The weekend before last I had the privilege of riding, back to back, two great motorcycles: the 2010 Multistrada and the brand new 2013 Multistrada. After a short three years in production we have here a rather long list of changes in the 2013 model.
The motor and the suspension are where the key changes were made, I would call one evolutionary, the other revolutionary. So, what are these changes and how do they translate into the riding experience? Is it an improvement? Would these changes go as far as making you call the 2010-12 models “old school” bikes (not that there is anything wrong with that)? So let’s find out. To do it properly, I asked the great folks at European Motorcycles of Western Oregon (thanks Scott and Madelyn) whether I could have both motorcycles available for a test ride. When they graciously gave me an okay I invited my friend Doug to join me in the effort. Effort? Ha! That was some fun!
Looking back to 2010
It was love at first sight when I first laid my eyes on the much anticipated 1200 Multistrada back in 2010. Once it showed up at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon I took the 2010 Multistrada S (Sport) for a test ride and I was immediately impressed by its power, loved the ergonomics, how the bike feels light, the oh-so-sweet fast turn in, and the Ducati 1200 cc L-twin motor experience. That motor… you twist the throttle and on the blink of an eye you are on the next zip code. If your arms did not fall off their sockets, there is. Because you are doing all of that while riding on a very comfortable, and even plush, I would venture saying, upright touring / enduro / motard riding position. I couldn’t find a way to describe that riding experience with the Multistrada, but the word “visceral” was what came to mind at that time.
The motor on this bike has a successful racing pedigree, based on the 1198 Superbike motor, from where it was tuned down for a street application, and Ducati called it the 11 degrees Testastretta, referring to the narrower valve overlap as compared to the 30-something degrees on the original 1198 motor. Making such motors rideable on the street and also have them meet fuel emissions is not an easy task. The result of this first incarnation of the TestaStretta was that it has all the power you may want but it runs lean hence poorly (surges) at anything less than around 3 to 4 thousand rpm at constant throttle position. It actually doesn’t feel really good until you get past the 5,500 rpm.
Ducatisti around the world proudly justify this as par for the course in the forums, “that’s what gives it character” they say. But in reality many of these same owners work on the few available fixes, not perfect solutions and sometimes quite expensive, but in the end it shows great improvement. Although I like the rough on the edges contrast you experience between that wild motor and the overall refined design concept of the 4 in 1 bike, it was not quite what I was looking for on a motorcycle. I would had preferred another Jekyll and Hyde proposition: A motor subtle and smooth for the “touring” mode, but which is capable of showing its wild character upon a “sport” setting request! And that would make the bike’s 4 modes in 1 concept more realistic as well, in my opinion.
I had a chance to ride that very same bike again in September of 2011. Now the bike had some 2,000 miles on the clock, the motor was broken in and some tune work had been done to it and it felt substantially better on the low range. I was still unconvinced, though. After all, it had Urban and Touring modes, right? Shouldn’t these two modes give you a more refined riding experience? In reality I had a feeling I was the only one complaining because this bike was pretty much hitting the top end of the popularity charts. The sales figures were the prove of its success. That wild character was the postcard of this bike, Sport mode was champion!
Admittedly, this bike had a lot more to offer than what could be hindered by my humble impressions of a lumpy motor on partial throttle. Back in 2010 the 1200 Multistrada was a trend setter and it still is today. The idea of a sports bike motor on an enduro style body, offering plenty of comfort for touring, with four riding modes ranging from enduro to urban to touring to sport was new back then. Somehow it is still new today! The Multistrada brought a new perspective to the adventure and sport-touring bikes segment with the electronically controlled suspension setup based on top-of-the-line Ohlins suspension systems which was and still is a major hit for performance riding. Other manufacturers are only now arriving at what Ducati has had for three years already. Like Audi, their new partner, once used in their adverts, much before the start of their joint venture last year: “you lead or you get out of the way.” Who could have imagined Audi and Ducati together back then, right? But that is another story.
The story of three years on the market.
So three years later and now with the benefit of the story cumulative sales data can tell, we can say that the gutsy move played by Ducati with this bike paid off. This motorcycle impacted the Adventure segment and pretty much impacted Ducati itself. The average Multistrada buyer is 45 years old. And for about 80% of the owners, the Multistrada was their first Ducati. Ben Cope at Visordown puts it well:
Ducati has sold 20,500 Multistrada 1200s since its launch in 2010 and it surprised me to see that, for 80% of buyers, this was their first Ducati. They ride, on average, 50% more than the typical Ducati owner (no jokes, please) and the stat that stands out most is that the previous bike MTS1200 owners came from is equally split between sportsbikes, naked bikes and adventure bikes.
