This is turning from an event to a tradition: the day on which Scotland’s Ducatista come out to play at The Green Welly Stop – the highland’s answer to Surrey’s Box Hill. On offer are test rides on the latest and (hopefully) greatest toys from Bologna. This year, they’ve wisely moved from the infeasible optimism of mid-April to early May, thereby much reducing the likelihood of needing snowploughs. And it’s worked: today’s weather was warm, sunny and bike-friendly, especially on the chosen test route: 24 miles of the A85 from Tyndrum to Dalmally, one of the world’s finest motorcycling roads. There is some interesting new stuff this year: as well as the usual and unedifying sight of portly blokes of a certain age contorting creaking joints onto the Panigale, we had the amusement of watching sports and adventure bike riders (self included) wobbling down the road whilst frantically waving their feet in search of the xDiavel’s foot pegs. Yes, Ducati has brought their new ‘Cruiser’ along, which could be considered a brave move on these roads. But you’ll notice the quotes around the C-word there – that just may be a clue that categories may not be a reliable guide to reality.I rocked up nice and early, which got me straight out on the first rides. By the time I’d completed my mission of riding four bikes and ambled off in search of coffee and bacon butties, the Green Welly was packed with bikes, bods and Plods, the police presence bringing Terminator 2 to mind (“The police are here.”, “How many?”, “All of them…”). The surrounding roads were also full of hurtling machinery with the idiocy dial turned up to 11, that (and the bacon butties) going a long way towards justifying the presence of the Feds: Bears and buns.
My interest was in giving the new Monster R a workout (because I could), comparing the Multistrada DVT and its new Enduro cousin (because I might just buy one) and having a hack on the xDiavel (because it’s different). Not that I’d buy a bike with that riding position, but the xDiavel does look absolutely stunning and well worth a play. Ducati advertises this model with the cringeworthy tag-line of “The gentleman, the bastard”. I assume this to be a reference to combining laid-back style with the potential for caddish behaviour, so I was half expecting a moustache-twirling Terry Thomas lookalike to be our host for the day. That didn’t happen, but why does Ducati appear to assume that women are only relevant as pillion ornaments? That does annoy me – I thought we’d got over that sort of shit by the early 80s. Although the difference between Ducati’s marketing image and Scottish biking reality is hilarious. Milan may be closer.
First things first, then: this is a very comfortable and unconditionally stable (despite my best efforts) machine. It feels not just higher but a much bigger machine than its non-Enduro stablemate. I put that down to a combination of the longer wheelbase and the usefully larger (30l) fuel tank. On the move though, it proves well-balanced and the extra weight is not apparent – as this was early in the day, this one was fairly full of fuel and it handled the weight very well indeed.
The Skyhook suspension is superb, albeit without the connection of the Öhlins, but more comfortable. I didn’t get the opportunity to try fine-tuning the various suspension modes, but Sport mode + luggage setting seemed to suit the roads and speeds we were using.
A real mile-muncher, then: it did not feel like an off-road bike being asked to play nicely on the road: it just felt like a big, well set up, long-distance tourer that, once in its groove, would simply devour the miles, kilometres or parsecs – whatever you asked of it. For me though the 1200 DVT engine is still a stumbling block and I wouldn’t consider owning one without trying one that had the full Termignoni exhaust fitted. Even then, I’d probably pass on the Enduro: my personal balance lies with a rather sportier, fast-turning feel.
I rode from Ducati Glasgow a few months ago. This time, it felt better and, after the Enduro, quite titchy. Also, not slow at all, but you had to work it more consciously to make, ah, progress. I did amuse myself by tailing the poorly-ridden Panigale in front with the Multi in Enduro mode (100bhp and soft suspension) and it still did very well. For some reason, perhaps by virtue of being more run in, the Touring and Sport engine maps felt more usable on this machine than on the Enduro, despite the higher gearing (a 40 vs 43 tooth rear sprocket). But there remains that missing throttle response and the damn great torque hole below about 5000rpm. Even above that, the DVT feels a little strained in comparison with the original 1200 Multistrada, rather as if it’s conscious of its shortcomings and trying a little too hard to make up for it. If I were to own one of these, I’d want to see it geared down, have a better engine map and a faster throttle action. As with the Enduro, I gather that fitting the optional full Termignoni exhaust addresses much of that, but I do have an inbuilt objection to paying another £1800 atop the not inconsiderable cost of a DVT, just to make the damn thing work properly.
