by Tom Beaujour
This article originally appeared in Guitar Aficionado, Winter 2011 Issue - Buy Issue
Recently, a friend who had just returned from a trip to San Francisco was bemoaning that he had rented a large cruiser for a day ride down Pacific Coast Highway. “The bike was great when we hit the long straightaways, but it was too heavy and ungainly for the twisties,” he said, referring to the serpentine turns that make this itinerary a challenging favorite among motorcyclists. “I wished I had rented something else, because I felt like I was just throwing a ton of steel into those corners.”
Perhaps it’s the exposure to the elements, or the hyperawareness to changes in environment, road conditions, and traffic movements; maybe it’s just because you’re working with two wheels instead of four. But when a motorcycle is ill suited to your ride, it quickly becomes obvious. Ducati has attempted to rectify this anxious feeling with its new aggressively styled—and some might say insect-like—Multistrada, a motorcycle that can adapt to different roads and conditions with nothing more than the touch of a button. And while skeptics will be forgiven for thinking that such a design concept could only produce a laughable “jack of all trades, master of none” misfit, this rider’s experience is that the Bologna company has largely achieved its goal with the nimble 423-pound sport-tourer.
The Multistrada’s versatility is summoned through an ingenious four-mode system that not only communicates electronically with the bike’s 150-horsepower 1198 V-twin power plant via a wireless throttle but also modifies stability control settings and the adjustable Öhlins-equipped suspension. Handlebar-mounted multifunction controls working in conjunction with a well-organized digital speedometer and display allow the rider to switch between the modes—Urban, Enduro, Touring, and Sport—on the fly, and the effects are immediately discernible.
I picked up the Multistrada at a congested downtown New York location, giving me an opportunity to start my ride by sampling the Urban mode, which reduces the bike’s output to a smoothly regulated 100 horsepower, lowers the suspension, and increases traction control. For anyone who’s ever suffered through an hour of stop-start city traffic on a jerky, overly nervous bike that just wants to run flat out, Urban’s comfortable and restrained (but not sluggish) low-end power delivery will be nothing short of revelatory.
Once you’ve reached the open road, a flick of the switch is all that’s required to engage either Sport or Touring mode, both of which tap the bike’s available 150 horsepower. Touring, with its slightly smoother response and increased traction control, was my personal choice for longer hauls, but Sport mode’s crisp oomph certainly gets the blood racing. In both modes, steering feedback and communication with the road surface are lively and present without being fatiguing, and the bike feels extremely comfortable, stable, and controlled at speeds approaching the triple digits. If your journey just happens to lead you past to some dirt roads or paths, Enduro mode is a must-try. Here, the suspension raises and horsepower drops to 100 horses, as in Urban mode. As you negotiate sand and gravel, you’ll barely believe that you’re riding the same vehicle on which you just zipped effortlessly down the highway.
As if all of this intelligence were not enough, Ducati has thoughtfully added a light-action clutch, an integrated adjustable windshield, ABS brakes, heated grips, and a variable electronic suspension that that can be adjusted for luggage requirements and when riding two-up. Admittedly, the wealth of options and controls can at first seem almost overwhelming, or even burdensome if you’re the “I just want to ride” type. But after a brief acclimatization period, you’ll soon wonder how you could have ever ridden something that didn’t have all these features. And when you return to your own bike, you’ll look dejectedly at your handlebars, missing the switches and buttons that made your last couple of rides the most carefree of your life.
Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A., multistrada.ducati.com