2011 Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Review: Sport Adventure Motorcycle

Lanzarote, part of the Canary Islands chain, is a small, still-active, volcanic island that peeks through the Atlantic just off the northwestern coast of Africa. The sharp, black rock that once spewed from the earth’s bowels created a ruggedly dramatic backdrop for Ducati to introduce the latest version of its do-it-all motorcycle-the Multistrada-and Lanzarote’s changeable road surfaces and mixture of fast and slow corners, was an excellent testing ground for what proved to be the ultimate Transformer.

Ducati makes beautiful motorcycles, and so it comes as no surprise that its latest machine is good-looking. Pierre Terblanche surely had some mixed emotions when he first laid eyes on this latest generation of “his” Multistrada. It must have been a little like bumping into an ex and discovering that she has lost weight and is looking really good.

During his tenure as Director of Design at Ducati, Terblanche certainly penned some gorgeous machines-not least the Hypermotard and the Supermono-however, the 999 Superbike and the air-cooled Multistrada 1100 were both highly controversial. Although they worked well, many Ducatisti felt they suffered a bit in the looks department. Certainly, the once-ugly duckling Multistrada has now most definitely grown up.

Overall, the Multistrada seems sporting and sleek, though once astride the machine it feels more like an aggressive adventure bike. The high, wide bars have handguards, the bike is tall with long-travel suspension, and the serrated footpegs all contribute to the impression that the bike will handle pretty much any kind of road you are likely to encounter.

On the other hand, the 17-inch sport wheels, radial Brembo brakes, and fenders that hug the racebike-sized tires, all shout sport bike-and a very good one at that.

Despite being so versatile, the Multistrada is anything but confused. By equipping the bike with enough electronic wizardry to instantly adjust almost every aspect of the motorcycle-including the engine mapping, the suspension, the ABS, and the traction control-Ducati has built a brilliantly adaptable motorcycle. It is four machines in one, and each “bike” is selectable at the mere touch of a button.

Whatever the impression conveyed by the cockpit, once underway it is immediately obvious that the Multistrada’s forte is a fast, paved road. Equipped with Ducati’s top-of-the-line L-twin 1198cc superbike motor, it is very fast, and has superb handling and braking. Most un-superbike like, it is also very comfortable, and can come with a myriad of options depending on what type of riding you are doing.

The Multistrada pays homage to Ducati’s heritage-rich signature items including the trellis frame and motor with desmodromic valve actuation, yet it is also on the cutting edge of the latest in high-tech.

The Magneti Marelli fuel injection is superb, and the Ducati Traction Control (DTC) works well enough to win world championships. As if that’s not enough, the new Multistrada also comes with anti-lock brakes, a wireless hands-free ignition key (don’t worry unduly about losing it-there is a PIN code activated override if necessary), and the astonishing all-new electronic suspension (DES), developed exclusively for

In a world-first, the electronically actuated servos of the DES adjust every aspect (other than front preload) of both the front fork and rear shock almost instantly. Although each adjustment can be changed individually, Ducati has wisely distilled those hundreds of possible permutations into four descriptive modes-Sport, Touring, Urban, and Enduro.

If any individual setting within these preset modes is not to your liking, you can personalize it; I found the factory’s choices ideal on the varied surfaces of Lanzarote.

The Superbike-sourced 1198 motor has been tweaked slightly for the street by allowing an 11-degree valve overlap (compared to the Superbike’s radical 41 degrees), and a heavier flywheel. Consumption is claimed to be an average 47 mpg, so the 5.3-gallon fuel tank promises a 200-mile range.

Effort at the hydraulic clutch’s hand lever has been reduced for rider comfort, and a vacuum servo-assist gives a certain amount of back-torque reducing slipper action. Well-spaced ratios within the easy, six-speed gearbox are linked to the rear wheel via chain.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I like this motor-it is smooth, tractable, and also feels seriously powerful. Although peak horsepower is reduced a tad from around 170 on the Superbike to about 150 on the Multistrada, that is more than made up for by the robust torque output. With a claimed maximum draw of 87.5 ft/lbs, the Multistrada out-pulls the Superbike handily up to 6250 rpm-and the Superbike is no slouch.

This astonishing feat translates to real world rideability for the Multistrada; the engine has lost the Superbike’s somewhat lumpy delivery around 3000 rpm, and it pulls smoothly and strongly from walking pace.

