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Ducati Multistrada 1200S Review II – The End of Sportbiking As We Know It

Submitted by on Wednesday, 21 July 201025 Comments


In Part 1 of our two part Multistrada 1200 S review we examined the bikes Urban and Touring modes. This instalment we unleash Sport mode and take the Multistrada 1200S onto BC’s fire roads before making our conclusions.

Sport Mode:
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.

Enduro Mode:

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.

Conclusion:

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.

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25 Comments »

  • Jock Nash said:

    Yesterday evening I completed a cross-country ride on my red Multistrada touring version. I left Bethesda, Maryland to ride to the MOTOGP in Monterey, California. I ran into rain, hail, high winds, oppressive heat and totally fell in love with this bike. It took eight days to cover the 3,111.4 miles. This was considerably slower than three earlier cross-country trips I took over thirty years ago, which took only six days. However, at 63, I have more sense now than I did then, though that is debatable.

    The bike performed flawlessly. Due to time constraints I was held to the Interstate system, but plan to use more state and local roads on my return to stop and smell the flowers.

    The trip started with four hours of constant rain. Rooster tails of spray came off every car and truck. Although I ride as though I am the prey, not the predator, the MTS gave me confidence to establish a requisite safety zone at a fantastic pace. The bike was superbly prepared on arrival by Duc Pond Motorsports and after the 600-mile service I was headed west still learning the myriad, though essentially intuitive, controls and capabilities.

    I learned that the touring mode is relaxed and confidence building. When wind and speeds climbed and auto and truck traffic became threatening, slipping it into the sport mode stabized the bike in even the harshest conditions and enabled me to ride to the open spaces on the Interstate free of the speeding minivans and the morons who want to tailgate you while texting or talking on their phones.

    Construction zones, rest stops, small town streets, and strange roads off the Interstate were easily and instantly navigable by slipping into the urban mode that gives you the slow speed versatility of a Vespa scooter at slow speeds. This was really handy as experiences on my earlier crossings decades ago found me with a bike that did not want to settle down after traveling at 85-90 mph for an hour that then needed to be tractable to maneuver gas stations and roadside stops. This bike could go from lion to lamb without a hiccup.

    I found myself toggling through the various instrument readouts for temp, gas range, mpg averages etc. All proved to be accurate. On lone stretches of road, or when faced with some minivan filled with kids and a distracted and harried drivers you could streak away to safety. I found that the speedometer overestimates your speed by about 5%. My Garmin 665 had my top speed on the trip at 111 mph with it’s GPS, while the speedometer read a heart-racing 118 mph. This presumably liability-related programming saved my bacon on a number of occasions because the long arm of the law is always out there. I was stopped and cautioned once by a trooper and he had my speed on his radar gun under the reckless zone when I thought I was actually above it.

    I did motels across the country and virtually every one of them would let you park the bike safe and secure under their entrance since it is such a fine looking bike. The panniers are cheap and lack capacity though they served me well, as I travel light. They do increase the effect of severe crosswinds but even in the worst gusts the bike would stabilize itself every time. I did find in severe wind conditions that it is best to put the bike in the sport mode. Then it becomes amazingly surefooted.

    I have the low seat and found it to be, while not optimal, just fine for this trip. I did not put in 1,000 mile days, but even when I did over 500 miles, my fatigue was always due to the tensions of Interstate riding, not the bike’s seat or riding position. I only rode during daylight hours.

    I am off to will call to pick up my MOTOGP tickets for the race this weekend. This bike is amazing and I cannot think of anything I have ever purchased that met virtually every expectation.

    Your review was the best I have read. Although I am a Ducati fanboy, every superlative written about this bike happens to be accurate.

  • Neil Johnston (author) said:

    Jock,
    A well written response and valuable insight into the Cross-Country capabilities of the new MTS 1200 S and longer term riding. It serves to flesh out our shorter term article nicely. Thank you!
    Now go enjoy a well earned parade lap at MotoGP for us (if they still do those)!
    Cheers,
    Neil

  • S Taylor said:

    Fantastic review. Would be the perfect bike if they increase the adventure component. As you mentioned – bring on the aftermarket accessories…!
    FYI The GS “Adventure” is 223kg (Apocalyptic Cow) where the GS is only 203kg.
    Stephen.

  • Neil Johnston (author) said:

    Stephen,
    Thanks for catching that weight discrepancy on our part. The review’s been updated and full credit to you for keeping us on track with the scales!
    Neil

  • Doug said:

    Hey Neil since you are commenting on the comments. Perhaps this might call for a column in itself. But, How did the new multistrada compare with the old in different areas?

