Ducati 2015 World Premiere

Perhaps this post is not going to speak to most readers. After all, we are all about the motorcycle itself, the riding experience, the specific characteristics of the motorcycle and here I propose to talk about something different, although still about motorcycles.  I’m an economist by training and besides my passion for riding I also have a passion for discovering and understanding what’s behind a success story.  I like to observe and study market trends and make projections from these analyses.  I like to study marketing strategies, dissect them to see how new ideas emerge, how they became mainstream. You have probably already observed a tendency I have to write a few words beyond the motorcycle itself and talk about the segment where the motorcycle resides, for example.

The point of this post is to go over Ducati’s 2015 World Premiere at the EICMA in Milano and discuss what I considered a lesson in marketing by Ducati’s CEO, Claudio Domenicali. It may not speak to you, or you don’t care about the Ducati brand. That’s all fine.  But maybe you are interested in knowing more about marketing strategies, corporate identify, product development? Claudio made it very simple and personal, touched all the critical points of the Ducati brand and family of products, good or bad, including the recent negotiations with the workers union in the Borgo Panigale plant.

You can see and hear the entire event for yourselves and reach your own conclusions. Below is the video from when the event was streamed life the day before EICMA opened to the public.  By the way, Claudio announced future world premieres will be broadcast on similar fashion as a way to better connect with the Ducati community.

Below are some highlights.

On all product presentations Claudio talked about the people at Ducati. He was talking directly to them, as well as to the Ducatisti around the world.

Some updates: Ducati now employs in Borgo Panigale and its subsidiaries in Brazil and Thailand, 1400 people.  Ducati started assembling motorcycles in 1946, Claudio announced that in 2014 Ducati assembled its 1,000,000th motorcycle. And in 2014 they will have delivered the highest number of motorcycles in a year, with more than 45,000 motorcycles projected to be distributed worldwide this year. He portrayed the company as a vibrant unit, a company in expansion.

He also celebrated the brand’s care about design, and its win of the Compasso D’Oro prize, the most prestigious prize about design, which was given to the 1199 Panigale in 2014, the first motorcycle to ever win that prize.

He also talked about the challenges in negotiating with the union, but celebrated the agreement recently reached and pointed to their presence in the audience. He also talked about the difficult years in Moto GP, where Ducati has been visibly struggling. But he talked about the new Ducati Corse General Manager, Luigi Dall’Igna, and how much progress has been achieved since he joined Ducati. He also brought to the stage the two riders Andrea Iannonne and Andrea Dovizioso and celebrated Dovizioso’s pole position at Montegi.

Before introducing the new products Claudio reminded the audience about the three values of the Ducati brand:

  • Style
  • Sophistication, and
  • Performance

He also introduced the new brand within  Ducati, the Scrambler Ducati brand. A new brand, with its own logo, its own product line, and its own values.  It will be more than a motorcycle, as they will sell with it all sorts of riding apparel.  Ducati has been selling branded riding apparel for many years, but with the new Scrambler Ducati brand it has become more clear how their business model involves much more than the motorcycle itself. Here are the values for the Scrambler Ducati:

  • Free-spirit
  • Fun, and
  • Self-Expression

Claudio explained this new brand as an opportunity to expand the Ducati motorcycles to a different kind of rider.  Or even to non-riders, bringing the idea of riding to people who are not the traditional Ducati riders or even people who have never ridden before.

2015 crambler Icon - photo courtesy Ducati and Asphalt and Rubber

2015 crambler Icon – photo courtesy Ducati

The vice president of marketing  introduced the Scrambler motorcycle by telling its history, from 1962, when the Scrambler was born as a request from an American motorcycle distributor, to 1975 when it stopped being made.  He described the values of the 60’s and 70’s, and how these values are extremely contemporary today.  He sold the product itself and its vast line of accessories, more products, which will allow this motorcycle to be customized from four starting points (the Icon, Urban Enduro, Full Throttle, and Classic models).  And beyond that he presented the line of clothing, riding apparel, including helmets that will be sold with the new brand.  This is a large investment, and I have a feeling it will pay off. They mentioned this is a starting point for something that will have a long life within Ducati.  They are certainly energized by this product.

One interesting comment to make about the Scrambler is that people in motorcycle forums have discussed how small the Scrambler seems to be or really is (some people have already seen it life).  When the four motorcycles were brought to the stage during the premiere, they were ridden by four guys that have been directly involved in the bike’s development (accessories development manager, project manager, engineer and designer), and they all seem to be at least 6ft tall.

Going back to the Ducati brand, back to style, sophistication and performance, one of the highlights for 2015 is the Diavel Titanium, which will be limited to 500 production units, similar to the Panigale Leggera.  It will probably be a very expensive machine, with high end materials (Titanium , of course, carbon fiber, and others) and several components and paint customized especially for this bike, including a set of forged wheels. If you like exclusivity, that’s the way to go.

2015 Limited Production Diavel Titanium - Only 500 units will be commercialized

2015 Limited Production Diavel Titanium – Only 500 units will be commercialized

Another highlight is the 1299 Panigale, coming in three versions: The Panigale 1299 , the Panigale S and the Panigale R, all of course, with the superquadro engine.  The 1299 models have a 100cc increase in displacement from the previous model and are now reaching more 205hp at 10,500rpm. This is quite the machine, with a whole host of eletronic riding aids, including Öhlins suspension with electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with semi-active mode.

2015 1299 Panigale

2015 1299 Panigale

The Panigale R is a different animal. This is actually a 1198, although still at 205hp.  The idea baout this bike is to be within the Superbike’s EVO rules which has pushed for the return of the homologation special, the very small production line of very specialized motorcycles at very high prices. The Panigale R is Ducati’s homologation motorcycle.

2015 Panigale R - an 1198cc special production for Superbike homologation purposes

2015 Panigale R – an 1198cc special production Panigale for Superbike homologation purposes

The final product presented was the 2015 Multistrada.  Claudio presented the new Multistrada under Ducati’s belief in accurate design and technological innovation. Despite the strong similarity with the 2010-12 and the 2013-14 models, the 2015 is a completely new motorcycle. And it’s key difference starts with a small part, the camshaft phaser, which is at the heart of the new motor, the Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) motor. Ducati’s DVT is a first on a motorcycle to have variable timing on both the intake and exhaust valves.

2015 1200 Multistrada S with Testastretta DVT Motor

2015 1200 Multistrada S with Testastretta DVT Motor

There are many other updates to this new Multistrada.  We already presented the new motor in detail, as well as some of the anticipated changes to this new model. We will discuss the new specs in more detail on an upcoming post. The list is rather long, this bike deserves a post on its own.

Overall, we wanted to give you a summary on Ducati’s marketing through its way of communicating with its customers on this world premiere.  It was well delivered and at high standards of professionalism, but it always felt very personal, like he was talking directly to each one of us. Nothing like having the CEO of the company be the guy leading the conversation, delivering the products, and as a result demonstrating his engagement with the company’s business and its products, the customers, and his team of staff. The overall impression is that of commitment to the company’s values, renewed efforts on technological improvements, and continued growth.

Introduction of the Scrambler to the team at the Ducati plant in Borgo Panigale.

Ducati and Scrabler Ducati logos red and yellow side by side.

The branching off of Ducati via the Scrambler Ducati is an ambitious project, and the results no doubt will come. There will be a lot of yellow on your local Ducati dealer coming up this spring with a new family of products that will take the Ducati brand, in its Scrambler guise, to people who have not had a Ducati before, and people to whom the Scrambler will be their first bike.

Well done Ducati, well done Claudio Domenicali.  That was a great format to deliver new products and it highlights a company who is proud of its line of products and is committed to a growing set of loyal customers they know well, the Ducatisti.  And now be ready, they will also Scramble you.

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Honda True Adventure – Episode 1 – The Dream

Honda’s build up for their new Adventure bike has started.  First it was about giving away specs about a rumored bike here and there – journalists claiming they received the information from “Honda insiders.”  Maybe the information circulating was not intentionally given away, but it happened. And the information circulated across all corners of the world and helped feed the frenzy. Great marketing so far.

Original Honda twin from 80's Dakar races, the new Africa Twin, and on the right the current Honda Dakar bike (450 CRF)

Original Honda twin from 80’s Dakar races, the new Africa Twin, and on the right the current Honda Dakar bike (450cc)

Second was the presentation of a prototype on the EICMA 2014 show in Milan, under a “True Adventure” title.  No details were given whatsoever but the bike shared the stage with a 1980’s Dakar winner that became the Africa Twin and a current single 450cc Dakar bike.  It’s just there for everyone to see and photograph and speculate about it.  Great marketing again.

