I’m not implying that I’m a good rider, but I kept leaving my 2 buddies behind.
This was a beautiful day for a ride. It was just us, no traffic, bright sunshine, and the beautiful scenery along the Sungai Koyan-Ringlet road. But I just kept going faster.
I saw them in my mirrors and let them close to 2 bike lengths behind.
Up in front was a long, decreasing radius right-hander. A quick peek at the speedo. 130km/h. I held the throttle open while lining up the turn from the outside for as long as I could, before giving the decisive steering input. The bike dropped obediently into the turn. I kept rolling on as per Throttle Control Rule #1 and the power fed in smoothly.
I remembered this corner from my previous trip. Right there at the apex, at maximum lean, was a huge depression that’s imperceptible at speed. The previous test bike dropped in so hard it buried its footpeg into the road and almost yanked out my toe slider. The suspension then unloaded as the bike left the hole and it actually jumped. The front end went into a mini tankslapper when it landed.
Expecting the same to transpire on this bike, I made a conscious effort to loosen up. Sure enough, the bike “sank” into the depression and the footpeg sniffed the road just momentarily, but it exited the corner almost flat, without any inkling of launching into the Orang Asli settlement at the roadside.
For the next corners, all I did was hold the throttle open and turned the bike in. Well, I did that for pretty much for all the corners, come to think of it.
Ooops. I’ve left my friends behind again.
It’s the bike’s fault, I swear! It kept instigating me to ride like a complete buffoon. But that’s the best thing about 250cc motorcycles - they’re light, agile, and you could almost never do anything wrong on one. Oh, what fun!
Except that this bike wasn’t a 250cc. Not at all. It’s a 1200cc, 160bhp, Italian exotic.
Much has already been written about the Ducati Multistrada (MTS) 1200. It’s intended as a bike that goes anywhere and does anything, hence the name “Multi” (many) and “Strada” (road), including light offroading.
While it’s essentially built for sport touring, Ducati’s sporting DNA is strong in the Multistrada for there are owners who ride them at the track. That’s not all, the MTS has even won the punishing Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race in 2010, 2011 and 2012, besides setting the fastest record for a motorcycle in 2012, prompting Ducati to release the special edition 1200S Pikes Peak in 2013.
As great as the 2010 - 2013 model was, there were a few niggles that existing owners and prospects would like to see Ducati improve upon. Plus, Ducati cannot afford to sit on its laurels: they are EXPECTED to push the boundaries of motorcycle designs and engineering.
If we were asked to describe the previous model in one word, it would be “visceral.”
This here now is the 3rd generation Multistrada. It may look like Ducati updated the looks at first glance, but it's entirely new motorcycle in actual fact. It’s obvious that Ducati listens to their customers, because all that’s needed is just one ride to discover that Ducati has addressed every concern of the previous model, throwing in almost every single piece of tech except for the engineer.
The biggest news is of course the DVT equipped Testastretta 11-degree engine. DVT stands for “Desmodromic Variable Timing.” There were feedback from previous owners that the superbike-derived Testastretta shuddered at lower revs, took a while to pick up, then blasted off when it hits higher revs. And that’s what Ducati sought to address with the DVT. The system varies the valve timing for smoother engine response and power delivery characteristics. (Please refer to the excellent article written by Tech Guru Kevin Cameron here.)
Ok, let’s leave the space age stuff for the Hard Parts section and talk about riding.
Ducati Malaysia extended the Multistrada 1200 model to us for testing, as the 1200S with Skyhook Evo semi-active suspension wasn’t available yet.
Forget about Scarlett Johansson. The new design brings forth emotions of lasciviousness just by looking at it. The new MTS is the most curvaceous Ducati to date. I may get flamed for saying this but I stand by my claim!
Viewed from the side, the top line starts at the tip of the “beak”, flows over the headlamp and tank, swoops down over the seat and finishes off sharply at the rear; while the rear’s fender line curves upwards to join the top line. The fairing’s sidepanels “split” outwards at the top to form winglets. Ducati even did away with having any apparent fastener on the outer surfaces for a clean, organic look. The headlight cluster now closely resembles the Panigale.
Climbing on the first time, the seat felt a little lower, so I only needed to offset my cheek just a little to place a foot squarely on the ground. The seat was much better padded (despite looking thin). Reach to the handlebars was natural - they were just... there.
The new windscreen is low in its lowest setting, and came up to just below my eye level in the highest position. It is adjustable for 4 positions over 60mm, opposed to just sliding up and down between to levels, previously.
