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07 Jan 2011 | Ducati’s new Multistrada 1200 takes electronic wizardry to a new level. But does it make for a better bike?

Words: Ken Wootton Photos: Keith Muir

 

Modus Operandi

I’m not sure if it was a genuine oversight or a stitch-up, but judging by the smirk on his face I’ll opt for the latter.

I’d just swapped bikes with Rod Chapman (aka Chappo) at the recent Australian launch of Ducati’s new Multistrada 1200. We’d been putting a selection of the Multis through their paces on the varied roads north-west of Sydney, including the famed Putty Road. But now it was time to sample the ‘off-road’ section of our test loop, a 25km stretch of gravel.

I glanced at the comprehensive info-centre, keen to dial the bike in to one of its many modes of operation. Did I want the traction control on or off? Same for the anti-lock brake system – on or off?

And what about the electronically-adjustable Ohlins suspension on my S model - sport, touring, urban or enduro? And within those settings are further adjustments at the flick of a button – solo, solo with luggage, two-up, two-up with luggage, and so on. The Multistrada 1200 is indeed multi-adjustable.

It was the engine mode setting that gave Chappo’s game away. Instead of the milder ‘enduro’ setting which would have given me 100 horses, along with the enduro mode’s softer suspension settings, Chappo had  flicked the switch to ‘sport’. That meant the full 150 ponies and firm suspension – just what I needed for loose gravel, rutted climbs and the odd creek crossing.

“Errr, I thought it would make it more exciting for you,” he grinned, as I recalibrated the settings.

 Ducati claims its electronic Ride-by-Wire system administers different mappings to regulate power delivery by interpreting the rider’s throttle input, with the Ducati Traction Control system (DTC) using eight levels of system interaction to reduce wheel-spin. After my Chappo experience I have no reason to doubt that claim.

The Multistrada 1200 is indeed a do-everything type of motorcycle – sports bike, tourer, adventure tourer, urban guerrilla. You name it, and the Multistrada can seemingly do it. My day’s sampling has me itching for more time in the saddle.

There are four versions available, ranging from the base model at $21,990 (plus on road costs) up to the S model at $28,990. The S can be had in two versions – Sport and Touring – with the base Multistrada also able to be ordered with ABS for an extra $1500 ($23,490).

The S models get ABS as standard fitment as well as the Ohlins electronically-adjustable suspension. Of the two S models the Sport scores an array of carbon-fibre components while the Touring edition gets hard panniers, heated grips and a centrestand.

The base model gets Marzocchi forks up front and a Sachs rear unit, with all versions scoring Brembo radial-mount four-piston calipers operating on 320mm semi-floating rotors.

All four variants share the new 150-horsepower Testastretta 11-degree liquid-cooled eight-valve engine, a powerplant that impressed me with its smoothness and broad spread of power. My criticism of some previous big-capacity Ducati V-twins like the ST2 and ST3 has been their ‘hunting’ when low in the revs in the taller gears. In fact an ST2 testbike I once sampled used to set off car alarms when I tootled by, yet a $60K 999R with Termignoni cans didn’t. Go figure.

The Multistrada 1200 is more like that exotic R-model in its engine performance, spinning up freely and providing instant throttle response.

The four engine modes aren’t a gimmick either, and it’s possible to feel the difference in the Multistrada’s demeanour when riding along and flicking the switch on the left handlebar – especially on the S model when the suspension settings change in sync with the power maps.

With a claimed dry weight of 189kg the Multistrada is trim and taut to begin with, but when combined with the upright and comfortable riding position the big Duke becomes a bend-swinger’s delight. The riding position also makes it comfortable and practical around town, but be warned if you’re on the short side. That saddle gives the hamstrings a pretty solid workout when it comes to mount and dismount time.

Seat height is a claimed 850mm, with Ducati offering a 25mm lower seat as an option. If you’ve got a bag strapped on the back, be prepared for some gymnastics. The screen is manually adjustable over a 60mm range, so yet another way the Multi can be tailored to suit individual riders.

The Multistrada 1200 can trace its roots back to 2003 when it first appeared in air-cooled 1000 DS form, copping an upgrade in 2006 with a capacity boost to 1100cc in 2006. While the latest Multistrada shares the name and concept, it is a totally new motorcycle.

While it does in fact have off-road adventure touring capabilities, it’s on the bitumen where most Multistrada 1200 owners will spend their time. The gravel section of our launch ride was indicative of the minimal off-road usage most Multistrada 1200s will get. The Pirelli Scorpion rubber is equally at home on tar or gravel, but the Multi is far more road oriented than BMW’s R 1200 GS Adventure.

I’ve long championed the big-bore dual-sports as the thinking man’s sportsbike, and the Multistrada 1200 underlines that belief even more. On typical tarred Aussie back roads I reckon there are few bikes that would stick with the Multi through the twisty bits. Top-class suspension, powerful brakes, nimble but predictable handling, a broad power spread, ample ground clearance and a riding position that puts the pilot in control – what more could you want. The ability to dial the bike in for specific usage is a bonus.

In Sport mode a rider gets the full 150 horses and a DTC system intervention to Level 4. Touring mode also gives 150 ponies, however the power characteristics are set to provide a smoother, more user-friendly delivery. The DTC system intervention in Touring mode is set at Level 5.

In Urban mode the power output drops to 100hp and DTC is enhanced to Level 6 to provide high intervention during stop-start traffic, not to mention the occasional manhole cover. The Enduro mode is also set at 100 horsepower, but with the DTC system to Level 2 for minimal intervention.

Irrespective of the mode, 100km/h saw a relaxed 3250rpm on the tacho, with the 20-litre tank good for around 300km.