Now they are releasing what appears to be a series of videos titled True Adventure.  Here is episode 1, The Dream.

EICMA’s “True Adventure” and the message on this first video could be all surrounding the launch of one motorcycle, the new Africa Twin (which could be renamed). Since the time Honda stopped producing the Africa Twin in the 90’s I believe, Honda has effectively left the adventure segment and has been mostly selling watered-down road version bikes with adventure styling, what is now the X line (CB500X, VFR800X – Crossrunner and VFR1200X – Crosstourer) or small and mid-size dual-sport single cylinder motorcycles.

With the “True Adventure” strategy Honda could be mounting a come back to this market with something more than the Africa Twin.  They could be working, for example, on a team of serious enduro bikes under the “True Adventure”  moniker, bikes that would run parallel to their current “X” line of adventure-styled motorcycles. What if they would have an Elsinore as a smaller adventure bike (could be a single cylinder), and a new Transalp, which would be a touring oriented adventure bike with a 19 inch front wheel, and finally the true enduro bike, the Africa Twin, the top of the line, the one with the rumored 1,000cc parallel twin, 270 degree crankshaft.  That’s just speculation from our part, of course. At the end of the day we will be happy if all this build up and marketing campaign is only for the new Africa Twin. That’s the bike we want to see. And ride!

The Episode 1 video talks about Honda’s commitment for racing and for building competitive motorcycles, and the dream for making things happen.  To highlight this message they go so far as using a quote by Soichiro Honda.  It is a good build up for a new direction, or a renewed dream.

The video also includes actual footage of Dakar races won by Honda motorcycles. You will also see at least two strategically placed close-up shots of modern Brembo calipers – a hint for things to come, a motorcycle with a good set of high end components. The video also shows video footage and photos of present day, round-the-world riders traveling on Honda motorcycles, which is what we used to think about a possible range of motorcycles to come under Honda’s new “True Adventure” brand.

In summary, this video series seems like another great marketing strategy from Honda. They are building momentum which is something to be expected and commensurate for, at a minimum, bringing the legendary Africa Twin back to life. In other words, we interpret the presentation at EICMA and this video as a sign that real and serious things are to come from Honda on the adventure side of the spectrum.

Fasten your seat belts!  We will be following this soap opera up closely as the “True Adventure” story unfolds.

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The Honda Africa Twin is REALLY Back! Sort of…

There you go my friends, time to end one set of rumors… and start another. Under the title “True Adventure”  Honda showed three bikes at the EICMA 2014 event in Milan this week.  On one side a 1980’s Honda Twin Dakar racer – the one that eventually became the iconic Africa Twin, on another side Honda’s current Dakar race bike (450 cc single), and on center stage, covered in mud, a prototype of a bike that seems to include elements of the other two.

Original Honda twin from 80's Dakar races, the new Africa Twin, and on the right the current Honda Dakar bike (450 CRF)

True Adventure: Original Honda twin from the late 80’s Dakar races on the left, the new Africa Twin on the center, and on the right the current Honda 450cc Dakar bike.

We can’t go wrong by saying this prototype, or something very close to it, will be Honda’s new Africa Twin – which is now rumored to be out by the fall of 2015.  We are one step closer to the final product!

New Africa Twin prototype

New Africa Twin prototype

And from what we can see from these official images, and in our opinion, Honda nailed it! We are making some assumptions here, of course, when we imagine this will be a true enduro machine.  But everything seems to point to it.

Honda's prototype of the New Africa Twin

Honda’s prototype of the New Africa Twin

Other than this stage set up with the two Dakar bikes and the official Honda promo photos of this bike we are sharing here, nothing else has been said about this bike so far and as far as we know. That is, this bike under a camouflage paint scheme and dried up mud is all we have so far.  So we are back to rumors, but now we have rumors fed by images coming from Honda itself.

So let’s use these images provided by Honda to pick this bike apart and make some sense out of it.

1. Two airboxes? The bike has two air scoops high up on each side of the front fairings and flanking the tank sides.

Left side air intake

Left side air intake

This goes well with the rumors we discussed here on previous posts about this bike, where we presented Honda’s patent on a two-part airbox system, to be mounted on either side of the tank and replacing the traditional location of an airbox, which in general occupies a large portion of space in the middle of the bike, below the fuel tank and seat, and on top of the engine.

Honda Patent on Aircleaner

Honda Patent on Aircleaner

There is hope for something especial on this department, with fuel more in the center of the bike and lower perhaps even under the seat.  At the same time, it makes it easier to maintain the air cleaner, or cleaners, we should say.  This is something important and practical for a bike that will be ridden often on the dirt.

Right side air intake

Right side air intake

2. Two radiators and an oil cooler. It has also been mentioned here before that this bike would have two radiators, mounted on either side of the fairings. That has been confirmed as well. And an oil cooler is added to the equation (peg side of the bike).

Two radiators and an oil cooler

Two radiators and what appears to be an oil cooler

3. Frame and sub-frame in one piece. This is somewhat of a controversial idea, when considering there is “adventure” on the title of this bike’s presentation.  But I consider it good because we shouldn’t use rigid bags on real adventure bikes. And a one-piece frame certainly works well for a rally/enduro machine.

Frame and subframe in one piece. Aluminum?

Frame & subframe in one piece. Aluminum?  Seems like boot marks on the frame, good sign if it means it is a running prototype!

Looking at other mid-range bikes, the worst bike on this frame scenario is the Tiger 800XC, which has a single frame, but it has passenger pegs welded to it.  Why is it an issue? When the pegs hit the ground, and this is something that happens since bikes hit the ground, and with pegs protruding quite a lot they become a leverage point, and it has been cases when they bend the frame, and then the bike has become a total loss (in the United States that is the case).  BMW F800GS has a bolted subframe to the bike, and that is the case for most adventure bikes. You bend it, you change the subframe. Done!  But on this Honda prototype, despite the single frame, the passenger pegs are a bolt-on affair (they are not included on this prototype – but you can see the holes).

An advantage? Yes, several: lighter frame, a more rigid frame, and you don’t ever need to worry about subframe bolts coming lose. And lose they come and what a mess it is when they do in the field and you rode for miles with the lose bolt eating threads.

Two recommendations: remove the passenger pegs and use soft bags for true adventure rides on this bike and the frame will likely never bother you.  That is the typical use for aggressive or real off road riding, anyway.

Single frame

Single frame

Someone from the press has mentioned this is an aluminum frame.  Good, it helps keep the weight of this bike low. And adds even more rigidity to it. Good again.

4. Parallel Twin Motor. None of the photos give a good idea about the cylinders’ portion of the motor. But from the account of people who saw it life, it is likely a parallel twin motor.  The size? From what we can see on the images, the cylinders seem smaller than what you would expect if they are side by side and each one of them displaces 500cc.  But then, it can be a long stroke motor, which would go well with the idea of a lower rev torquey motor. If that is the case, it seems close to the rumored 1,000cc, perhaps slightly less.  Or, on a more far fetched speculation, but based on rumors on the internet (and we know internet information counts, right? we are all in it after all) it could be that this is the smaller version of the bike, the 500cc Elsinore version of the new “True Adventure” Honda line.  And it could even be a single cylinder motor, if you want to go to the extreme of what is possible based on the photos.  We know the photos clearly show two headers, but there are plenty of single cylinder motors with two exhaust headers.

Peg-side view of the bike

Peg-side view of the bike

And if we go by what the older rumors indicated, this should be a 1000cc motor and would have a 270 degree crankshaft angle, making things more interesting for a parallel twin. Eventually we will know more about this very important part of the motorcycle.

5. Dual-clutch automatic transmission – DCT.  Right, you and I may be the only two who do not quite appreciate this. But I bet Honda will provide a manual transmission version. Well, they should! Nothing wrong with DCT, just that one of our true moments of joy when riding a motorcycle is the actual shifting job, clutch in, clutch out in the blink of an eye.  We understand DCT may be more efficient and does a better job than humans can in terms of gear changes.  But shifting is not a safety issue like ABS or Traction Control are, and which are items we appreciate on a motorcycle.  Shifting is simply fun and it is a great part of the riding experience in our opinion.

Where's the shifter? DCT on board.

Where’s the shifter? DCT on board.

6. Wheels 21 front, 18 rear. This bike has the wheel sizes for a true enduro machine. We hope those wheels remain on this size on the final product. Lots of aggressive dirt tire options for this wheel combo.  This could be another indicative of the seriousness of this bike for dirt applications, a true rally/adventure machine.

