ELECTRONIC WIZARDRY ON WHEELS
“Multistrada 1200 Quatro”; it has a nice ring to it. No, the latest Multistrada isn’t called that, but I reckon Ducati should’ve called it that. People might think the “Quatro” name would indicate that it had 4 cylinders, but no, it’s still a twin. What the “Quatro” would refer to is the fact that this is, in effect, 4 different bikes, all wrapped up in one package. I got to have a short ride on one of them, and I have to say that this is the most impressive Multistrada I’ve ridden! And if I’d had the chance to ride the other 3, I think I would’ve been even more impressed. Viewed from the side, the front section looks a mean bird, perhaps some kind of vicious eagle, about to swoop down and devour its prey. Viewed from in front it looks particularly weird; like someone at the factory jammed those big air-ducts in and forgot to cut them off level with the front of the bike. And then there are the hand-guards with the blinkers in them. You expect blinkers in the mirrors perhaps, but not the hand-guards. With the mirrors above those, from the front it looks like it has double-decker mirrors. More weird! At the rear there’s that hugger and guard thing. It looks weird too; like a mudguard with a bit broken out of the middle of it. Show your neighbours and they’d say, “What happened to the back guard? Did you break it already?” I mean, take a look at it! Yes, I know, the hugger keeps the mud and gunk off the under-side of the actual mudguard; and the other hugger bit acts like a kind of mud-flap, but I still reckon it looks weird! As befits its multi-road personality, it’s quite tall. I’ve got long legs but even I was on tip-toes reaching the ground. (A lower seat is optional). As I’ve mentioned already, what you’re sitting on is vastly improved over the old model; quite comfortable actually! Although I have to say that the one I test-rode didn’t seem quite as plush as the one I first sat on a while ago. The bars are high and wide, giving plenty of control and a commanding ride-position. The foot-pegs seem further back than expected. It feels a bit strange at first; you’re sitting up-right in typical dual-sport position, but your feet are tucked back in what feels almost like a sports-bike position. (Although much lower than a sports-bike of course). While I found this a bit awkward at first, there can be benefits with this, because it tends to tilt the pelvis forward, creating a more ergonomically desirable “S” curve in your back, rather than the more typical slump you often find yourself in with an up-right riding position. Having said that though, the seat seemed to have a tilting-forward feel, which I felt a bit uncomfortable with after a while. The big-ticket attraction of this bike is the electronics package; so lets look at that. The first thing you’d notice is that it doesn’t have an ignition key. It has an electronic remote control. This disables the bike when it is away from the bike, and allows it to start when it comes near the bike. To start it, you go to a lever on the right switch-block. You press it down until the electronic display has cycled through its checks, then push it up. Then you press the start button located below the lever. Sounds a bit complicated, but you’d soon get the hang of it. To switch off you just pull the lever back down. There is a myriad of data available in the display panel. And, as you can see, it's all digital, there are no analogue dials. There’s fuel-consumption read-outs, a full trip-computer, ambient temperature, the location of the nearest coffee shop, and … okay, I made up the last one. But it took about a dozen presses of the button to get it back to the first screen again. Be assured that anything you would want to know while riding is available here! That’s not the main thing the electronics do though. The electronics package transforms the bike. The first thing is power modes. There are 4 of those, called, “Sport”, “Touring”, “Urban” and “Enduro”. In “Sport” and “Touring” you get the full 110kW of power, but select either “Urban” or “Enduro” and you get that cut by a third, down to 73kW. But it doesn’t just change the amount of power, it also modifies the way that power is delivered. There are 3 throttle response curves. “Sport”, naturally, gives you the most instantaneous response, “Touring” is toned down a little, and then “Urban” and “Enduro” soften it up even further. (Ducati don’t want you popping wheelies away from the lights, or unintentionally wheel-spinning on the dirt!). Speaking of wheel-spinning, that’s not something that’s likely to trouble you on the Multistrada because it has no less than 8 different stages of traction-control, which cut the engine power until the sensors at each wheel are happy that everything is under control, or as under control as you want it to be. And if you want to vary it even more than that, you can program your own settings in. For example, you might want less traction-control in Enduro mode so you can shoot rooster-tails through the corners, so you can dial that in, over-riding the standard setting. And if you really do want to pull wheelies away from the lights, then you can program the package to give you the full 110kW in “Urban” mode. But, wait, there’s more! If you shell out the extra dollars (and you’ll be shelling out around 29,000 of them!) for the S version, you get electronically-adjustable Ohlins suspension. At the press of a button you can change rebound and compression damping at both ends, and preload at the rear. So you see what I mean about 4 different bikes all in one! At the press of a couple of buttons you can go from a tautly suspended, quick-response sports-bike, to a smooth inter-state express, to a mild-mannered commuter, and even a nicely manageable dirt-roader. Quite amazing! The only disappointment, from an electronics point of view, is that ABS is not standard on the base model. That’s a bit poor, I reckon, although it is optional. I’d been wanting to test one of these ever since I sat on the new one a while ago, but hadn’t got around to it. I got the chance though when the Harley test-fleet rolled into town. The dealer also sells Ducati and had a demo Multistrada there, so I tagged along behind the Harleys on a short test-ride. As I mentioned at the start, I only got the chance to ride one of the “4 bikes” included in the package; and to be a fair test you’d have to ride it in all 4 modes, so call this a ride “impressions”, rather than a full “test”.