In fact, I am so impressed with this version of the 1198, I find myself wishing Ducati would offer it as an option for the Superbike, as it would be so much more streetable. With the newly extended 15,000-mile service intervals-double the previous length-you will also spend more time riding and less time visiting your friendly local service department.

Each riding mode is selected using an easy-to-read menu and the turn-signal cancel button. Simply click the button to toggle to your selection, hold it for three seconds, and then close the throttle briefly to confirm; it couldn’t be easier.

Sport mode is, of course, familiar Ducati territory, and the 1200’s full 150 horsepower is rapidly unleashed. It is still smooth, but its powerful linearity allowed me to lift the front wheel at will in the first three gears.

The Multistrada is the easiest streetbike to wheelie I have ever ridden, and the throttle connection is so good that I never felt out of control. The DES is set to a firm, sporting ride-sufficient to get your knee down in corners should you wish-and the DTC is relatively unobtrusive in its middle setting, 4 (out of 8). In this mode, the Multistrada thinks it is a full-on sport bike, staying planted through fast sweepers and tracking precisely through tight corners.

In all modes, the Multistrada’s neutral and predictable handling is exemplary, neither flopping into corners nor being reluctant to turn in. Credit for the bike’s agility naturally goes to the high leverage handlebars. Surprisingly, and despite the lack of steering damper, the Multistrada isn’t twitchy.

On one particular straightaway, and with over 130 mph on the speedometer, there was no nervous feeling at all; the bike just felt planted-it’s a typical Ducati.

Touring mode is a kinder expression of Sport, with softened suspension and an initially gentler power delivery that builds progressively. Once the engine speed hits 5000 rpm, the motor wakes up, and then runs to the same Sport mode peak of 150 horsepower at 9750 rpm.

The DTC is marginally more intrusive at setting 5, and although the Öhlins suspension is definitely cushier, it is still firm enough that the handling was almost as good as in Sport. Seriously high-speed sweepers with rolling bumps induced a little wallow, but switching to Sport mode cured it. Amazing.

Urban mode reduces the motor’s prodigious power output to a “mere” 100 horses. They’re still somewhat impatient to reach the road, but the fuel mapping is good enough that the Multistrada’s power-although urgent-is more reined-in at low speed. Wheelies remain easy, but relaxed, in first gear, and available in second if you try.

Negotiating Lanzarote’s small towns, with tourists, bicycles, buses, and cars all vying for very little road space, the Urban Multistrada became a super-friendly motorcycle with enough instant punch from walking-pace to dice my way through the insanity. The DTC is more intrusive at setting 6 to allow for rain-soaked unexpectedness, and the suspension is softer than Touring mode.

The Multistrada’s 320mm Brembo radial brakes have had their internal pressure ratios tweaked, and do not deliver the initial sharp bite of the Streetfighter’s front binders. Although there is probably some reduced power on the track, the Brembos’ feel on the street is confidence-inspiring, and especially valuable around town where the need to suddenly grab a handful could catch you unawares.

“Multistrada” translates to “multi-road” and Ducati has decided that this generation of the bike will have some real off-pavement capability. Obviously, any motorcycle can be ridden on dirt or gravel to some degree, but this Ducati has been designed to shrug off most of the damage that dirt riding might dish out. Without a 21-inch front wheel, seriously knobby tires, major engine protection, or crashbars, few owners will want to take the Multistrada off-pavement and beat the heck out of it.

Clearly, Ducati is aware that many destinations are reached via roads with little or no paving. In that scenario, the Multistrada owner will be well covered. Pirelli’s Scorpion Trail tires were specifically designed for just this situation and, while not knobby, they are seriously treaded. Although there was only a short ride on unpaved, hard-packed dirt in Lanzarote, they were actually quite grippy and provided a satisfying level of self-assuredness.

Once the Multistrada is set to Enduro mode, the almost 6.7 inches of travel suspension is softened further, and rear ride-height is raised by three-quarters of an inch to help with engine clearance. The torquey motor-again set to 100 horsepower-has an even gentler delivery than Urban mode, and the DTC is set to an almost non-existent level 2, allowing the rear wheel to spin freely rather than have the electronics bog the motor down.

When planning an excursion where dirt will certainly be a factor, then an accessory oversize rear hugger and an extension for the front fender are available for extra protection.