Pirelli Scorpion Rally Tires, Rear tire at 140/80 18

Pirelli Scorpion Rally Tires, Rear tire at 140/80 18 (notice ABS ring)

7. Suspension Travel.  Difficult to elaborate on it.

Front forks, about 7 inches of travel.

Front forks, about 7 inches of travel.

The radius of a 21 inch wheel is 10.5 inches and is measured from the center of the axle to the inside of the  rim.  With that perspective in mind, the visible area of the fork, as seen on the above photo, should measure some 7-8 inches, add unladen sag, maybe it has about 9 inches of travel.

8. Round headlights, like the original. That’s what it appears to be. Under the larger glass area that has some geometric shape to it with somewhat straight lines, we can see round headlights.  That is a nice touch!

Right side air intake

Round headlights behind the geometric shape of the glass area

Other observations:

Lots of enduro-styled design elements: nice wide pegs, seat looks good as a one piece in a single swoop, tall handle bars, nice tall perch for a GPS.

Tall handlebars, nice tall perch for GPS

Tall handlebars, nice tall perch for GPS

Also it has a tall rally/dakar styled screen which seems to be adjustable on height and angle.

Windscreen seems to be adjustable

Windscreen seems to be adjustable

The rear wheel sensor ring indicates ABS will be available, as we would expect. Nothing has been mentioned abut tank size and nothing can really be judged about its size considering the speculation about the air cleaners being up high on the bike on the sides of the tank. Except we can say it is not a large, bulky tank, which is a good thing (if it takes 5 gallons of gasoline for a 200 miles of range, that is).

General Conclusion

What can we say? Overall it seems the photos give an impression of this being a serious off-road machine. Wheel sizes, the frame, the dimensions and ergos, the style, from what we can see, it all points out to a machine that would look comfortable at speed on the desert.

Rumored specs (from several months before EICMA 2014):

  • 200kg / 440lbs (fueled) // 180kg / 396lbs (dry)
  • 20L / 5.3 gallon fuel capacity
  • Parallel twin engine, 1000cc
  • 100hp
  • 250mm / 9.8in suspension
  • 21” front / 17” rear - On the bike presented at EICMA, it is an 18 inch rear wheel
  • Offroad-designed ABS brakes
  • Offroad-designed traction control

The exhaust on the prototype seems a bit on the “race” side of the equation. So one can imagine this will be modified somewhat, and it should have a cat converter at some point, if it is not on the muffler itself.

The real deal! Will it really be made?

The real deal! Will it really be made?

We know a final product will be different than what we see in these pictures, the older  speculations seem to have proven to not be fully correct, as one could expect, so here we are, like many of you across the world, waiting for more information from Honda about this bike, their plans, when they will be available and all that fun stuff.

Overall the general theme offered by this bike is a great one and we hope Honda sticks to it! We should say Honda is finally showing it has the courage to build something that will not only look good in front of a Starbucks, but which is fit for the desert like no other bike since the KTM 990 Adventure and SE stopped being made – and it seems, and we hope it should actually be better than the KTM. It seems like a real enduro/rally machine for the serious hobbyist that will hangout with this bike in a tent in the middle of nowhere. True adventure, right Honda? By the way, this bike puts the X line in its proper place: adventure-styled touring machines designed for tarmac roads and good gravel roads.

If Honda will really build this bike, if it will have this general shape, and the dimensions will be close to the previously rumored specifications, it will have a regular 6-speed manual gear box as an option, this bike is likely going to sell well on our corner of the world when (and if) it becomes available in the United States.

Honda's prototype of the New Africa Twin

Honda’s prototype of the New Africa Twin

Given those conditions above, we are likely to acquire this machine despite the fact that its beakless and somewhat rounded front end looks a bit like Hiccup’s pet dragon…

Hiccup's pet dragon

Hiccup’s pet dragon and the Honda Prototype: separated at birth

Updates will be posted on this site as they become available.

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The 2015 Multistrada will be revealed at EICMA: What we already know about it.

Several spy photos of a typically disguised motorcycle have been circulating on the internet pointing us out to what the 2015 Multistrada will look like.

2015 Multistrada

2015 Multistrada

Judging by the photos and what we already know about its new motor, the 2015 bike has incorporated enough revisions to make it a totally new bike.  Although the general shape is still there, there are changes everywhere on this bike, from the motor, to the frame, to the seat, and to some subtle design elements everywhere. Nothing was spared, it seems.

A New Motor

The changes start with the most important component, the heart of the new machine, a totally new motor and this is perhaps the most radical change to this bike.  And actually it is the most radical change to Ducati’s L-twin motors since the development of the superquadro motor of the Panigale, we comfortably risk saying.  On our previous article we covered the Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) motor in detail, using official information provided by Ducati.  We can summarize by saying that the output numbers generated by this motor are really impressive.

1200 Testasretta DVT in numbers

1200 Testasretta DVT in numbers

Comparing with the two previous Testastretta generations, we know this new motor is a good step up in performance.  We see a 7% increase in HP, an 8% reduction on fuel consumption, and our favorite one, a 9% increase on torque values.

The Evolution of the Multistrada Testastretta motors

The Evolution of the Multistrada Testastretta motors

But we also want to direct your attention to one number and parameter on the Ducati’s specs, the -78% IMEP COV.  It is something that we have not seen discussed anywhere on forums and reviewers of this motor so far. What is IMEP COV, a “smoothness index” Ducati says?  And what a 78% reduction may represent from a rider’s perspective?

IMEP COV = Coefficient of Variation in Indicated Mean Effective Pressure

IMEP COV = Coefficient of Variation in Indicated Mean Effective Pressure

Of all variables posted by Ducati, IMEP COV shows the largest gain for the DVT motor. Because Ducati thought it important enough to publish IMEP COV numbers we decided to investigate more about it.  It is not something sexy like HP, or something serious like torque, or something practical like fuel economy. But it is a fundamental parameter on engine development. Touted as a “smoothness index”  by Ducati, our short and superficial research led us to some important and interesting findings.

All of us have learned along the years that fuel injection motors when combined with strict emissions standards have pushed motors towards operating at the lean side of the spectrum, making certain motorcycles, especially single and twin-cylinder bikes but not exclusive to them, practically unrideable at low RPMs.  That was especially the case for the first version of the 1200 Testastretta 11 degrees motor. Owners of those bikes spent thousands of dollars, and we are not exaggerating here, on full exhaust systems, re-programmed ECUs, dynamometer time, and some home other tuners gadgets to resolve this issue. And it never completely cured the problem. Despite some improvement on engine stability from all this aftermarket work, the hesitation at low RPMs and abruptness off idle was always there.

The dual spark motor of the 2013-14 models showed great improvement on this issue.  When we tested the 2013 bike in comparison to a 2010 bike we noticed considerable improvements on the motor’s rideability.  The dual sparks associated with a changed angle of the fuel injection and a few other changes improved torque delivery and fluidity of the motor at low RPMs while increasing torque at the same time. Although the torque increase on the 2013 model was really small, it specifically improved torque delivery at low RPMs. And that motor also improved fuel efficiency by a good 10%.

But with the DVT motor Ducati is raising this bar to a much higher level, presenting this 78% reduction of IMEP COV which we assume is a figure derived from a comparison to the already improved dual spark motor.

Engineers the world over have been designing motors on the envelope determined by three main conflicting sets of variables: more torque and power; better fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions; while maintaining the motor’s running stability.  ECU-based fuel management systems have optimized motors to expand the limit of lean burn operation to improve fuel efficiency and reduce exhaust gas emissions without compromising power.  But lean burns increase cyclical variation in the combustion intensity, which directly affects the rideability.  This is what we experienced in the 2010-12 Multistradas for example and so many other motorcycles since emissions regulations have become more stringent. This rideability effect is measured by the coefficient of variation (COV) of the indicated mean effective pressure (IMEP).

Although the consumer has little access to this information, we actually experience it when riding our fuel injected motorcycles and we all know it is a lean fueling issue resulting on cycle to cycle variability. Too much cycle to cycle variability, however, challenges lower idle speeds and engine stability.  Therefore, when Ducati claims a reduction of 78% on IMEP COV on the DVT motors, they are basically saying variable intake and exhaust valve timing along perhaps with other parameters, has reduced cycle to cycle variability, as measured by the indicated mean effective pressure or IMEP.  IMEP is a measure of the average pressure over a cycle in the combustion chamber of the engine. The pressure stability from cycle to cycle, IMEP COV, shows high correlation to a rider’s subjective rating of an engine smoothness.

