2017 Ducati Multistrada 950 Review | Tested On- and Off-Road
When the original Ducati Multistrada 1200 and Scrambler models came out, much of the promotional push included riding on dirt roads and splashing through puddles. As much as I enjoyed riding those motorcycles on the street, they never convinced me that I wanted to take them off the pavement.
The Multistrada felt like an expensive fall waiting to happen, while the Scrambler didn’t strike me as durable enough to actually ride like a scrambler.
That didn’t trouble me much, as there are plenty of other great dual-function adventure and dual sport bikes—the Multistrada and the Scramblers both were great street bikes with striking styling.
Two-thousand seventeen is the year Ducati got serious about taking its motorcycles into the dirt. The Scrambler Desert Sled was a huge change from the original Scrambler. With aggressive tires, a rugged frame, and beefed up suspension, I tore across the Spanish desert on it far faster than I expected. Yes, dirt had truly become part of the Ducati nomenclature for the first time since the 1970s.
The Multistrada 1200 Enduro Pro established that dirt wasn’t alien territory for its big adventure bike. For off-pavement riding, the Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires were the most important change—if you don’t have the right rubber, dirt isn’t much fun.
There were other changes, including real bash-and-crash protection from Touratech, plus a sand-and-black finish that wouldn’t look beat after just one ride. There are still expensive bits you don’t want to damage in a fall—such as the titanium Termignoni silencer—but, if you can get past that, then you could have at it in the loose stuff.
Now we have the 2017 Ducati Multistrada 950. It’s something of a simplified Multistrada 1200 with a more manageable motor. There isn’t a weight or seat height advantage to the 950 compared to the 1200, which is a bit disappointing. Still, we were anxious to see how the 950 fit into the Multistrada family.
My first ride on the Multistrada 950 wasn’t quite what I was expected. A standard 950 wasn’t available; instead, I got access to something of a skunk works bike from Ducati North America. They had taken the standard bike and turned it into what could be considered a prototype Multistrada 950 Enduro Pro.
To get there, they dove straight into the Ducati accessory catalog. The Multistrada 950 Enduro Accessory Package was a great start—skid plate, crash bars, radiator guards, and footpegs. From there, they added protection for the oil cooler, rear sprocket and rear disc, along with a shorter enduro windshield and de rigueur aluminum panniers.
The big modification, of course, is the set of tubeless spoke rims (19-inch front/17-inch rear) shod with Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires. This is what makes it possible to ride the Ducati Multistrada 950—or any adventure bike for that matter—confidently off-pavement. Without proper tires, dirt riding is a struggle, and the Scorpion Rally tires are what you need.
Faced with such an enticing machine, I pointed the Ducati Multistrada 950 at the Sequoia National Forest with backroads in mind.
A sprint across the Mojave Desert was an initial challenge for the reworked 950. The lower windscreen didn’t prove to be a major liability as I tore up Sierra Highway toward the Sierra Nevadas.
Red Rock Canyon State Park gave me a first chance to test the Scorpion Rally tires in the dirt. They were fine on pavement, though most of the riding was mile-gobbling straight lines. A few powerslides later, I was quickly gaining confidence, even with highway air pressure in the Pirellis. For off-road adventure riding, there is no substitute for knobbies.
California Highway 178 took me from the desert up into the mountains. The 178 is better known as a route from Ridgecrest into Death Valley National Park in the east, or from Bakersfield to Lake Isabella at the west end. Yet, this lesser-used portion that links them is a spectacular high-speed romp with just the right number of twisties and almost no traffic. A highlight is a long stretch through a forest of Yucca brevifolia—better known as Joshua trees.
Long stretches such as these remind a solo rider that the 937cc motor’s 113 horsepower and 71 ft/lbs of torque are more than enough for high-speed touring. Sure, you want to keep the revs up on the short-stroke motor that hits peak horsepower at 9000 rpm, but the Testastretta 11° makes that easy and enjoyable.
You’ll downshift a time or two in slow corners where you might not do so on the Multistrada 1200, though that is not a serious issue. Instead, you will be thinking about what a sweetheart motor the 950 has compared to the beastly 1200. Both motors, of course, have power modes—Sport, Touring, Urban, and Enduro—yet there is still an appeal to the easy response of a smaller displacement engine.
Mountain Highway 99 (aka Kern River Highway, and not to be confused with US Route 99 to the west) is the road that puts the handling of the modified Multistrada 950 to the test. Following the volatile Kern River, north from Kernville, M99 is a set of unpredictable twisties that can easily catch you out.
Fortunately, it’s also a lightly traveled road once you get north of the campground district that extends from Kernville. This gives you a chance to hang it out a bit without distraction or the need to make dodgy passes.
Just as the Scorpion Rally tires make the 950 a viable dirt-going machine, they do compromise its true sporting ability. The fat rubber has a heavier feel than the stock street-focused Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires, so turning is definitely slowed down.