  • Neil Johnston (author) said:

    Doug,
    That’s not a half bad idea. I probably can’t get to it right away, but I should have time this fall. The obvious point of power and comfort jump out at me in that the new Multi seems much better, but the old bike was comparable on dirt roads. It could make a very interesting piece.
    Thanks,
    Neil

    PS: Should we change comments to Conversations maybe? More in the spirit of what we’d like to have happen.

  • Tillman said:

    True enduro capabilities seem to be over-marketed. But is it enough of a off-the-paved-road bike that you’d consider taking it on the Dempster?

  • Neil Johnston (author) said:

    On a good dry day, yes. On a wet day absolutely not, or at least not without taking a melon-baller and Dremmel to the Scorpion Trails and grooving out some extra treads.

  • Cat MacLeod said:

    Hey Neil,

    As a fellow industry marketing guy who’s seen a lot of motorcycle review writing I tip my hat. Nicely done.

    I test rode a Multistrada 1200S touring two up with my wife yesterday for a quick run to HWY-1

    LEFT SIDE OF BRAIN REPORT:
    Riding two up the bike is still a serious performer. Touring mode is plush but both wife and I prefer sport mode. The suspension felt more confidence inspiring even in the rough crappy pavement. We’d save touring mode for freeway work. Acceleration in both Touring and Sport modes is amazing and keeps pulling hard even in triple digits two up. A few hard braking tests revealed no whobblies and while the front end dove a bit under emergency stop conditions it was clean and predictable. Urban mode produces more engine vibration at round town speeds for the passenger. Changing modes is frightfully easy. The windscreen for a tall guy like me at 6’2″ creates an odd hum when fully extended, there’s no doubt an aftermarket screen will be a needed luxury. Leg room for passenger and rider are blissfully comfortable and there’s plenty of rear seat room. Wife would like to see if the passenger seat will break in a bit or if the optional plushier seat will be needed. Dash is very effective display and you won’t find your self hunting for information on it when you should be looking at the road. Luggage is a bit flimsy but roomy even with the capacity cut on the right side, of course two up we’d need the top box. It vibrates like you’d expect a retuned race engine with additional rubber mounts, it’s toned down but both rider and passenger feel the engine. The adjustable riding modes combine to make this machine an amazing piece of engineering.

    RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN REPORT:
    At first the engine is scary. It walks right over to you at the bar and says, “I’m fast and hot, you up for it?”. Slap the bike into sport mode and my wife and I are having a threesome with some crazed Italian hottie. We’re passing sport bikes and railing through rough pavement in the turns while the wife dry humps the passenger seat with excitement in the straights. Yes I’m sitting upright with more luggage capacity than most big sport touring machines but even two up the bike begs to throttled hard and smacked around. This is dangerous fun, we’re riding faster than we would on a cramped sport bike. Leaning forward I pin the beast down under hard throttle wondering who invented this thing and why in gods name did they set it loose? It comes with luggage?! I want I want I want! GIMMIE A BLACK ONE NOW!

    SOMEWHERE IN THE CORPUS CALLOSUM:
    The realization hits me like that scene in the Matrix when Morpheus utters the worlds, “Welcome to the real world”. Even in the pristine Alps of Switzerland or the rolling hills of Alsace, you’re going to hit rough pavement and tight corners no one will ever see on a race track. Sport bikes are built ever more to win in a world we don’t live in. Yes I love riding on the track but as anyone who’s done it will tell you…riding on the track is completely different. The rise of supermotoesque machines is the dawning of this realization. Machines like the, V-Strom, Tiger 1050, KTM SM-T have been climbing a new hill towards a new definition of “Sport Touring”. Even with it’s flaws, the Multistrada 1200S is the first machine to reach the top and redefine the position.

  • Neil Johnston (author) said:

    Cat,
    Wow! Thanks… your feedback fills one big void in our review, “What is the new Multistrada 1200 S like two up?” Generally we’re just a writer and photographer on two different test bikes, so a passenger’s perspective is limited.
    Neil

  • Ian said:

    Hi Neil,
    As Cat says ….
    Machines like the, V-Strom, Tiger 1050, KTM SM-T have been climbing a new hill towards a new definition of “Sport Touring”. Even with it’s flaws, the Multistrada 1200S is the first machine to reach the top and redefine the position.
    … and I must agree entirely with him.

    I have a rather, maybe odd-ball, view on the way the current crop of “Adventure/Sports Tourer” bikes are going.

