Year by year, adventure touring motorcycles get more and more complicated, and the best example of this is the Ducati Multistrada 1200. Don't get me wrong; it's an absolutely wonderful motorcycle, probably the best in the class, but to ride it the way it's meant to be ridden, it needs more sensors and electronics than NASA owns. However, Ducati does have a solution for those who would like their adventure-tourers to be a bit more 'direct' and the approach it has taken starts with
a smaller engine.
Ducati has done some brilliant scaling-down jobs in the past with something like the Panigale 959, which is more manageable and, dare I say, more fun than the 1299, and even the Monster 821 which we like more than the 1200. So that's exactly the route Ducati took with the Multistrada – it plonked in a smaller 937cc L-twin engine (from the Hypermotard and SuperSport) and cut back on some of the more high-tech features. The end result is 113hp of power on tap and 96.2Nm of torque. It doesn't get the two spark plugs per cylinder from the 1200 either, nor does it get Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT).
Motor is borrowed from Hypermotard.
Gone is the 1200's absolute ferocious acceleration which was enough to put the fear of god in riders who got too excited with the throttle. That's not to say that the 950 is a slouch; open the tap and the bike briskly builds velocity, all thanks to 80 percent of the motor's 96.2Nm of torque being available right from 3,500rpm. Our test ride in Fuerteventura in Spain's Canary Islands provided plenty of opportunities to test the motor's tractability at slow city speeds, and even when in slightly higher gears, the bike would pull away without the need for any clutch inputs. This same bottom and mid-range tractability also make for good thrust coming out of tight corners. For outright blasts on stretches of straight roads, the 950's motor performs quite admirably up to speeds of 150-160kph. Beyond that, of course, it's quick, but don't expect the kind of peppiness you get from the 1200. In almost all conditions, the 950's performance is far from disappointing. However, for those seeking sheer thrills, the larger motorcycle would be the one to go for.
iPhone, not iMac
It's not like the 950 is low on electronics. The bike gets the Ducati Safety Pack (DSP) that features Bosch's 9.1 MP three-level ABS as well as an eight-level Ducati Traction Control (DTC). The bike also gets four riding modes – Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro, the first two of which provide full power but different throttle responses while the last two dial back the motor to about 75hp. Each mode also has its own presets for how much the ABS and DTC are allowed to intervene. The Enduro mode, for example, has been designed for off-road riding and it drops the ABS to level 1 which doesn't intervene with the rear wheel at all; the DTC is switched to level 2 allowing for spinning up the rear wheel enough to let the bike slide through dirt.
The roads we were on, albeit a little abrasive, were bump-free for the most part. But we did encounter some dusty sections up in the mountains and a couple of places with gravel strewn across the road. Even in Sport mode, there was almost no occasion where we could feel the electronics cut in, where the rear felt like it wanted to let go with hard throttle openings, or where the front felt odd during hard braking. A lot of this is also down to the fantastic Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tyres which offered plenty of grip at all times.
However, what's notably absent on this bike is the IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) from the big Multistrada. So the traction control and ABS rely purely on wheel speed information rather than reading the bike's attitude along multiple axes. The DTC on the 950 doesn't have the same finesse as the 1200's, nor is there any cornering ABS. And as there's no wheelie control either, we could pop fun, little wheelies when gassing it a bit hard coming over crests. But in all honesty, exercise just a smidgen of common sense while riding and you can happily do without all these top-spec electronic nannies on the M950.
Ducati has also ditched the 1200's cutting-edge 'Skyhook' electronically adjustable suspension on this bike. The 950's suspension is fully adjustable though; it's just that you need to manually change the setup – no on-the-fly stuff like that on the big Multistrada. You do get a healthy 170mm of suspension travel at both ends, and the bike is very well sprung, so riding on rough roads won't be an issue. That said, the stock setup for the front is rather soft and applying brakes into a corner to avoid a slower rider causes the bike to almost violently stand up. And when braking in a straight line, the dive was quite pronounced as well. However, this is nothing that a little fine-tuning of the suspension (done by an expert, of course) can't sort out.
Sizing it up
Even though the 950 is supposed to be a 'smaller' Multistrada, you wouldn't get that feeling, even when getting in the saddle. The rider's triangle (the distance from the foot pegs to the seat to the handlebars) seems nearly identical to the 1200, and even though it's a road-oriented machine in its stock configuration, its tallish seat height of 840mm is in line with off-road specialised adventure tourers (think more Triumph Tiger 800 XCx rather than XRx). The saddle is roomy even for large-sized riders and pillions, and even my 5ft 10in frame was protected from wind blast after I set the manually adjustable windscreen to its tallest setting.
With a kerb weight of 229kg, the 950 is only slightly lighter than its larger sibling. However, with the centre panels taken off (like on the 1200 Enduro), it feel slimmer and a whole lot more nimble around corners. On top of it, just like the Enduro, it runs with a larger 19-inch front wheel (the 1200 runs 17-inchers at both ends). This not only makes the 950 feel more stable through corners, it's exactly what you need if you ride on loose surfaces. It also gets the double-sided swingarm and high-mounted flattened exhaust from the Enduro, really driving home the point that if you want to ride off-road, the M950 is a great choice (provided you swap out the tyres and rims).
Ducati Safety Pack brings 3-level ABS.
Around the tight-twisting mountain roads of Fuerteventura, the M950 handled like a dream and gave no cause for concern even around the trickiest of corners. Turn-ins are predictable and the bike feels planted mid-corner. Braking is excellent as well, with precise feel and great bite. The dual 320mm front discs are clamped on by Brembo's 4.32 monobloc radial calipers, while the rear 265mm single disc gets a Brembo floating caliper. Even though the 950's brakes aren't of the same high quality as the 1200's Brembo M50 setup, there's never an occasion where it feels inadequate.
Less is more
Obviously, the Multistrada 950 isn't as sophisticated as the 1200. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. It has all its basics in place and enough electronics to keep you from getting into serious trouble. It doesn't have the mental performance levels of its larger sibling either; so you aren't going to have a wild smile plastered over your face each time you open the gas. And yes, it also does skimp on the some impressive features such as the TFT dashboard, cornering lights, electronic suspension and even cruise control. But what the M950 does deliver, in a big way, is a very involving riding experience that's extremely rewarding as well – more so than the bigger Multistrada at times. In India, we expect the 950 to cost around Rs 3 lakh less than the 1200, making it great value, without compromising on the fun.