While standard Multistradas can attack the corners like a sport bike, with the Rally tires, it is more about smooth and predictable corner entries and exits. You can definitely carry good corner speed, but you want to keep corrections to a minimum and avoid stuffing the bike into turns.
It takes some time to adapt to the rhythm of a dirt-oriented Multistrada. Once done, you keep in mind its dirt capability and enjoy the personality of the bike—it’s a good one.
Besides uncrowded back roads, another reason the Sequoia National Forest was the testing destination of choice was the number of fun dirt-road side trips available. They are nicely marked and of various lengths. Rather than heading off on my own deep into the forest, I went with the little loops that reveal themselves along the way.
That meant, of course, that I would be running on-road tire pressures, as I didn’t want to spend half the day airing up and airing down—the Multistrada 950 was begging to be ridden.
My off-road excursions ranged from high-traction smooth dirt roads to routes that were bordering on jeep trails. I don’t want to oversell the capabilities of what I came to call the Multistrada 950 Enduro Pro, yet where you can take it is up to your skills off-road.
With the traction provided by the Scorpion Rally tires, I was working my way up rocky and rutted roads with confidence. The skidplate was there to take the occasional rock bash, and other guards made me feel like I didn’t have to worry too much about dropping it—not to mention that any repairs weren’t coming out of my wallet.
Although I have extensive off-road experience, adventure bikes always make me nervous in the dirt. They’re heavy and powerful, and often don’t have great tires. The Ducati Multistrada 950 Enduro Pro solved those problems for the most part.
The suspension—48mm KYB fork and Sachs shock on a double-sided swingarm—transitions to the dirt without pulling out tools for damping changes. No, it is not because you get electronic suspension adjustment—it’s due to the fact that Ducati got the settings nicely in the ballpark right from the factory. As I wasn’t at race speeds on either the street or dirt, the compromise settings suited me nicely.
The standard 950 is just 500 pounds with the 5.3-gallon fuel tank filled, which isn’t bad for a Big Enduro bike, though this kitted 950 weighs a good amount more. The 950 motor is a sweet one, especially in the Enduro mode. With ABS and traction control held at bay, plus the big Rally knobbies, you truly can ride it like a big dirt bike.
While I know that Associate Editor Jess McKinley could take the 950 Enduro Pro places that would have me turning the bike around, this modified 950 gave me the confidence to explore places I would never dream of riding any standard ADV bike—and it did it solo.
Braking, turning, and acceleration are all fully intuitive, and that is exactly what you need in the roughest terrain. I was even able to get some air on small jumps, as well as powerslide the 950 out of smooth corners. It’s a blast to ride!
Taking the remarkably twisty and steep Hot Springs Road down to the blistering San Joaquin Valley from the cool Sierra Nevadas, the Multistrada was clicked back into the Sport mode for some spirited riding on an empty road. The Rally tires make themselves known, though once adapted to, satisfying speed and performance is there for the taking.
The Touring mode resumed once I exited Granite Road north of Bakersfield. US Route 99 took me south at high-speed to the foot of the Grapevine, which guards the north end of the San Emigdio mountain range and the San Andreas Fault.
There, I stopped for personal refueling at Panda Express at Wheeler Ridge. While I was enjoying broccoli beef and grilled teriyaki chicken, an older lady walked up to my window seat. Outside was the Multistrada 950.
“Is that your motorcycle?” she asked. I smiled and told her it was. She responded with, “It’s beautiful.”
Later in the meal, a young female employee came up and said emphatically, “That is a cool motorcycle!” If you’re looking for a motorcycle that will give you plenty of pride of ownership, this is it.
Taking the Multistrada 950 up the steep Grapevine grade was a treat. On crowded Interstate 5, offense is a good defense, so I was passing lagging cars in clumps. One of them had the nice lady in the passenger seat as her husband was plodding his way up the hill in their SUV. I waved and she smiled—I can only imagine what she was thinking.
Back in town, the Multistrada 950 reminds me that it’s also a brilliant commuter. Panniers removed, it is a fantastic lane-splitter, and the 31-inch seat height provides a commanding view of the road. Pop it into the Urban power mode and you get just the right throttle response on busy streets.
Further forays onto local mountain dirt roads reconfirmed the Multistrada 950 Enduro Pro’s capabilities. It blasts around on the smooth fire roads, and is willing to pick its way through the challenging rock gardens you’ll find in the desert.
My initial thought when I saw the specs for the 2017 Ducati Multistrada 950 was “Why?” However, after riding this modified version of the junior partner in the Multistrada firm, I found out exactly why.
Action photography by Kelly Callan | Still photography by Don Williams
Story from the October issue of our digital magazine; check it out for free at the Ultimate Motorcycling digital app.
- Helmet: Arai XD4 Flare Blue
- Sunglasses: Oakley Crossrange Prizm
- Jacket + pants: Alpinestars Valparaiso 2
- Body armor: Alpinestars Nucleon chest and back
- Gloves: Alpinestars SMX-1
- Boots: Gaerne G-Adventure Aquatech