    My first observation is that I am unhappy with the electronics that are being piled onto these machines. BMW were first I believe with the GS/GT of around 2006 which gained ESA, ESP, tyre pressure monitors, etc.

    My point being that with BMW you sort of believe they will be reliable even if they are not. With Ducati you remember the italian electrics of a few years back and hope that some Japanese guy is in charge and he’s buying Japanese electronics! With UJM’s you know they will be OK.

    Do we really need all this electronic stuff? Is it that hard to check tyre pressures now and then? Can on-one now find the pre-load adjusted and take 20 seconds to wind it up for a pillion?

    I guess the real question is … are motorcycles now made with only “Born again bikers” as the marketing target. Made for those who can afford the increasingly high purchase prices and who expect all these gizmos that match what they get in their cars?

  • Neil Johnston (author) said:

    Ian,
    I think we’ll see a stratification of the market into ‘big adventure tourers’ in the 1000-1200cc territory, and smaller lighter adventure tourers like BMW’s F800GS, the Yamaha XT 660 Tenere, Triumphs potential small adventure that’s been hinted at. Personally, I’m a bit leery of all the electronic adjustments. Hence my decision to start with a KTM 690 Enduro R and refine it with a few additions into a KTM 690 Adventure R (I can’t wait for the oft speculated on 690 Adventure). That’s as much a philosophical choice as anything else speaking to the kind of riding I personally want to do.
    Are these bikes only the realm of ‘born again bikers’? Probably not. I remember the transformation to riding that discovering heated grips and vests. Creature comforts (and unreliable in the case of my Gears vest), but an enhancement of riding in their own right.
    I think Cat is right qualifying the listed bikes as the “new sport tourers”, mainly because none of them are particularly dirt oriented. Much more in common with the Universal Japanese Motorcycles (UMJs) you mentioned. This isn’t a bad thing, but dubbing the MTS and it’s brethren “adventure bikes” in this emerging class seems a stretch.
    Reliability? That remains to be seen, but internally Ducati has done a lot of work on its testing and quality assurance process. Time will tell.

  • Cat MacLeod said:

    Thanks for the props guys. I agree that the Multristrada 1200S should not be classified as an “adventure” tourer. I’ve taken VFR’s and BMW K1300GT’s onto some dirt roads in my quest to get somewhere. Thanks Garmin, that back road in the mud in Slovenia on a 700lb machine was an “adventure”. I would have preferred to have been on the Multistrada 1200S at the time but I’d not consider the Multistrada 1200S fit to compete in the dirt with KTMs or BMW’s open class dual sport machines. It’s too street oriented and has too many gadgets that could fail under long term off road abuse.

  • rapier said:

    32MPG, the number I’ve seen quoted, would just sit wrong with me.

    Motorcycle.com did a comapro with a GS but I think Cycle World had a better idea pairing it with the VFR 1200.

    Truth be told the Multistrada probably fits the needs of most. The ability to take on semi maintained gravel roads is almost all that’s needed in the Lower 48 of the US to expand touring possibilities a lot. . That’s me for instance. In the end nothing compares to the GS in its ability to take stupendous amounts of abuse and keep on ticking. It may not be easy to take everywhere but it will try and won’t quit. For the true 1 percenters, make that .001 percenters, it’s the logical choice. For the everyday 2 percenters who imagine going across Mongolia but only make it to the Sweet Grass Hills the Duc makes a better choice.

    Now if I can locate that heiress I’ll get both.

  • Ian said:

    In the end nothing compares to the GS in its ability to take stupendous amounts of abuse and keep on ticking.It may not be easy to take everywhere but it will try and won’t quit.

    @rapier A great number of UK 1200GS/GSA owners might disagree with you on the “keep on ticking” part.

    The most popular GS forum http://www.UKGSer.com , is filled with reports of final-drive issues, from wear to disintegration, on even low mileage models. IIRC one guy with a 2008 GSA has had 4 FD’s changed under warranty!

    BMW’s reputation has suffered quite a lot over the last few years.

  • Neil Johnston (author) said:

    @rapier I’m with you on the 32MPG number… mind you my throttle hand doesn’t seem programmed for maximum efficiency. You’re also correct that there’s a whole web-work of maintained gravel that this bike opens, but not much beyond those.

    i think @Ian raises a good point about BMW’s R1200GS. BMW has done a great job of selling the perception of reliability. I think Ducati starts from a much lower ground in this issue given it’s history until the late 90s. BMW had a run of bad final drives a couple years back, which was partially the result of using recycled metals (or so the rumour goes).
    The truth is that all bikes will have reliability issues, as well as strengths and weaknesses. The unfortunate part is that the marketing of a bike often gets in the way of the public making and empirical and informed decision, and it’s damn hard to get ahold of hard numbers for recall date or failures.
    Neil

  • Lee said:

    Consider it the highest compliment that your article has made me WANT one!