As a result, we assume these motors can run a leaner mixture, which explains at least partially the improved fuel economy, without compromising rideability. In fact, it has improved engine smoothness substantially from a more stable fuel burning cycle to cycle which helps with emissions, which we believe is the main push for this technology. A virtuous cycle of sorts.

And we want to add one more item to this discussion, although it has not been mentioned anywhere yet, so it is just a speculation from our part: perhaps a more efficient motor in terms of fuel burn cycles produces fewer emissions resulting in yet another reduction on the size of the catalytic converter (it was already marginally reduced in size on the dual spark motor of the 2013 model). We know the catalytic converter is a heavy component of the bike, so reductions in size can influence overall weight of the motorcycle and compensate any increase in weight due to a few added parts to the motor.

How will DVT and the 78% reduction of the cycle to cycle variability (as measured by IMEP) translate into a riding experience? Has it solved the rideability issues? We don’t know, but considering the torque increase, the Testastretta DVT motor can only improve an already awesome machine. We will know what to say about this 78% number when 2015 demo bikes become available.

A New Frame

Another very important change on the new 2015 Multistrada is a revised frame.

Spy photos claimed to be of the 2015 Multistrada

Spy photos claimed to be of the 2015 Multistrada

Comparing to the current frame on our 2013 Multistrada Pikes Peak you can see some obvious changes right away.

Walls of Snow. Crater Lake National Park, April 21st, 2013

2013 Multistrada Pikes Peak

We can see one brace of the frame is gone, there are some new angles on the remaining elements and what seems to be revised anchor points to the engine.  There may have been other changes to the frame that we can’t see from these photos. And we don’t know what  are the reasons for this change.

New Seat

We’ve been hearing about a new seat with adjustable height on the Multistrada.  On the photos you can see the seat is different, there is something like a trim or a layer on the seat.

2015 Multistrada: New Seat?

2015 Multistrada: New Seat?

We can’t quite tell from the photos if the seat is really lower.  But it seems more curved closed to is rear portion, so perhaps that whole area of the bike where the seat rests may have been modified. Certainly a lower seat would be a welcome addition to this bike, opening up its market to a large group of inseam-challenged riders.

And having the seat be adjustable will probably not exclude the current set of tall riders who enjoy the Multistrada’s triangle dimensions (handlebar – seat – pegs) and its height.

New Front End

Another obvious change, judging by the set of circulating photos, is a revised front end.

2015 Multistrada: revised front end.

2015 Multistrada: revised front end.

A few changes we can see right away: It is wider, has larger air intakes, it is more square and less beak-like. It gives the bike a more aggressive look.

Which one is the best?

Subtle changes on the front end of the 2013-14 models (left) when compared to the 2010 model (right)

There is windshield on the spy photos bike, but judging by the base of the shield on the photos, it seems like a hybrid from the 2010 and 2013 models:  back to the three anchor points of the 2010 but perhaps retaining the one-hand operation of the 2013.

2015 Multistrada: Detail of the Front End

2015 Multistrada: Detail of the Front End

Also, the base of the shield seems to be a bit more vertical than the two previous models. Besides the angle itself, the bodywork arriving at the sides of shield shows how it is more integrated.

Either way, windshields are an Achilles heal of adventure styled motorcycles due to the wind buffeting they generate in their job of providing protection from the elements to the rider.  Let’s hope on this third iteration of this bike Ducati has managed to find the sweet spot for wind management.

Öhlins or Sachs/Skyhook?

A gold front fork on the spy shots points to Öhlins.  But gold forks are not a property of Öhlins. Or this bike could be fitted with older Öhlins technology.

Ohlins or Sachs?

2015 Multistrada Spy Shots: Ohlins or Sachs?

Besides the gold color  commonly associated with the Öhlins, there is that  blue on the logo, which actually seem to point this bike to really being back with Öhlins.

But will it really? Independent of it being Öhlins or Sachs, we will go out on a limb to say the 2015 Multistrada will retain its semi-active suspension operation. After all, this has been proven to be an effective technology and has become the new standard on the top tier of the large adventure motorcycle segment. Öhlins has developed semi-active technology since the 2013 Multistrada was launched, so that is a possible scenario.  But I would say an unlike scenario due to the cost of Öhlins while the Sachs/Skyhook combo has proven itself effective on the last two years of operation.

The 2013 Multistrada (Silver) and the 2010 Multistrada (Red)

The 2013 Multistrada (Silver) and the 2010 Multistrada (Red): Sachs on the silver bike, Öhlins on the red bike.

Color Display, Switch Gear, Cruise Control

We do not have pictures of what the 2015 Multistrada dash display looks like, but it is almost certain that this bike will have a thin-film-transistor (TFT) liquid-crystal display similar to the one found on the Panigale. We hear the switch gear will be different and the bike will finally have cruise control.

Riding Modes, Suspension Settings

Without knowing anything about the new riding modes, we can speculate the four riding modes (Urban, Enduro, Touring and Sport) will have been retained and perhaps revised and improved with the new motor with DVT.  That assumes the possibility of playing with such an important new parameter available at the ECU such as variable valve timing.  We assume it opens more options for engine management.

And the semi-active suspension settings may have benefitted from lessons learned from more than two years running of the Skyhook system. If this bike goes back to Öhlins suspension, it should be something with semi-active operation.

Finally, it would be fitting to this bike’s role of being a leader of technological innovation if the 2015 bike incorporated the latest ABS system from Bosch, something similar to the system that has been available in the KTM 1190 for the last two years under the MSC name.

Overall Conclusion 

This is a completely new motorcycle. It retains the overall shape of the two previous versions but the body changes seem far from subtle. The new motor on itself is enough change to make this a new bike.

We expect this new motor to be the key selling point of the new Multistrada. But we would expect other structural, software, functional and cosmetic changes that we described or speculated were probably made by Ducati with the objective of keeping the Multistrada in its position in the market: a comprehensive and sexy package representing the forefront of technological advancement while maintaining a multi-personality where riders can enjoy it as an urban, enduro, touring or sport machine.

We believe the timing for the change is about right, although we have had only two years of production of the dual-spark, Skyhook version. That is because the competition on this segment of the market has increased. We hear BMW will bring an S1000 with a more upright riding position with bags (or bag attachments) in sport touring guise, for example. There are three KTM products competing directly with the Multistrada (the 1190 Standard, the 1290 Super Duke, and the new for 2015 1290 Super Adventure). And there are a few other bikes that have evolved in the last few years and have been knocking at the door of this segment of the adventure market.

When we see the 2015 Multistrada for the first time, perhaps at EICMA in a little more than a week from now, and certainly when we see it in person and test ride it, we will have a better idea about how we believe this bike will position itself in the market.

Short tour to Cottage Grove and Wine Country. May 3rd, 2014

Our 2013 Multistrada Pikes Peak

Considering we have been riding a Multistrada for the last two years, what we hear about the DVT motor and what we’ve seen so far in spy photos and rumors, it makes us believe the 2015 Multistrada will be a good improvement to an already excellent and still rather unique machine.

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Ducati’s Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) for the 2015 Multistrada

Similar to BMW with its horizontally opposed twin-cylinder boxer motors, Ducati has built a tradition, now going for more than 40 years, on its 90 degree L-Twin motors and desmodromic valve actuation. Traditions build history, develop a following, and become one and the same with the brand. Although being great marketing tools, tradition can also become a hindrance to development and innovation when the original format imposes physical challenges when the time calls for evolutionary change.

Paul Smart's 750, winner of the Imola 200 miles race, 1975

Paul Smart’s 750, winner of the Imola 200 miles race, 1972

But just when you think Ducati and BMW have been cornered by an old format, ingenuity and technology have paired up to leap frog these old motors into innovative machines.  That was the case for BMW when they developed the mixed liquid and air cooled boxer motor for their 1200 line which resulted in a more compact package than the original, despite the introduction of water cooling. And it has been the case on several technological evolutions to Ducati’s L-Twin motors during these last 40-something years.  The introduction of variable timing to its desmodromic valves, what Ducati now calls Desmodromic Variable Timing, or DVT, is probably one of the most outstanding evolutionary upgrades to the L-twin motors.  More than that, it will be a new platform for more innovation for the Ducati motors.

