Media launches are typically filled with platitudes about the latest and greatest motorbikes from manufacturers. The Multistrada V4 event was no exception. “It has the widest range of use for any Ducati ever,” proclaimed Jason Chinnock, CEO of Ducati North America, at the Multi’s ride event.
Chinnock’s statement carries extra weight because he’s a former owner of the original Multistrada, the air-cooled, two-valve 992cc version. He wasn’t the only longtime Ducati fan to be frustrated by cripplingly short 6,000-mile valve adjustment intervals.
But this is a new era for Ducati, which proudly boasts the new V-4 Granturismo engine that doesn’t require valve adjustments until 37,000 miles! That’s longer than any bike in its class—when’s the last time that has been written about a Ducati?
The Multistrada (“many roads”) is an interesting story in Ducati’s legacy. Its launch in 2003 elicited confusion among the Ducatisti, with a gangly appearance that looked even odder than the Multi’s spot in Ducati’s sportbike lineup. The V-twin Multistrada 1000 was supplanted by an 1100 version, then replaced entirely with the liquid-cooled Multistrada 1200 in 2010. Enduro, 1260, and 950 versions followed, accounting for more than 110,000 Multistradas sold by 2020.
With the adventure motorcycle market hotter than ever, this latest Multistrada is born with a V-4 powerplant, rather than the V-twins of every previous Multi. The engine architecture is based on the Panigale V4’s but with a plethora of tweaks to optimize it for sport-touring work and even off-roading. Yes, the 170-horsepower Ducati is more than just a show horse.
Many purebred Ducatisti nearly lost their minds when they heard this new Multistrada would no longer use three revered features that are historically significant to the brand: a trellis frame, a single-sided swingarm, and—horrors!—desmodromic valve actuation. This is the first Ducati since the 1970s to use coil springs to close the engine’s intake and exhaust valves. It’s also the reason why the Multistrada’s valve-adjustment intervals are now so long. And, no, the rider can’t tell the difference.
The Panigale V4 confounded Ducati fans when it was introduced in 2017, becoming the first Ducati without a V-twin engine in several decades. The Panigale lends its engine to the new Multistrada, minus the desmo but with bored-out cylinders to achieve 1,158cc. The four-cylinder powerplant is 3.3 inches shorter than the previous V-twin, making it easier to package in the chassis, and it’s only 0.8 inches wider. It’s also 1.6 pounds lighter than the 1260’s motor.
Ducati has nudged the bar higher in terms of motorcycle technology with the Multistrada V4. Naturally, it has a six-axis inertial measurement unit (IMU) that informs systems such as cornering-ABS, traction control, and a quickshifter, as well as hill-hold control, cornering headlights, self-canceling turn signals, and the Skyhook semi-active suspension with a new auto-leveling function.
These are all standard-equipment items on the Multistrada V4 S, not to be confused with the base V4 model, which lacks some of these features and uses a smaller TFT instrument panel and set of brakes. It retails for ,995, but will be difficult to find at dealers, as all the pre-orders were for the V4 S and the V4 S Sport, the latter equipped with an Akrapovič slip-on exhaust and a carbon fiber front fender.
The S model we tested has a beautiful 6.5-inch color TFT screen, large and vivid enough to take in all the information, thanks to smartphone-like mineral glass that shuns reflection. For as many systems as the customizable and angle-adjustable screen monitors, it’s surprisingly easy to navigate via new joystick switchgear, conveniently backlit like the other switches. Navigating the multitude of apps is less intuitive, as you’ll need to sort through the Ducati Connect app that “mirrors” your phone, the Sygic navigation app, Ducati Link, and the MyDucati app.
I can’t say I had enough time or bravery to investigate all these systems. Our bikes were pre-fitted with a smartphone conveniently tucked into a rubberized and waterproof compartment with a USB charger behind the fuel filler cap.
My ride began by pointing up one of my favorite sections of road anywhere, the lightly trafficked and winding Hwy S22 climbing out of Borrego Springs, CA. The asphalt twists entertainingly as it climbs the rocky hills, demanding both agility and stability from a motorcycle.
First impressions were of the effects of the Multistrada’s 19-inch front wheel, a size previously only seen in Multi’s Enduro sub-variants. The 19-incher saps some of the sharpness you get from a 17-inch wheel, but the V4’s wide handlebar overcomes a lazier feeling with mechanical leverage and cranks the Duc over in a hurry. Once on its side, the bike feels surefooted and stable. Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires grip well enough to dispose of “chicken strips” after just a few miles, and the semi-active suspension delivers poise unlike most adventure bikes.