This motorcycle conquered slices in the sales pie of the adventure, sport and naked bikes segments. Prove that the 4 in 1 concept worked, and more than that, it offered an alternative that was nonexistent until then in its merge of comfort ergonomics with a sport performance. This bike makes its own segment and its uniqueness remains. Furthermore, this bike became an introduction to Ducati to many riders around the world. Success nonetheless. When I visited the Ducati factory and museum in 2011 they proudly talked about the Multistrada as their best seller bike at that time. While there I had a chance to meet Lidia, the Multistrada that went around the world in a promotion stunt which was proudly displayed in its own room in the museum. But I digress. Again.
So why change, you may ask?
In soccer we often say we don’t change the roster of players nor the game strategy when the team is on a winning streak. But of course, there is much more to that on the motorcycle world. I see two reasons for change that make sense to me. One is Ducati’s official story. Ducati claims the changes implemented in the 2013 model are a result of their consultation to customers and from data gathering of riders’ opinions on motorcycle forums. I wasn’t alone on my complaints after all! The bottom line was to make the Multistrada a motorcycle with a stronger touring capability and fix a few niggling issues here and there. This could serve two objectives: consolidate their newly acquired customer base by offering an upgrade and improved product; and conquering yet more new customers by offering a better touring product which taps into a larger more mature slice of the market. Ducati’s move with this bike in its 2013 fashion could be to assume a more mainstream position by offering a de facto touring machine. But which still had that wicked sport mode! They wouldn’t want to lose that edge, right?
On the other hand, we can also speculate how Ducati wants to keep this bike at the trend setter position it started in 2010. Other manufacturers are catching up to Ducati’s challenge and are offering motorcycles with riding modes and electronically controlled suspension systems not unlike what Ducati has been offering on this bike since 2010. And not only that, they are also offering semi-active suspension systems on 2013 models. Two examples are the 2013 BMW R1200 GS and the 2013 Aprilia Caponord. And there is more: I’ve heard a rumor that one major and traditional manufacturer of large adventure motorcycles of the 1200 cc variety (which I will keep nameless here because it is a rumor, despite the fact that rumors always have a hint of truth…) wanted to emulate some of the Ducati feel on their heavily revised 2013 model. Too much of a hint? Anyway, you lead or get out of the way, right? Ducati is again taking chances with this bike, introducing changes including the new semi-active suspension technology to the motorcycle market.
Evolutionary, you said?
So where is this long list of changes? Although these bikes look about the same, Ducati has touched just about every system on this bike. They kept the four riding modes (Enduro, Urban, Touring and Sport) but outside of that it seems everything else was fair game. Some of these changes are here:
- LED headlights for low beam. Besides being brighter and more visible to traffic, its lower power consumption allows for low and high beams to be on at the same time, improving illumination overall. High beams remain the same as previous models.
- Upgraded ABS brakes with three levels of interference including levels of front and back linked actuation, which changes depending on the riding modes (latest version of Bosch’s 9ME ABS system).
- Upgrade to the 8 level Ducati traction control (DTC) sporting smoother interference with torque reduction of up to 60 per cent now controlled by retarding the ignition, and the fuel injection being interrupted only for greater levels than that.
- New windshield with better wind protection and which allows one hand operation, so you can move it up or down on the go.
- Other cosmetic changes, like wheels, the stickers are gone in place of high relieve plastic, slight changes to the shape of the headlight, the seats, and perhaps other things that I have missed.
There is a shuffle on the models available: A base (no semi-active suspension) continues to be available, and the Touring model is also available, the S model disappears and in its place you get only the Pikes Peak version. And a Gran Turismo model appears.
This one really shows the new direction towards a more touring appeal. The bike comes in only a graphite color, with a few accessories that make it more geared for touring (higher screen, different seat, fog lights, engine protection bars, and tires more geared for touring than sports performance).
But the two main areas of change as mentioned earlier are in the motor and in the suspension. I recommend you check “Ash On Bikes” for Kevin Ash’s excellent comprehensive technical review of the specific changes to the motor and suspension, including Ducati’s diagrams explaining in detail the changes. It is worth a look, I guarantee you that.
But to summarize, these changes make a lot of sense to me, they say it is smoother at the partial open throttle range. It has a 5% increase in torque and up to a 10% reduction on fuel consumption. With its Dual Spark (DS) plugs per cylinder, angle of fuel injection more directly across the intake duct, and an auxiliary air injection, you can call it an evolutionary change. Ducati calls this new motor the Testastretta 11 degrees DS.