There is no question about the benefits of variable valve timing. Valve timing has been a challenge on the design of internal combustion motors since its invention, where a compromise has always been imposed: you want no overlap on timing for intake and exhaust valves for low speeds or street applications and for better fuel economy, rideability, and emissions, and you want maximum overlap for more horse power on higher RPMs for racing applications. As a result engineers configure motors to operate somewhat in the middle,  getting an overall good performance for road bikes.  But as result the motors get denied of the benefits given by operating on either end of the intake/exhaust valve overlap spectrum.

Ducati’s Superbike 1198 motors which are the basis for the 1200 Multistrada motors are a great example of how manufacturers have been operating under this challenge.  The 1198 Superbike motor operates under a wide 41 degree overlap on intake/exhaust valve operation. The street variation of this same motor, the Testastretta (Testastretta means narrow head in Italian), operates at a narrow 11 degrees of overlap.

1200 cc Ducati Testastretta 11 degrees Motor, Mutistrada 2010-2014

1200 cc Ducati Testastretta 11 degrees Motor, Mutistrada 2010-2014

What makes Ducati DVT so exciting

Variable valve timing is nothing new in the motor industry. And it has been in motorcycle applications for several years already, most notably on Honda’s VFR line and its V-TEC motors.  The V-TEC application, however, is in essence two fixed stages of operation. A solenoid in the rocker shaft will activate a different set of rocker arms at a higher and pre-determined RPM level and these different rocker arms are moved by a different set of lobes in the camshaft, with a more aggressive valve operation. That is, V-TEC operates two discrete set of intake/exhaust overlaps.  Kawasaki’s VVT (on Concours 14) actuates in a continuous form, but it operates only the intake cam.

Ducati’s DVT is a true continuous variable cam which allows for countless variations on degrees of valve overlap. And it is the only one on the motorcycle industry that operates both the intake and exhaust valves. Although it seems like a small upgrade from what has already been available in the motorcycle industry, and it has been available in the auto industry for a while, it solidifies another threshold for the motorcycle industry. And it will certainly be a platform for subsequent innovations on the programming side of equation, as variable timing of intake and exhaust valves opens up an important set of parameters that can be manipulated to improve a motor’s efficiency and performance.

2015 Ducati Multistrada Testastretta DVT Motor

2015 Ducati Multistrada Testastretta DVT Motor

The intake and exhaust camshafts on the Testastretta DVT are allowed to operate at what appears to be some 20-25 degrees of variation from the camshaft pulleys’ position, giving a combined variation of 40-50 degrees of operation when let’s say the intake camshaft is advanced to the maximum position and the exhaust is delayed to its maximum position. We don’t know how many actual degrees of valve overlap result from these variations on cam positions.  But we assume it will result on a motor operating from the 11 degrees of the current street applications to the 41 degrees of the Superbike motors. It could perhaps operate at an even wider margin than the 11-41 degrees between the street and Superbike variations of this motor.

We estimated 20-25 degrees by looking at the picture below, where it shows the actuator of the camshaft. We assume when it goes all the way to the left it will be at the 12 O’clock position, and all the way to the right, as pictured below, it seems to be at a little less than a one O’clock position. We know on a clock or watch display the 1 O’clock position is at 30 degrees of distance from the 12 O’clock position.

Ducati's Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT)

Ducati’s Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) Actuator

One of the ingenious elements of this design (although not unique to Ducati, as it has been used in the auto industry) is that this actuator is located inside the camshaft pulleys. The actuator is a very small part, by the way, probably 40mm in diameter since it fits inside the pulleys.

Cam shaft pulleys, with actuator inside (check the three bolts).

Cam shaft pulleys, with actuator inside (check the three bolts and the 12 marks on top).

The outside portion of the actuator moves together with the pulley where it is attached by those three bolts clearly seen on the two above photos. According to Ducati, the inside portion of the actuator is moved by a hydraulic system, which is triggered by a set of electronic sensors that compares the cam shaft position with that of the driveshaft to determine the ideal timing according to specific running conditions. Seems brilliant and simple in concept.

Camshafts, Testastretta DVT

Camshafts, Testastretta DVT

At minimal overlap, the intake valves delay their opening and the exhaust valves advance their closure so that the simultaneous open position of both valves does not occur improving the engine’s smoothness and fluidity at lower RPMs.

DVT a position of minimum overlap

DVT a position of minimum overlap

The system can operate at various degrees of overlap, moving intake and exhaust cams independently and governed by the ECU.  The ECU is mapped to select the position that optimizes power delivery, torque, smoothness, and fuel efficiency based on the rider’s varying throttle input and resulting engine loads. Can you imagine how much tuning you can get out of this setup? Or would it be necessary? Maybe you want to create a bias for the lower (urban mode of sorts) or higher RPMs (sport mode) of the spectrum. By the way, will it play a role on the four riding modes with low and high acceleration? Probably yes. And probably with more variation to the tune that at present levels (100hp low and high, 150 low and high).

DVT at medium overlap

DVT at medium overlap

At maximum overlap the intake valves advance their opening while the exhaust valves delay their closure given the engine its most aggressive performance.

DVT at maximum overlap

DVT at maximum overlap

The result of all this?  Ducati claims the following figures:

1200 Testasretta DVT in numbers

1200 Testasretta DVT in numbers

When comparing this motor’s specs to the previous Multistrada models, it shows a great step in horse power and torque performance.  And with that it gets closer to the Superbike’s horse power, and even beating it on the torque department, probably a reflection of operation at lower levels of valve overlap on a broad range of RPM.  Obviously, defeating compromises this motor brings an overall better performance when compared to both the 11 and 41 degree motors, except on horse power when compared to the Superbike motor. There must be more to it, of course. But this simple comparison shows promising results.

The Evolution of the Multistrada Testastretta motors

The Evolution of the Multistrada Testastretta motors

All of this is useless, though, if we don’t know what it feels like when riding the motorcycle where this motor will be applied to.  The numbers I like to pay attention to are the torque figures.  This is what, in my opinion, makes Ducati motors especial – those high torque figures at low RPM give the perception that the motor offers effortless performance on acceleration starting from low down on the RPM engine.  By all means, this new motor seems to really benefit from DVT, cranking torque figures to a nice curve and peak level.

Power and Torque Curves, Ducati DVT

Power and Torque Curves, Ducati DVT

I can’t see anything wrong on this, especially because Ducati indicates maintenance service intervals are maintained (15,000 km (9.000 miles) / 12 months), so is valve clearance check (30,000 km (18.000 miles)). Ducati also mentioned an anti-knock sensor for this motor, high compression pistons derived from the Diavel, new drive belts and belt covers, new oil pump with 70% higher efficiency, and improved crankcase for better lubrication.

And let’s not forget the improved fuel efficiency. I’ve gone more than 200 miles with a tank of clear gas on my 2013 Multistrada. But once you approach 200 miles, you better be sure there is a gas station close to where you are.  This new motor will be yet more fuel efficient, making a 200 mile range a more common occurrence.

Multistrada 2013, up to 220 miles with one tank

Multistrada 2013, up to 220 miles with one tank

We also want to direct your attention to one number and parameter on the Ducati’s specs, the -78% IMEP COV.  It is something that we have not seen discussed anywhere on forums and reviewers of this motor so far. What is IMEP COV, a “smoothness index” Ducati says?  And what a 78% reduction may represent from a rider’s perspective?

IMEP COV = Coefficient of Variation in Indicated Mean Effective Pressure

IMEP COV = Coefficient of Variation in Indicated Mean Effective Pressure

Of all variables posted by Ducati, IMEP COV shows the largest gain for the DVT motor. Because Ducati thought it important enough to publish IMEP COV numbers we decided to investigate more about it.  It is not something sexy like HP, or something serious like torque, or something practical like fuel economy. But it is a fundamental parameter on engine development. Touted as a “smoothness index”  by Ducati, our short and superficial research led us to some important and interesting findings.

All of us have learned along the years that fuel injection motors when combined with strict emissions standards have pushed motors towards operating at the lean side of the spectrum, making certain motorcycles, especially single and twin-cylinder bikes but not exclusive to them, practically unrideable at low RPMs.  That was especially the case for the first version of the 1200 Testastretta 11 degrees motor. Owners of those bikes spent thousands of dollars, and we are not exaggerating here, on full exhaust systems, re-programmed ECUs, dynamometer time, and some home other tuners gadgets to resolve this issue. And it never completely cured the problem. Despite some improvement on engine stability from all this aftermarket work, the hesitation at low RPMs and abruptness off idle was always there.

