Pikes Peak is a totally bonkers place. For most of the year it’s a serene 25 mph road twisting and winding its way up the face of a gorgeous mountain. For a few days each year, however, it’s home to the wild west of motorsport where people go to extremes not normally allowed anywhere. This dichotomy is part of the race’s appeal, taking a step beyond what average drivers even deem possible.
Full Disclosure: Ducati invited me to sunny Palm Springs, Calif. to ride the new Multistrada Pikes Peak. The company also paid for my travel, put me up in a nice hotel, and fed me nice food.
That’s part of what makes the new Multistrada V4 Pikes Peak so worthy of the name. Not only does Ducati have an incredible — and recently heartbreaking — history at the mountain’s namesake race, but the bike itself is reminiscent of the mountain as well. With the flip of a switch the V4PP can turn from a wonderfully capable and comfortable long-distance tourer to a fire-breathing monster with speed and response more akin to that of the company’s well-known sports machines.
Ducati’s first time out at Pikes Peak with a quasi-factory supported effort was way back in 2008 when Greg Tracy swung a leg over a Hypermotard 1100. Way back then the mountain was still half paved and half dirt, so the Hypermotard’s dirtbike on uppers attitude were a better fit for the mountain at the time. Tracy won running away, and set in motion a modern-day racing juggernaut for the next decade.
Tracy came back in 2010 aboard a Multistrada 1200, which was bigger and heavier than the Hyper, but had more advanced rider assists and went faster. In 2011 and 2012 Carlin Dunne did the back-to-back on Multis before swapping for an electric title in 2013. After some time spent developing the next generation of talent, Dunne came back to the mountain on a Multi in 2018 to take the title that year as well, grabbing four Pikes Peak titles in total, three of the four on Multistradas, and setting the record as the first rider under 10 minutes to the top.
Sadly in 2019, Carlin was well on his way to securing a sixth PPIHC win astride a Ducati Streetfighter V4 when he crashed and lost his life. As a result of that crash motorcycles are no longer allowed to race at Pikes Peak. This new Multistrada V4 Pikes Peak is as much a tribute to Carlin’s career as it is shadowed by his untimely death. His contributions to the sport made this a better bike, but it still weighs heavy on the mind of those who know.
It is truly astonishing how simple this motorcycle makes speed happen. With the soul of a track machine in the body of a linebacker, the Pikes Peak will blow you away with its high revs, happy attitude, speed, and stability. There’s a lot of incredible engineering under the skin, this is more than just a hotted up Multistrada with 17-inch wheels. The Borgo Panigale engineers dreamed up a whole new frame for this bike in order to get the front forks to rake out a little more, and there’s a new longer single-sided swing arm giving the bike a longer wheelbase. There aren’t any half-measures in this motorcycle.
The gem of this bike is its engine. The V4 Granturismo engine is shared with the standard Multi V4 and V4S, pumping out an impressive 170 horsepower and 95 lb-ft of torque. Perhaps more impressive is that it is now engineered to have 36,000 mile valvetrain maintenance intervals, allowing you to actually tour with this bike without fear of rapidly approaching engine procedures.
Despite the bike’s up-high riding position, Ducati imbued the machine with sportier and more aggressive ergonomics. In addition to the longer wheelbase the Pikes Peak sits slightly lower than its Multi brethren. It also has a lower and forward reach to its handlebars, which found me putting far more weight than expected on my wrists. Add in that the foot pegs are higher and more rearward than the standard bike, and you’ve got a forward look happening.
The key point of any Pikes Peak is its smaller 17-inch wheels and lower rotating mass. These Marchesini forged wheels are significantly lighter than the cast 19 and 18 of the standard Multi. Nearly six pounds lighter to name a number. Which in the scheme of things is pretty significant, as PP is in total 8.8 pounds lighter than a V4S. With stickier tires and lighter rotating mass, that more than makes up for the longer wheelbase’s stabilizing effects when barreling into a corner.
You’d be hard pressed to call any Ducati product under-braked, not least of which the Multistrada V4S. That said, the Italian brand saw fit to equip the Pikes Peak with brakes straight off the Panigale V4S for extra clamping force. They’re good. Like, really good.
When Ducati said to meet in Palm Springs, I had visions of escaping the cold and snow of my life in Northern Nevada. Of course I should have known that the ride would take us several thousand feet above sea level to Idyllwild, Ca. And if I’d checked the weather in Idyllwild, I’d have seen temps in the lower 30s rather than the lower 60s indicated by Palm Springs forecast. So unlike most of the people on this ride, I was hardly prepared for the biting cold of high elevation and below-freezing.