Being armed with Ducati’s Hands-Free Ignition, a push of the new lock/unlock button (now separate from engine ignition/kill switch) had the LCD going through its check mode. Clicked the red slider upwards and gunned the large start button. It took a while for the engine to catch, though.
Once the engine started... you’d notice how quiet it is. And I really meant quiet. Gone is that signature gnashing, chugging, and whirring noise of every Ducati, replaced by a smooth purr.
I always liked to test a bike starting from the lowest power mode, so I selected URBAN. Clacked into first and we’re off. The throttle felt soft, needing a bigger twist for the power to feed in.
Oh my, the steering. It’s light! In fact, the whole bike felt light. I was able to flick the bike around at crawling speeds in the middle of Ducati Malaysia’s compound. It could almost U-turn like a bicycle. Where’s that slightly clumsy, top heavy feel of a tall bike such as this?
It felt as light and agile as the Hypermotard. And I ain't kiddin'.
What did you do, Ducati?
Out onto the road the first time, the bike was just incredibly smooth. There was no vibe from the engine, or any that crept up the solid-mounted handlebars.
Up the Pantai Baru Expressway, traffic was starting to build up. But just small amounts of bar pressure was enough to have the bike swerving around them. The only thing that stopped me from riding faster was worrying about the panniers. There was still much torque to punch it past traffic despite being in URBAN mode.
First cornering test was up ahead, the right-hander followed by the left. On most bikes, it’ll take me at least a day to get accustomed to its handling but here I was, on the MTS for a scant 20 minutes and it's like meeting your soulmate.
Roared through the left sweeper preceding the right-hander at 130km/h, tapped the awesomely powerful brakes, and downshifted to third. Countersteered at the second directional signboard and the bike just dropped onto its side. Fed the power in progressively but as the throttle got to about halfway point, the engine note went flat. I kept rolling on the throttle anyway and started to stand the bike up. It didn’t shoot forward like a mad dog chasing down a postman, despite the large throttle opening, instead it just built speed quickly. Kept the bike on the right side of the lane and turned in a bit later for this slightly decreasing radius left. The bike obeyed. Throttle on, bigger opening this time. Again the engine note went flat at max lean and then picked up speed smartly as I exited the turn at 110km/h.
WOW! It felt like an upright.... Panigale.
For the full test, we rode up to Cameron Highlands, together with another 2015 Multistrada 1200 and a 2014 Multistrada 1200S ridden by its owner, Din.
Sure enough, the MTS had no trouble flying through Karak Highway's high-speed, sweeping corners. It's plenty fast even in Touring mode. The twisty section approaching Genting Sempah has those thick, red-coloured speedbreakers painted right in the middle of those corners. I've ridden bikes that protested by hopping over them and pushing wide but the Multistrada tackled them with utter contempt.
Smooth torque and power delivery lulls you into thinking the bike is slow but it pulled through 160km/h as easily as hitting 100km/h.
The wide bars, being set at the correct height and angle accentuates your steering inputs, translating small countersteering forces into turning the bike quickly. It’s so easy to get the bike turned at high speeds, that it’s ridiculous.
Since the bike is sensitive to steering inputs, you must ride with your body and limbs loose all the time. I discovered this at the beginning of the ride, when the bike weaved around in the corners. It turned out that I was holding onto the handlebars too tightly and had locked my elbows. The instability disappeared as soon as I loosened up, meaning that it was rider-induced and wasn’t a fault of the bike.
This is a positive. The bike wants you to ride relaxed, thus saving your energy, consequently leaving you fresh at the end of a long ride. There’s also another benefit: You could correct your line easily even when you’re leaned well over. A great attribute if you’re about to run wide or needed to avoid obstructions in midcorner.
It so much fun, Karak Highway was dispatched with before I knew it.
Time now for the trunk road test, from Bentong through Raub District and on to Sungai Koyan. The Bentong - Sungai Koyan trunk road is always busy with traffic and the road surface is accordingly bumpy and dusty. The MTS didn’t care about potholes and ripples. It’ll probably even run over a log without being perturbed.
We hit our Sungai Koyan checkpoint in no time. It seemed like the MTS was some kind of time machine which made jumps into the future. Heck, we didn’t even feel tired. We just wanted to keep going.
For anyone who hasn’t ridden on the Sungai Koyan - Cameron Highlands road, it consists of many high speed corners, but constricted to one lane. The main challenge here are the depressions in the road between the Felda plantation and Ulu Telom Dam construction site that were caused by heavily laden trucks. Many riders have fallen prey to these “holes.” Problem is, they’re not apparent from the saddle and the next thing you know, you'll be doing Gangnam Style.