This machine still had the lower seat height set and I have to say that the fit around and under the rider’s seat is an embarrassing mess. Handling though is absolutely excellent – at least as good and possibly more neutral than mine – the earlier 1200 Multis are highly tyre and pressure sensitive and can understeer when the mood takes them. Here though, on the stock Pirelli Scorpions, the DVT felt extremely confidence-inspiring. Suspension was, as with any Skyhook machine I’ve ridden, simply superb, albeit with my usual Öhlins comparative observations applying. The colour display was legible even in the day’s atypical sunshine and certainly far better in layout than that of the MV. I ignored all the built-in Bluetooth Bollocks(TM). The windscreen was not better than that of the Enduro, and far, far worse than the MRA Vario-Touring on my own machine. The DVT was the bike I’d come closest to buying, but I fear that I just couldn’t take the backward step in the engine characteristics.
For some reason though, they haven’t fitted Skyhook to the xDiavel and the ride, although perfectly decent, is a bit harsh over broken surfaces (ie Scotland) and was not in the same bump-smothering class as either Multistrada or Monster R. The engine – a 1262cc update of the Multistrada’s DVT lump – was in a different league: it felt relaxed but torquey, with as near an instant throttle response as I’ve felt from a Euro 4-compliant machine (which is to say, just about OK). It’s fairly smooth, with no high frequency vibes. It is however just a tad lumpy – you definitely feel two 630cc pistons hammering up and down, in a way that reminded me of an old Panther ‘sloper’. Wind protection is no more than tolerable and, were I to own one, I’d be looking for a decent nose fairing/fly screen.
Sum of Parts
Their problems seem to lie with production engineering and in their market positioning for the Multistrada. On the engineering side, it looks as though they really haven’t cracked the issues around Euro 4 compliance, their current generation engines displaying markedly slack throttle response (possibly from aggressively lean engine maps) and a mid-range hole in delivery that’s a major backward step relative to their previous generation of machines. That also comes with a degree of over-gearing that exacerbates the problem. After the test rides, I rode my ’10 1200S along the same route and the difference in throttle and engine response was startling: despite the notional 10bhp advantage of the DVT machines, they simply wouldn’t know where a 2010-12 era Multistrada had gone.
Although I’m laying much of the blame at Euro 4 and Ducati’s (in)ability to meet it, I also think that the Audification of Ducati, especially of the Multistrada, has a lot to answer for: they seem to be trying to widen the appeal of the Multi to the point where, in neutering much of the inherent character of a v-twin, they’ve created an engine that is neither fish nor fowl. Having now ridden multiple machines with DVT, I’m tempted to call “Emperor’s New Clothes!” on it: I don’t actually think the DVT does their machines any favours, my view being that this is emphatically a less responsive, coherent and characterful engine than the earlier generation of 11° Testastretta. The supersized version in the xDiavel is a massive improvement relative to the Multistradas but it still doesn’t take it back to the pre-DVT, pre-Euro4 abilities of the smaller, simpler engines.
The best bike I rode today however doesn’t exist: give me the Multistrada 1200 with either the xDiavel or the Monster R engine and I’d be a much happier bunny. Possibly even enough to swap my old lamp for a shiny new one. Alternatively, if the xDiavel had properly central footrests, it could be a real contender. And I never thought I’d be saying that about a Cruiser. Finish on the machines looked OK but only time will tell with that and there are sufficient disgruntled owners of current or recent Ducatis out there that caveat emptor has to be the order of the day. So less the gentleman and the bastard needed but a bit more ofJekyll and Hyde. Or at least a Multistrada with the xDiavel engine. Pass the potion.
Finally, in other pics:
Martin from Ducati Glasgow briefing the nervous on the penalty for breaking his toys:
Of course, Ducati is keen to make converts from other faiths…
And The Green Welly sometimes has the most surprising of machines: in this case an impeccable Hesketh V1000 from around 1982, at which time it cost the unearthly sum of £4500. I shudder to think what it’s worth now.