Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: Ducati Multistrada 1200S Touring

Oh have I been a lucky boy. I’ve had the very good fortune of having a 2011 Multistrada 1200S Touring bestowed upon me for a week while my bike is in the shop. I love those guys at Ducati City.
There is so much stuff going on with this bike from the outset it’s hard to know where to begin. Ok, let's start with the fact that this bike is packed full of technology. It's also packed full of utterly explosive power (150bhp or 110kW). It also an incredibly versatile bike that can handle anything you throw at it with the four performance settings. It’s incredibly practical (Large 20Ltr fuel tank, 57 Litre touring storage, Multipurpose road/trail tyres), and it’s a very light bike considering its size (189kg dry weight). What I like so much about all of that technology most, is that it's all so practical. Complex enough, yet easy to use on the go. The dash is huge and really well positioned so you are not taking your eyes off the road to use it, the four modes actually vary really important things like traction control and suspension height not to mention of course power output, so what you end up with is this mega high powered, go anywhere, lightweight easy to ride multi purpose monster of a motorcycle.


Blip the button and you are straight into Set Up mode. Press to confirm, roll off throttle to activate

The sensation of power is literally impossible to resist, twisting the throttle to feel it each and every time you get on board is a must. You need to wrench that Ducati roar from its throat and feel it’s mid range gut wrenching torque every time you see the 4,000rpm approaching. It is just that good… Let’s look at what makes those performance modes work so well.

Sport

  • Full 150bhp
  • Tuned for going hard
  • Sport suspension setup
  • Traction control set to 3

Touring

  • Full 150bhp
  • Tuned for smoother torque delivery
  • Traction control set to 5
  • Smoother suspension setting for comfort

Urban

  • Reduced to 100bhp
  • Traction control set to 7
  • Softer suspension

Enduro

  • Reduced to 100 bhp
  • Higher suspension
  • Traction control set to 1
  • Option to disable ABS
And all of the modes above are suspension configurable to suit ‘rider only’, ‘rider with luggage’, ‘rider and passenger’ or ‘rider and passenger with luggage’ just adding to the appeal. I got 'stuck' in Sport mode, one up, for most of my riding but I did try out the Touring and Urban modes and can say that they are real world practical changes that you can feel. In Touring the mid range is definitely a smoother less explosive punch in the guts, and to me it feels slightly more 'boaty' in the sweepers, gulping up bumps without a care in the world. In Urban, you can really feel the reduced power; it's definitely far more sedate yet still (feels like an 800cc twin) grunty and powerful, and everything from front to back suspension just feels more 'fluffy'. Definitely the one to stay on in traffic if you want to keep your license.

 In Sport the Ducati is a roaring tiger of deadly mid-range power-wheelie-launch-material wallop. Every roll on or twist of that drive by wire throttle delivers the most incredibly satisfying KaPow of grunt. Enduro takes power back a peg to 100bhp and the lowest traction control setting, and interestingly for a bike like this the option to disable ABS which I think is a pretty clever move by Ducati. The bike physically hikes up a few inches and you can actually feel it which is quite weird but cool. Everything gets harder and the torque is delivered really smoothly. But Sport mode is still so much more fun! From 4,000rpm up the curve to 6,000rpm travelling through third to fourth gear is absolutely exhilarating. On Australian roads with 100/110km limits punctuated by drops back to 80kmph, those are the main two gears you need for cruising. It’ll will sit nicely in third and lumber it’s way down to 60kms and pull easily in between there and the speed limit, but it’s when you find that sweet spot in fourth at 4,000rpm and blip it, when the fun really kicks in.

 It is just so utterly enjoyable to roll out of 70km corners with a big twist of the throttle and the absolute confidence that you have more than enough power on tap, words fail to describe. The note delivered through that rev range is a barking tyrannosaurus that wrenches a maniacal grin from me every single time. The only way to keep your license on this bike is to disable that setting permanently. It's just not fair.

Ducati Multistrada 1200S Touring

I can see now, how the masters use that power to race up Pikes Peak International Hill Climb maintaining a modest 160kmh average to bring top honours for Ducati two years running on board a Multistrada. But I was dubious about all this technology at first. I have not had very much experience riding with things like ABS, traction control and four riding modes. I mean, that just sounds like a lot to deal with. And that is how I first approached the bike so I found it really confronting. I was riding dubiously, anticipating the bike anticipating me and that was a huge mistake. Ride by wire throttle, wet clutch, ABS, DTC, flick this button look at that, flick that lookee here. Arggh! Too much. I found myself flopping over in corners lamely and waiting for it to do something to save me. On one of the first intersections I literally flopped into a right-hander and was thinking it would pull me up by some sort of magic marvel all by itself, and that was when I snapped out of it.

