2017 Ducati Multistrada 950: The Multi-tool of Motorcycles

Text: Justin W. Coffey • Photography: Ducati

It’s a great time to be an adventure motorcyclist. The options are nearly endless, with every OEM offering an iteration of the do-everything, go-anywhere motorcycle. Lately, however, there has been a push for smaller displacement ADV bikes, with manufacturers like Honda, Kawasaki, and BMW offering sub-500cc styles. In an effort to slim down and simplify their “multi-bike” line, Ducati unveiled the Multistrada 950 at EICMA late last year. But can a smaller Multistrada keep up with the likes of Honda’s Africa Twin, BMW’s F 800 GS, or KTM’s soon-to-be-released 1090 Adventure R?

Ducati unveiled its first Multistrada in 2003. Powered by a 992cc air-cooled 90-degree V-twin engine, the Multistrada 1000DS and following 620cc iteration were a step in a very different direction for the Italian manufacturer. In 2010, Ducati pulled the cover off the new Multistrada 1200, a more modern and menacing motorcycle than its predecessors, powered by a 1,198cc four-valve Desmodromic liquid-cooled 90-degree L-twin engine making 150 hp. It featured aggressive new styling and an assortment of accessories that allowed the 1200 to transform from urban assault vehicle to off-road adventurer. The bike was well received, unlike the 1000DS, so last year Ducati expanded the Multistrada line with a dedicated Enduro edition that featured spoked wheels, long-travel suspension, and 10 additional horsepower. While these bikes have made their mark on the ADV motorcycle segment, for the entry-level or moderate off-road motorcyclist, both are a bit much, or so Ducati believes. Enter the Multistrada 950 …

A Malleable Machine

Built around the 937cc Testastretta L-twin cylinder engine used in the Hypermotard and the forthcoming SuperSport, the Multistrada 950 offers the adventure motorcyclist a do-it-all platform that can easily convert from upright sport-touring machine to off-road adventure vessel with the addition of a few accessories. It offers versatility, power, and performance for a reduced price and with a more approachable platform than its bigger 1200cc brothers. 

Versatility was Ducati’s mission with this motorcycle. They wanted to create a lower displacement and less intimidating motorcycle designed for everything from urban commuting to two-up touring, and suitable for the occasional gravel road. 

Ducati intends the Multistrada 950 to fill the space between its Scrambler line and 1200 models. Priced at $ 13,995, the 950 is competitively positioned against Honda’s Africa Twin ($ 12,999-$ 13,699 with DCT) and the BMW F 800 GS ($ 12,295-$ 13,895 for the Adventure model). However, with optional accessories installed, it can soar well above both those price points. But that’s the idea. If you’re looking for an urban commuter, long-haul sport-touring bike, or a mild adventure machine, the Multistrada 950 can be all those things. Ducati is hoping to reach a customer that is not looking for a bike to fill just one space in the garage, but to be the only bike in the garage. And with performance characteristics akin to the Hypermotard, sport-touring capabilities, and the ability to add spoked wheels and accessories, they just might have the right recipe.

The Multistrada 950 features a 5.3-gallon fuel tank, 19-inch front wheel and 17-inch rear, an adjustable Kayaba front fork, adjustable rear Sachs suspension, an engine management system built by Bosch, and a wet weight of approximately 505 pounds. The bike is built on Ducati’s familiar trellis frame and includes 320mm double disc brakes up front, the same rear rotors and calipers found on the 1200 Enduro, a 33.1-inch seat height, and the Bosch 9.1 MP ABS system with three levels of adjustability in addition to Ducati Traction Control, which has eight levels of adjustability. To achieve the $ 13,995 price point, Ducati opted for a few exclusions, namely the lack of an IMU for lean-sensitive ABS or semi-active suspension, as well as a cable-operated clutch and double-sided swingarm.

Aesthetically, the 950 looks nearly identical to the 1200, having been built on the same chassis, and utilizing the same beak design and dual LED headlights. Overall size, however, feels considerably smaller, likely thanks to the reduced seat height and wet weight (about 10 pounds less than the 1200). Panniers, both plastic and aluminum, are available as well as an assortment of protection parts manufactured by Touratech, including a skid plate, crash bars, and radiator guard. 

On-Road Performance

We convened in Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, then Ducati cut us loose on two different versions of the 950. The first was clad in Ducati Red and included no accessories other than a radiator guard to protect from pebbles and stones that lay strewn across the backroads of this Spanish island. The second bike was Star White Silk in color and complete with Ducati’s Touring Pack, which includes a center stand and techno polymer panniers and retails for $ 969.00 more. 

We departed our hotel early and headed into the mountains, carving our way up from the coast, gaining in elevation rapidly, with a lush green landscape and Spanish adobe homes on the horizon. Our ride amounted to roughly four hours on the 950, split in the middle with a lunch stop and bike swap.

Powered by Ducati’s 90-degree V-twin Desmo engine with a claimed 113 hp, the Multistrada 950 made quick work of long, two-lane straightaways, with a massive growl resonating from the intake upon acceleration and a familiar rumble exiting from the exhaust. Power was plentiful, and the suspension, which uses progressive springs both front and rear, overcame small obstacles easily but firmed up when bigger bumps were encountered. Corner exit speeds were dramatically different than those I encountered on the Monster 1200 S, which utilized mid-corner ABS and traction control, features not included on the Multistrada 950. But don’t take that as a slight against the bike. The suspension and power output combined created a familiar combo, with little to no dive upon corner entry, and yet a full compression mid-corner followed by a burst of speed as the suspension unloaded and the rear wheel gained traction, jettisoning me from mountaintop apex to apex.

I’ve ridden a lot of ADV machines these last few years—nearly everything that is available in the United States. And while the Multistrada 950 may not be the road-devouring beast that its 1200 counterpart is, or the dirt-slaying demons that the KTM Adventure R models can be, it fits nicely in a world where perhaps less is more and versatility trumps performance tailored to one type of riding.