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Ducati Multistrada 1200S review, test ride

17th Feb 2016 12:52 pm

This Multistrada is loaded with revolutionary tech and the highlight is the addition of DVT. Here are our first impressions of this motorcycle.

  • Make : Ducati
  • Model : Multistrada

Back in 2010, Ducati chose the Multistrada to be the very tip of the spearhead that brought in cutting-edge technology and electronics to the motorcycle world. Now, once again, Ducati has used this motorcycle to bring in a new world of technology and ever-increasing usability to this space. Ducati touts it as four bikes in one – Urban, Sport, Touring and Enduro. Now packed with a whole load of tech, could the new-generation Multistrada 1200S be the right Ducati for India?

Cutting-edge, huh?

Well, not exactly. In some areas, the Multistrada is still playing catch-up with its own siblings and other premium motorcycles. At the heart of the technological update is a multi-axis gyroscope (IMU). It is the electronic brain that reads and then controls how a motorcycle behaves. Electronic aids such as wheelie control, traction control are expected, but you also get cornering ABS functionality. Yes, this is the system that lets you heave at the front brake, but makes sure won't land up on your face. The IMU on the Multistrada also controls cornering lights. Yes, Ducati offered full LED headlamps on the Panigale 1299 first, but cornering functionality is new. And in case you missed that, there’s also a electronically adjustable Sachs suspension front and rear. The system, called Skyhook Evo, is a semi-adaptive system and helps the Multistrada ride over poor surfaces with a surprisingly flat feel. But the biggest news here is the inclusion of a wide acting variable valve timing system called DVT (Desmodromic Variable Timing). Yes, the Multistrada isn’t the first motorcycle to use variable valve timing, but it has a special significance here.

How’s that?

The downside to Ducati’s L-twin engines has been their somewhat rough manners at low speed and low rpms. The engines feel a bit lumpy and jerky when operating at low speeds. With DVT, that problem should be fixed. Scratch that, it is. Our ride around the hills of northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai region showed that even when left to lug at low rpms going up climbs, the Multistrada felt smooth and refined, like it was the first Ducati to really take its Urban role seriously.

Never before have I found myself shifting up a gear, repeatedly at 3,000rpm, on a Ducati to just dawdle around. On the Multistrada you can, and you do. This makes riding a lot easier and hassle-free, as you don’t have to keep shifting down every time speeds drop. Now when you open the gas at low speeds you hear a deep rumble from the exhaust and can hear the engine chugging, but the violent shudder is gone and you find momentum building steadily. Yes, there is a strong pulse but this can be attributed as the new, more likeable, character of the DVT motor.

In Urban mode, where power is capped to 100bhp and the throttle responses are quite tame, riding around in city traffic is a non-issue. I even tried riding in it in Sport mode. Here too, low-speed ride-ability was great as the DVT keeps varying valve timing as required. So, if you can be gentle with your right wrist, even Sport mode can be used at low speeds.

Enough practical talk

Right, it’s a Ducati. And don’t be surprised, it feels like it too. Past 3,000rpm, the Multistrada builds speed rapidly, there is a slight lull in its tug forward between before picking up pace to frantic levels past 6,000rpm. Well, not Panigale or Monster levels of franticness, but it has plenty of ferocity as the revs head to near 10,500 rpm limiter. 200kph comes up in two blinks of the eye and a snap of your fingers. So, thanks to its 160bhp it is plenty fast.

Then there is the chassis, a new trellis frame and cast alloy subframe at the rear, and the Multistrada feels nice and narrow. From the saddle it’s hard to tell how much it weighs, because the Multistrada steers with a lightness that actually catches you off-guard at first. On the fantastic mountain roads of our test route, the 1200S transitioned from one turn to the next with such agility that you’d think it was a sportsbike. However, the default settings for the next-gen Skyhook Evo system were too soft and that meant that the Multistrada felt a bit loose when hustled around. The slip and slide feel didn’t inspire much confidence, but thanks to the electronic safety net of Ducati Traction Control it was easy to just bulldoze through it all.

However, at the next halt, using the on-screen menu, the suspension settings were switched from default to the stiffer settings. The result was dramatic. Immediately, the Multistrada felt sharp and let you pick and hold a line through corners with confidence. Now, riding it with a bit of aggression felt rewarding. But you could feel the rear spin up at times on the exit, as you wound on the gas and the deluge of torque from the engine seemed to get the better of the Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tyres in terms of grip. So, for those interested in riding hard and fast, sportier rubber are a must, but for those looking to cover distances quickly and comfortably, these Pirellis should do just fine.

Yes, lets talk touring now

Going 320kms in the saddle, over all kinds of road surfaces told us a lot about the Multistrada. We’ll jump straight to the bottom-line first – the Multistrada takes the 'Touring' part of Sport-Touring just as seriously as it does the 'Sport' bit. The rider’s seating is comfortable and spacious.  I wouldn’t have minded a flatter seat, as I found myself moving back and forth to find a comfy spot. However, I have to admit that at the end of the ride, I wasn’t sore either.

The new front-end design that is wider and taller claims to poke a bigger hole in the air, keeping the air off the rider. There is no strain as the wind blast is effectively deflected event at speeds of over 160kph. The windscreen, adjustable by 60mm, ensures that there’s next to no buffeting at cruise speeds as well.

Considering the 20-litre fuel tank on the Multistrada, you should be able to spend approximately 300km in the saddle without the need for refuelling. A word with Ducati engineers suggests that the DVT motor is ready to handle a diet of regular 91-octane petrol, and the inclusion of a knock-sensor should add the extra safety net when premium fuel isn’t available.

To ease the load on the rider the Multistrada also comes with cruise control that works between 50-200kph in all gears, except for first. We didn’t get to test the LED headlamps or the cornering functionality. We look forward to doing that when we test the bike in India.

Wasn’t there Cornering Something-Else?

Yes, cornering ABS. This system lets you brake, hard even, when leaned into a corner. Normally, this is very tricky as steering forces and braking forces fight for the limited grip available from the front wheel. Emergency brake application mid-corner is the easiest way to land up in a low side. White knuckles, gut clenched and braced for a low side we got down to it. Unsurprisingly, we came out on the other side, safe and sound. As advertised, the ABS pulsed lightly, and in those milliseconds, limited the force being applied to the front Brembo Monobloc callipers and redistributed some of that to the rear wheel. As a result the Multistrada was easy to steer.

Monoblocs! So it’s loaded

The front brakes are Panigale-level kit. The braking is astoundingly good in terms of bite and modulation. But bear in mind, the version tested was the 1200S. The standard 1200 does with a smaller disc and less exotic Brembos. It also does without the full LED headlamps and cornering lamp functionality. Skyhook Evo is replaced with manually adjustable suspension. The rider also has to make do with a simpler black-and-white LCD display for the instrument panel. But, the essentials such as Ducati traction control, rider modes, Ducati wheelie control and ABS are with multitude levels and combinations. Backlit switches and keyless go are welcome luxuries.

Code Red

One thing is for sure, the introduction of DVT has buffed out the chink in Ducati’s signature L-twin configuration with such thoroughness that this 1200 motor is gleaming all-round now! Adoption of this technology on other street-oriented Ducati motorcycles is a complete no-brainer. But, here and now, the DVT has helped the Multistrada dig its heels into the Sport-Tourer segment with a new layer of usability and refinement that makes this motorcycle an exciting package that is hard to ignore.

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