The Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring is something of a confused motorcycle. The Italians say it’s for on-road and off-road, but the bike begs to be ridden on fast, curvy pavement. Ducati has built a terrifically comfortable motorcycle that runs like superbike. This street bike is just as likely to show up in a sport touring shootout (which it might) as it is in our AT comparison. However, the high-performance Duc has proven it has the mettle for adventure.
There’s only one place to start with the MTS1200, and that’s the engine. The first words out of our testers’ mouths were singing praise for the Testastretta 11 powerplant. The L-Twin engine cranks out almost 132 horsepower which dwarfs anything else in this comparison. Ducati isn’t quite as dominant in the torque department, but it still easily sweeps up these competitors with just under 81 lb-ft. It cranks out more horsepower than all the others at only 6500 rpm, just before a massive surge, and then screams to a 10,200 rpm redline. Maximum HP comes at 9600 and torque at 7800. Numbers like that simply overwhelm the performance categories.
“Winner in this category by a huge margin,” says our most experienced adventurer, Riant. “But not just raw horsepower, it’s so user-friendly on- or off road. From mellow cruising at low Rs, roll it on for a smooth controllable rush or pin it and be ready to hang on. The Multistrada S has the perfect power.”
As expected the Duc crossed the quarter-mile with a fastest time and highest trap speed. These figures come from Sport mode which applies full power, but the Italian also has Touring, Urban and Enduro which alters the output, traction control and suspension settings. Like the Yamaha, the Ducati uses ride-by-wire throttle technology.
Torque: 80.94 lb-ft. @ 7600 rpm
Weight: 561 lbs.
While our riders unanimously slaver over the engine, the drivetrain is another issue. All that horsepower stretches the chain quickly, and it rattles excessively against the single-sided swingarm. The hydraulic clutch is great, but the six-speed transmission it controls has major issues. Generally the action is quick and easy at the shift lever, but the gearbox is rife with false neutrals. We noted a couple last year, but over the course of our extended trip we discovered even more this time around. Maddox was the only rider not to complain about a false neutral, but the other four evaluators did. Some were even able to toy with the gearbox and intentionally slip into one between each gear. It only takes one time of coming into a turn hot and having the bike freewheel instead of the expected engine braking on a quick downshift to sour test rider opinion. A couple riders went so far as to say it ruined the Ducati in the sense that they couldn’t enjoy the racy handling for a lack of confidence. As a result it received its lowest score of the test in this category.
“It’s disheartening to be railing through the corners on the Duc, only to downshift into the screaming revs of a false neutral,” says Madson. “They seem to be everywhere in the loose Ducati transmission. It’s a shame, too, as the hydraulic clutch offers the lightest lever feel and smooth engagement… when it grabs an actual gear!”
The transmission is a disappointment but riders can work around it with a little extra effort. One flaw that we couldn’t control, however, was a failure of the rear brake. The Brembo braking package on the Duc is as impressive as its engine. The dual front calipers in particular will put the rider’s eyeballs up against their face shield. Combined with ABS the binders create massive stopping power with excellent feel. Unfortunately, the rear brake went away on our first day, just before we pulled in for the night. Once it was light we determined that the hydraulic plunger was misadjusted. As it
Losing the rear brake was a costly repair. We weren’t satisfied with Ducati’s reasoning for the failure.
turns out, the rear brake has a recall on it for its master cylinder bypass valving. Over the next two days we adjusted it twice more before it completely disappeared. We were forced to detour into Salt Lake City for repairs.
Salt Lake Motorsports hooked us up with a complete rear brake assembly including master cylinder, caliper, brake line, ABS line and rotor. Speaking with Ducati later, we were told it was our adjustments that caused the brake to malfunction, dragging the brake, roaching the disc and ultimately overheating the system enough that the backing plate fell off a brake pad. None of our testers noted any drag after our adjustments. Granted, with 130 horsepower on tap it easily could have overshadowed a small amount. Regardless, it doesn’t explain why the brake failed in the first place. We could not, in good conscience, give the Ducati high marks for its binders.
As an “S” model, the Ducati is equipped with upscale components. Ohlins suspension is the biggest difference. A 48mm fully adjustable fork replaces the standard 50mm Marzocchi. The Ohlins rear shock mounts to a progressive linkage and both ends are electronically adjustable. The rider is able to select base settings depending on passenger and cargo by scrolling through the electronic menu. The components can be further adjusted via traditional mechanical means.
“It’s not surprising that Ducati’s high-dollar Ohlins fork and shock combine with an excellent chassis to provide the best overall handling of the bunch,” says the 160-pound Riant. “It’s far and above the best on the street. With ultra-accurate line selection, perfect stability and effortless cornering, it’s so easy to ride.
