Sitting curbside, this matte black Ducati Multistrada has an angry look to it with narrowed eyes and flared nostrils. It looks like an unbroken horse pissed at the prospect of you hopping on its back. Once I clambered aboard it was obvious that it was just a major case of resting bitch face, and it welcomed me with a warm embrace and a calm idle that said: “We got this.”
(Full Disclosure: Ducati invited me to ride its Multistrada 1260S in the California Bay Area while I was in town visiting friends. I arranged my own travel and paid for my own food. Ducati handed the bike off to me with a full tank of fuel, which I promptly emptied and refilled a few times. I returned the bike in the same condition it was when I took delivery.)
I’ve never really understood the motorcyclists who jump on an adventure bike like the Multistrada and point them at a thousand miles of open highway and call that fun. Don’t get me wrong, I could easily ride a Multistrada all day on the interstate with its comfortable saddle, upright seating position, adjustable windscreen, heated grips, and enough power to easily cruise above the ton for hours at a time.
Just because it can run all day without so much as looking at a curve isn’t the point. The point is that this comfortable cruiser can crush mountain switchbacks with some of the best sportbikes in the business. It has the power, revs, technology, and grip to make it feel far more like a sportbike than anything weighing over 500 pounds should.
This generation of Multistrada made its debut all the way back in 2010 and was given a thorough round of updates for 2018. The 2018-to-present model features a 2.2-inch longer wheelbase and one degree higher front fork rake for added stability, an improved keyless start system, and the 1260cc engine cribbed from its Diavel stablemate replacing the old 1200.
The new engine was the biggest upgrade over the old Multistrada 1200. The 1260 added just eight horsepower and eight pound-feet, but the major difference came in midrange. The 1200 suffered from a massive torque hole between 3,500 and 7,000 RPM. The 1260 engine has been visiting its Italian grandmother and horking down bowls of pasta to fatten up its midsection. This is all thanks to Ducati’s DVT system with independently and infinitely variable intake and exhaust cams. As you can see from the graph below, it worked.
This engine is standard on all Multistradas now, but the 1260S makes the best use of it with a telepathic Quick Shifter, uprated Brembo brakes, a TFT color display, LED lighting, and an incredibly impressive Ducati Skyhook EVO adjustable suspension package.
Some bikes use their various riding modes to adjust throttle input and nothing more, but the Multistrada’s different modes can adjust throttle, shift speed, and suspension on the fly. Skyhook may sound like the name of a SciFi Original Series, but it’s actually Ducati’s magnificent electronically adjustable suspension.
This system works by altering the damping front and rear according to a wide range of parameters, including lean angle, throttle application, and load weight, and more. With a sensor on the unsprung mass and another on the sprung weight of the bike, the distance between the two can be managed by adjusting the damping based on predetermined settings.
For example, in Sport mode, the bike’s ride height drops to keep center of gravity low and the suspension set more firm, while the throttle inputs get sharper and the engine’s tune is set to its maximum attack. In Touring mode, the Multistrada sits up higher and calls upon its electronics for less urgency. And in Urban mode the ride height drops to make stoplights easier, the bike softens to deal with road imperfections, and the engine favors a lower rev-range putting its emphasis on low-end torque.
The Quick Shift system can practically read your mind when it comes to shifts. For upshifts, as long as you are at more than half throttle, you can simply crank up on the shifter and you’re already in the next gear. Downshifts can be banged out in a similar fashion so long as you’re off the throttle completely. While you still need to pull back on the clutch at stops or for off-throttle up-shifts, the system otherwise does your “clutching” for you. This isn’t brand new technology, but I’ll be damned if it still doesn’t feel like the future.
Ducati’s North American headquarters is located down in Silicon Valley, and I have a few friends in San Francisco, so I used this as an excuse to go visit them and log some two-wheeled miles at the same time. I know a lot of the best roads in the area, and despite being a little chilly in February the weather was dry and sunny all weekend.
On the Saturday of this trip, I took the route out from the city at sunrise to climb Mount Hamilton just east of San Jose. I rode up the western face of the mountain, down the other side, then back up to the top for a stop at the Lick Observatory to get my heart rate down. Following that rip, I headed over to the public ride event that Cake was holding for the new Osa electric scooter, then went over to meet some friends for lunch at the infamous motorcycle spot up on Skyline: Alice’s Restaurant.
The next day, Sunday, I was again up and at ‘em from the time the sun rose. This time I headed north out of the city across the Golden Gate up into some of the best roads Marin County has to offer. First I skirted the ocean headed north on Highway 1, then cut east on 116. From there I just looked for roads with lots of switchbacks on Google Maps for a few hours until it was time to go home. It was the most delightful day of solo two-wheeling I can recall.
It was chilly enough both days that I was thankful for the bike’s excellent grip heaters.
This is a serious motorcycle for the serious motorcyclist. You can just look at it and feel slightly intimidated. It’s the Leatherman multitool of motorcycles in that you always want to have it with you just in case some shit goes down and you need it. You never know. It’s like ATGATT if ATGATT were a bike.