And the revolutionary change is on the suspension. Ohlins electronically controlled suspension is out, Sachs semi-active suspension is in. It is the Skyhook semi-active suspension, Ducati calls it DSS. This type of suspension has been in the auto industry for several years already. Ferrari and Maseratti are great examples, but it has become more prevalent on other top tier car manufacturers as well. Semi-active suspension allows for on-the-fly, fraction-of-second changes to compression and damping that are based on several parameters (speed of travel, throttle position, brake actuation, measurements of front and rear wheel travel if I haven’t forgotten something). The objective of this suspension is to maximize wheel contact with the pavement while maintaining the chassis as stable as possible. In theory it improves traction while also improving rider comfort. Again, I recommend you check Kevin Ash’s review on the “Ash on Bikes” site linked above.
You must be thinking too much talk and it is not on the riding experience. So here we go. We got a scheduled date for the ride and I counted the days waiting for it to arrive. The day it was scheduled, a Saturday morning, Doug and I met for coffee early before getting to the EMCWOR. Doug shows up on the 850 Moto Guzzi Eldorado. I show up on my Triumph Tiger 800 XC. I already know it is a problem selecting a bike to go for a Ducati Multistrada test ride because chances are your motorcycle will feel underpowered when you get back to it after the test ride. You are better off driving a car to the test ride, so you avoid the inevitable comparisons. Follow my advice or you risk buying a new bike!
Having Doug join me on the test ride would allow us to have both bikes out at the same time allowing back to back comparisons and an opportunity for a photo shoot. But most importantly I would have someone with whom I could exchange notes along the way, and not just someone, but a guy who knows about motorcycles. I could write a few pages here to describe the portion that I know of Doug’s Curriculum Vitae on motorcycle matters. But let’s just summarize here that Doug is a motorcycle enthusiast with experience on the race track and great overall knowledge on several aspects of motorcycles and motorcycling in general. And I should add that I learn about riding and about motorcycles every single time I go on a ride with him. I was really glad he was available and willing to join me on this ride. Of course, you should know there was no arm twisting here, it was not difficult at all to get him to join me on this ride.
EMCWOR provided us with their new 2013 demo bike and a 2010 that has been an executive demo at the shop, my friend of the previous two test rides, now with about 4,700 miles on the clock, with brand new tires. The bikes were ready to go when we showed up at the shop at about 10:00am give or take.
If you haven’t ridden a Multistrada yet, you should know these bikes require instructions regarding the operations of their several systems. It is pretty much intuitive, but it had been a long time since the last time I rode the 2010. And the 2013 has a few important changes and added features that we wanted to know. Below you can see the default set up for sport mode, DTC at level 4 (just below medium interference level, 8 being highest) and ABS at level 2 (less aggressive with independent actuation of front and rear). On Touring, ABS is defaulted to level 1 indicating front and back braking is linked when operated by the handle bar lever. On Enduro, Level 3, you can get rear wheel lock up, if I remember correctly, the order of levels could be inverted and the defaults could be different. What is important is that you can customize each of the riding modes the way you like it. So you can have the 150hp map (touring or sport) with a different set of ABS, suspension damping/compression and DTC that is different than the default. And it will stay there until you change it again or bring it back to default.
I asked to ride the 2010 first. I was wondering about what does “evolutionary” meant, so going from the 2010 to the 2013 would tell me the story, if there was a story to be told. The outside temperature was 42 degrees and both bikes showed the ice warning symbol on the dash. I climbed on board of the bike I already know relatively well. I was surprised to realize the 2010 was even smoother than I remember it was last time I rode it in September 2011. I was following Doug going west on 11th at the 35 mph traffic and the bike was doing fine at partial throttle on second gear. I was immediately comfortable with the bike’s ergos. I’m 5’10” and this bike fits me like a glove. A bit taller than my Triumph Tiger 800 XC when I have the Tiger’s seat on its lower position, shorter than the Tiger with the Tiger’s seat on its highest position. But it feels laterally lighter than the Tiger when stopped, which is important when only the ball of one of my feet reaches the ground. Handlebars reach is spot on! Perfect distance seat to pegs. Very comfortable indeed.
We took off towards the south hills of Eugene. When we hit the open road we let the bikes show a bit of what they are all about but as soon as we hit the hills we were engulfed in a thick fog. Roads were wet. I slowed down.
We went towards Crow, OR, to show the bikes to a riding friend of ours and make some time waiting for the fog to lift some. But he was not home, so we took the opportunity to talk about the bikes so far and examine some of the differences about the bikes. When we stopped and helmets were off, first thing Doug said was: “I like this bike!” On one of the intersections, half way there, I had helped Doug change his bike’s mode from Touring to Sport. I think that’s what did it for him!
