Nothing’s perfect and any new product is going to have its share of things that either need fixing for existing customers or improving for future versions — the test for the manufacturer being how openly and clearly they respond to problems. The Multistrada is no exception here, so herewith my nags and niggles for Ducati:
And that’s about it: the encouraging thing being that all real problems have been acknowledged by Ducati, so we’ll wait and see what they actually do about it. There are a couple of other warranty tweaks to be done, but nothing that’s affecting the use or ability of the machine.
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.
Firstly, and for anyone who hasn’t come out of hibernation in the year to date, here’s the what of the new Multistrada, which shares only its name with the previous model. This is a machine with longer wheelbase (in fact about 25mm longer than the R1200GS), long-travel suspension, two comfy seats, an adjustable screen, built-in pannier mounts and dual-purpose tyres. Sounds like a GS then, doesn’t it? But wait, these are Italians we’re talking about: Ducati’s brief to their espresso and adrenaline-crazed design team was very simple: “Build the bike you’d want to ride on the road“. They evidently took that to heart so here we have a machine which in its ‘S’ incarnation has:
More to the point, all of these bar the ABS are integrated, so that when you switch modes, all adjust at once. And all are completely customisable: you can change settings and assign new settings to any mode or sub-mode. There is also (thankfully) a “Numpty” button to take everything back to stock settings once you’ve terminally confused both yourself and the bike. Oh, and you can switch modes whilst riding — something I was a tad dubious about ahead of time, but it does prove to be a real boon on the road — I can leave Edinburgh, hack across the wet city cobbles in Urban mode (low power, soft suspension and traction control ready to pounce), flip into Touring mode on the motorway (high but relaxed power and firmer but lightly damped suspension to cope with those tedious motorway miles), chop into Sports mode when I peel off onto the glory of my local Highland roads — despatching most visiting sports bikes in the process — and, finally, drop into Enduro mode for the last three miles of broken single track into our village and the near-mile of motocross track that masquerades as our drive. Works for me and the modes really do make a difference to the feel and usability of the bike in each situation.
But how the world does change: it’s 2010 and we’re in a new age of motorcycling (crystals and tepees optional), where bikes compete on techno overkill, on race-derived kudos and in niches within niches (“Sir is looking for a V8 two-stroke motocross scooter, with built-in penguin catcher? In pink? — Step this way…“). So it takes a brave manufacturer to launch a machine that seeks to create a niche for itself by filling many niches — aiming to be, if not all things to all riders, then at least many things to most of us. Which is exactly what Ducati has done with their new Multistrada 1200, the machine with which they’re pitching — in part — for a share of the lucrative adventure tourer or ‘tall-rounder’ market, a market created and dominated by BMW (latterly aided and abetted by a couple of under-employed actors) with their GS series. It’s also a market segment that’s growing rapidly and is, in the process, squeezing the ‘traditional’ sports tourer market where Ducati’s now-defunct ST range sat. Their own previous offering in the adventure bike market was the original Multistrada, the tall-rounder they launched in 2003, using Ducati’s venerable 2v air-cooled DesmoDue engine rather than the superbike-derived Testastretta power plant. Very much a ‘Marmite’ machine, it’s a complete hoot to ride but does lack the ultimate power and space for most peoples’ idea of sporty touring.
I’ve had my Multistrada for just over a month now — time enough to find out the good, the bad and the incomprehensible about it. And yes, it IS as good as the reviews say it is (my own full review has been much-delayed by the simple fact that I’ve been out riding it!) but it ain’t entirely perfect, so here’s my thoughts to date on what can be improved in future and what needs to be fixed by Ducati right now. It’s a very short list, considering that this is a brand new bike designed to appeal to a much wider market than Ducatis of yore — and, by definition, a market less accommodating of Italian, ah, idiosyncrasies. But here they are, in all their ignominy — let’s see what Ducati come back with:
Whilst my natural inclination with a new bike is to start fiddling with its setup pretty much on the way out of the dealers, with The Raven I’ve been giving myself time to slowly get used to it, to play with the various suspension modes and generally suss it out until I understand it enough to start prodding at it. That does however assume that Ducati have pretty much got everything right to the point where, whilst I might want to tweak to taste, there’s nothing I can’t live with. So time to look at the figures.
The graphs below show the electronically adjustable bits of the system and the stock settings for each mode and load (for the Preload settings, the higher the number the greater the preload and, for damping, the higher the number the ‘lower’ the damping effect). Whilst there’s a mostly logical progression – increasing rear preload and commensurate increases, particularly to rebound damping as the load rises, there are a few anomalies in various modes that I’m still trying to work out. Also, rear damping is jumped right up in Two-Up+load in Sport mode – a bigger difference between any other mode and we’re finding that Touring mode is generally a little undersprung and damped and Sport mode slightly overdamped. I’ve a feeling that the rear shock might need respringing – I probably weigh a tad more than the target Italian norm…
In my unending quest to bring enlightenment and knowledge to the world of the Ducatisti, I have taken one more tiny step towards Zen mastery (which must now put me on about the level of the average grasshopper) – this time to answer the speculation on various online fora about the potential cost of an off-road drop of the Multistrada 1200. Here’s the answer: zip. nada. nowt. bugger all. OK, that’s on a sample size of one: your mileage may vary. Turning around on a local forest track, I ran out of steering lock and decided to hop off to back ‘er up, only to discover that the ground was further away than I thought. A lot further away – I’m 6’, with 34″ inside leg, but it still went past its balance point, at which point, whether or not it’s 20kg lighter than a GS became entirely moot – it’s a big, tall bike, and it was gone. Having convinced a couple of passing deer that very bad-tempered bears had been reintroduced to the Highlands, I hauled it back upright. Not a single, solitary scratch, scrape or ding. Relieved, impressed and relieved, in that order. Now off to put an ice pack on my knee…
For the last three weeks, I’ve been revisiting my childhood as the kid who can’t wait to get downstairs and open his Christmas presents, only to be frustrated by an entirely unreasonable (in my self-obsessed juvenile view) parental moratorium on leapings around before 5:30am. This time however the problem is not adult whim but the non-appearance of Santa’s sleigh — the one carrying my new Ducati. I’m fed up, the dealer is fed up and the ever-helpful Ducati UK are no doubt fed up with my plaintive — and no doubt still self-obsessed — phone calls. My bike was the second UK order and, apparently, was built as such, in the first batch of black 1200S Touring spec bikes. It was then loaded onto the trailers that were to go to the UK. No problem so far. What has apparently happened is that the shipping company have picked up the trailers in the wrong order. And, to judge by the 14-day lead time from Bologna to the UK, they bring them here via Central Africa. Guys, I could CYCLE from Bologna to the UK in less than 14 days…
Now things have changed. A lot. Motorcycles are very different from what they were in the early Noughties, as is my life. They’re faster, more sophisticated and more expensive. My life is has probably managed two of those three, but with a complete transplant from the depths of the overcrowded Home Counties to the wilds of a Highland Glen. New life, new places, but still with love and mammals. What hasn’t changed is that I still live on some of the finest biking roads on the planet, so the basic need hasn’t changed:
I still want a SPORTS tourer. More than ever I need the virtues of comfort, adaptability and a decent tank range — the last of these being utterly essential, given the distances between filling stations hereabouts — Highland Scotland is several times the size of Wales, but with the population of Cardiff. That makes for a lot of empty roads, motorcyclists for the entertainment of…
And heated grips have gone from being a luxury to a necessity.