We were warned when we departed that parts of the road got slushy and had potential to freeze in the shade once we got up to altitude. Of course Ducati neglected to equip our near-$30,000 motorcycles with heated grips or seats as standard. So before I go on another 1,000 words about how cold I was, let me tell you that was my main takeaway from this ride. It’s hard to evaluate the handling characteristics of a sporty motorcycle with sticky tires when you can barely feel your fingertips, and there’s slush on the road. Every dark patch of pavement threatened to be sheet ice, and I didn’t want to test my luck that it was simply damp rather than potential to wipe me out.
After lunch I begged and borrowed and pleaded to get a heated accessory seat swapped on to my bike, but heated grips would prove impossible without a dealership visit. Listen, y’all, I rode all day with my perforated leather summer gloves and I didn’t die and barely complained. Would have been damn nice to have heated grips, though.
When the roads were dry, however, the bike and I came into our own. While I’m sure I could get the bike to drag pegs on track or even in temps above 50, I wasn’t about to try it on a day like that. So it was a somewhat leisurely ride from the Coachella Valley, up the San Jacinto mountains, down the other side, and back out across I-10 and some of the gnarliest winds known to man.
I mean, come on, it’s going to be a good bike. It’s thirty grand, and it’s not like that money doesn’t buy a huge amount of engineering. By all accounts the V4S is a really great bike, and this one is faster, corners better, and weighs less. The materials are good, the tech is good, the bike is good.
Before riding this bike I was quite skeptical of the idea of blindspot monitoring on motorcycles. For one thing I don’t want people to be overly reliant on them, and always recommend a look over the shoulder before you change lanes. That said, it was nice to have a little visual reminder that someone was just chilling in my blind spot. Not only does that help you stay more alert, but you’re more aware of your surroundings. Never a bad thing on a motorcycle.
Another bit of tech wizardry I was skeptical of, the adaptive cruise control system, was super clutch. We didn’t spend a lot of time cruising in traffic, but if there was ever a place for adaptive cruise on a motorcycle, it’s moderate speed highway riding. Chilling behind a semi truck in the slow lane is sometimes quite relaxing, and handing the distance control over to a computer can help keep your mind on other cars, the road conditions, and whether you’re going to hit the fuel mileage number you need to make the stop you’d had planned.
It’s got a lot of trick equipment, and my favorite is the “event based” active suspension. Depending on what mode you’re in and how aggressively you’re riding, the bike will factor in dozens of factors to figure out how stiff or soft the suspension should be at a given moment.
It’s a whole lot of damn money. $28,995! Ducati will sell a ton of them, because apparently one in every four Multistradas sold is a Pikes Peak worldwide. That’s a pretty big deal. Would I rather have a base V4 at 20 grand, or even a V4S at 26? Man, probably.
I wouldn’t be harping on the price quite so much if the bike had come with heated seat and grips. Those are standard equipment on the less expensive V4S. Ducati claims that this was done in the interest of sporting and lightweight and simplicity, but come on. The display has controls for the heated seat programmed in, and there’s a heated grips button on the right handlebar that just does nothing if you don’t have your bike equipped with them. That’s the real bullshit move. Look at this button that doesn’t do anything!
I’ve never been particularly partial to the appearance of the Multistrada, as it’s all beaky at the front and the headlights are always super aggro. This one looks quite a bit better in a red and white livery taken straight from the MotoGP team, but it’s still a bit oddly mean looking. I really prefer the bubbly and rounded look of the first gen Multi, and would love to see some more of that friendliness return to motorcycle design.
A fast bike is a good bike, but it comes at a cost. The Multistrada Pikes Peak is a good choice if you’re flush with all kinds of cash. The technology is bleeding edge for motorcycles, and Ducati is working to make its bikes the class of the world in tech and dynamics. If you value being the first person to have something fancy and new, like adaptive cruise control or an ADV bike with “RACE MODE” then go for it.
I don’t really think anyone will be bringing this bike to the track, so nobody will really be wringing every inch of the bike’s capabilities out. Maybe they shouldn’t. For the same money from the same manufacturer, I’d probably be happier picking up the new DesertX for off-road enjoyment, and something like a Monster for track work. Just like in the car world, track-ready Nurburgring-lap-record SUVs don’t make a lot of sense, and it would be better to just have two things built for two disciplines than try to split the difference.
Only buy the Pikes Peak if you have no intention of ever leaving the pavement. It won’t go well.
As for me, I’ll probably stick with my old BMW GS for the time being. It’s a good bike.