Ducati Multistrada 1200S Review I – The End of Sportbiking As We Know It

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What if you could have it all? What if there was a bike that checked all the boxes? Sport riding aggression? Touring comfort sailing on an effortless wash of power? Urban usability for snaking through traffic across town? The ability to roost the dirt roads to the cabin or across the province? Purported to be a bike of “endless transformations” the Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring aims to be the biking answer to all riders, but beyond the one-size fits all ethos this new 1200 may be the end of sport riding as we know it.

The core concept of the Multistrada 1200’s endless transformations is achieved through user-selectable Urban, Touring, Sport and Enduro modes that adjust the bike’s suspension, braking, traction control and throttle response. Those modes also lead to a literary challenge.

Reviewing the MTS1200 is akin to writing a review of four different bikes, each with a glossy brochure load of marketing hype to live up to. Great, thanks Ducati, I needed to write four small stories.

On the Technology:

The truth is, we’ve seen all the technologies that the Mulsitrada 1200 S is equipped with before; the electronically adjustable suspension, the traction control, the ABS, the fly-by-wire throttle, engine maps changeable with the flick of a button. These are rider’s aids, and before our egos get in the way, they started with the best riders in the world; on the fastest tracks in the world; with the most powerful bikes in the world in MotoGP. These are trickle down technologies, and it could be argued that the trickle down has been half assed.

Consider the Multistrada 1200S’s suspension for example, it is more sophisticated than BMW’s ESA II in three ways. First independent stepper motors adjust rebound and compression damping, where as BMW’s system has one motor controlling both simultaneously. Secondly, you can modify each of the default modes using 5-25 out of 30 damping settings to your preference and these changes will be remembered. So if softer Enduro or harder edged sport is your thing, then break out the manual. Third, you can change modes without stopping. Simply hit the signal cancel button once, select the mode on the dash’s LCD display, hold the cancel button down, then close the throttle to confirm the change (this last step prevents unwanted changes as the controls are multi-purpose). It sounds complicated, until your realize to select the off-road mode on a BMW R1200GS with ESA you need to pull over, stop the bike, select the changes, then continue on your way. Somewhere a German design team is crying.

So if you are in Urban mode stuck in construction and ask, “Wait this is an adventure bike, couldn’t I just shoot across the grassy shoulder onto that side road… I mean the ditch isn’t that deep.” The procedure for switching modes is near effortless, then while riding the side road you can realize that the interface avoids additional button clutter on the switchgear. Not that we recommend this sort of behaviour.

There are of course concerns over reliability, but we need to question their basis. ABS is not new. Traction control isn’t that new, for Ducati that was introduced on the 1098 R in 2008, proved it on the track with World Superbike in 2007 and earlier on its MotoGP bikes. Electronically adjustable suspension was introduced by BMW in 2005. A fly-by-wire throttle was introduced on the Yamaha R1 in 2007. The details vary, but each of these are relatively mature technologies.

The importance of what Ducati has done with the Multistrada 1200 S isn’t in the collection of technologies, but the seamless integration of them into the riding experience. In reality the Mulitstrada could have been a nightmare collection of good ideas operating without unity, instead it is a bike that raises the bar for the next generation of motorcycles.

Putting more of an onus on the Multistrada 1200 S, I bonded with the previous generation (the 1100S) over the course of a cross-Canada adventure where the outgoing model proved itself more capable, durable and reliable than ever expected. The new Multistrada 1200 though, from its two flared-nostril air intakes on back, has nothing in common with the air-cooled 1100. Driving that home is the whir of servos and the lightshow on the dash as I hit the keyless ignition button, and head home across town.

Urban Mode:
I’m trickling through traffic on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Engine heat is pouring off the 90-degree 1198.4cc L-Twin. Which is my only real complaint.

The seating position is upright and emboldening, giving me sightlines through the pillions of SUVs filled with post-church pious and off to Sunday dinner drivers, which means they are slow, unpredictable and forgiving. That last bit is important if you’re taking the liberty of filtering… though mind those wide bars. It’s also tall, the seat height is a 33 inch stretch.

The new Multistrada 1200S’s Urban mode, “tames” the engine down to 100hp, smoothes out the throttle response, dials up the traction control to max, and softens out the suspension. In other words it re-tunes the bike to near Suzuki GSX1250FA (Bandit) usability, without the stodgy stigma. The low-speed fueling isn’t as good, there’s still a hint of hunt and surge under 3000RPM, but that’s easily feathered out with a pull of the wet clutch. Yes, we have no dry-plate clutch clatter today.

