That I’m riding at all is a tribute to modern off the shelf pharmaceuticals, that have pounded my flu symptoms into submission, but I am off my game. Every action I take seems a moment delayed, my responses all feel a half second behind, and my face, why yes it is tingling. There’s no cure for what ails me, but adrenaline will help… adrenaline always helps. I thumb the signal cancel button, close the throttle and confirm “Sport” on the display. If I could hear, then under the L-twin’s snarl, servos whine, the Multistrada tenses on its suspension, and a hint of throttle bolts me forwards into the turns.
Worries about the flu hang in the air like a cloud after a cartoon character bullets away. With all this talk of adventure, urbanity and tour-ability, don’t miss one core fact. This is still a Ducati, the product of a company rooted in sport. If this were forgotten, the bike would be just another GS pretender.
It is not.
The suggestion of 30km/h corners are laughable, multiply by three and you’re just getting a hint of this bike’s capabilities. Remapped for ferocity in a near 1 to 1 ratio of open butterflies to throttle position and 155hp unleashed. By 4000 it’s “maybe a dab more traction control to prevent corner exit wheelies” aggressive. Ducati says there’s more mid-range torque than the 1198, as I’m slid into the catch of the rear pillion seat there’s no doubt.
Think the weight difference between the MTS1200 and a superbike makes a difference? Not judging by the way it dances through the turns. Sitting upright you’ve got better sight lines. The leverage of the wide bars adroitly tips the bike into turns. Dialed in, the suspension is taught enough to squeeze impossible lines between a myriad of potholes, tar snakes and bumps. And when you can’t miss the bumps, 170mm (6.7in) of travel front and back dismiss the upset as the Pirelli Scorpion Trails leach every bit of traction from the road’s surface.
Feel the need to burn off some entry speed? And this bike carries the pace so well that’s near optional. Then, there’s stop-the-freight-train powerful radial mounted Brembo calipers biting down on twin 320mm discs up front. Squeeze, don’t grab. That said our tester didn’t suffer from fork dive like one would expect given the suspension travel.
Push hard, and there’s no weave or slop or slow turn in like other big trailies… just a hint of vagueness. And for that you need to be the way silly side of way silly, and the MTS is more that willing to take you there, and it’s playful and fun about it.
The proof is in the numbers though, and those are set in a familiar corner we use for photos that we’ve dubbed “the Gravity Well”. It’s a 50 km/h marked multi-apex downhill corner, tricky enough to eat a few new riders every year, but with wide enough lanes you can set up a line between the inconsistencies in the pavement. I’m not carrying the same lean angle as when I tested the GSX-R 1000 here, I’m ill and staying in my safe zone, and still my entry speed is consistently 10 to 20 km/h faster than the GSX-R.
My exit pace? Considerably better.
Even dead dog sick, I am faster on the Multistrada than on any sport bike I’ve road tested. That conclusion might be different on a track where you can revel in a litre bike’s ability. But in the real world, on imperfect roads and under the command of a mortal rider the sportbike has just been made obsolete, by a bike that gives you it all… almost.
To be clear, it’s an overstatement on the part of Bologna to say this is an adventure bike. And at a casual glance the Multistrada 1200 S has the look. Which is to say that while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, adventure bike designers see the world through soft focus. What grabs your adventurist eye most is that the Multistrada 1200 S is fairly dripping with breakable bits that will leave your local dealer squealing with parts sales delight.
The massive radiator stands at the ready to empty your wallet with the first drop, or simply take a rock impact. The stylized handguards with integrated LEDs lack a metal backbone loop, and are waiting to snap in a fall. The 10 spoke alloy rims await that one rock you fail to miss. The bags look ready to disintegrate with an impact. If your goal is to take the Multistrada off-road your first stop should be Altrider.com for a beefed up bashplate and drop guards.
These concerns rest atop the two things you absolutely need to keep a bike upright off-road; tires. The Pirelli Scorpion Trail are only trail in name, their grip on the world is flummoxed by grass and lets slide in mud.
Mud is what happens in the real world when you add water to dirt… Yes, Pirelli there are some places in the world that rain.
As important is that in the default Enduro mode the suspension truly comes into its own on the dirt around 60-70kph. Inconveniently, this is the point where the Pirelli Scorpion Trails feel completely out of their depth. Beyond this, pucker up. You are simply along for a slewing through gravel ride.
Below 70kph the front tire (a 120/70 17′) is simply waiting for an excuse to wash out. It lacks the diameter to take on anything more than a moderately rocky course. Meanwhile the acreage of 190/55 17” rubber out back is dragged around by every rut or root you encounter. This fitment also means that there are currently no knobby tires available, and the clearances between the fenders and the tire carcass is to tight to allow them. Those clearances are begging to clog with any mud you dare to get too close to.
Somewhere you can hear the sound of the aftermarket tooling up a tire and fender kit. And when that happens the Multistrada 1200 S could truly come into it’s own as an adventure bike.
The 423lb (192kg) weight is easily manageable compared to the R1200GS Adventures’s Dry weight of 492 lbs (223kg) and on par with the GS’s 203kg. The 100 hp of Enduro mode is delivered with a smooth greasy ease to make the KTM 990 Adventure engineers throw their hands up in exasperation.
The Enduro mode also reveals the Multistrada as well balanced and easy to manage at slow and moderate speeds, which will be the requisite for the occasional foray onto dirt roads for most riders.
Undoubtedly though, taking a Ducati off road carries a certain decadence, which is motivation enough to attempt a proper adventure ride. As Kevin and I only clocked about 75km of dirt cumulatively, we’d certainly welcome a longer test with a better-armored unit to prove our initial impression wrong.
In the end though, Enduro mode is where the Multistrada hits its chief compromise of street rubber versus low-mu surfaces. So while Multistrada will get you through dirt roads it isn’t as capable as other offerings such as the R1200GS or KTM 990 Adventure; making the Ducati more Porche Cayenne than Landrover Defender.
Occasionally we dance around conclusions, but this one hit both Kevin and I over the head within 20 minutes in the seat. The Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring is the best roadbike we’ve ever tested. It sits in near perfect balance at the confluence of its three main modes, Sport, Touring and Urban, without sliding into dull soulless practicality. Enduro mode though is a misnomer, a concept lost in translation when “Moderate Dirt Road Mode” wouldn’t fit on the dash’s LCD display. That aside, if there ever was a “practical” bike that heralded the end of sportbiking as we know it, it is the Multistrada 1200S. Truly, now, you can almost have it all.