OUT ON THE ROAD
The engine is smooth with a few revs up, but gets a bit harsh at low revs. And it vibrates unhappily if you try to pull away in too high a gear at low revs. The test-route was around the suburbs with a bit of arterial highway. So it was put in “Urban” mode for me. I tried to change it during the test but couldn’t find how. I saw how long it thought it’d go until needing fuel, and what temperature it was, and a whole lot of other stuff, but couldn’t find the mode-select. No doubt it’s easy once you know how. Anyway there wouldn’t have been much opportunity to let the full 150 horses have their way. I’d been told to stick behind the Harleys; I suppose the Harley reps wouldn’t have been too happy to have their test-fleet carved up by an old bloke on a Ducati! It still went well on two-thirds power. Crack the throttle open and it lifts itself on the front suspension and surges forward. I reckon it’d be a cracker in full power mode! The gear-change I found a bit stiff, and I had trouble finding neutral. But I always knew what gear I was in thanks to a gear-indicator on the instrument panel; just another little piece of information that is contained within the digital display. Gearing is pretty much ideal for the bike at around 29kph per 1,000rpm. A relaxed 4,000rpm brings up 116kph. It’s much happier at cruising speeds than the old 1100. I was getting a fair bit of wind at highway speeds, with some buffeting around my helmet. The screen, which of course is adjustable (although not electronically), was positioned fairly high, so lowering it a bit would probably have improved that. The ride seemed a bit firm around town, with patches in the bitumen being felt more than I would’ve expected. At higher speeds it improved and felt more compliant. The suspension (Sachs on the standard model that I rode) is fully adjustable front and back, so you can tweak it to suit your preference. I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to test the handling (I was following a fleet of Harleys remember!), but it seemed fine, and again, better than the old 1100. Brakes are good, although didn’t feel as powerful as those on most Ducatis. Maybe that’s intentional to suit the model. Quite apart from all the electronic wizardy, this is by far the best Multistrada I’ve ridden. Although, strangely, I didn’t like it quite as much as I expected. Maybe if I’d ridden all the modes …. In any case, I’m sure it would be a good bike to do what it is intended to do, which is travel the different roads from highways to gravel back-roads. SNAPSHOT Ducati finally gets it right – a bike that should happily handle all types of roads, from gravel tracks to smooth highways. And it does it with an almost futuristic electronics package that is entertaining in itself. Although much better looking than the previous model, there are details in the styling that still look a bit funny; such as the front that looks like a bird that’s about to swoop down and peck your eye out! And it is expensive.
Engine: 2 cylinder, 1198cc. Power: 110kW at 9,200rpm. Torque: 118Nm at 7,500rpm.
Fuel capacity: 20 litres.
Weight: 189kg (Dry).
Seat height: 850mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 17, Rear: 190 X 17
Brakes: Front: Twin 320mm discs. Rear: Single 245mm disc.
Price: $21,990 (+ORC). (S Model, $29,990 +ORC).
Reader's Coments: A reader, Dave, wrote in response to the above report, and I thought his comments were worth adding to the test here. This is what he had to say.
"I love those Ducatis and came within a cheque-book signature of buying one. But when I quizzed my local dealer he boasted to me about how the servicing costs had come down – to “only” $600 for a basic service and “as little as” $1100 for a major service. Compare this with the cost of servicing my VFR-800, which was $220 for first service and $260 for the second one. I know, Dukes have desmo valves which need more attention, but the Honda has a “vtec” engine which is also more complex than a standard one. "I also got to thinking about the electronic wizardry that you talked about in your review and started wondering about the long-term costs of this sort of thing. The thing is, my old BMW (1973 R-90) is still going fine after 38 years. And I can service it myself, it’s so simple. (And I'm the dumbest guy I know). What are we going to do with these cutting-edge bikes in, say, 10 years? And can a Multi-strada really withstand the Aussie stradas?” He makes a good point regarding service-costs. Despite having reduced the costs, they are still hugely expensive. Much more than the Japanese. Also a good point about the “electronic wizardy” and how long that will last / how expensive it will be to replace when it all goes wrong. With Italian electrics having a somewhat dubious reputation anyway, that would be a concern! He also related an incident where his Honda suffered some chaffed electrical wires, largely due to some rough roads he travelled. And he wondered how something like the Ducati with its "electronic wizardry" would fare on such roads.
The main change to the all-roads big Duke has been to the suspension, which gets a semi-active electronically-adjusted set up from Sachs. Other than that, well maybe a few tweaks, but nothing much. The whole thing was pretty good as it was anway!
The big change for 2015 is in the engine, which gainsvariable valve-timing. Other bikes (notably Honda's VFR800), have had variable valve-timing, but only on the inlet side: the Duke gets it on inlet and exhaust valves, which, says Ducati, makes it the first production motorcycle to do so. The result of this is an increase in power, to 112kW and 136Nm of torque. Perhaps the main advantage of variable valve-timing is the spread of power, and the Ducati spreads those increased numbers - especially the torque - over a wider range of revs. The whole bike gets even more electronics, with traction-control, ABS, and electronic cruise-control. The S model gets bluetooth connectivity that allows the bike to talk to your mobile-phone, and then you can use your phone to control certain functions; and your bike can read your emails or something like that. You'll have to watch it, it'll be hacking into your Facebook account next! Pricing is $23,990 for the standard model, and $27,990 for the S. (So you pay more for the basic one and less for the S).
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