The dual spark motor of the 2013-14 models showed great improvement on this issue.  When we tested the 2013 bike in comparison to a 2010 bike we noticed considerable improvements on the motor’s rideability.  The dual sparks associated with a changed angle of the fuel injection and a few other changes improved torque delivery and fluidity of the motor at low RPMs while increasing torque at the same time. Although the torque increase on the 2013 model was really small, it specifically improved torque delivery at low RPMs. And that motor also improved fuel efficiency by a good 10%.

But with the DVT motor, Ducati is raising this bar to a much higher level, presenting this 78% reduction of IMEP COV which we assume is a figure derived from a comparison to the already improved dual spark motor.

Engineers the world over have been designing motors on the envelope determined by three main conflicting sets of variables: more torque and power; better fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions; while maintaining the motor’s running stability.  ECU-based fuel management systems have optimized motors to expand the limit of lean burn operation to improve fuel efficiency and reduce exhaust gas emissions without compromising power.  But lean burns increase cyclical variation in the combustion intensity, which directly affects the rideability.  This is what we experienced in the 2010-12 Multistradas for example and so many other motorcycles since emissions regulations have become more stringent. This rideability effect is measured by the coefficient of variation (COV) of the indicated mean effective pressure (IMEP).

Although the consumer has little access to this information, we actually experience it when riding our fuel injected motorcycles and we all know it is a lean fueling issue resulting on cycle to cycle variability. Too much cycle to cycle variability, however, challenges lower idle speeds and engine stability.  Therefore, when Ducati claims a reduction of 78% on IMEP COV on the DVT motors, they are basically saying variable intake and exhaust valve timing along perhaps with other parameters, has reduced cycle to cycle variability, as measured by the indicated mean effective pressure or IMEP.  IMEP is a measure of the average pressure over a cycle in the combustion chamber of the engine. The pressure stability from cycle to cycle, IMEP COV, shows high correlation to a rider’s subjective rating of an engine smoothness.

As a result, we assume these motors can run a leaner mixture, which explains at least partially the improved fuel economy, without compromising rideability. In fact, it has improved engine smoothness substantially from a more stable fuel burning cycle to cycle which helps with emissions, which we believe is the main push for this technology. A virtuous cycle of sorts.

This motor is going to be introduced as the most important and significant change to the 2015 Multistrada line up which will be announced at EICMA in a few weeks from today if not earlier than that.  The 2015 Multistrada will have other changes besides the new motor. We will make sure to report here when the new bike is announced.

How will this new motor relate to the Ducati riding experience? Those high torque figures entice me and likely will improve that effortless power delivery feeling these motors produce. The 78% reduction on IMEP COV will make it much more rideable at lower RPMs. According to Giulio Malagoli, Ducati’s Head of Product Marketing:

…this motor is state-of-the-art with a mission: to be used the way you want, interpreted the way you want, and without compromises.

I will know what these words mean and I will report my experience here as soon as a demo model becomes available at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon, assuming those nice folks at the shop will let me ride it.

Stay tuned!

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Intermot 2014: What’s New in the Adventure World?

The first international show of the fall has come and is now gone. Intermot in Cologne is the first on a series of fall shows where motorcycle manufacturers display their new line up to the public and provide us the dots we connect to make sense about market trends. And as a first shot on making connections, if Intermot is representative of what will take place in EICMA in Italy in early November and AIMExpo in Florida in a couple of weeks, the adventure segment certainly shows health as represented by technology upgrades on motorcycles, it shows expansion with new models, and strength with a few models being upgraded to become more dirt oriented.

But to understand what we should celebrate on the adventure world we need to look beyond the major disappointments so far, which is what we did not see yet and maybe won’t see at all this year.  A good portion of the adventure public has had lofty expectations for something really new and exciting in the Adventure world.  We talk here about the holly grail of the adventure/enduro world, that multi-cylinder, lighter weight, road capable but very dirt oriented motorcycle.  That is what the heavily speculated New Africa Twin from Honda promised to be if rumored specs became reality.

Will this be the 2015 CRF1000 Africa Twin?

One of several drawings being associated with a new Africa Twin (Source: Motorrad)

The New Africa Twin rumor is followed closely by rumors of a new mid-size Ténéré from Yamaha. The result is that none of these two highly anticipated motorcycles materialized at Intermot. They remain unattainable dreams so far.

Will this be Yamaha's new mid-size adventure bike?

Will Yamaha develop a Mid-Size Ténéré based on the 700cc Parallel Twin motor of the FZ-07? (Source: Motorrad)

The Adventurization of Sport Touring Motorcycles

Going past these two failed expectations, however, we see an adventure segment showing health and growth. Its borders expand with the “adventurization” of a few sport touring bikes. One example is Honda’s VFR800X, the Crossrunner. Although it remains a road motorcycle, it has gained suspension travel, more upright ergonomics, and the typical electronic aids associated with adventure touring motorcycles. Unfortunately this motorcycle is not likely to be ridden on American soil.

2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner

2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner

Another example of “adventurization” of motorcycles is what Kawasaki has done to its Versys line. Both the 650cc parallel twin and 1000cc in-line-four models went through an overall revision for the 2015 model year, with the final result showing both bikes with a more adventure stance.  The 650cc parallel twin Versys lost that funny looking front-end, where the bike seemed to be unsure what it really wanted to be. The parallel-twin engine has been revised, producing more horsepower and improved fuel economy.  There is talk about increased suspension travel as well, but we can’t confirm that at this time. We will know more about this bike at the AIMExpo next week, where it is expected to be officially announced for the American market.

2015 Kawasaki Versys 650

2015 Kawasaki Versys 650

The 1000 cc Versys has also been revised to become a bit more adventure oriented, including more suspension travel and wind protection. No changes to the four-in-line motor, we hear. Now what matters for us in the United States is that this bike is expected to be available in our market for the first time in 2015.  Again, we will know more about it at AIMExpo in Florida a week from now.

2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000

2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000

More Technology and Larger Displacement in the Adventure Category

The 1290 Super Adventure confirms KTM’s trend toward road oriented adventure motorcycles. It is a gigantic beast with a large tank of almost 8 gallons.  It has the largest displacement motor of all adventure motorcycles. The 1290 (1301cc) motor is nearly identical to that in the Super Duke.  It includes revisions for better rideability which is the usual case for an adventure application. Therefore the Super Duke’s 180HP is translated to 160HP on the Super Adventure.  KTM claims it weighs 549 lbs fully fueled and ready to ride.

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure

This bike is expected to pack the most comprehensive suite of electronic rider aids so far on adventure motorcycles. It includes semi-active suspension, for example, with a suspension control unit adjusting damping on the fly, similar to what is available on the 1190 Adventure. It comes with four MTC (Motorcycle Traction Control) modes available: Rain, Sport, Street and Off-road along with the same “Off” setting available on the 1190 for those that wish to ride without traction control. It’s got KTM’s MSC, the lean-sensitive, Bosch ABS system, first introduced in the 2014 1190 Adventure – and I believe no other Adventure motorcycle offers this feature yet.

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure

There’s also a Tire Pressure Monitoring System and something new to the KTM line, an optional Hill Hold Control. This feature senses when the bike is on a slope at a standstill, keeping the brakes engaged until throttle is applied and the bike begins to move forward, preventing the bike from rolling backwards. This bike is likely to go head to head with the R1200GS Adventure in terms of size, rider aids, fuel range, and application.  But perhaps it will also compete with the Ducati MTS 1200 in terms of rider aids, horse power and also road performance.  The advantage of the KTM 1290 with respect to the Ducati is that it comes with spoked wheels, giving it more flexibility for off pavement applications.

We don’t know yet what the revised 2015 Ducati Multistrada (see more information further down this post) will offer besides increased horse power, but it is likely to remain a more compact and agile package for on road spirited riding than the KTM Super Adventure.

More Dirt Orientated Adventure Bikes

On our biased perspective we like adventure motorcycles that to do well on dirt roads, therefore we are glad to have found out from Intermot that a few motorcycles have become more dirt oriented. In specific we want to mention the Suzuki V-Strom which is now available with spoked wheels.

2015 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT

2015 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT

This bike has come a long way.  From its awkward street looks in the 2004-2011 models, it started looking more rugged starting with the 2012 model, and now for the 2015 model year it finally has the XT version, the most adventure version so far when we consider it now comes with spoked wheels. And it also comes with a beak… Why, one would ask? We don’t have an answer for that except to say that back in the late 80’s its predecessor, the Suzuki DR Big, had a beak. Anyway, priced competitively for a spoked wheels bike, the V-Strom 650XT is now a stronger entry level in the multi-cylinder adventure motorcycle market, targeting people with more serious off pavement ambitions.

