Motorcycle of the Year
Every so often, a motorcycle manufacturer comes out with a new design that moves the state-of-the-art forward a significant and noticeable amount — a "game changer" if you will. With the new Multistrada 1200 S, Ducati's engineers have significantly advanced motorcycle design by merging Italian style and excitement with high technology to produce a versatile new type of motorcycle that is very fast and sporty, while remaining comfortable and practical. In fact, a Multistrada 1200 S Sport even won at this year's Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It is in recognition of this multi-talented milestone machine that we name this bike as our first "Motorcycle of the Year."
Ducati’s new Multistrada 1200 S is a technological tour d’ force that uses high-tech electronics to improve safety, rideability, and comfort, while imbuing the motorcycle with four different personas. Pre-programmed modes instantly change the engine’s characteristics and chassis setup with just the click of a button. The four-bikes-in-one easily shifts modes to become Sport, Touring, Urban, and Enduro style — each with instant adjustments to power, torque, traction control, and on S models, also suspension settings.
The Multistrada 1200 S comes in two versions, each listing for $19,995 and featuring Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) and ABS as standard equipment. The Touring edition we tested also comes standard with heated grips, 57-liter capacity saddlebags, and a centerstand. Multistrada 1200 S Sport editions include carbon-fiber rear fender and other trim, but no saddlebags. The base Multistrada 1200, which has an MSRP of $14,995, comes without the DES or saddlebags, and offers ABS for $1,500.
Ducati engineers developed the Multistrada’s new Testastretta 11 degrees from the 1198 Evoluzione World Superbike-derived engine. This motore retains Evoluzione’s bore and stroke, but compression is reduced from 12.7:1 to 11.5:1, and smaller ports and throttle bodies, modified ignition, and milder cam timing boost low-to-mid range performance. Valve overlap is reduced from the 1198’s 41 degrees to a more conservative 11 degrees, trading some high-rpm performance for greater tractability, fuel economy, and lower emissions. A heavier flywheel also adds smoothness, and more durable valve seats double valve-adjustment intervals to 15,000 miles.
Multistrada’s engine is rated 150 horsepower at 9,750 rpm (at the crank) with a torque peak of 87.5 lb-ft at 7,500. It can lug as low as 2,500 rpm, and there’s seldom reason to rev it near redline thanks to its strong torque. The engine produces stunning acceleration and exciting performance, with gobs of power far above other adventure-touring competitors. However, it does surge slightly at around 4,500 rpm and it stalled a couple of times during our testing as we rolled to a stop; these glitches can probably be cured with a software update.
A new oil-bath slipper clutch with self-servo mechanism enables reduced spring rates, resulting in lighter lever pull and good solid actuation. The six-speed gearbox shifts well; neutral is easy to find, and taller gear ratios reduce fuel consumption and improve riding comfort. Cruising at 60 mph takes only about 3,000 rpm. Our lowest mileage was 35.1 mpg, while the highest was 43.5, and we averaged 39.6 mpg — with the 5.3-gallon gas tank that works out to 210 miles to empty.
With Ride-by-Wire (RbW) the twistgrip is no longer connected mechanically via throttle cable to the throttle-body butterflies, but instead signals the engine control unit, which then operates throttle opening.
Ducati Traction Control
Ducati Traction Control (DTC) uses wheel-speed sensors to compare speed differential and detect and control rear-wheel spin in milliseconds. There are eight levels of sensitivity; level one offers the least intervention while level eight does the most. DTC varies ignition retardation to reduce torque, and if that’s inadequate, it begins fuel-injection cuts until slippage stops. DTC operation is displayed with red LEDs around the circular rider-adjustable instrument display.
Chassis, Suspension, and Brakes
The Multi 1200’s trellis frame is claimed to have 19 percent more torsional rigidity than the previous model. The chassis is designed for lean angles of up to 45 degrees, with a generous steering angle that makes tight turns a snap and a single-sided aluminum swingarm that makes tire service easier.
The base Multistradas get 50mm Marzocchi forks, with manually adjustable pre-load, compression and rebound damping. The rear is controlled by a Sachs monoshock, manually adjustable for compression and rebound damping, and spring pre-load using a handy remote adjustment.
S versions have front and rear Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES) by Öhlins. The 48-mm male-slider fork is adjustable electronically in compression and rebound damping; spring pre-load is manual. The Öhlins TTX rear shock features electronically adjusted compression and rebound damping and spring pre-load.
Ducati uses switchable computer “maps” that tune the bike. Sport mode provides 150 horsepower with quick throttle response, sets the DTC to level 4, and on the S version, adjusts suspension setup for sport use. Touring mode also provides 150 horses, but with a smoother response, sets the DTC to level 5, and on the S versions, adjusts the suspension for touring duty. Urban mode reduces power to 100 hp, DTC is raised to level 6, and on the S version, suspension is adjusted for rough city streets. Enduro mode also provides a smooth 100 hp and reduces the DTC system to level 2 for minimal intervention. On S versions it also dials in an appropriate off-road suspension setting.
A short press of the handlebar switch changes shock settings, and can also quickly adjust rear-suspension preload for solo rider, rider with luggage, rider and passenger, or rider with passenger and luggage. Long-travel front and rear suspension of both versions provides a well-controlled yet comfortable ride, and the difference between the four riding modes is very noticeable.
Front braking is via twin radial-mount Brembo four-piston calipers that grip 320-mm discs, while a two-piston caliper grabs the 245-mm rear disc. Braking is strong and fade free, the ABS works well and can be disabled for off-road adventures.
Handling is light and surprisingly quick and agile. Special Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires, developed specifically for the Multistrada 1200, are the first ever dual compound for on/off-road use with a harder compound central section. Designed to deliver sportbike handling on-road plus high mileage for touring with off-road capability, these tires work well on pavement, but are a compromise off-road.
Instruments and Ergonomics
A wide handlebar, tall yet comfy seat, and well-positioned footpegs provide a pleasant upright riding position, so the Multistrada feels roomy even with a passenger and saddlebags. A manual windscreen offers 2.25 inches of vertical adjustment. It’s narrow, but provides decent coverage and little buffeting, and a larger accessory screen is available.
An electronic fob or e-key unlocks the ignition within a distance of approximately 6.5 feet, allowing keyless starting. The e-key includes a mechanical key to open the seat, gas cap, and luggage.
The large, bright main LCD shows speed, rpm (as a bar graph), gear, odometer, trip meters, engine temperature, fuel level, and time. A smaller display shows riding modes, remaining fuel range, current and average mileage, average speed, air temperature, trip time, and a “freeze” warning. You can also perform DTC setup and, on the S version, suspension settings.
Four headlamps, two for low and two for high beam, provide excellent illumination. A pair of 12-volt outlets near the rider’s seat can provide up to 8 amps and there’s also a power point for the optional Garmin GPS.
A low-mounted exhaust with catalyst keeps weight down and delivers the classic Ducati sound. As such, the right saddlebag volume is reduced to accommodate the stubby muffler, so unlike the left bag, it’s too small to contain a full-face helmet. Wider lids that provide 73 liters total capacity are available for about $330 and a 48-liter topcase that holds two full-face helmets can be had for $600. Two storage cubbies are built into the dash and a three-liter compartment is under the seat.
Ducati’s new Multistrada 1200 is revolutionary. It’s civilized enough for any experienced rider to handle, yet retains that raw sense of excitement we expect from a Ducati. Here’s a machine that you can commute to work on, strafe the canyons, explore a fire road, run a weekend track day, and tour several states on vacation — all with a competency you won’t get from any other single motorcycle.