I flicked it back into Sport mode, one up, no luggage and just started to ride, ignoring all the technology. That is when I started to get it. The technology mostly leaves you alone as long as you do, and what ensued was a really hassle free beautifully balanced power package of joy. Zero lean angle, decent seat height (albeit a good few cms lower than my Hyper) and big wide bars (wider than the Hyper!) mean that the bike feels really weightless, small and nimble in the corners. It has a great centre of gravity making it feel much smaller than it is, I was nipping in and out of traffic like I was on the much smaller wheelbase Hyper. I had to change much of my riding style as you really do kick back in that big fat arsed seat, arms outstretched to the max, and those wide bars mean more steering and leaning and less motard muscling and shifting weight around to track corners.

 But once I got the hang of that, I felt really confident on the Multi. I think I can ride it faster in the sweepers than the Hyper because it just oozes torque yet I still found myself going wide in the tighter stuff – but I am sure that is just a matter of me not knowing how to handle this kind of bike. Yet. Is it comfortable? I could ride this bike for 12hrs straight and not complain about it. A small part of that is about the extremely comfy seat with it’s wide base and cushy feel, but it is actually a combination of so many good things all working together. Like that super light clutch action. Hard to get used to compared to the snatchy on/off dry clutch Ducati is renowned for. An oil bath wet clutch with a slipper function means that the big Multi doesn't have the clickety clack symphony I have become accustomed, add to that the super light lever it uses, (a progressive self-servo mechanism that presses the plates together when under drive from the engine, enabling the reduction of the clutch spring rates) and you have a zero fatigue bike.
 

That clutch feels so feather-light combined with the wide bars left me with no arm pump whatsoever. After almost four hours riding with a quick fuel break halfway I felt literally no fatigue at all. That much time on board the Hyper and I'm pretty tired, fingers stiff, hands tight and arm pumped from carving it up, ready for a nana nap and a cup of tea. There is no almost windblast to speak off either. It felt eerily quite at first, no clutch clatter, hardly any wind and so I had a play with that big screen and found it to be a very effective thing. I’d usually be turned off by a bike with a big beak and tall screen by, but this kind of just works together.

I prefer the aggressive style of nakeds and motards but for more of a big chunky multi machine this really appeals to me, like a GS probably never will. So there is a lot of power, a lot of technology, not very much weight, the superbike race winning Testastretta engine and that incredible Ducati styling. Winning! And as much as I really like this bike, I was still left trying to work out how I felt about it. I wasn't instantly turned on by it, I like it, and I like it quite a lot. I like looking at it; I like pretty much everything about it. But it doesn't own me. I can't explain it, when I get on the Hyper I disappear, it is just the bike doing all of the talking. Like a Tron lightcycle, it consumes me and all that is left is this red black and white blob of pure connectedness.

I launch over speed humps and push my limits all the time like a madman possessed. It has massive grin factor. I could take on Chuck Norris and nail that son of a bitch. That’s right Chuck, you are going down. On the Multi I just feel a little less crazy and far more sensible. I still want to go to fast and I want to wind that throttle to 4,000rpm to hear that tiger’s roar escape every single time, but I'm just a little less aggressive about it perhaps. I can't explain it. If I were forced into it, I'd explain it something like this. On the Hyper I feel 12 years old and indestructible. On the Multi, I am a more grown up and aware that I break. I'm more serious, and yet still nowhere near boring. I’d really like to have one in my shed. I’m nowhere near done with the Hyper yet but maybe as I get over the hump called 40 this year, plus a few more down the track - I could definitely considering growing up a bit and being a Multistrada rider. I’d still never be boring that’s for sure.

Bonus points for the high end spec Ducati Multistrada 1200S Touring

  • Testastretta 11° L Twin, 4 valve per cylinder, Desmodromic 1198.4ccc
  • ABS and DES by Ohlins
  • DTC - Ducati Traction Control
  • Four riding modes with electronic suspension
  • Ride by wire throttle
  • 2o Litre Fuel tank
  • 57Ltr luggage capacity
  • 24kms major service intervals
  • 189kg dry weight
  • Two 12v power supplies
  • Four pot Brembo brakes
  • Torque assisted, oil bath slipper clutch
  • Heated grips
  • Proximity key
  • Overdrive - the big multi reaches its top speed in 5th and maintains it in 6th. It's weird but it works.
  • Sump-guard
  • Big screen with 60mm travel adjustment
  • Pirelli Scorpion trail tyres - 120 front and 190 rear
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