Adventure bikes are traditionally stunted, aggressive looking half-breeds, designed to be good at nothing but survive everywhere. Ducati took a shotgun to that rulebook in 2010 and built the Multistrada, a bike aimed at the man who wants to ride tarmac fast in a comfortable upright position.
What came was a gorgeous, fast, capable street bike. Since then niggles have been worked on, Pikes Peak races have been won and now, sat before us is the prettiest of the machines to grace the adventure bike class, the Multistrada S Pikes Peak.
Over the last year the competition has taken massive leaps forward in performance, the new R1200GS and KTM 1190 Adventure moved significantly in terms of road going performance, with large gains in power, handling and vastly improved electronics systems. So where does that leave the Ducati?
First up, can we have a round of applause for the designers?! In pictures the Ducati looks good, but in the afternoon Californian sunshine it looks even better, the sharp corners, carbon fiber panels and delicate detailing make for a gorgeous machine that fills me with a desire to monologue unnecessarily.
The Pikes Peak edition is pitched as a faithful replica of the bike that has claimed four consecutive wins at the legendary race; what this translates into is some very pretty paint, carbon fiber panels and Marchesini three-spoke wheels. On top of this the Pikes Peak comes with the ‘S’ Equipment, including the adjustable Bosch 9ME ABS and Ducati Traction Control, a new design of LED headlight and the electronically adjustable Skyhook suspension system.
Jumping onboard at the MotoUSA offices, the Ducati quickly began to imprint itself. Firstly, the engine is really strong. It lacks the low down torquey pull of some of the other adventure bikes, but it doesn’t take long to realize that this bike isn’t intended to take you to Outer Mongolia. From the mid-range onward, the Ducati is fast, it pulls extremely hard and wants to keep going.
As we headed into the canyons the engine really came alive. Off the bottom it lacks excitement, but as soon as the bike pulls into the mid-range, the meat of the power, it’s a total rocket ship. It pulls outrageously hard, lifts the front end on sheer power continuously and will drag you around the mountains at speed that is more than ridiculous. The engine is most definitely a revver and keeping the 1200 at mid to high RPM will keep it moving quickly. The engine makes it extremely fun to ride, it does require more gear shifting than other bikes of this class and the power has a real sweet spot, but you will be rewarded with a huge smile.
The handling of the Multistrada can only be described as unexpected. Around town, the Ducati felt surprisingly cumbersome at first, the top heavy nature of the bike seemed to work against it and required a unexpected amount of effort to get the bike to tip into the corner. Also, under braking and at the point of tip-in the Ducati had a vague feel at the front end. This could be a chassis trait, but the lack of dive on the front end could potentially be the culprit.
Once you get the Ducati to lean it holds its line in the corner well. It was important to ride smooth and plan well ahead; deciding mid corner that you want to change direction is not something that is in the Ducati’s vocabulary. It’s very much an upright, adventure style bike; it really feels like it too and took a long time to get comfortable on. Once you reach a point where you understand what the bike is going to do, it has the ability to go very quickly on the road, its comfort and planted feeling in corners is a strong characteristic.
The Bosch 9ME ABS and Brembo brakes are a solid combination, with the adjustable sensitivity ABS and strong power allowing you to set the bike up completely to your own riding requirements. Each of the riding modes also has its own pre-sets, which can be adjusted accordingly. So if you like the suspension in Touring mode, but want traction control off, you can set it and it save it there. It’s an extremely nice touch for owners.
However, the brake feeling could be improved. It is on the vague side and would definitely benefit from having more feedback through the lever. The Brembos are not lacking in power, which in turn is a little disconcerting as they present themselves as grabby due to the lack of feeling at the lever. The difficulty in modulation means that you have to concentrate on making sure you brake smoothly to get the best from them.
From the mid-range onward, the Ducati is fast, it pulls extremely hard and wants to keep going.
This brings us to the electronic ‘Skyhook’ suspension system. While it sounds incredible and evokes images of the Thunderbirds, it’s actually a dynamic electronically damped suspension system. Running Sachs units, much like the new BMW R1200GS (which came after Skyhook) the system uses a multitude of sensors, including the ABS and ride-by-wire throttle. The idea is for the Ducati to alter damping during the ride, to minimize the effect of load transfers under braking and acceleration. In the real world, the Ducati system is really good; the biggest surprise is just how much effect the different modes have.
Sport mode does exactly what it says on the tin; it’s stiff, positive and doesn’t move much. It still feels like it tracks the road and holds onto the tarmac well. However, while cruising down the freeway, it bounces more than a PBR bull. Switching to the touring mode alters the damping and changes the rear suspension preload, it is like jumping into an armchair, everything becomes smooth, lovely and soft. It’s a very effective system that actually lets the bike work in different situations.
By the end of the days riding I was thoroughly impressed with the Pikes Peak. It’s a fun bike to ride, the engine is truly fantastic and the quality of the electronic systems is really good. I like the customization, it’s a feature that a few of the competitors don’t do so well either. I also like the way the screen adjusts, which is easy to do on the fly. The ride-by-wire throttle is also very well setup and didn’t have any fueling quirks.
There are a few little gripes that it would be nice to see improved on the impressive Multistrada. Ducati needs to work on the feeling of the controls, as neither clutch nor the front brake feel great. They have a spongy, unrelated feeling. And the bike would be even better if it had a little more front end handling feel.
All up, however, the Ducati is a great bike. It’s fun to ride and definitely lets you go fast. It’s got some very nice features that will make owning the bike easy, but more important than all of that, it truly is a gorgeous bike.