And about the windshields, can you spot the differences?
Besides being taller, wider and shaped differently, the operation can be made by a one-hand-move, on the go. It is quieter than the previous model. But it is not quiet. And for me it works better on the low position. On the high position if I lower my upper body to a position that actually makes it uncomfortable to be riding at any distance, but it makes it really quiet. I wonder if the windscreen of the Granturismo model, which is taller will offer less wind noise for long distance traveling.
There is a slight change on the shape of the headlights. Can you tell? On the new model the top of the headlight cuts towards the front and center of the fairing on a more straight line. Looks less like it is surprised like the previous model and more like it is determined. You can also see the new windscreen is bolted with four attachment points, so they are not interchangeable with the previous model (three bolts).
The fairing on the front, on that area from the headlights to the dashboard, has a different angle when it connects to the black plastic on the dash. I only noticed that now that I was paying more attention to the photos. Looks better integrated with the dashboard. The upper part of the fairing as well, it has a new indentation where it connects to the wider wind screen. Very small changes that require one to be paying close attention to notice.
We got back on the bikes, I was still on the red 2010 bike. We went towards the King Estate Winery, it is always a great setting for photographs. And there is a great set of curves with very rough surface on the way to the winery. The Ohlins suspended bike took it well. I felt some jarring on the handlebars, the bike pitched some, but it was solid. Once at the winery we stopped for more photographs at their entrance road.
The rider’s seat on the new bike is a bit longer. That was Ducati responding to some taller riders complaining they felt cramped on the seat. To me it was okay for regular touring, unless on situations when I needed to move around and then I would hit the lip to the passenger seat. I think this change was actually already incorporated on the 2012 model. Another small change is the stitching on the new seat. Looks really nice.
The high relieve “Ducati” emblem on the side of the tank in the 2013.
I like it better as an adhesive under the clearcoat.
We climbed back on the bikes and this time I took the 2013 for the first time. WOW!!! What a difference on the motor. First thing I noticed was when I just blipped the throttle. The motor of this brand new bike seemed surprisingly rev happy. I put first gear and it launched smoothly… it was very, very smooth. And it pulled firm as if the 5% increase in torque was a lot more than that. I would have to say the changes to the motor can be evolutionary on paper, revolutionary on feel!
But anyway, it was a short trip to the top of the hill and we parked the bikes again for another photo shoot. Check the headlights. The LED lights are bright. I think they should be more noticeable on the road when facing oncoming traffic, for example, a good thing. I’m looking forward to see what happens at night, with the driving lights and the high beams turned on at the same time, which can be done due to low power draw of the LEDs.
One thing to be missed on the new bike is the Ohlins bling and its golden fork legs. And its performance fame. The Sachs shocks are dark grey, do not photograph well but look better in person. There is no brand or logos or anything identifying what it is, just plain matte grey fork legs and matte black wheel axle clamp. That is something interesting as Sachs has been providing performance products for some of the Dakar vehicles. Could be because Ducati bought the rights for the Skyhook concept, which has been terminology used on the field of semi-automatic suspensions for several years already but no one working on it had claimed proprietary rights for the word. By the way, Ohlins has developed their own semi-automatic suspension for motorcycles, called the Mechatronic (= mechanic + electronic?). They plan to eventually offer it as a retrofit model for motorcycles. Think about the possibilities here.
We jumped back on the bikes. I’m again on the 2013, I put it back to Touring mode, and we hit the road back to Eugene. I noticed that when just cruising I could ride on the lower part of the fat area of the torque one gear taller than what the motor tells me to do on the red bike. Despite how smooth the 2010 felt when I first started riding it earlier in the day, it still has issues. It is never completely round, except when at about 5,500 rpm and above. And it felt more clearly so when I jumped on the 2013 and its motor felt so much more drivable. It was just unbelievable. Yes, I know, what should a Ducati be all about, right? Where is that rough on the edges experience? Well, I think Ducati is offering a different product here, changing the priorities on this bike, but without compromising its original performance.
We continued back to Eugene and we hit the area of the road with the tight curves with rough surface. I was anticipating some level of smoothness and was not disappointed. The feeling I got is that it softened the edges of the road imperfections. At some point Doug had mentioned that he purposefully changed his line on a couple of curves, to see how the semi-active suspension worked on the 2013 and was surprised on how neutral the bike felt at all times. Some journalists indicated the bike does not inspire confidence, giving less feel to the rider. I did not ride to a point where that was ever an issue. Doug did not experience that either, quite the opposite, it felt always very composed. Maybe this could be an issue on the track.