I’ll readily admit to a case of ‘button frenzy’ at the beginning of the test route, as I’ve never ridden a motorcycle with so many adjustment options before – especially the S model with its electronically adjustable suspension. And I wanted to try them all. The comprehensive trip computer would keep an X-Box wiz happy for hours!

But once that novelty had worn off I was able to get down to actually enjoying the bike for what it is, a superb do-everything motorcycle. Yes, the Multistrada 1200 is a bit pricey in up-spec form, but technology doesn’t come cheap. You’ve got to look to MotoGP to find this sort of electronic wizardry, and you’ll be paying a lot more that $29K in that playground.

It’s rare that a model designed to cover multiple uses actually excels in any of those areas. The word compromise springs to mind. However, Ducati’s new Multistrada 1200 has re-written the rule book. It truly is an impressive motorcycle.

 

WIRED FOR SOUND

Ducati’s Ride-by-Wire (RbW) system is an electronic interface between the twistgrip and the engine which decides the ideal power response depending on the riding mode selected and according to the rider’s throttle input.

The twistgrip no longer has a throttle cable connected directly to the throttle body butterflies, but instead delivers a signal to a control unit, which in turn operates the butterfly opening.

The RbW system uses three different mappings to regulate the power delivery. The three maps offer 150hp with a sports-type delivery, 150hp with a progressive delivery suitable for touring and 100hp with progressive delivery for city or off-road use. 

Complementing the three maps is the Ducati Traction Control (DTC) system. The system offers eight levels of sensitivity, each programmed with a level of rear wheel-spin tolerance in line with progressive levels of riding skills classified from one to eight. Level one is programmed to offer the least amount of interaction while level eight uses the most amount of interaction.

DTC levels are factory pre-set in each of the four riding modes, but can be individually customised and saved to suit the rider by accessing the set-up menu within each riding mode.

 

CLASSY SUSPENDERS

The Multistrada 1200S is equipped with the latest generation 48mm Öhlins forks featuring Ducati Electronic Suspension (DES). The technology enables rebound and compression damping adjustments electronically controlled via the instrument panel. The top of the range Öhlins TTX rear monoshock is also adjusted electronically in both spring pre-load and rebound and compression damping.

The electronic suspension adjustment can be made on the move by using the pre-set riding modes developed by the factory, or an independent mode which allows riders to use their own personal settings. Electronic actuators mounted on the suspension units make the changes as the rider sends the signals via the mode button on the handlebars.

In addition to the four riding modes (Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro) there is also an option to change the suspension setting to suit ‘rider only’, ‘rider with luggage’, ‘rider and passenger’ or ‘rider and passenger with luggage’.

 

POWER TO PLEASE

The Multistrada 1200 powerplant can trace its lineage to the Testastretta Evoluzione engine in the 1198 Superbike.

The challenge for Ducati engineers was to make engine smoother and more user-friendly for the Multistrada 1200, and they did this by changing the valve overlap from 41 degrees to 11 degrees.

Ducati claims 150hp and 12.1kgm (87.5lb-ft) of torque, with new intake and exhaust ports combining with a radical adjustment of the cam timing and slight reduction of the compression ratio to achieve a favourable torque curve at low rpm.

The Multistrada 1200 features an oil-bath slipper clutch rather than the dry clutch of the 1198, with a much lighter clutch lever at the handlebar. The gearbox and final drive ratios have also been altered.

Finally, on the Multistrada 1200 the distance between major service intervals (valve clearance check) has been doubled to 24,000km by the introduction of a new valve seat material and the improved combustion efficiency and temperature management designed into the Testastretta 11-degree engine. 

 

DRESSED TO THRILL

There’s no shortage of bolt-on bits for a Multistrada owner who wants to customise his or her bike. The range of genuine Ducati accessories is comprehensive to say the least.

Items on offer include a complete Termignoni exhaust system which boosts power and torque by five per cent; Termignoni slip-on carbon-fibre mufflers; carbon-fibre spray guards; colour-matched side luggage sets (58 litres); extended side luggage lids (73 litres); luggage liners; colour-matched topbox with back-rest (48 litres); tankbag; Garmin GPS; alarm; bike cover; 25mm lower seat; and finally, an electric filler cap which allows for the fuel tank to be accessed without the need for a key.

Ducati has also launched a range of rider apparel to complement the Multistrada 1200, with the top-line items developed in conjunction with Dainese and Arai.

Among the items on offer are Gore-Tex jackets and pants in both men’s and ladies’ cuts; Tour and Sport helmets; Gore-Tex touring boots; winter and summer gloves; thermal shirts; and thermal trousers.

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Ducati Multistrada 1200 (1200 S)


ENGINE
Type:
1198cc, liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, Desmodromic, four-stroke, 90-degree V-twin
Bore x stroke: 106mm x 67.9mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection

TRANSMISSION
Type:
Six-speed
Final drive: Chain

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type:
Tubular steel trellis
Front suspension: 50mm Marzocchi inverted fork, full adjustable (Ohlins TTX fork with DES)
Rear suspension: Sachs monoshock, fully adjustable (Ohlins TTX shock with DES)
Front brakes: Twin 320mm discs with radial-mount four-piston Brembo calipers (ABS)
Rear brakes: Single 245mm disc with twin-piston Brembo caliper (ABS)

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Dry weight:
189kg (192kg)
Seat height: 825/850mm

Wheelbase: 1530mm
Fuel capacity: 20 litres

PERFORMANCE
Max. power:
150hp at 9250rpm
Max. torque: 118.7Nm at 7500rpm

MISCELLANEOUS
Price:
$21,990 (base model); $23,490 (base model with ABS); $28,990 (1200 S, both Sport and Touring)*
Colours: Red or Arctic White (base model); Red, Arctic White or Black (1200 S, both Sport and Touring)
Bike supplied by: NF Importers (www.ducati.com.au)
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres