Ducati Multistrada 1200S (2015): First test!

By Marc Potter
marcpotter Tested every new bike since 1994, loves anything on two wheels, Bike Social boss, Potski to his mates. Recently discovered elbow-down riding - likely to end in tears.

Multi is happy to tour, or ride like a sports bike.
Ducat’s Multistrada changed the way we think about adventure-style motorcycles when it was launched in 2010. It did everything well, from touring to track days, from back lanes to a bit of dirt.  And it’s about to reset our parameters of what a motorcycle should do all over again.

Meet the all-new Multistrada 1200.

With a new Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) engine that gives smooth response at low-revs, and punchy top-end V-twin power when you need it Ducati has moved the game on again

It’s more comfortable thanks to new styling and increased wind protection. It’s faster, stops quicker, is better handling, easier to ride, and even (slightly) better off-road thanks to a motor that sits higher in the chassis to give more ground clearance.

All three Multi’s – the standard Multistrada, Multistrada S and Multistrada D-Air get160bhp of pure DVT Testastretta drive from any revs, all the way to the rev-limiter at 10,500rpm.

Bike Social's Marc Potter on the Mutlstrada in Lanzarote
But it’s not just the engine that’s new, it has an all-new chassis, redesigned riding positions for both rider and pillion, revised engine mode settings, Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), Ducati Traction Control (DCT), Cornering ABS, and even lights that see round corners on the ‘S’ using new full LED Ducati Cornering Lights (DLC). Just in case you hadn’t already got confused with all the acronyms.

For 2015 Ducati has refined, rebuilt and revised the Multistrada so it’s an all-new bike. An all-new bike that in the case of the £15,995 S-version, just happens to be the most technically advanced motorcycle Ducati has ever built for the road.

When that’s in the company of bikes like the new Ducati 1299 Panigale which also roll out of the Bologna factory, that’s some claim. But Ducati’s bosses aren’t shy about admitting it, and the bike isn’t shy about showing you why.
'It's so damn good' says Bike Social's Marc Potter

It’s easy to think that all that technology could take your eye off the ball when you’re riding. Perhaps you might get distracted by all the gadgets and that dash? Perhaps all those safety aids will stop you concentrating? I had the same fear and was slightly nervous about that.

But in reality the bike is so damn good that it does all the work for you. And no surprise that there ar more than 1500 of them sold in the UK since 2012.

It just wants to cover ground in a way that few motorcycles on the planet can in such comfort, with such panache and class, and at such speed. It’s so competent it hurts. There are all-rounders, and then there’s the Multistrada.

Let us get one thing out of the way first – the motor. The new DVT system feels completely different to the old motor. At low revs it’s so mechanically quiet the difference between old and new is night and day. One sounds clattery, the new one is silky smooth and almost whisper quiet thanks to the DVT set-up and hugely improved efficiency of the Dual-Spark motor.

Like before there are different riding modes.

The fly-by-wire throttle and ‘4-bikes-in-one’ riding modes mean that every mode has a very different feel.

There’s the 100bhp Enduro and Urban modes, to the full-power 160bhp Sport mode which uses a more aggressive engine map, to the slightly more mellow Touring mode which uses the full power and torque of the motor but delivers it in a slightly calmer, more manageable real-world way.

The exhaust is also new. The note at low-revs sounds edgier, harder, more mechanical and the way it picks up even out of third gear hairpins at next to no revs is hugely impressive.

Dial in the throttle at low revs and it picks up and goes, pulling with more torque and conviction than ever before out of corners. The DVT is there but you never feel it change. Yes, there’s a noticeable shift in power around 6000rpm but it’s not as jump like on other Variable Valve Time engines I’ve ridden.

The bike gives you a kick in the pans, picks up its revs even faster and then heads off to the rev-limiter. The noise is all Euro 4 friendly but still gives plenty to please the Ducatisti. Of course, a race silencer is available as an option too.

On longer runs the new motor is completely smooth, there’s barely any vibration anywhere on the bike, just bags of power and that booming DVT motor with power on tap whenever you want it. More than anything it’s the way you can ride the bike and not think about what’s happening to the bike that’s most impressive. Tractable at low revs, incredible stomp at high revs just like Ducati promised and it makes the Multi even nicer to spend time on.


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You sit up high on the bike, and the 5-inch dash is your central viewing point. That and the wide bars, the Ducati embossed top yoke, the new switchgear, and the adjustable screen.

In full-colour on the S, the new dash is an impressive bit of kit, showing anything and everything you or one of Ducati’s engineers could think of. The display and the functions it shows change when you alter the riding modes too.

But more impressive is the way all the menus operated by using the backlit buttons are so easy to use. Within a few minutes on the ‘S’ I’d worked out how to change everything from connecting my phone via Bluetooth, to adjusting the eight levels of wheelie control, or dialling in more or less traction control, stiffen up the suspension, or play with power maps. It’s not quite so easy to operate on the standard Multi, and not so stunning to look at – more old skool Nokia than iPhone 6 - but you’d soon get used to it.
Multi is perhaps the perfect bike for all reasons.
Through the screen and the left-hand Menu button almost everything is infinitely adjustable, but for most people, most of the time, the four settings – Sport, Touring, Urban, and Enduro and the range of power, suspension and safety settings they offer as standard are all you need.

As we never really got the chance to give the bike a real good seeing too in terms of full-on attack sports bike style riding, other than on a few occasions, I spent most of the time in Touring mode. It gives the motor and the rider a touch gentler response on some of the twisty roads we were lucky enough to ride on in Lanzarote and suits the roads and character of the bike well.

Switching to Sport definitely makes the bike feel more engaging when you wind it up, the electronic ‘Skyhook’ semi-active suspension gets firmer and puts some more weight on the nose of the bike too. But the fuel map in Touring for more general fast road riding is spot-on. With more time I’d play around and dial in my own preferences.

I’m not one for ‘Safety Aids’ very often, but with the latest generation of technology thanks to the clever man who invented the Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit (see tech piece for full explanation) it’s beginning to blow my head off.
Usually I’m of the opinion that the bigger and scarier bikes are to ride the better. But the Multistrada manages to make all the technology work together so seamlessly that once you’ve settled in, you stop looking for it and just ride it. It’s hugely confidence inspiring and a cross-country weapon.

The Multistrada gets an updated engine for 2015

Thanks to the IMU the revised Skyhook Evo semi-active suspension knows how much lean you have on, how much throttle you’re dialling in, how bumpy the road is, what mode you’re in, and how much suspension to stiffen or soften before you even notice.

The new revised ‘Skyhook’ system, first introduced on the 2013 Multistrada, feels alien at first.

It doesn’t squat like a normal bike when you’re hard on the power. It doesn’t dive on its nose fully under heavy braking using the Panigale Brembo Monobloc calipers (only on the S), and in a corner the suspension is so clever it stiffens on the way in and then softens off in the middle of the turn when you need maximum grip, and compliance.

The whole thing makes the bike feel like its sitting flatter, and if I was being hyper critical it lacks a slight bit of natural feeling compared to the suspension on the standard non-electronic Multistrada.
But, take your time, get used to it and you’d never got back to standard suspension ever again such is the brilliance of it.
Multistrada in its natural territory.
Given the choice I’d definitely pay the £2000 more for the S-version with the semi-active kit rather than just conventional suspension. It makes even good suspension like on the standard Multistrada feel antiquated. The standard bike is brilliant, but the S is just even better.

Combine that suspension with wheelie control and traction control and you can be really stupid with the throttle if you wanted to, and the bike sorts it out for you. A couple of orange lights on the dash and a bit of a lack of power are the only warnings that you’re unsticking the new second generation Pirelli Trail Attack II tyres. Consider it you’re naughty warning.

Whoever invented the IMU at Bosch, give me a call – I’d love to buy you’re a beer. It could be the biggest single advance in motorcycle technology in ten years and we’re already seeing it change motorcycles, on KTM’s, the new R1, the new BMW S1000RR and the new Panigale all benefit from it. Get that man an MBE.

But it’s not just the suspension, and the advanced electronics that run off the IMU, it’s the brakes too.

New geometry and weight distribution from the new steel trellis chassis means the bike feels sharper than ever. The old Multi sometimes felt like it lacked a bit of weight over the front. With this set-up and the new tyres there’s way more confidence in the front tyre, and at the rear the Pirelli dual-purpose tyres now feel as good as any good sports touring tyre.Bike Social's Marc Potter rode the Multistrada in Lanzarote

What all that means is you can nail the bike into turns using the Brembo calipers and Cornering ABS.

The Brembo Monobloc caliper on the S are about the most powerful of any fitted to a production bike and give incredible feel.  They’re not exactly lacking on the standard bike either which uses a slightly different caliper, and 320mm discs instead of 330mm.

Both use cornering ABS. The system means you can brake fully hard with the bike leant over in a corner.
The IMU reacts to your lean angle and tells the bike how much brake to give you when you pull the brake lever. I tried it and it’s hard to get your head round, but given time would change the way you ride motorcycles. Be brave because it’s the future now. It will change the way you ride forever, as long as you remember not every bike has it fitted!

I can’t explain enough how incredibly fast you can ride this bike on twisty roads, and in the UK it’s hard to think of anything I’d rather ride for a 100-mile blast on bumpy UK A and B-roads than this 2015 Multistrada. I’m that impressed.

Faults? There are a few niggles, but not a lot.

Look, Ducati claim it’s four bikes in one, but really nobody would take their Multistrada off-road. Yes, it can do a bit of gentle off-road riding, but the seventeen inch wheels are always going to be the limiting factor. Yes, it can do it, but feels a bit cumbersome. But then I’ve never met an owner who takes his Multistrada off-road, so it’s really not an issue. The fact you CAN and it has a button that says Enduro which pumps the suspension up to full height and lets you do skids in the dirt is what matters.

Other niggles? The screen is easy to adjust and there’s better wind protection than before thanks to a wider front fairing, but it could still do with a bit more height and width for me but then I’m a big guy at six foot four.

The panniers are new and improved and stiffer than the old ones which were frankly rubbish but the opening catch is still a little clumsy.

The cabling around the headstock is messy and rubs on the screen, the centre stand still hits your heel when riding and the new Euro-4 carbon emissions box on the left-hand side of the bike is hideous. But then Ducati can hardly be pleased with that either.

But none of those faults take away from what a massively accomplished real world superbike the new Multistrada is.

You can tour on it, you can ride on the dirt, and you can take on most sports bikes. And there aren’t many bikes that can say that. Don’t buy a sports bike, buy a 160bhp multi-purpose bike like the Multistrada instead – it’s a bike for all reasons and all scenarios.

DUCATI MULTISTRADA/S CHANGES FOR 2015:

STYLING:
That trademark Multistrada beaky look is still in place but designers have beefed-up the front-end for improved comfort on long distances and better wind protection. The old bike needed a taller, and wider screen to keep the wind off most riders. Engineers paid close attention to the finish of the bike and there are less visible bolts and screws, and more painted parts to give it a classier look and feel. There’s also an LED headlamp on the S-version, and an all-new tail light. As before, riders get a keyless ignition system and an all-new full-colour LCD clocks on the standard bike, and TFT screen like those used on mobile phones on the S-version.

HEADLIGHTS:
The S-version of the bike also gets a full LED headlight with Ducati Cornering Lights. The headlight moves as the bike corners putting light exactly where a rider needs it. The system is a first for Ducati, although it is widely used by car manufacturers, like Ducati’s owners the Volkswagen Audi Group.

RIDING POSITION/ERGONOMICS:
The Multistrada is still a tall bike at 825-845mm with its adjustable seat height, but the rider’s seat is narrower at the front to let shorter riders touch the floor easier, and it’s 20mm longer for a bit more room. The footrests can be used with rubber inserts, or without for off-road riding like before and Ducati say it’s now easier to get a decent riding position when standing up to ride off-road.
The screen too has changed and can now be operated with one hand with more adjustment. There’s a new lower pillion seat and new passenger grab rails too.

Ducati's new Multistrada

Riders are spoilt with details like two charging points for sat navs and the like, and let’s not forget optional spot lights, and the Ducati Cornering Lights on the Multistrada S.

CHASSIS:
The Multistrada gets a new, stiffer frame which Ducati say gives the best compromise between stability and handling. The entire structure of the  bike from the swingarm pivot position, headstock, geometry and stiffness of the frame was evaluated and reengineered. There’s a steel trellis at the front of the bike which hangs the engine from it, and two rear sub frames. Off-road performance is improved too with more ground clearance – up from 160mm to 180mm.

GADGETS:
If cornering ABS, Adjustable wheelie control, Ducati Cornering Lights, traction control, and semi-active suspension aren’t enough for you, how about keyless ignition, Bluetooth telephone capability, a Multistrada phone app and cruise control on the standard Multistrada and the S!

NEW VARIABLE VALVE TIMING ENGINE:
The all-new VVT motor makes 160bhp, ten horsepower more than the old one and uses the new Testastretta DVT motor uses variable timing - a first on a Ducati. Honda uses a similar system on their V-TEC cars and the VFR800. Expect to see it offered on other Ducatis in the future.

So what is VVT? It means the engine varies the timing of the camshaft to control the intake and exhaust valves giving the motor two different feels. At low revs it's claimed to be torquey and easy to use, but as the revs increase, the variable valve timing alters so the engine takes on a whole new, more revvy feel. Think of it as like having two engines in one, a mellow one for calmer riding, and a revvier option when you want a bit more go. There’s a slipper clutch now too.