  • Skip said:

    Great article Neil. I would like the Multistrada in most respects, but am concerned about the $20k price tag, the fragile bits, and the perceived cost of maintaining Duks – with all those electronics, diy is difficult or expensive. While I like carving up streets on a classic KZ650, I grew up riding logging roads, sand hills and rocks, and would like less power, less weight, and more adventure in my sport tourer. In the Adirondacks, my twisty roads have gravel and frequent potholes. I loved trail riding on a Honda TL125 that I bought when it was new, but it’s not so good for touring… So I’m still looking for the great adventure bike with decent street manners. Slower on the road would also save some tickets. Suggestions?

  • Neil Johnston (author) said:

    I’m on the same quest. Smaller, lighter… ok, not less power. I have a KTM 640 Adventure, Scar, which is pretty much bang on except snapped and bought a 690 Enduro R. The 640 is going up for sale and I’m going to do some light mods to the 690 to “roll my own” adventure bike.

  • doug said:

    Neil,

    Have you been keeping an eye on the release of the new Triumph Adventure bike. An 800 based on the 675 triple sounds promising to me. The off road model in some of the spy photos looks like it could be thin and light. I guess we will see.

  • Neil Johnston (author) said:

    We are most definitely keeping an eye on developments around the new Triumph 800, and trying to create a closer relationship with Triumph. It would make a great bike for our next adventure series :)
    Neil

  • Don said:

    I just saw the standard Multistrada 1200 at the dealer’s. Very nice and a nice price (actually affordable for me). I haven’t seen any reviews on the standard model addressing it’s suspension compared to the Ohlin’s. Is it (manually) adjustable over the same range? Does it soak up the urban inconsistancies almost as well? How much am I losing for street use besides the convenience?

  • Neil S. said:

    I currently own a MTS1200 standard non abs and could not be happier. Yeah, for 5k more I could have gotten the trick Ohlins suspension but I dont miss it. Standard suspension is still fully adjustable, and one less techno gizmo to worry about replacing/fixing!

    Awesome review Neil! I’ve been riding Japanese sportbikes for 15 years and your “Sport” review is dead on. This bike rips!

  • Jim Bryan said:

    As an avid GS owner (I’ve lost count of the number of GS’s I’ve had over the years, and only just sold an 1100 to a friend), I’ve been running my Multistrada for the last year or so and have been utterly impressed.

    Ok, it’s not as ‘rugged’ as a GS, but for road riding – it’s magnificent.

  • George said:

    Gents:

    I just finished a 2,500 mile/6 day trip through northern CA, OR and eastern WA. Warm weather (highs of 100+ in northern CA), clear skies and not a hint of rain was the order of each day. This was my first extended, touring oriented ride on my Duck, a 2012 MTS with electronic Ohlins. The after market tidbits include Cee Baily wind screen, Rick Mayer seat, Michelin P4s and Garmin GPS.

    I had traded my ’05 BMW RT for the Duck in late fall 2012, which I had used for many high mileage tours. The BMW had been fitted with Ohlins. While I was looking forward to the ride … I was a bit apprehensive about 500/600 mile days on the new bike….. similar mileage on the BMW was a non-event. Would less fairing, smaller side cases, chain maintenance and no cruise control conspire to make the ride less pleasant as each day progressed.

    I started the trip with 9,500 miles on the OD. Some quick observations;
    >touring mode was plush easily besting the setting I had established for the BMW,
    >wind noise was comparable to that of the BMW (stock screen on the BMW),
    >side cases were adequate for a week’s ride but would be problematic if two up,
    >cruise control was missed but wasn’t as big a factor as I was anticipating as the throttle pull is fairly light especially by BMW standards,
    >chain maintenance was a none factor …. no discernible stretch during the ride and I only bother to spray it once…the chain was in virtually the same shape upon my return as when I started.
    >the seat was comfortable though I’m not sold on Rick’s seating interpretation for this bike. It holds you in one position…which makes sport oriented session somewhat clumsy when trying to slide side to side. Not sure what my final take will be on this matter…..a second seat for Sunday morning rides?

    With this experience…I can say I’m totally committed to the Duck as a long distance tourer…already planing a 3K trip to Pikes Peak for late July and a 4-5K trip through the SW in late September.

    –george

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