But the MTS wasn't bothered (provided that you ride loose). Though the suspension had been set softly for comfort, making the bike bob up and down through this section, but it didn’t threaten to push wide as the suspension unloaded. I suspected the Pirelli Scorpion Trail II’s of having soft carcass and sidewall construction.
The DVT engine played a big role here by supplying smooth power take up and delivery. The one thing you don’t need is the power coming on or letting out abruptly as you let the bike sort itself through a bumpy corner.
It was simple on the MTS. Steer the bike in, crack open the throttle and keep rolling on, let it stand up at the exit and gun the throttle. Repeat. You don’t even have to sweat. So much for the view along the route, I only saw a long, winding asphalt ribbon.
Cameron Highlands was chock full of people and traffic when we got there. Cars were crawling in both directions between Ringlet and Brinchang. Traffic test!
I switched back to URBAN mode. Throttle response became almost benign. We started scything through traffic soon enough. The only thing that kept our exuberance in check were again the panniers.
We spent the rest of the day and evening shooting the bikes around Cameron Highlands, appreciating the light steering, throttle response and comfort.
It rained on us that evening just after we finished shooting the sunset. Now, you make question the logic of having heated grips for our weather, but wait till your gloves get soaking wet high up in the mountains. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Similarly, some may dismiss traction control and power mode strategies as being superfluous, but try riding up a narrow, bumpy, dark mountain road in pouring rain. Please take this advice from a person saved by DTC - twice!
The URBAN mode just as well as RAIN mode, intervening subtly without causing panic.
We headed to Simpang Pulai the next day and I decided to switch bikes with Din. The Cameron Highlands - Simpang Pulai road was just one corner stack on top of another with just a few straights.
Right away, the previous MTS felt heavier at slower speeds. However, the Skyhook suspension provided a great deal of feedback at the expense of some comfort. Reach to the handlebars was a little further and the bike felt slightly taller.
Even in TOURING mode, the older MTS was raw. You could hear all the internal mechanicals and feel the pulses of the engine. Depending on where you are in the engine range, the bike either picked up smoothly or blasted its way forward.
But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good bike. Once accustomed, you could lay waste to a sportbike down this road, by utilizing that engine’s rawness and feedback from the front suspension, in combination with the high level of road holding the Skyhook provides. There were corners with bumps, sand and water, but the bike wasn’t fazed at all.
I couldn't shake Din off this time. He was glued to my tail on the new Multistrada.
Another highway test was in store when we headed home on the North-South Highway. Folks were beginning to return to KL after the Chinese New Year break. I had switched back to the new MTS for this leg. This was where I truly appreciated the new bike’s comfort, smoothness and agility. So what with the traffic? It didn’t even register as a traffic jam. And those brakes are super powerful, which needed the bar pressure to be relieved progressively as you come to a stop.
Got around to testing the new cruise control too. It was so easy to use and took away the strain on the right wrist during long hauls.
After getting back home, we took the bike up to Gohtong Jaya for additional photoshoots. Up Karak again and this time I switched to SPORT mode.
It’s like you opened the tiger cage and the cat came out roaring. There’s this tremendous (and addictive) intake bellow between your thighs when you yank the throttle, one that I haven’t heard since my old 916 SP. In TOURING the bike went “brrrrrr... bap bap” when you went off the throttle but in SPORT, it went “BRRROOOOOAARRR POP CRACK POP!”
The bike punched forward much harder now but there’s nowhere in the rev range that threatened to throw you out of the seat. Speed just kept picking up on and on. It didn’t overwhelm and that’s especially important to newer riders. The bike even blew away a couple of pesky sportscars while coming down from Gohtong. It’s transformed to the Monster 1200R.
Remember the “soft” rear suspension we mentioned earlier? I dialed in 3 turns of rebound damping and that put the up and down pumping away. Typical for a Ducati, it responded well to any suspension adjustment. And it also confirmed that the tyres had softer construction, a fact which was also established when I met Jack Lo, the Associate Vice President of Ducati Malaysia.
Being a Ducati, it’s pricey, of course but you have a Hypermotard, Monster, Panigale and the Multistrada itself in one bike. And we haven’t even got to test the 1200S with the Skyhook Evo suspension yet! In closing, I’d confidently state that the new Multistrada 1200 was one the best bikes and certainly the best Ducati I’ve tested.
So the next time you leave your buddies behind on a ride, you just tell them that it’s the Multistrada that made you do it.
You can quote us on that.