The new motor offers the rider 59 ft-lb of torque at just 3500rpm and increases to 73ft-lb of torque between 5750rpm and 9500rpm. Service intervals are one year or 9300 miles and Ducati say the fuel economy has dropped by an average of 8 per cent in most riding conditions.

RIDING MODES:
As before, the Multistrada 1200 has selectable rider modes which adjust the amount of power, fuel maps, traction control and amount of ABS. It also stiffens or softens the electronic suspension depending on the mode you’re in on the S-model. For example, if you’re in Sport mode you get all the electronics set-up for fast riding, so less traction control, less wheelies control dialled in, and cornering ABS which allows the bike to lift the rear wheel slightly when hard on the brakes.
In Touring mode the suspension softens up for improved comfort, and you get more ABS, more wheelie control and more traction control dialled in. It gives a full 160bhp but the map is less aggressive than in Sport mode.
Urban softens the whole bike up and reduces power to 100bhp, with less torque, and there’s full ABS cornering functionality. In enduro mode the bike allows 100bhp, the suspension goes to maximum height, and the traction and braking are set-up to allow a bit of sliding on of-road surfaces, or can be turned off completely.
You can of course adjust wheelie control, traction control, and suspension to your own settings. Mess it all up and there’s a reset button – so don’t panic!

BREMBO BRAKES WITH CORNERING ABS:
Other safety features include a new breed of ABS which allows riders to brake hard even when cornering without the wheels locking up. The system uses Bosch’s Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) which reads lean angles, throttle position and the attitude of the bike so it knows how much braking power to give you when you pull the lever, or stamp on the brake pedal. There’s Monobloc Brembo four-piston calipers on 330mm discs at the front, and a single-piston Brembo caliper with 265mm rear disc hooked up to the new system.

SEMI-ACTIVE ELECTRONIC SUSPENSION
The Multistrada S-version gets an evolved version of the Ducati Skyhook Suspension system. The semi-active suspension reads the road as you ride and changes the damping depending on speed, throttle position, and how smooth or bumpy the surface is. It reacts in milliseconds.

The system uses 48mm front forks from Sachs and a Sachs rear mono shock. The name Skyhook comes from the feeling Ducati's test riders said they got when riding the bike as it feels so balanced that it's as if you are being suspended from a hook in the sky. Whatever they say, it feels incredible.

The standard S uses Sachs mechanical suspension with a set of 48mm upside down front forks. All bikes use the latest version of Pirelli's Scorpion Trail II tyres front and rear.
Multistrada packs, from left: Touring, Urban, Sport, Enduro
OPTIONAL PACKS:
A host of accessories and different personalisation options ranging from a Touring Pack, a Sport Pack, an Urban pack, and an Enduro pack are available depending on your preference. The Enduro pack was developed by off-road and adventure bike experts Touratech, illustrating just how serious Ducati see the Multistrada as a rival to BMW’s all-conquering adventure king – the R1200GS. The Urban Pack is £560, the others cost £950 each. Or you could build the ultimate Multistrada and get all of them if you just won the lottery!

CAD design sketches of the Multistrada show what Ducati had in mind.
Ducati Multistrada 1200S £15,995 (Standard Multistrada 1200 is £12,995)

 Engine

1198cc, Liquid-cooled V-twin, 4 valves per cylinder, DVT. Six-speed gearbox. 106 x 67.9 mm bore and stroke.

 Frame

Tubular steel trellis

 Suspension

Fully adjustable Sachs unit. Skyhook compression and rebound damping adjustment. Skyhook spring pre-load adjustment. Aluminum single-sided swingarm

 Brakes

Front: 2 x 330mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo monobloc Evo M50 4-piston calipers, 2-pad, radial pump, cornering ABS

Rear: 265mm disc, 2-piston floating caliper, cornering ABS

 Dimensions

Wheelbase: 1529mm (60.2in)

 Seat height

 790mm

 Fuel tank capacity

 20 litres

 Wet/Dry Weight

 238kg/212kg

 Power

 160bhp @ 9500rpm

 Torque

 100.3ft-lb @ 7500rpm

 Tyres

 Pirelli Scorpion Trail II – 190/55 x 17 rear, 120/70 x 17 front

 New Multistrada vs 2013 model gives considerably more power at the top end (150bhp vs 160bh claimed), and more torque all the way through the rev-range.

For more information on the bike and the rest of the Multistrada range, and to see the TriOptions finance offers Ducati are currently offering on the new Multistrada 1200, have a look at Ducati UK.

Special thanks to Alpinestars for providing the Calama Drystar jacket and pants and other riding kit for this launch. It's grade A kit.