On a road that encourages sporty riding, I became frustrated by the Touring ride mode. Throttle response felt indirect, like a captain’s shout down to the engine room. No matter, as a button push later I was enjoying the more direct responses of Sport mode.
The Multistrada’s V-4 engine is remarkably usable in its power delivery. Here we have a midrange without a lull, with an authoritative lunge once past 7,000 rpm. Ducati’s Twin Pulse firing arrangement, like in the Panigale and MotoGP bikes, emits an exhaust note with hints of V-twin along with a creamy V-4 growl.
Later, after a full gamut of road testing, I was loafing along on a straight stretch and was overcome with comfort unexpected from a Ducati. Air flowed smoothly over the hand-adjustable windscreen, and the supportive seat felt like its comfort would last for several hours. Distance from seat to pegs is an additional 0.8 inches more than the roomy 1260 Multi. Heated grips and seats are standard equipment on the V4 S, as are hardshell saddlebags that weren’t fitted to the test bikes.
The experience left me with an unholy hypothesis that a Multistrada could be the offspring of a Panigale V4 and a Honda ST1300.
Multistrada’s Party Trick
Motorcycling’s first use of radar capabilities is part of the V4 S package. The Bosch system employs front and rear radar as used on Audi A3 cars, and it enables adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring (BSM). The BSM is the most useful, alerting the rider via lights in the mirrors whenever a vehicle is within dangerous range, and it will flash rapidly if attempting to steer into a nearby vehicle.
Adaptive cruise control is fascinating to use. You select one of four following distances, which will automatically decelerate the Multistrada if the cruise speed selected is greater than that of the vehicle in front.
Assisted overtaking is where things get really futuristic. Let’s say the car in front is going 40 mph but the cruise control is set to 60 mph and has slowed you to the car’s speed. When it’s safe to pass and you signal and turn into the passing lane to indicate an overtake, the system automatically raises the speed back to 60 mph without having to actually touch the throttle.
It’s cool technology that will be making its way to other high-end motorcycles, but there’s a caveat. The system has yet to be approved by our Department of Transportation, with the expectation it will be homologated by the summer. At that point, a Multistrada owner will need to pony up $ 850 to activate the software.
Okay, so few owners of $ 25K Italian bikes will tackle technical off-road trails, but we did. Preparations included fitting Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires to tubeless wire-spoke wheels available as a factory option. I used the Multi’s nifty seat-height adjuster to place the saddle in its low position (33.1 inches) so my legs could best reach the ground to hold up the 536-pound (with 5.8 gallons of fuel) steed. A 31.8-inch seat is an optional accessory. A couple of button pushes and I was in Enduro mode and had set the suspension damping to a high level.
Surprisingly, the traction-control setting in Enduro mode was overly aggressive in loose dirt, so I opted to switch it off entirely. Thankfully, Ducati allows settings for traction and wheelie control, among others, to remain stored even after keying off the ignition, preserving your chosen selections.
While I can’t say the Multistrada V4 will outrun a KTM 1290 Super Adventure R in the dirt, the imposing Ducati performs markedly better off-road than its appearance suggests, especially with knobby tires. Ergonomic updates make it easier to move around on the bike, whether standing or shifting your weight further back, while about seven inches of suspension travel absorbs reasonably big hits.
The V4 Multi is exemplary at gaining and retarding speeds, even off-road. The motor is remarkably tractable, pulling surely at just 15 mph in second gear to claw its way out of sandy trouble. The quickshifter makes swapping gears simple and works flawlessly. Brembo Stylema brake calipers are astoundingly good, whether shedding triple-digit speeds or just 1 mph in the sand whoops.
Ducati also deserves praise for its ability to manage engine heat. An array of aerodynamic slots and gills disperse hot air, and a cylinder-deactivation system avoids adding heat when the bike is stationary.
What’s It Worth?
As always, an item is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. To well-heeled enthusiasts, the $ 24,095 for a red Multistrada V4 S will be worth every penny for the joy of riding such a versatile, capable, and charismatic Italian machine.
It’s a supreme road burner, as you might expect, and it’s endowed with more features than almost any motorcycle you could name. And it’ll outrun any Panigale or ST1300 in the desert sand.
2021 Ducati Multistrada V4 S
+ king of the road GT, feature-laden, decent off-road chops
– pricey, app overload, desmo sympathy
Distributor Ducati North America
MSRP $ 24,095
Engine liquid-cooled, 90° V-4, DOHC, 16-valve
Power 168hp @10,500rpm; 92lb-ft @8750rpm
Transmission 6-speed, slip/assist wet clutch, chain final drive
Wet Weight 536lbs, claimed
Seat Height 33.1-33.9in
Fuel Capacity 5.8gal
Fuel Grade premium
Color Ducati Red, Aviator Gray