Comparison: 2012 Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring vs. 2012 Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX

Text: John M. Flores • Photography: John M. Flores

What we have here are birds of a feather, V-twins from the land of Chianti and chiaroscuro that represent two very different interpretations of the fastest growing segment in our little playground—adventure touring. Both marques have a strong touring heritage, so it’s no surprise that they’ve thrown their hats in the ring.

The Red Tomato and the Angry Bird

In this corner we have a 2012 Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring, a superbike in drag whose 17-inch alloy hoops (front and rear) along with 150 horsepower make it clear that this is a road-biased bike. And in this corner we have a 2012 Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX, a BMW GS with a penchant for biscotti.

By the numbers, this comparison should be a walk. The Multistrada, after all, soundly beats the Stelvio NTX on paper from this way to Sunday. My job would be infinitely easier if motorcycles could be judged by numbers alone—throw all the specs in a spreadsheet, mix well, tally the differences, and declare a winner long before last call—but what fun would that be? Spec sheets are great for bench racing, but the real world is a different story.

Go

In a straight line, the Multistrada wins. That’s what 150 ponies will do against 105. If power corrupts, then the Ducati is absolutely guilty as charged; it’s adrenaline on an intravenous drip, pulling strongly throughout the rev range, and then hitting warp drive as the revs build toward the 9,250 rpm redline. The Stelvio NTX has good grunt as well (83.3 lb-ft vs. 87.5 lb-ft in the Ducati) and will actually pull a small gap in top gear roll-ons thanks to its lower-torque peak (5,800 rpm vs. 7,500 rpm) and long-stroke motor. But once the Multistrada winds up its short-stroke engine, it’s game, set, and match to the Ducati.

For all the power, both are happy to spend the day at a more sedate pace. But for lovers of V-twins, the Multistrada is almost too good, so refined that it has lost some of that hard to define V-twin charm. Ridden alone it may be difficult to notice, but it’s easy to see when alongside the Moto Guzzi. The Stelvio NTX has so much character; a full-bodied midrange combined with a free-revving motor making vibrations and sounds for which Moto Guzzi could charge 50 cents per minute. Like its predecessors, it will rock from side to side when revved at a standstill. But that may be the vestigial quirk of the transverse V-twin configuration. It’s an otherwise very modern motor and gives the Stelvio a flavor that Moto Guzzi owners rave about while those who’ve never ridden one look at them like they are loony.

Turn

On twisty tarmac, both motorcycles dive confidently into turns, hold a tight line, and rocket out on a river of torque. Speed on the Multistrada is effortless, the willing motor whispering “faster, faster” into your Bluetooth headset. It really is a superbike with upright bars; and in the real world (with actual pavement, sightlines, and speed limits), it’s probably faster. But that doesn’t make the Stelvio a wallflower. Far from it. The latest generation of Moto Guzzis with the four-valve heads—from the Griso to the Norge to this Stelvio—are very sporty, and the Stelvio has the goods to go anywhere quickly. Once you put down the spec sheets and take a spin, the Stelvio can be pushed very rapidly and keep pace with the Ducati. Only the most committed rider on the Multistrada will be able to drop the most committed rider on the Stelvio, and both will likely be well north of the speed limit.

Both bikes roll on Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires, but there is a profound difference in feel. The Stelvio is very front-end oriented. Throw it into a turn, and the front end will communicate traction and surface conditions exquisitely as it aims toward the apex while the back end obediently follows. The Multistrada, on the other hand, feels more centered. As you lean into a bend, the whole motorcycle feels like it is pivoting on its center of gravity somewhere beneath the seat. Front and rear are communicating equally. And while you’d expect the 100-pound-lighter Ducati to be significantly more agile than the Moto Guzzi, the backroads of Vermont and New Hampshire proved otherwise, as the narrower tires of the Stelvio made up for the increased weight.

Tour

Ducati and Moto Guzzi have made design decisions that reveal the intended purpose of the two models. The Stelvio has wire-spoked wheels (18-inch front and 17-inch rear) that suggest light off-road aspirations; the Multistrada sticks to the more road-oriented 17-inch wheels front and rear. The Stelvio has cavernous top-loading rectangular boxes whose rectilinear shape makes them a cinch to load and unload, along with a no-nonsense industrial look that may actually be enhanced with a couple of scars. The Multistrada’s bags are like those you’d find on a sport-tourer (irregularly shaped as they wrap around bits of the bike) with painted portions that would detract from the look if scratched. The Stelvio has a shaft drive and a ginormous 8.5-gallon tank; the Multistrada has a chain drive and a more modest 5.3-gallon tank. The Stelvio’s wind management is marginally worse than a sport-touring bike; the Multistrada’s is marginally better than a sportbike.

The Stelvio has a functional, but Spartan, dashboard and controls that get the job done but won’t win any design awards. The Multistrada looks like it’s from the future and requires cracking open the manual to understand all the settings available (Ducati Electronic Suspension, ABS, Ducati Traction Control, etc.) on this high-tech model. The 2013 Multistrada goes even one step further with an active suspension (Skyhook) to go along with a bigger windscreen. The Stelvio has ABS and traction control as well but generally comes across as a simpler motorcycle.

Add this all together, and a clearer picture starts to emerge. The Multistrada has “go-fast” parts; the Stelvio has “go-far” parts. That’s not to say that the Multistrada can’t go far or that the Stelvio can’t go fast; it’s just that each has a different sweet spot in this big pond called adventure touring.

At the end of the day, the Multistrada is a stunningly fast bike for adrenaline junkies that like to tear up the backroads for a long weekend or a week at a time. It has a motor from the race track mated to a chassis with just enough touring accommodations, and it is perfect for a 40-something sportbiker that’s tired of popping an Advil after a Sunday morning scratch.

The Stelvio is loads of fun too and filled with character, but it has longer legs (literally and figuratively). It will feel more at home sipping from its big tank while crossing wide open spaces, but it’s surprisingly fun on the tight stuff. This Moto Guzzi is for someone with a touring motorcycle that’s looking for something different this time or a V-twin fan looking for a long distance mount.

Sure, on the open road the Multistrada will drop the Stelvio, but you better have some “Get out of Jail Free” cards in your wallet. And in the twisty stuff, the Stelvio can hang with the Multistrada from corner entry to mid-corner. The Multistrada can rocket out of corner exits. The Stelvio lags, but just. And in real-world conditions, they are both mega fun. Choose your bird.