On the higher end of the spectrum, another more bike that has been upgraded for the dirt is Aprilia’s Caponord which now has the Rally version, “suitable for any trip, ready for any terrain” according to Piaggio’s site.

2015-Aprilia-Caponord-1200-Rally-1

Among the upgrades, the critical one is spoked rims, including a 19″ size on the front! This brings this bike on level with the BMW R1200GS, Yamaha Super Ténéré, Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX, and KTM 1190 Adventure Standard, all have spoked wheels with the front being a 19 inch wheel.  Other changes include new hard panniers with aluminium covers, new oversized windshield, new engine guards, supplementary LED lights. And new colors and paint schemes identifying the bike as the Aprilia Caponord Rally.

2015-Aprilia-Caponord-1200-Rally-3

These bikes come with the suite of electronics of the previous Caponord models including ride-by-wire with three engine maps, traction control, cruise control and ABS (can be disengaged). It also includes the semi-active ADD (Aprilia Dynamic Damping) suspension system, using skyhook algorithms and acceleration driven damping strategies.

Persisting Rumors

Not revealed at the Intermot, but rumored for EICMA, there is the BMW S1000XR, a more upright version of the S1000R.  Not quite an adventure motorcycle, this sport tourer is knocking at the shed’s door of some of us who favor more upright ergonomics on motorcycles and the capacity to carry gear for multiple-day trips.  It will likely compete with some of so-called sport/touring/adventure bikes such as the Multistrada.

Speculated "Adventurized" version of BMW S1000R - Source Motorcyclist Magazine

Speculated “Adventurized” version of BMW S1000R – Source Motorcyclist Magazine

Talking about it, another rumor on the sport touring side of the adventure gamma of motorcycles is a revision to the Ducati Multistrada.  Although it seems as it will keep the general dimensions and profile of the current Multistrada, it is expected to be a new motorcycle, starting with the introduction of variable valve timing (VVT) to its Testastretta motor. Ducati is referring to it as DVT.  One can assume there will be an increase in horsepower and fuel economy as a result of VVT, perhaps enough to keep up with the 160HP of the announced 1290 KTM Super Adventure or gets closer to the anticipated horsepower of the speculated BMW S1000XR.

Ducati has announced this revised Multistrada will be unveiled on October 15th, just a few days from today. There is also fairly strong talk about the showing of a KTM 1050 Adventure motorcycle at EICMA. Not much is known about this motorcycle at the time we write this post, but one would expect it will fill the void left by the KTM 990 Adventure. Following on that reasoning, we would expect it to be lighter and more dirt worthy than the 1190.

Not for 2015 but giving an idea about what is next from Triumph there is a spec sheet circulating on the internet as a summary of points from a survey Triumph sent to Tiger owners asking them about their interest on specific features for upgrades to the Tiger 800XC.  It indicates Triumph is revamping its Tiger line up soon, perhaps for 2016.  Just to summarize, it indicates Triumph is considering adjustable WP suspension, ride-by-wire, riding modes, traction control, and increased fuel economy (probably associated with a specific riding mode).

2015 Triumph Tiger spec sheet circulating on the internet

2015 Triumph Tiger spec sheet circulating on the internet

The Tiger 800XC lags the BMW F800GS on items associated with dirt manners and the available electronic package on the F800GS (traction control, riding modes, etc). If the specs documented on this sheet becomes reality, the Tiger 800 on its XCR and XCR Adventure version will likely match the BMW F800GS in terms of the electronic rider’s aids. And it will surpass the BMW on the suspension department if the “Adj WP” item on the spec sheet indicates adjustable forks.  The question is if and when this will happen.

The Star of Intermot 2o14

In our opinion, there was no competition, the star of the Intermot was Ducati’s Scrambler.  This bike energized the segment, even if we can’t quite claim this motorcycle is an adventure bike.  But this bike represents something new, exciting and desirable.

2015 Ducati Scrambler Classic

2015 Ducati Scrambler Classic

The bike comes in four versions. The Urban-Enduro version is the more adventure-oriented version.

2015 Ducati Scrambler Urban-Enduro

2015 Ducati Scrambler Urban-Enduro

The Scrambler shows Ducati remains a vibrant motorcycle company looking to expand the boundaries of its product line. The base model, the Scrambler Icon, priced at $8,495 for the red and $8,595 for the yellow, together with its campaign theme where it describes the bike as “inventive, youthful and free-spirited, the new Ducati Scrambler is much more than a bike, it’s a land of joy, freedom and self-expression,” it shows Ducati is going after new customers for its products and with that possibly bringing new customers to the motorcycle industry overall.

2015 Ducati Scrambler Icon

2015 Ducati Scrambler Icon

That is, Ducati’s marketing campaign for this bike is likely to attract new riders to the market and the Scrambler is likely going to not only be the first Ducati, but the first motorcycle for many. Contextual evidence to this is the released video about this bike titled “The Land of Joy,” which does not offer a hint of engine noise, for example.

And any of the officially released material about this bike, up to its unveiling in the Intermot, has never shown technical or motor specifications. It was probably not deemed important when what matters is what this bike intends to represent.  It is something new for Ducati and perhaps something never approached this strongly in the motorcycle industry since Honda’s “you meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign. And to us the Scrambler campaign itself brings it to the top of what’s new in the adventure world.

"You meet the nicest people on a Honda"

“You meet the nicest people on a Honda”

And beyond Ducati and the Scrambler motorcycle itself, the Scrambler campaign showed a line of products such as clothing and riding gear, which are likely to sell well creating a strong presence for the Scrambler brand within Ducati.  You can say it is a detour from the leading technological edge Ducati represents in the motorcycle industry. But you can’t say it is not a great marketing campaign. As a result I want a Ducati Scrambler. I know I will  only buy one Scrambler T-shirt, or two, and will stay clear of Scrambler branded riding jacket or gloves or helmet…  But I can see those items becoming popular.

Anyway, Intermot was interesting, we learned a few things from it, and we anticipate there is more to come in a few days at the AIMExpo in Florida.  And a lot more to come at EICMA in Italy in early November. Soon we will know about the new Multistrada and we still keep our hopes up for something more dirt oriented from Honda or Yamaha, if not this year then certainly next year. We embrace change and are interested in what the motorcycle industry will bring next to the adventure market.

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The Ducati Scrambler: new from what it never was

The typical case of an old model being brought back to the market, the Ducati Scrambler was revealed to the general public at the 2014 Cologne Intermot event. But there is a lot more riding on this retro-styled bike, beyond an interesting juxtaposition of new and old concepts, there is the creation of a new culture within Ducati.  One could say it’s new from what it never was. Or something that almost was some 40 years ago.

Round headlights framed by four LED semicircles

Round headlights framed by four LED semicircles

The launch of this bike follows what is one of the most eclectic marketing campaigns by Ducati, likely surpassing the campaign when Ducati launched the Monster, more than 20 years ago.  I would venture to say it is impossible for anyone who has navigated motorcycle sites in the last few months to tell me they’ve never heard of the word Scrambler associated with Ducati.

With that, I bet most everyone already has formed an association in their minds of the word Scrambler with a very specific type font, the color yellow, a beach shack, a ship container, a green carpet, and four semi-circle LED lights framing a round headlight.

Introduction of the Scrambler to the team at the Ducati plant in Borgo Panigale.

Introduction of the Scrambler to the team at the Ducati plant in Borgo Panigale.

There is no question Ducati has taken ownership to the Scrambler word much beyond the  bureaucratic value of its trademark rights. Ducati has created a unique environment around it and what makes it interesting is the strong hipster focus of the campaign. The Scrambler campaign contrasts with Ducati’s racing and “metro” attitude for all its bikes and related products of the last 40 years.

Old and new: LED and old style round headlights

Old and new: LED and old style round headlights

What is it?

Obviously the important aspect for this bike is what it is and represents, not how it performs, which is consistent with the hipster focus of the campaign. The campaign includes a site subtitled “scrambled people give joy” and where followers can contribute videos for a contest under the “scrambler you are” idea.  Selected videos are displayed. The instructions say:

Tell us your emotions, free your spirit with a video for a maximum 120 seconds. Express yourself, your way of life, how you make the difference every day in the present days.

And the subtitle of the announcement for the September 30th world launch stated:

Born in Ducati, grown in the hearts of motorcyclists.

Evidently, emotions trump expectations of performance in this marketing campaign. Therefore, we haven’t seen too many technical details being shown about this motorcycle during the campaign.