If you are sure you will never see an unpaved road, then the choice at point-of-purchase is between the Sport and Touring packages. The former comes with some exquisitely crafted carbon-fiber goodies that have a deep, liquid varnish that’s more supercar than streetbike.

The gorgeous-looking front fender, beak-nosed air-intake, cam-belt covers, and rear huggers turn the adventure-bike Multistrada into more of an upright streetfighter (small “s”); a carbon-fiber front fender, tank cover, adhesive-backed protection pads, and Termignoni sports exhaust are also available as accessories.

Those with more of a touring inclination will get unique frameless hard bags (with optional extra capacity lids, if you are very serious) that attach to the bike instantly and easily. There is also a hard rear top-box if your riding is more city-based and you don’t want to add width to the bike.

Heated handgrips and a centerstand complete the long-distance package. If the Multistrada’s 33.5-inch saddle height is an issue for you, then a one-inch lower seat option is there to help. Passenger accommodations have been specifically accounted for with comfortable footpegs, and a grab-rail that falls securely and easily to hand.

The Multistrada 1200 is an excellent all-round motorcycle-but paradoxically, because of Ducati’s spectacular new technology, it is also a highly focused machine. A spec-chart comparison between other category contenders makes interesting reading because the benchmark off-roadable adventure bikes-BMW’s R 1200 GS and KTM’s 990 Adventure-are considered great all-round touring street bikes as well.

Both put out 105 horsepower, around 85 ft/lbs of torque, and have a wet weight of a bit over 500 pounds. By comparison, the Multistrada outputs a whopping 45 more peak horsepower-almost a third extra-and weighs around 20 pounds less. Even the Multistrada’s torque output gives it a slight edge.

Without a doubt, the Ducati Multistrada 1200 is the adventure category road-burner. If that road is unpaved, then the Ducati’s brilliant suspension, light weight, gentle power delivery, and custom-designed trail rubber mean that it will likely keep with the more focused enduro machines, although it will be more vulnerable to some expensive damage in a fall.

Unsurprisingly, if the road is paved, the Multistrada will blow away the competition-it is a fabulously capable motorcycle.

Motorcycle Specs

Type Testastretta 11°, L-Twin cylinder, 4 valve per
cylinder, Desmodromic, liquid cooled
Displacement 1198.4cc
Bore x Stroke 106×67.9mm
Compression Ratio 11.5:1
Power* 150hp – 110,3kw @ 9250rpm
Torque 87.5lb-ft – 118.7Nm @7500rpm
Fuel injection Mitsubishi electronic fuel injection system, Mikuni
elliptical throttle bodies
Exhaust Stainless steel muffler with catalytic converter and
2 lambda probes, aluminium tail pipes
Emissions Euro 3
Gearbox 6 speed
Ratio 1=37/15
2=30/17  3=27/20  4=24/22  5=23/24
Primary drive Straight cut gears, ratio 1.84:1
Final drive Chain 5.30″; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket
Clutch Light action, wet, multiplate clutch with hydraulic
control. Self-servo action on drive, slipper action on over-run.
Frame Tubular steel Trellis frame
Wheelbase 1530mm (60.2in)
Rake 25°
Steering lock (total) 76°
Front suspension Ohlins 48mm fully adjustable usd forks, electronic
compression and rebound adjustment
Front wheel travel Pirelli Scorpion Trail 170mm (6.7in)
Front wheel 10-spoke in light alloy 3.50 x 17
Front tyre 120/70 ZR 17
Rear suspension Progressive linkage with fully adjustable Ohlins
electronic monoshock. Aluminium single-sided swingarm
Rear wheel travel 170mm (6.7in)
Rear wheel 10-spoke light alloy 6,00 x 17
Rear tyre Pirelli Scorpion Trail 190/55 ZR 17
Front brake  2 x
320mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo callipers, 4-piston,
ABS as standard equipment
Rear brake 245mm disc, 2-piston calliper
Fuel tank capacity 20l – 5.3 gallon (US)
Dry weight** 192kg (423lb)
Wet weight*** 220kg (485lb)
Seat height 850mm (33.5in)
Max height 1400mm (55.1in)
Max length 2150mm (84.6in)
Versions Dual seat, ABS as standard equipment
available in two packages:
-SPORT (Cam belt covers, air intake and hugger in carbon fibre)
-TOURING (side panniers, heated grips and centre stand