Ducati has been overwhelmed in the ADV category for years with a bike that was really more of a sport-touring machine. The new MTS 1200 is far superior to the previous model and when the Italian engineers and design team put their heads together for the 2010 model, the result has been amazing. First off, Ducati has stayed with its combination of light weight and high horsepower. The Italian marque sourced an engine from its superbike and tweaked it into the Testastretta 11. The new engine packs a major punch with almost 128 horsepower and 78 lb-ft of torque – easily dwarfing the competition in the dyno room, and on the street. Off the bottom and through the midrange, all three bikes are relatively comparable, but from 6000 rpm to redline at over 10K, the Ducati rips forward like it’s attacking the tarmac. If there’s one chink in the Duc’s shiny red armor it’s that the Mitsubishi EFI system searches around at low rpm, burbling and surging just a bit.
There’s no denying this engine was born from a racing pedigree, and it wants to be ridden like it. We regularly found ourselves cruising at around 7K, where the BMW is happier between 4-5K and the Tiger near 5000 rpm as well. Sixth gear is a massive overdrive. Watching the instant fuel economy gauge showed that we actually got better mileage in fifth gear instead of sixth almost all the time. You don’t want to meet a cop if you’re using sixth. All three bikes offer the same 5.3 gallons of fuel, but the Ducati suffers on MPG and range as a result. It’s either running unnecessarily rich in top gear or we wound the piss out of it for maximum sporting fun. Either way it fell short of the 40-mpg mark, though just barely.
The clutch never complained even w
hen abused, and the transmission is extra slick, maybe a little too slick. Our testers reported false neutrals between second/third, third/fourth and fifth/sixth. These scary bouts of freewheeling were a major black eye regardless of the torque-assisted slipper clutch and hydraulic actuation.
Strapped into a lightweight and neutral steel trellis and aluminum chassis, the Multistrada makes for an unbelievably good street bike. The 48mm Ohlins fork offers 6.7 inches of wheel travel (same for the rear) while the Ohlins shock attaches to the single-sided swingarm with a linkage system. Both ends offer electronic adjustment of compression and rebound and the shock can be dialed in with preload. The components are very good, blending rigidity and feedback on the street with a compliance that suits upright riding. Off-road, and by that we mean maintained gravel and dirt roads, are handled with relative ease. Irregularities like water bars, ruts or sudden G-outs are not. The MTS has a wheelbase that’s almost an inch longer than the BMW and Triumph, but it handles quicker side-to-side. Partly to credit is the 515-pound curb weight.
Tossing the MTS through twisty pavement is the most thrilling sensation that can be had with this
group of Adventure Touring bikes. The performance threshold on the street is mindboggling.
Our most experienced street rider has spent time at trackdays aboard the latest sportbikes, including Ducatis. He preferred the rigid and aggressive on-road performance from the steel trellis frame and Ohlins suspension components. His top ranking of the Duc in the Suspension/Handling category was outnumbered by the other riders, who were more enamored with the BMW’s level approach and off-road capacity. Even our die-hard sport guy had to admit that there’s something to the BMW’s equation.
“The Ducati basically feels like an upright 1198 on the street,” says Wallace. “The thing just loves to be ridden hard through twisty backroads. That being said, the BMW is surprisingly at home in the twisty backroads as well. The main difference between the two is when you pull off the pavement and onto the dirt; this is where the BMW shines.”
Braking is another area where the Ducati is in a class of its own. Radial-mount four-piston Brembo calipers mash down on 320mm rotors up front. Out back is a 245mm disc and the combination of massive power and light weight is unbeatable for BMW and Triumph. Not to mention that feel at the levers is precise and the Bosch-Brembo ABS is far more subtle than the other machines’. Yet, the ABS isn’t as simple to disengage as the BMW, and like the German bike, it must be done every time after the ignition is switched off.
Ergonomics were controversial for our riders, despite that they were all nearly the same height. The Ducati uses a stepped seat, one of our testers hated it and one loved the sensation of being locked in while on the pavement. All agreed that it isn’t as comfortable to sit or stand on during off-road sections as the BMW. The bars are too low for standing, and when we rotated them forward/upward, it put the levers into an awkward position because they are not adjustable to compensate.
The instrumentation is far in advance of the other adventure machines. A digital readout uses a multitude of hand controls to toggle through different displays. The amount of data alone would be sufficient to impress us, but riders can actually tune the engine to an amazing degree with nothing more than a few buttons on the left handlebar. Four presets for Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro offer what Ducati considers optimal settings, but the rider can fine-tune those even further. Engine mapping, ABS and traction control all make a big difference in performance and we fiddled with them constantly. This was a highlight feature.