But a few specific design items were strategically leaked such as a round dash display, which is seen on the right side of the handlebars on a few of the leaked photos, a dual-sport tire showing a new thread pattern, and a metal alloy tank among other strategically leaked photos. Most of these motorcycle parts were shown in photographs with young Ducati staff that are associated with the Scrambler project, such as the photo below where one staffer uses the information cluster (round dash display) as a wrist watch.

Dash display shown as a watch of sorts.

Dash display shown as a watch of sorts.

Or this other photo where a staffer is shown holding the tank of the Scrambler.  Good to know Ducati is steering away from plastic tanks!  At least this is the case for this bike.

The Scrambler tank, in metal.

The Scrambler tank, in metal.

But now we know the specs for this bike:

  • Motor type: L-Twin, Desmodromic distribution, 2 valves per cylinder, air cooled
  • Displacement: 803 cc
  • Bore x stroke: 88 x 66 mm
  • Compression ratio: 11:1
  • Power: 55 kW (75 hp) @ 8,250 rpm
  • Torque: 68 Nm (50 lb-ft) @ 5,750 rpm
  • Fuel injection: Electronic fuel injection, 50 mm throttle body
  • Tank size: 3.5 gallons
  • Front and rear suspension travel: 6 inches
  • Wet weight: 423 lbs

It is the same motor of the Monster 796.  But it is revised for improved driveability. Nothing wrong with that.

Looking good on dirt!

Looking good on dirt!

The Scrambler comes in four options: Icon, Classic, Full Throttle and Urban Enduro.  One could probably imagine it being used as a flat tracker. Or a classic enduro as in Steve McQueen style. Or simply a sexy street bike.

Why do I say it is new from what it never was?

The original Scrambler is from before my time, but a simple research tells us the Ducati Scrambler was built by the request of an American Ducati dealer.

1962 Ducati Scrambler - only sold in the United States: Source Ducati Site

1962 Ducati Scrambler – only sold in the United States: Source Ducati Site

Ducati bought into it and the result was a successful motorcycle, which eventually conquered the Italian market as well. This bike’s flexible attitude sold well for a while and  created its own culture which Ducati actually used in its market campaign of the time: Potere Ducati or Ducati Power! That was the late 60’s, remember? Flower power and all.

1970's Original Ducati Scrambler

1968s Ducati Scrambler, this one sold in Italy as well: source Ducati site

But then there were the L-Twin motors and Ducati’s racing success. There was the Ducati 750 SS, the first win of the twin motor at the Imola 200 in 1972. With that win Ducati started a long string of victories and success and the L-twin motor became a symbol, and icon of Ducati within the motorcycle community.

The Scrambler went away with all the other bikes with single cylinder motors in the 70’s while the L-twin motors are an intrinsic part of what Ducati has become in these last 40 years: a “metro” and racing brand of sophisticated motorcycles at the forefront of technology development. And those single cylinder motors and those bikes of the 60’s and 70’s are considered classics and very valuable collectors’ items today.

Is the new Scrambler going to establish itself based on its history and related audience? The Scrambler announcement states: “Born in Ducati.”  That’s where I say this new Scrambler is new, a development from what it never was. This campaign is creating a new ecology within Ducati. It seems Ducati is creating a new market, a new product, and a new image. A Scrambler image first, Ducati second.

There likely won’t be a conflict of personality, hipster and the metro and racing images will be side by side at dealer floors. But we will see a new brand within Ducati. Expect to see motorcycles, gear, clothing, and a varied assortment of accessories under the Scrambler Ducati brand. Definitely something new within Ducati. Something that never was, or almost was in the 70’s.

Ducati’s marketing contrasted with my interpretation by stating the following on the official site of the Scrambler:

The Ducati Scrambler is the contemporary interpretation of the iconic Ducati model, as if it had never been out of production. The style is “post-heritage”: to take the best of the past and create something unique and absolutely contemporary. Anti-conformist, accessible and essential, the Ducati Scrambler is the perfect blend of tradition and modernity and marks a return to the pure essence of motorcycling: two wheels, a wide handlebar, a simple engine and a huge amount of fun.

From the bike point of view itself, its mechanical bits, I agree with Ducati.  But this bike is more than a bunch of parts, the campaign indicates it is more than that. And it could actually contaminate other models of the current line up. Or at least the public’s view of Ducati itself. But that is going beyond the current moment, let’s not put too much on this little bike’s shoulders for now.

But to someone who cares about Ducati and its history of the last 40 years, there is an extra value with this motorcycle. The Scrambler carries an interesting juxtaposition of Ducati trends in its soul, the L-twin motor, a motor that never belonged to the original Scrambler. But this twin motor in the Scrambler is going to be the only air-cooled motor left on the Ducati line-up, the latest version of a 40 year-long evolution on such motors. Interesting endings and starts. Despite the many changes and improvements done to L-twin air-cooled motors in four decades of existence, it still can be linked to the very motor that took Ducati to that Imola race win in 1972.  Although this bike has nothing to do with the current racing culture, and the majority of people being targeted by this marketing campaign couldn’t care any less about Ducati’s racing heritage, this motor is there and it will carry forward what is now an old tradition under a new idea.

Would such a bike find its way to my shed?

I’ve been looking for a motorcycle that offers a more practical application for city and local riding, something smaller than my Adventure bikes, something lighter and more relaxed. I tried the Streetfighter and I liked it a lot, but it was more fighter and less Street.  Within the Ducati line, the Hyperstrada and Hypermotard have been on my short list, for example.

But I also started looking into the classic or standard types of motorcycles.  I thought about the Triumph Bonneville and its parallel twin motor.

2014 Triumph Bonneville T100

2014 Triumph Bonneville T100

And the Moto Guzzy V7. The 2015 V-7 has now a 6-speed transmission, dual-channel ABS, and traction control.

2015 Moto Guzzi V7 Stone

2015 Moto Guzzi V7 Stone

But then the Ducati Scrambler got in this mix.  I confess the hipster hype is a bit over the top for me.  But I can see beyond it.  The Ducati Scrambler offers more model choices than Triumph and Moto Guzzi bikes do.  Also, the Ducati is lighter and more powerful than the Triumph and the V-7.  I suppose I don’t fit the hipster profile, power still matters to me and this bike has it for what it is. And the Scrambler still is a Ducati. Of the good kind.  So my choice is with the Ducati as of today.

The Stage for the Launch of the Ducati Scrambler

The Stage for the Launch of the Ducati Scrambler is being set (from the Scrambler Ducati site)

The only problem is which of the four Scramblers I will pick, and this is a little challenge on itself.  Here are the four models.

Icon: This is the basic model. In red the price is $8,495 and in yellow $8,595.  It has alloy wheels, and other than that, it is a nice bike.

2015 crambler Icon - photo courtesy Ducati and Asphalt and Rubber

2015 Scrambler Icon – photo courtesy Ducati and Asphalt and Rubber

Full Throttle: $9,995. This is the most urban looking version, and the most hooligan of them. It connects with the flat track racing heritage of such bikes.

2015 Scrambler Full-Throttle - Photo Courtesy Ducati via Asphalt and Rubber

2015 Scrambler Full-Throttle – Photo Courtesy Ducati via Asphalt and Rubber

Urban Enduro: $9,995.  This one best connects with the off road community. You would think this is the one I would pick.  I like the spoked wheels but I did not like the high front fender. It will probably be the best seller among the three non-Icon versions.

2015 Scrambler Urban-Enduro - Photo Courtesy Ducati via Asphalt and Rubber

2015 Scrambler Urban-Enduro – Photo Courtesy Ducati via Asphalt and Rubber

Classic: $9,995.  This one looks the closest to the original Scrambler, especially the one associated with Steve McQueen.

2015 Scrambler Classic - Photo source: Ducati via Asphalt and Rubber

2015 Scrambler Classic – Photo source: Ducati via Asphalt and Rubber

If I had to pick a Scrambler today, it would be the Classic.  But what I want is the Classic with the front and rear fenders of the Icon version.  Or the Icon with spoked wheels. Maybe once I get it I will have to make some modifications to it…

Anyway, of all bikes revealed at Intermot so far, this one is by far the most interesting.  For more information, check the Scrambler Ducati site.  And if you would like to order one, check with your local Ducati dealer. If you are in Oregon, check with Scott or Mickey at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon.  I know some people who have already placed orders for Scramblers with them…

And check this video:

It gives an idea about the bikes and also some riding gear that will be associated with this bike. As usual, the Italians do not kid around when it is about design. Have fun!

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