Engine L-Twin (90-degree V-Twin), DOHC, 4-valve-per-cylinder, liquid-cooled
Displacement 1,198.4 cc
Bore x Stroke 106 mm x 67.9 mm
Compression Ratio 12.5 : 1
Max Power 160 bhp @ 9,500 RPM
Max Torque 136 Nm @ 7,500 RPM
Fuel system Bosch electronic injection, 56mm elliptical throttle bodies with Ride-by-Wire throttle
Transmission 6 speed, chain final drive
Clutch Hydraulically actuated multi-plate wet clutch, with self-servo action during drive and slipper action on deceleration
Frame Tubular steel Trellis frame
Front suspension 48mm diameter USD forks, adjustable for preload, compression- and rebound damping
Rear suspension Fully adjustable Sachs monoshock, single-sided swingarm
Rake 24 degrees
Trail 109 mm
Front brake Two 320mm floating discs, radially mounted four-piston Brembo monobloc caliper, disengageable ABS
Rear brake Single 265 mm disc, two-piston Brembo caliper, disengageable ABS
Fuel tank capacity 20 litres
Seat height Adjustable between 825 - 845 mm
Wheelbase 1529 mm
Dry weight 209 kg
Kerb (wet) weight 232 kg
As we’ve said earlier, Ducati didn’t just throw together a few parts and call the new Multistrada a new motorcycle. It is a new motorcycle.
Camshafts and their lobes are pretty much made for a certain type of bike for a certain type of engine power characteristic.
The cams in a cruiser are tuned for low-end torque, which gives great acceleration when ridden say around town but starts to run out of breath out on the highway (lower top speeds). Contrastingly, the cams of a sportbike are tuned for maximum power, hence needs more revs and gearshifting for acceleration. While the advent and advancement in electronic fuel injection has overcome these shortcomings somewhat, the basic character of the engine remains. In order words, each came profiling is a compromise and you can’t have the best of both.
Ducati’s Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) is the first of its kind for a motorcycle engine (Honda’s VTEC works differently) and seeks to provide riders a complete experience.
The DVT provides 45 degrees of variable timing for each cam, from 53 degrees BTDC to 37 degrees ATDC of crank rotation. Ducati had obviously put in lots of manhours into developing this technology as it functions transparently, yielding that smoother engine response, higher power output and efficiency. It adds some 5 kgs to the bike’s weight but that gain is negligible given the higher torque, power output and light feel of the bike.
Ducati claims that the DVT system improves mileage by 8 percent, despite the gain in maximum torque and power. To further increase combustion efficiency, there are two sparkplugs per cylinder, one on the top of the cylinder head, and another on the side. Each of the top plugs and side plugs are controlled by separate ECUs. There are also knock sensors, allowing the engine to use RON 91 petrol, which is bonus if you travel to less developed locales.
Through all these advancements, the 1198cc engine now makes 160bhp at 9,500 RPM and 136 Nm of torque at 7,500 RPM. That’s a healthy 2,000 RPM spread between maximum torque and power, indicating a flexible engine. What’s more, there’s already 80 Nm of torque available from 3,500 RPM, then increases to 100 Nm and beyond from 5,750 RPM. This was why we kept feeling “there’s torque everywhere!”
I can personally vouch for the fuel efficiency, as the 20-litre tank had more than enough fuel to get us straight to Cameron Highlands, with an indicated 5.5 litres/100km.
The clutch is similar to the Monster 821’s, which uses a self-servo mechanism which reduces clutch spring load. This translates to lighter clutch feel, especially useful when negotiating a traffic jam. The mechanism also performs as a slipper clutch on deceleration.
Ducati has also employed special materials for the valve seats and engine internals to reduce maintenance schedules. Routine maintenance has been extended to 15,000km and valve timing adjustments to 30,000km.
RIDER AID and ELECTRONICS
Be prepared for an engineering dissertation.
First introduced in the 1199 Panigale Superleggera, then further developed in the 1299 Panigale S and Panigale R, Ducati has adopted the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) to the Multistrada for a truly 4-in-1 bike concept. The IMU works similarly to a gyroscope and allows for the implementation of Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC) and Cornering ABS, in addition to the previous strategies such as Ducati Traction Control (DTC), ABS, rear tyre-lift mitigation (during hard braking), and front/rear combined braking.
As the Multistrada uses a Ride-by-Wire (RbW) throttle, throttle body openings are regulated by the engine control unit (ECU) after processing the RbW signal. This then allows different mappings to adjust power delivery and rider aid strategies.
Each mode comes with factory default settings and the rider is able to fine tune each parameter to his liking. On the Multistrada, there’s a “SAVE” function to store the custom settings.