“And surprisingly good on the dirt,” he continues. “It has the best straight-line acceleration without fishtailing and sticks very well, giving confidence on loose gravel roads. It’s somewhat rough on rocky roads and sharp-edged obstacles.”
A 17-inch rear wheel is standard on these machines (except KTM which uses 18-inch), but the 17-inch front hoop is unique to Ducati in this test. It helps sharpen up the street handling and our riders were happy to report that it doesn’t negatively affect the off-road ride in most situations. The 10-spoke alloy wheels are not the best choice for dirt and we managed to ding the front hoop. With a 60.2-inch wheelbase, the 1200 absolutely rails through the corners. Riders sit in a very comfortable and neutral position on the chassis which allows for ultimate visibility and control over the bike. The riding compartment is the most compact, but it still tied the BMW in overall comfort, just behind the Yamaha.
“The Ducati just felt like a perfect fit every time I got on it,” says Maddox, our tallest test rider. “The seat felt like it supported my entire under-side and the bars, pegs and seat were placed perfectly for my body.”
With 47% of its weight bias on the front wheel, the Multistrada feels sharp and precise as it transfers side-to-side. It offers the most feedback to the pilot through its Ohlins front end. Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires grip the pavement with confidence all the way to the rubber’s edge. Weighing in at 561 pounds (with bags), the Duc is only three pounds lighter than the BMW, but it feels significantly more svelte. Controlling the bike and its massive engine in the dirt is not as intimidating as it would seem.
While handling and comfort are strong points, the cockpit does have a weakness. The digital display is way more advanced than the others’. However, all that electrical wizardry is only great if it works properly. We had to start monitoring the mileage in order to judge fuel consumption due to a failure in the fuel sensor. This forced a check-engine light to come on and came right on the heels of the rear brake issue, leaving us to wonder if the Ducati would even make it through to the end. During our stop at Salt Lake Motorsports, they were unable to fix the sensor without extensive shop time. In order to stay on course, and since it wasn’t causing any real concern other than potentially running out of fuel, we rode on without fixing it.
Riders can get deep into the 1200 S electronics, changing traction control settings, ABS strength and even engine tune. Custom mapping a motorcycle from the handlebars is pretty amazing, but learning and operating the system is confusing and takes practice. Because of its complicated nature and failed fuel sensor, the Ducati was ranked third for its electronics and instrumentation. Nobody argues that it’s the most sophisticated, but it’s almost too much.
“The Ducati has the coolest looking display by far and tells you everything you need to know except tire pressure,” says Maddox. “I just had a hard time using it. If you’re a computer geek you’ll love it, if you’re like me, you’ll need to take a night class on it.”
A rider is able to tune the Ducati to suit whatever mood they are in or different types of terrain. Lined up next to the rest of the bikes, the Multi is in another league as far as power is concerned.
Despite some of its flaws, our riders couldn’t help but appreciate the Ducati’s sex appeal. It was universally liked, though the luggage and its oversized 40-liter side covers detract a little. It tied with the rally-inspired KTM for best looking.
“Dave made a good point when he asked me if I ever noticed how the bikes look like the women from the country they’re manufactured in,” muses Maddox. “The Ducati and the BMW are the most striking examples of this. Enough said.”
Because our test unit was the touring model, this bumps the MSRP to almost $20,000 right off the bat. Plus, a list of accessories adds another $3858 for the heftiest pricetag – nearly $10,000 more than the Tiger 800 XC. Owners will be happy to know that the Multi has a 15,000-mile valve adjustment schedule, making ownership a bit more affordable. It also comes with a two year, unlimited mile warranty.
“If this were a purely street evaluation, I think it has to win,” admits Bart, “but Ducati pitches the ‘Strada as an adventure touring mount. As an AT ride, the argument for the Duc falls apart, literally. The reliability factory and cost of ownership scares me away. It’s also the most expensive bike in the test at over $20 grand. Having said all that, I can totally understand why folks would beg, borrow and steal to get one.”
Italians have their own idea of adventure, and it clearly involves going fast. The Multistrada 1200 S Touring is built around a superbike engine and it brings levels of performance that are unfathomable for the other machines. It’s basically the opposite of the KTM. Where the Austrian is a rugged dirt lover, this high-maintenance speedster belongs on the street. It can be a blast off-road, but it won’t last for long. Riding the Ducati brings out the inner hooligan. Thanks to its massive motor and sporty handling, the Ducati left an impression on our testers. If it could match its performance with reliability, the Ducati would be even better.
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