2013 Ducati 1200 S Granturismo Test while Touring the California Delta
After devouring my unspeakably tasty and spicy shrimp dinner, the young man returns to sheepishly admit, “When I saw you, I thought you were a Harley guy.”
I told him that I am a motorcycle guy, but after riding through temperatures in the 110s, I surely looked a bit disheveled. Well, there are two stereotypes going by the wayside.
My destination on this trip is the California Delta region, an amalgamation of roads, levees, and farms between San Francisco and Sacramento. A confluence of the five major rivers that are fed by the bountiful snowpack of the Sierra Nevadas to the east, it is an area rich in history, scenery, wildlife, and lightly trafficked gently curving two-lane roads.
The Delta has also been a source of fascination for me from the time of Credence Clearwater Revival. Although John Fogerty was ostensibly singing about the Mississippi River in songs such as “Proud Mary” and “Born on the Bayou,” he was certainly inspired by the waterways just to the east of his native Berkeley. In fact, one of his greatest compositions, “Lodi,” is about a town just east of the Delta region.
A cruiser may seem like the obvious choice for an easy-going region where the water moves slowly and life flows at an agricultural pace. However, there are dirt roads and some routes with nasty pavement that I wanted to explore, and for that I would need an adventure-capable motorcycle. With some mountain roads between my home base of Los Angeles and The Delta, the new Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Granturismo made sense to me.
Since its introduction in 2010, the Multistrada has proven to be a versatile tool. In addition to its basic capabilities as an adventure bike, the Touring version is an outstanding sport-tourer and the Pikes Peak edition celebrates wins at the fabled 156-turn uphill race in Colorado.
This year, Ducati has upped the touring ante on the Multistrada with the Granturismo, positioning it as the flagship of the line. The list of enhancements to the standard Multistrada 1200 is impressive, with the suspension and luggage upgrades making the most significant differences.
For those of us who like to bring the kitchen sink along when traveling, the Granturismo is more than accommodating. Between the two wide panniers (be careful when slipping between cars) and a gaping top case, you have a very usable 33 gallons of storage space.
Interior bags allow you to leave the locking panniers on the bike at destinations, and that is a good thing. Sometimes the panniers are easily removed and installed — other times, they can be obsessively stubborn. In contrast, the top case can be taken off and replaced in a matter of seconds, every single time.
Making my way to the Delta from Los Angeles can be as easy as hopping on Interstate 5 and droning on for hours. That’s fine in an automobile, but on a sporting bike like the Multistrada, it is out of the question. I am not even out of the Los Angeles metropolitan area before I abandon the superslab for a side trip through the San Gabriel Mountains.
I had filled the panniers and top case with cargo, and haven’t given the weight a thought since hoisting the 575-pound Granturismo (fully gassed, and with bags filled) off its kickstand. Earlier, I informed the Ducati’s computer that I was riding one-up with luggage, so the bike’s balance and ride height were already electronically adjusted on my behalf.
On the freeway, the new Testastretta 11° DS motor chugs along without a thought. The DS version of the 1198cc short-stroke L-twin features twin-plug heads and relocated fuel injectors with the goal of enhanced smoothness and tractability, along with decreased fuel consumption—the latter is essential on an adventure bike with a modest 5.3-gallon fuel tank.
With 150 horses on tap in the Touring mode (one of four Riding Modes that alter the power delivery and suspension settings), the Ducati is at no disadvantage to any vehicle on the road, even with the tamped down acceleration. Sitting high so I’m not blinded by SUV silhouettes, the ride is a smooth one as I blend in and work my way through the 70+ mph flow of traffic.
Hopping off the freeway and onto a twisting back road, I leave the Granturismo in the Touring mode — no reason to get going too fast, too soon. Fast sweepers are taken swiftly and elegantly, as the tall Ducati is effortlessly stretching its long legs beneath me. Pirelli Angel GT tires, one of our favorites for sport-touring, provide plenty of feed- back and resulting confidence. This is going to be a great ride.
As the road constricts, I drop into a tight corner with confidence — maybe a bit too much. The weight in the top case (professional camera equipment is heavy) causes the bike to fall in faster and harder than I expect. It’s unsettling, though I come nowhere near losing traction or control.
While it is hard to quantify, I have little doubt that the Ducati Skyhook suspension — which is semi-active and responds to changing conditions — has bailed me out. I continue on, a bit wary of the nastier corners, but also feeling more secure on each pass.
The Granturismo is still in Touring Mode, as I don’t want any more throttle response than I am getting, yet it is handling like a high-end upright sport bike should.
Simply one run through a challenging canyon will likely convince the most confirmed skinflint that the S versions of the Multistrada 1200 are worth the premium. Adjustable suspension is fantastic, though no match for electronically adjusted suspension that is also aware of the situation of the motorcycle and can respond accordingly on your behalf. Sachs and Ducati have conspired to create magic.
Realizing I still have a long ride ahead, I direct the Granturismo to a completely different challenge—the San Joaquin Valley. Rather than surrender to the freeway, I set my sights on the Central Valley Highway, which splits the difference between Interstate 5 and US Route 99.
An undivided highway for most of its length, the winds can be ferocious, the trucks approaching at high speed push a mountainous blast of air into your face, and the pavement is sometimes unpredictable.