For now I liked the simple fact that it was solid and went over the rough surfaces so well. I then moved the bike back to sport mode and got that aggressive throttle response. So it is there, the performance is there. But more the way I like it. A touring bike with a sports motor on tap. That’s the Jackyll and Hyde I was looking for. Thank you Ducati for listening to me (even if it was through other people who thought the same way I did).
At some point Doug mentioned: “if I was buying one these two bikes, I would buy the silver one. The red one seems old school.” And I remembered one article I had just read on the July 2012 Motorcyclist magazine about the Ducati 750 SS Imola. That’s the bike that put Ducati on the map, 41 years ago. Imola 200 in 1972 was their first win. And Ducati was only on their second year of production of the V-Twin motors, up until then they only had the big singles. Paul Smart was the Ducati rider who won that race. You should know he was not too keen about riding that bike at first. “They felt pretty awful to ride, and slow too. There was loads of torque, but it seemed to fire every other lamp post” he said. But when he checked his time sheets on practice, he realized he was riding something really special, he was going a lot faster than he perceived it was. Well, I don’t know if Doug was thinking this far back when he mentioned “old school” in reference to a 2010 Multistrada. But that’s how I feel about that motor on the 2010-2012 bikes. There is something raw and rough on the edges about it. That way it is old school. It is deceivingly fast, but it also demands you to work on it as you ride tighter curves, for example, and anytime you let revs fall below 5,500 rpm. We got back to the shop and parked the bikes upfront.
Overall I have to say that I was ecstatic with the new bike. The DSS suspension is fine. It actually feels more evolutionary than what its revolutionary design represents. After all, this is a completely new and radical approach to how compression and damping operates. But you only notice it, at least on sport mode, when you hit rough surfaces. Other than that, it feels very composed and un-intrusive. You wouldn’t know it was there until you hit the extremes. And then you would feel what it was meant to do. I would like to try a softer setting to see how it responds to the rough surfaces. Must be even smoother.
The motor, on the other hand, that was a complete departure from the previous model’s experience. I enjoyed the extra torque experience and thought about Paul Smart’s quote on the 750 SS and thought what would he say about this bike. It is still deceivingly fast, or faster, but it now fires on every lamp post. It clearly shows it is a V-twin, no questions about that so that part of the Ducati identify of the last 40 years is preserved very well. But it feels more compact, it actually reminded me of the Streetfighter 848 motor, which is something that I really like. As a matter of fact, on sport mode it reminded me of the 848 in terms of feel, responsiveness, sound, but with longer legs and so much more refined on the low range. The only fault is that it is a bit quieter, or it sounds “lighter”, at least that’s what I perceived. But that can be changed with a slip on, if you want it louder. Or a full aftermarket exhaust system. I would not go that far, though. How much more power and sound would one want? I know I should not have asked this question.
Soon after we parked the bikes Scott and the guys from the shop came to greet us upfront and to know our thoughts about the new bike. Doug and I were both enthusiastic about the new Bike. But I was really impressed with Doug’s excitement about the new bike. After all, Doug rides many old school bikes. Real old school ones like his 1970-something Moto Guzzi 850 Eldorado. And on our bar conversations, when we talk bikes, he is always the first to show skepticism towards new electronic technology on the bikes. But surprisingly he liked the Skyhook semi-active suspension (DSS). And he also liked the revised motor and felt the red bike required more rider’s work and input during a ride. Which can be a good thing. Or not.
When we were walking back to our bikes I mentioned to Doug: “Now we will feel the real difference.” He replied: “I’m the one who will really feel the difference,” as he mounted his 850 Eldorado. The Tiger felt soft, sluggish and heavy. And the Tiger is an awesome bike!
Would I buy one of these bikes? The 2013 is really appealing to me. I think Ducati has produced a motorcycle that has a more clear touring capability, without dismissing the sport performance. I did not try urban or enduro, but with the touring and sport modes I can more clearly see the distinctions between the two modes. The semi-active suspension is an improvement, evolutionary in feel. Overall it is a more refined motorcycle.
For the people who appreciate that old school feel, there are plenty of brand new 2012 bikes still available. An Ohlins bike may become a coveted item. They are not really old school, as they obviously come packed-full of technology. At the shop here in town they have a brand new 2012 on the floor that you can get with some Ducati factory incentives. So if you are interested in that 2012 that is on the floor, in a nice titanium color, stop by at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon and talk to Scott or Mickey. And there is a brand new silver 2013 on the floor as well (besides the demo bike I rode). And maybe there is a special one to arrive at some point in the future with my name on it.
Now, listen to me: if you don’t want to buy one of these bikes don’t take them for a test ride, especially the new one! And don’t say you were not warned!