a Scotsmen can live with!!! 🙂

    • Richard

      Hi Stephen, Thanks for your comments and, having been early product guinea pig for Ducati with the original Multistrada 1200, I’d say you were wise to wait for any 2016 mods – at the very least, I’d hope they’ve got any basic issues of component quality and finish sorted. I’m about to go test ride the DVT at Ducati Glasgow (while the blown fork seal on mine is being fixed) but, like you, I won’t be making a decision until next Spring.

  2. Eric Molimard

    Hi Richard, I’m glad I found your site. I am split in 3 ways for choosing my next bike. Currently owning a 04 R1 with 50000kms. Never missed a beat in 4 years ownership but the body says I need an upright bike.
    Options are Multistrada, BMW 1000xr or Yam’s MT10. I test rode all but MT10 no demo anywhere here in Ireland 🙁 I love driving the 2015 multi and the xr. I grew concerned about the reliability of the Duke and I recently read SO many unhappy owners that I am very close to strike it off the list. Can I ask you what stage you are with the multi? Any advices/thoughts welcome. Best of luck and safe biking.

    • Richard

      Hi Eric,
      We’re in a very similar position, albeit in my case after 34 years of Ducatis! My own bike’s radiator has now failed, which is complete nonsense at 15k miles, so I’m just waiting to hear back from Ducati about a goodwill gesture towards replacing it: whether or not they choose to stand by their product may be the final straw for me. As you’ll see from my other postings, I’m torn: The XR is a great bike, but too frenetic and buzzy for my taste (I love the relaxed speed of the v-twins), I haven’t tried the MT10, but I don’t think it would have the wind protection needed for fast touring (and I really, really don’t like the looks). The current Multistrada is, functionally, a brilliant chassis. Whether or not you like the characteristics of the current engine are personal taste: I don’t and I also slightly prefer the upgraded semi-active Öhlins suspension on mine to the current Skyhook. So if I could get my current machine sorted and get the engine cases repainted, I’d probably keep it for another couple of years – when it’s working, it is truly stunning. Failing that, the Super Duke GT is now top of my list, but demonstrators aren’t to be found anywhere right now – that may change in the Spring. BTW, have you tried the R1200RS? It’s a very nice machine indeed, albeit without the hilarious power of the Multi, XR or MT10. If you’re not already on, I’d recommend it – lots of experience there and a friendly and knowledgeable community.

      • Eric Molimard

        Hi Richard,
        Thanks for the speedy reply. I see you are a fellow photographer so you might be like me stuck on the computer editing 🙂
        Back to bikes, if the duke wasn’t plagued by issues, (haven’t dug into the XR yet), it would be my choice 100% love the look and the engine. R1200RS would be my style, the XR would give the option to go “off road” which is near impossible on the R1. I mean gravely road not sand and muck! I found the XR very nice to ride, didnt get the vibes that many are complaining about, there was some but I don’t think it would be deal breaker. Downshifter is god send though.
        Superduke is an animal and I’d love a go at it. The MT10 has a touring pack tha twould provide what’s needed for distance riding. I do love the looks but only in black with the hint of red, it’s different.

        Looks like it’s between XR and MT now. Duke might be next one in 5 years time, if’ they sort it out.

        Best of luck.

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