The 1260 DOHC V-twin is a delightful powerplant that I’d honestly like to have in a small sports car. I drove out to Silicon Valley in my old Porsche with less power and less torque. For most use cases, I just found myself in the highest gear possible to keep revs low around town or on the highway. Once I found the twisty roads, however, I kept it in first or second and wrung it out as high as I could before needing to jump on the brakes again.
We all like riding uphill as opposed to downhill here, right? It’s just that extra level of awesome when you can be lighter on brake application and dip heavily into throttle application. That is extra true on this Ducati as it encourages you to romp on it at every possible moment.
The Multistrada is an ergonomic masterpiece. I ripped over 500 miles in a weekend and could easily have done a full week like that without so much as a call to my chiropractor. Everything from the placement of the controls to the height and width of the mirrors was perfect.
There isn’t exactly a time where you forget that the Multistrada is a big heavy bike with tall suspension, but it sure as hell tries to make you. The advanced electronics, including 8-level traction control, Quick Shifter, anti-wheelie, and lean-sensitive ABS all conspire to instill confidence in the bike, even at max lean angles that feel like they shouldn’t be possible. The big bike feels as sharp as a sportbike, even though that definitely isn’t true. A series of left-right-left esses and the bike jumps from side to side as easily as waving your hand.
And, because the bike is fitted with a mega 5.3-gallon fuel tank and can still somehow manage decent fuel mileage in real life, I was easily able to get 150 miles or more from a fill-up before the low fuel light came on. I later learned that this light comes on with 1.5 gallons left in the tank. I’m perfectly content with the bike’s ability to keep me scraping my toes for 150 miles at a time. I’d like to go another 150 miles right now, honestly.
There are so many great things about this bike that it could conceivably convince you to want to ride it every single day. If ever there were a bike to replace your car for three seasons out of the year, it’s a Ducati Multistrada. This thing has great ergonomics for long hauls, enough power to hit lightspeed with the twist of a wrist, and has enough fuel range to make it out into the sticks and back. I truly enjoyed my two days aboard the good ship Multistrada.
With the game changer of adjustable suspension, the Multistrada can be used for just about any occasion. Multistrada is Italian for multiple stradas, after all. It can be used on literally any of the different kinds of strada.
The brakes on this piece of mechanical genius are inspiring and easy to modulate. The upgraded Brembo binders on the S model have plenty of swept area and never once felt like they wouldn’t be enough, even after a full day of running up the revs and jamming on the right lever. Even down the face of a mountain.
Ducati Quick Shifter knows what I want before I even want it. I normally would hate a system that takes away a level of engagement between rider and bike, but it’s just so damn intuitive that it’s hard to fault.
The optional key-matched pannier set was nice to have for a weekend away on the road. I was able to fit all of my rain gear in one side just in case I needed them, along with my phone and charger. In the other, I fit my backpack complete with laptop and a few days’ changes of clothes. Having hard cases on the side was nice for this particular trip, but the added ingress/egress issues are enough of a pain that I’m happy to go without them in 90 percent of riding.
The Multistrada is hardly the prettiest bike on the market, maybe not even in the adventure bike segment. It looks angry and unapproachable, which is the complete opposite of how it rides, of course. I’m not much for the matte grey finish of this bike and would have perhaps preferred the bright red slightly more.
As much of a gem as the 1260 engine is, it is hardly a sonorous one. Down low the engine sounds practically industrial, while at the 11,000 RPM redline it sounds less exotic and more on the verge of shattering into a million pieces. I know that the Italians are capable of building machines that rev to the moon, but it still took me a few runs up the rev range to trust that redline was okay.
Because this is the kind of bike that encourages getting lost on the forest roads of Muir Woods for hours at a time, I would have liked an integrated USB charge port for my iPhone. I know that Ducati will offer this as an aftermarket add-on for a nominal fee, but at the price this bike costs, I’d think that something this simple should be included. I was using my phone to find great routes and thought ahead to bring an auxiliary charging battery pack, but should I have needed to?
And finally, the bike I was on was fitted with a center stand. I grew fond of dragging my toes on the pavement as the Multistrada was more than capable of doing, but on a couple of different occasions, I found a mid-corner bump or a little more lean angle dragging the center stand across the pavement. None of these instances featured harsh enough contact to upset the chassis and I was able to continue on slightly shaken. If it were mine, I’d definitely order this bike without a center stand.
It’s also so very damn expensive. The fancy suspension, brakes, LED lighting, and “S” related accouterments come as a $2,500 price hike over the already pricey $18,995 Multistrada 1260. My test bike was fitted with the optional $1,640 Touring accessory package, which includes the hard panniers, paint-matched pannier covers, heated grips, and center stand. That brought my test bike to a whopping $23,133.63 as tested. There are a lot of bikes I can buy for twenty-three grand (Even still, this is probably in the top five).
If you can overlook these gripes, it’s a really great bike.