Through it all, the Granturismo does the job of gobbling up miles in the least number of minutes with confidence. The six-and-two-thirds inches of travel give the bike plenty of leeway; it absorbs the largest of potholes and bumps without sending too much energy into the rider. Occasional hardscrabble towns give me a chance to try out the Urban Mode. One-hundred horsepower is nothing to sneeze at in town, so the Ducati remains a performer in the populated settings. The suspension automatically softens, and the ride is as plush as at high speeds, even on roads that need some TLC. To switch between Modes, all I have to do is let the Testastretta drop to idle, and then push a button a few times.
Ducati allows the Granturismo owner to modify a wide variety of settings in the four Modes, but I found that to be overkill. Unless your physical size is one of an outlier, or you have very unusual performance needs, the four preset Modes should be more than adequate for your various riding demands.
This sort of customization of the traction control, ABS, and suspension makes good sense on the Panigale R, though feels superfluous on a sport-touring adventure bike in normal circumstances.
Spending days in the California Delta reminds one of how pleasant and versatile the Granturismo can be. Sitting tall affords a stunning view from the levees, which were built with Chinese labor over 150 years ago. Those levees turned what had previously been a marshland feeding San Pablo Bay (where Sonoma Raceway sits) into a highly controlled system of freshwater rivers, including locks, that has transformed the area into a thriving source of food for the world.
The memory of the contributions by the Chinese flourishes in Isleton, which sits at the heart of the Delta. Main Street in Isle- ton has retained much of its 19th century character, even as it struggles to remain economically viable in the 2000s. Beautiful Chinese architecture is being rehabilitated, including the famed Bing Kong Tong Society Building, which is currently benefiting from a California Cultural and Historical Endowment Phase 1 Stabilization Grant.
Sadly, one of my main destinations, Isleton Joe’s, has fallen by the wayside. A literally colorful place with engaging characters at the bar, I had been planning on a one-pound bowl of locally sourced spicy crawdads. I’m disappointed and settle for a serviceable patty melt at the exceedingly casual Levee Cafe.
Fortified, I set out to explore the area. The main roads are well maintained and only busy during rush hour when the residents of Rio Vista (population: 7,400) return home from extra- Delta jobs. The rest of the time, it’s smooth sailing, giving you plenty of opportunity to enjoy the view. Locals and visitors, alike, are quite good about pulling off when possible to let you pass—important, as double-yellow prevails.
Part of the local flavor is the system of bridges and ferries. Most bridges on the Delta are drawbridges, which accommodate the pleasure and cargo traffic that runs through the area. Large ocean-going vessels use the Delta to access the ports in Stockton and Sacramento thanks to deepwater channels through the area.
Most fun on a motorcycle are the ferries. California Highways 220 and 84 use ferries as part of the road, so they’re free. On 220, you simply ride onto the ferry, as it offers on-demand service across Steamboat Slough. You may have to wait at the Highway 84 crossing of Cache Slough, as it works on a 20-minute schedule.
The Granturismo shines, truly, on the side roads that criss-cross the Delta. Many of them, Poverty Road being a well- named example, have pavement that has long since passed its service interval; others, are fully dirt routes right through productive farmland.
Getting onto unpaved Elevator Road, I switch the Granturismo into Enduro mode, which damps down the power and tames the ABS and traction control. Cruising along the lightly washboarded road at 55 mph, the suspension absorbs the punishment without complaint.
The street tires aren’t as squirrelly as I anticipated, and a U-turn is accomplished without any sort of drama. The panniers’ plastic mountings gave me pause as we hit the dirt, though nothing broke or came loose. Still, the mounting system seems much more oriented toward pavement than off-roading.
Reluctantly leaving the California Delta, it is time for more twisties in the various areas to the south. Switching into the Sport mode, the Granturismo wakes up to make the trip home as fast as possible.
This is still the Testastretta 11° DS motor, so even in the Sport Mode, the 150-horsepower motor does not perform like a Panigale. That’s a good thing, as the chassis is not suitable for superbike power or aggression.
Ducati nailed it perfectly with the Sport Mode. It has the same power as the Touring Mode, but it spins up more quickly. On some bikes, the Sport Mode can be sharp and crackling. Happily, that is not the case with the Granturismo; the throttle response remains controllable and enjoyable, and at the same time quite exhilarating.
Riding in the Sport Mode, the change is as much psychological as it is physical. As the Ducati accelerates more rapidly out of turns, your mind switches from Touring to Sport. Instead of focusing on the terrain, the best lines through the corners dominate your attention.
The suspension automatically matches the motor as you engage the Sport Mode and you can push the Granturismo to speeds that will compete with any other sport-touring machine. Even loaded down, the chassis and suspension inspire confidence and encourage aggressive riding.
There is so much to like with the latest edition of the Multistrada. It is marketed as four-bikes-in-one and, against all odds, it succeeds in four disciplines — sport, touring, urban, and off-pavement. Not quite the ultimate in any one category, the breadth of capabilities the Granturismo masters is breathtaking.
A great motorcycle inspires you to ride, and the 2013 Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Granturismo has me constantly poring over maps in search of new opportunities.
- Helmet: Arai RX-Q Deco
- Communications: Sena SMH10R
- Jacket: Tour Master Transition Series 3
- Gloves: Held Agadir
- Pants: Tour Master Venture Air
- Boots: Sidi Armada Gore Tex
Photography: Kelly Callan