“Being an IT guy, I love the Ducati’s onboard computer,” says the self-admitted computer geek, Wallace. “You can mess with everything from the engine management to the suspensions settings. Now, the fit and finish leads me to think they were in a hurry to get it out. Not big things, but little things like the seat and fairings not lining up.”
He wasn’t kidding about the second half of the equation. For one, we loved the hand grips, but other than that we were surprised to find that the Ducati feels cheap with its plastic bodywork. Nobody would have suggested this right away, but once the bike got dirty it became more apparent. The rubber-mounted tail section loosened and we couldn’t get it to tighten back up. A rear blinker broke off. The windscreen and body panels squeaked and rattled. The chain stretched immensely, adding to the racket. The wimpy timing belt vent guard really had us concerned when crossing water and riding in dust. The small plastic cover and thin foam are right up front, exposed to potential damage from any rocks kicked up by the front wheel (maybe that’s why it isn’t equipped with knobbies). These are the details that knocked it down a notch in the fit and finish, and even the stellar instrumentation couldn’t hide the shortcomings.
Those concerns, among others, also contributed to its second-place vote in Off-Road Abilities. Explosive power, 17-inch cast aluminum wheels shod in street rubber and compact ergonomics aren’t well-suited to dirt riding. Fortunately, even with the Duc’s pavement prowess, we were surprised how fun it is to ride away from the highway. Once the traction control and ABS is turned completely off, the Multistrada is wicked on smooth gravel roads. Even with street tires it’s manageable and our testers attributed that to the chassis and weight bias. It’s the only bike in our threesome that has less than 50% of the weight on the front wheel. Riders noted that they felt like they sat directly in the middle of the chassis, making it easy to balance front and rear behavior. Brake sliding and backing in to set up corners, powersliding out, the Ducati actually loves to play flat tracker. The single-sided swingarm and mud guards would prevent any serious off-road treads from being installed, but a semi-aggressive dual-sport tire would help spruce it up and we were aching for a bit more traction to take advantage of its playful nature. Besides, there’s something to be said for ripping down a dirt road, pitching sideways and listening to the growl of the L-Twin. It sounds like you’re driving a muscle-bound hot rod, which isn’t far from the truth.
Ducati has integrated the turn signals into the plastic handguards, which makes for a very clean, sophisticated look that matches the rest of the bike’s sleek appearance. Unfortunately, both of our handguards broke at the mounting points due to vibration. We never crashed, but if a rider were to hit the deck, you can be sure that the handguards would be one of the first things to go. So in concept, they’re great, but, like much of the Ducati, in practicality, it’s not what a real adventure bike needs. Just washboard roads quickly made the Ducati feel like it was losing resale value, much less a real thrashing over rocks, roots and the like. None of our testers could envision this bike doing 30,000 miles off the pavement. So, as much as things change, they also stay the same.
Long-distance touring and off-road performance still go to the BMW, but Ducati is rapidly making up ground and notches a victory on the scorecard.
In the touring department, the MTS 1200 again lacks some of the BMW’s finesse. The hard saddlebags are pretty terrible. They’re very attractive and have a creative latch design, but it doesn’t work for squat. We unlatched it several times on accident with our feet or hands and luckily never took off down the road with them hanging open. The adjustable windscreen does a good job compared to the buffeting Triumph, but even fully extended it puts too much pressure on the rider’s shoulders.
Only one of our testers preferred the BMW’s classic outline. The Multi’s short over/under mufflers look like a sawed-off shotgun and the single-sided swingarm shows off the black cast aluminum wheels. The front fender is short and pointy (though one tester says it looks like Beavis), tucked beneath glaring lights. Combined with radiator shrouds similar to a dirt bike and a 17-inch wheel that keeps the front end low, it screams supermoto. A stepped seat creates a wasp-like stinger and a skinny waist that draws the eye to an exposed trellis frame and brutish, blacked-out engine. It’s the type of bike you look at and say, “I want one.” Add in that it roars like a caged animal, slides predictably in the dirt and scrubs speed like an anchor and the only thing bigger than your bulging eyes is your grin. This bike is fun.
The Ducati prefers the street, but it could probably fight for the win at a sport-touring shootout. All of these bikes are capable of going more places than most street-worthy machines. But, it’s clear that some are better than others depending on where the rider plans to lay tracks. It’s up to them to decide which bike is the means to their particular end. If the road ahead is twisty, paved and resembles a two-lane Italian highway in any way… well, there you have it.