Ducati’s not betrayed the MTS with impracticalities and has equipped the bike with a more durable wet clutch. The design uses the torque of the engine to squeeze the plates together under load, letting the lighter springs be used, resulting in a claimed lever action that is 25 per cent lighter than the 1198’s, and after trying to feather our recent Streetfighter 1098 tester through traffic, I’m a believer.

Shifting is easy and precise too. The gearbox feels to have a slightly longer throw than the firm’s sport offerings, but it fits the sensibility of the bike. There’s a long-ish throw into a tall first gear, then you’re away. In reality there’s enough torque on reserve that you never really need to shift out of second around town.

While the Multistrada is a city bike model of civility and usability around town, all the time you’ll be dreaming of escaping the daily commute for more open roads.

Touring Mode:
We’ve hit the highways; slicing through the sweepers of BC’s Manning Park mid June-u-ary. The temperature is dropping as I thumb the starter button. Yes, we’re already running, but Ducati has integrated the control selecting the output of the heated grips into the slide-covered starter. It’s a nice touch, and I’m happy for the heat because I have the flu.

Yesterday testing the Ducati Hypermotard 796 the aching started, permeating every joint with radiating hurt. Switching over to the Varadero briefly the fever settled in, and a bright and sunny summer’s day became a glaring hurtful place. Today, chairs feel like racks and leathers like an iron maiden; so it’s either the best time to test a bike for touring comfort or the worst.

Here’s the point. I am comfortable.

The ergonomics are upright, spacious, relaxed and suspiciously reminiscent of the BMW R1200GS Adventure (a bike conveniently for me built by 6’2” Germans for 6’2” Germans). The narrow windscreen reaches truly effective by 140kph, but slower and both Kevin at 5”10’ and myself were subjected to noticeable buffeting from the air flow regardless of adjustment throughout its 10cm range. Of course, as the manual suggested, we pulled over to adjust the screen, rather than just easing the positioning bolts and pulling it into position on the fly.

There are a couple foibles for the touring rider. In side winds the bike tends to kite noticeably, while the narrow windscreen sets up a persistent thrumming airflow on the side of your helmet. Then there are the bags.

The standard side cases are a flimsy feeling affair, with the leading edge of the lids failing to seal. Some have complained that the bags aren’t keyless to match the ignition rather than having to keep the switchblade fob handy, but that’s being over picky. Capacity is more of an issue.

The left bag will fit a full-face helmet, but the right has lost much of its volume to a heat-shielded cutout that accommodated the flow of exhaust gasses from the stubby up-turned exhaust. So for those on across continent hauls, and without a doubt the MTS 1200 S is more than capable of them, you’ll need the optional top-box.

Ducati hasn’t forgotten the passenger either… That’s a sentence that proves how much of a watershed this bike is for the Bologna firm.

There’s a broad raised passenger seat, a convenient grab bar, and the peg to seat ratio appears relatively spacious. Plus, as with the other suspension settings, you can adjust for the load by scrolling through the options displayed on the dash with the turn signal cancel button. All modes give you options for solo, with luggage, two up or two-up with luggage. If only Ducati had thought through the luggage as thoroughly.

Even in touring mode the MTS 1200 S is a road going predator. It is ferocious, yet easy to ride. While the default Touring mode softens suspension and smoothes the throttle response (in comparison to Sport mode) it still gives you access to all the Multistrada’s 155 horses.

The suspension adjustments are a lovely bit of magic. In touring mode the bike is plush enough to soak up road noise, heaves and potholes, yet it remains unflappable in the corners and handles with beautiful neutrality unmatched by any of the “pig trailies” out there… I mean big trailies.

It’s only when you really start pushing that there’s a little more wander in the turns, but then (to coin a phrase), “There’s a mode for that.”

Read Part II – Sport mode, Enduro mode and the conclusion of our Ducati Multistrada 1200S Touring Review.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Flyer says:

    Having been riding since before the dawn of calculators, I too am leery of the “electronic improvements” I would own with the svelte Multi.
    Overall, I’ll give Ducati the benefit of the doubt on it, in hopes the bike is truly a practical two up sportbike with more than enough “whoopeeee” for one.

    Like

    1. Well, we will have a chance out. I pick up our Ducati long term Multistrada 1200 S Toruing tester the second week of November and should have it thru to June. The proof will be in the high-millage pudding.
      Cheers,
      Neil

      Like

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