The full monty. This is what gives you that wide-eyed skydiving look. The “wheeeeeee!” when you snap open the throttle to the tune of 160bhp, 136Nm. You get the idea.
This mode gives a more direct throttle to engine connection, plus lower rider aid strategies. In the default setting, DTC and ABS are at level 2, and DWC is off. Rear tyre-lift mitigation is also off. Cornering ABS remains on, however.
This results in a sportbike-like character so you could ride full ya-ya.
Full power is available albeit with a softer response. DTC, ABS and DWC levels are increased; combined braking and Cornering ABS are switched on. On the 1200S, the Skyhook suspension resorts to maximum comfort.
Perfect for high-speed, long-distance riding.
Power is reduced to 100bhp, while all rider aids are set for maximum safety. As the name suggests, it’s intended for riding around traffic and on bad city roads. It is also useful in the rain.
Remember the flat engine note while at full lean? That intervention came in even earlier when riding in the rain. But 100bhp still means that the bike is fast, make no mistake about that.
Power is also reduced to 100bhp. Contrary to what some might think, this mode allows the bike to be ridden like a large (and powerful) motocrosser, hence DTC, DWC and ABS settings are low. Rear wheel lift detection, rear ABS, cornering ABS are off.
Every Ducati owner knows how many button presses and menus he needed to scroll through to set Ride Modes, Suspension Modes, fine tune traction control, ABS and so forth. Good news is, Ducati has revised the controls, by incorporating new switchgear on the handlebar and a more intuitive interface.
- Press MENU/ENTER once to bring up the list of modes;
- Select the desired mode;
- Press and hold the MENU/ENTER button with the throttle closed;
I’ve asked my neophyte girlfriend to set the DTC, ABS and DWC levels after showing her once and she got it spot on afterwards. No more fumbling with the turnsignal cancel button and those two small up and down buttons (which always had me accidentally honking someone instead).
Cruise control makes a debut for a Ducati on the new MTS. The controls are very simple as well.
- Switch it on and the large symbol shows in the LCD;
- Ride to the desired speed;
- Press SET;
A touch on the brakes or the clutch, or throttle roll on disengages it, and you only have to press RESUME for the bike will accelerate or slow to the set speed.
On the right handlebar, the starter and engine stop buttons have also been redesigned. Additionally, the MTS now features a separate lock/unlock button.
The buttons on both handlebars are not only much larger (easy to operate even with thick gloves) but also backlit for easy night time operation.
Ducati wanted to create a bike that’s stable while being ridden at high speeds and also handles well in the corners. Besides that, weight needs to be kept low and with the addition of generous steering lock angle (80 degrees!) to allow for easy handling around city streets.
This was achieved with a new frame with reworked steering geometry, swingarm and wheelbase. Rake angle is now at 24 degrees, like a sportbike’s (hence the quick steering), trail of 109 mm for stability and a wheelbase of 1529 mm for greater maneuverability. Apart from that, Ducati designed the frame to centralize the engine, fuel tank, rider’s weight, passenger’s weight and panniers well inside that given wheelbase.
The frame is Ducati’s signature Trellis with large-diameter tubes, then mated to the new rear fiberglass-reinforced almunium subframe. The new frame also provides an additional 20 mm of ground clearance.
There's another concern addressed with this new frame. There been cases where the previous Multistrada's sidestand mount broke when too much weight was placed on it i.e. the rider climbing aboard with the stand resting on the ground. The new sidestand mount is beefy, to put it simply.
More importantly, Ducati achieved a perfect 50/50 front and rear weight distribution.
The new swingarm is a single, die-cast part with fabricated and welded sections. It’s actually hollow and lightweight, contributing to the MTS’s sublime handling.
This Multistrada 1200, while without the Skyhook Evo suspension, still has great suspension. The forks are 48 mm upside-down units, adjustable for preload, compression damping and rebound damping and have 170 mm of travel.
The rear is a Sach monoshock, also adjustable for preload, compression damping and rebound damping. There is a preload adjuster on the left side of the bike, just below the rider’s thigh, making for easy adjustments. The monoshock also allows 170mm of travel.
The suspension responded well to adjustments, by yielding perceptible changes.
The front brakes use 320 mm rotors gripped by Brembo monoblock 4-piston calipers, while the rear 265 mm disc is gripped by a 2-piston job. The brakes are awesomely powerful on this bike and you have to remember to feed out the pressure a you neared stopping.
But fret not, the Bosch 9.1ME ABS ECU uses signal from the IMU and ride modes to optimize front and rear braking power in critical conditions and in corners.
Story and pictures by Wahid Ooi Abdullah