Ultimate Game Changer: Multistrada 1200

Ultimate Adventure Bike

Editor’s Note: The 2010 Ultimate MotorCycling Game Changers series will feature our picks and thoughts on the best bikes of 2010, based on design and technical merit, and to some degree looks, build-quality and image. For this series, price is irrelevant.

Multiple personalities in society are frowned upon, with many ongoing studies attempting to find a cure. But the opposite dilemma exists in the motorcycle world, where infinite personalities from one bike are welcomed, especially when those characters can quickly transform a bike into whatever riding style is needed.

Building such a machine with multiple personalities is also an ongoing study, creating hefty challenges for all motorcycle manufacturers. Well, that is until the 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200 was unveiled.

This new 1200 Ducati is four bikes in one, with the capability to transform between four personalities – Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro – at the touch of a button. Which personality we like best, we don’t know…but that’s exactly why it’s our pick for the 2010 Ultimate Game Changer in the Adventure category.

Arthur Coldwells (Ultimate Motorcycling magazine Publisher) says: "The Multistrada S is not one great all-round motorcycle; it’s actually four, highly focused motorcycles delivered in one package – and there’s a difference. For example, the electronic Öhlins suspension works so well I was able to quell a high speed wobble in a very fast, sweeping corner by switching from ‘Touring’ mode to ‘Sport’… on-the-fly! From quick, comfortable Touring bike to hard-core Sportbike by simply toggling one switch? Amazing."

This "quarto moto in una," Italian for "four bikes in one," is the first of its kind, offering a "truly customizable riding experience," especially from the electronically adjusted Öhlins suspension (DES) and traction control (DTC) featured on the S Sport and S Touring models (not the standard model). Where else can you find that, and all controlled by a press of the thumb?

Sure, the most comparable bike, the KTM 990 Supermoto T, will take you comfortably coast-to-coast if wanted, but the Italians have done much more, especially with the electronics on the Multistrada – more than thought possible on an adventure bike.

Unlike other electronic mode systems, most notably the BMW ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment that only adjusts the rear shock), Ducati’s modes not only alter both the front and rear suspension, but also the traction control and ride-by-wire throttle inputs. Within each mode, the rider can alter the load settings between single rider, single rider with luggage, rider and passenger, and rider plus passenger with luggage.

While designing the Multistrada 1200, Ducati decided to go with its most powerful motor, the 1198 L-Twin Testastretta, but tuned it a bit for the torque necessary for the different modes. The main difference between the Multistrada 1200’s motor and the 1198 Superbike version, is the 11 degrees valve overlap between the opening of the intake valves and the closing of the exhaust valves, instead of the Superbike power plant’s 41 degrees. Peak horsepower is minimally reduced which of course affects outright top speed, but otherwise doesn’t make much difference. In Sport and Touring modes the Multistrada makes 150 hp at 9,250 rpm and 87.5 ft-lbs torque, and in Urban and Enduro modes, 100 hp.

Coldwells says: "Make no mistake-this is a Ducati superbike with a comfortable upright seating position and some off-road capability. The 150bhp engine (in Sport mode) is incredibly punchy and the Sport mode setup gives the rider an agile, flickable motorcycle that in the right hands will rule the twistiest road."

Yes, it’ll do justice off the road, but who would actually want to take this sexy Italian design and beat it…but when that urge arrives, the Multistrada won’t let you down.

As Coldwells points out, "Although they’ve tried hard, the 17-inch wheels and expensive bodywork limits the Multistrada’s serious off-road appeal, but it’s nice to know that if you’re on a tarmac challenged or even unpaved road somewhere you won’t be left stranded; the Multistrada won’t miss a beat."

Added to the new functions, the 423-lbs (dry, Standard with ABS) Multistrada 1200 also arrives stock with most features not found on any standard Ducati, including keyless entry, a manually-adjustable windscreen, twin 12-volt power outlets and optional external hard bags/top case (saddlebags standard on the S Touring), amenities allowing for some serious touring across any surface of road.

Coldwells adds: "The Multistrada is so agile, powerful and confidence inspiring it makes other the adventure bikes feel like overweight slugs in comparison-and there really isn’t any comparison…I cannot imagine anyone buying this machine and being disappointed."

Picture this: superbike-like power, ergonomics of a comfy standard, and high-mileage sport-touring capabilities, all combined with the ability to thrash around in the dirt.

Sound too good to be true? Ride it and let your moto-psyche decide.

Honorable Mention: KTM 990 Supermoto T