What initially seemed like the efforts of a lazy starter motor lead to the big Italian twin bursting into life, sending metaphorical (and some actual) vibrations up my spine. Having selected first gear without even the merest jolt, I let the clutch in gently and as the strangely lumpy thoroughbred began to move, I was instantly struck by the wide, low handlebars secured by a simply beautiful cast alloy clamp. These ‘bars aid manoeuvrability greatly as confidence rises and you begin to chuck this beast about, high-elbows style, like the motocross boys.
But it’s not a dirt bike. This is a 160hp powerhouse best suited to tarmac, with grunt that seems endless. Anywhere, anytime, any gear the big L-twin lunges forward when asked to and only weighs 235kgs with all fluids. In the darkness it simply accelerates more quickly than I can see, but that’s no reflection on the headlights, which are exceptional. And as I’m not going mad they even know when you are turning corners and provide a little extra illumination in that direction. The computing power this bike contains is something I’ll get on to.
I would say the mighty Testastretta Desmodromic engine, which can independently vary the timing of its inlet and exhaust camshafts, provides effortless cruising, except this is a bike that you have to work with initially. It’s a machine that may not sell itself to you on a very brief test ride. In truth I’d done 200 miles before I began to really feel at home, but there are definitely rewards when settled in.
Valve timing varies at speeds the rider can never notice, to ensure the delivery of incredible torque whenever you need it, but some of the electrickery is immediately noticeable, and welcome. Like for example the way that the idle speed is automatically raised when first gear is selected to avoid stalling, or how the adjustable quickshift system can take over to enable exceptionally fast clutchless gear changes – every downshift with a perfectly executed little throttle blip… I don’t recall a single missed gearchange in either direction such is the positivity of selection. Every one of those six gears are tall but perfectly spaced and with the available torque curve the gearing provides this Multistrada with very long legs, such that you can visit 100mph at only 5,500rpm.
I must confess that during the 2,459 miles I spent in the company of this 1260S Multistrada I never fully mastered the onboard menu system, and I acknowledge there are younger riders alive who will, but I can’t see why a travel bike needs such technological choice. If you like fiddling and riding on beautiful European tarmac, it’s an absolute marvel. If you want to leave the comfortable West though, to go where roads may once have been paved and where mechanics own hammers, it is perhaps a different story. I had to get the 400-page manual out to discover how the electric steering lock worked. And there’s keyless ignition which is great when you realise you’ve left your key in your jeans pocket and already have your waterproofs on. Not so great when you need fuel (again) and realise you’ve left your key in your jeans pocket and have your waterproofs on…
Which leads me to fuel consumption. In truth, don’t expect range to be any more than 150miles. At 20 litres the tank is not massive, but when the light was on and the remaining range read 20 miles, it only took 15 or 16 litres to fill. Over the duration of the test that equated to an overall 43.8mpg. I confess that I did not have the opportunity to run the tank dry to really check if the computer was competent. In mixed use and when ‘pressing on’ the economy seemed to plummet. I blame the addictive, and frankly sublime, engine.
The standard Pirelli Scorpion Trail tyres cling on to the tarmac admirably, but can be beaten in the damp and wet, possibly because the all-powerful compensatory computer meant I got no real warning of when they were starting to complain. The slipper clutch helps control reckless downshifts and the traction control found me pinning the throttle up a gravel track just to see how capable the little brain was. It’s clearly more capable than my own. The ABS even knows if you’re leaning over when you brake, and adjusts itself accordingly. Then there’s the wheelie control which doesn’t brutally cut ignition as some do, but instead adjusts both it and fuelling in a very measured way.
Of course this is a showcase of Ducati’s remarkable technological ability, with the famed Skyhook suspension system electronically adapting to settings for load and damping, but even on the hardest settings for two-up with luggage, the headlight lit the sky and the wonderfully useful centre-stand limited lean angle dramatically.
What I found most disconcerting when solo was the propensity of the bike to weave unnervingly, especially on long sweeping corners containing bumps. Then I realised I was carrying 20-30 mph more than usual because of the heavenly engine. Even so, I spent most of my time in the TOURING riding mode, but the front end was so soggy that I had to make it incrementally harder until it reached max hardness and gave me much more confidence and security. Interestingly the SPORT setting reconfigures all the suspension (not engine mapping per se as there is full power mode in Touring too), but I found it a bit too harsh, so by hardening everything in TOURING, things improved markedly when solo.
The URBAN and ENDURO riding modes remap the engine for softer delivery as well as changing the available information on the ‘dashboard’.
Ergonomics and Equipment
Those wide low bars are perfectly positioned to let you command this Multistrada. Your feet fall easily to the beautifully formed footpegs with their branded rubber inserts, enabling a straight-back posture and no cramping. The seat has mechanical height adjustment from 825-845mm and offers good comfort which beats the (first) tank range. However, the constant vibes never diminish and can be harsh at higher speed which means that as a day goes on and the miles accumulate, the seat comfort diminishes. Thankfully these vibrations don’t pass through either the ‘pegs or the handlebars so I didn’t experience the ‘white finger’ I’m becoming more prone to lately.
The bodywork is certainly dramatic and although I couldn’t decide initially, it really grew on me, earning the ‘glance-back’ when I’d parked it up. The lines aren’t classically beautiful but the bird-skull front end is distinctive and not unattractive.
While sitting behind the large flat LCD screen, the amount of info on show takes a little time to decipher but having grasped what’s available it made a lot of sense and the black detail on white background automatically becomes white detail on black when it gets dark or gloomy. Simultaneously the switchgear becomes backlit; a quality touch.
Above the display is the windscreen which has possibly the world’s best variable height adjustment mechanism. It’s purely mechanical and can be easily adjusted on the move, but even at the highest setting the buffeting means this is still a noisy bike to ride – I’m 5’11”.
Handguards and heated grips are good, but expensive to crash with as the indicators are built in and very vulnerable! The mirrors are a good shape, offering nice range of rearward vision, but they do vibrate in some rev ranges and therefore compromise this view.
The centre-stand is an optional extra, along with panniers and heated grips, as part of the Touring Package and I absolutely adore it. Why can’t all manufacturers create a mainstand which can be used as easily as this? There are 125cc bikes that are more difficult to secure. Top marks indeed for practicality and that’s with the (58 litre) side panniers in place.
The factory luggage is simplicity itself to fit and release – really nice, but the off-side box is cutaway for the twin stubby exhaust silencers and the 5-sided shape of both boxes means a basic laptop can’t fit in, which is a personal bugbear and one reason why I prefer top loaders. The wind-cheating shape of the rear of the bike means there are next to no places to mount bungees or Rokstraps which compounds the problem, but the optional top box is a whopping 48 litres and I used it for the ride to Spain. Surprisingly, as large as it was, the topbox didn’t impact hugely on the overall handling.
With those wide bars and low centre of gravity U-turns are a real doddle and the 1260S is supremely easy to manoeuvre in town. I might have mentioned that the power delivery is simply remarkable, making it a huge amount of fun, but saddle comfort diminishes as the day progresses. Although the suspension is lauded in many quarters, it doesn’t work for me, especially when loaded, as the poor centre-stand can attest.
It sounds like I’m a hideous luddite, but it contains so many electrical components I would be too scared to take this bike across continents other than Europe or North America. With the realities of inconsistent fuel octane, dust that can permeate every connection and the unrelenting vibrations some national road networks can inflict, the sceptic in me feels I might be stranded for want of a computer programmer.
This machine is such a feat of technological development it deserves to be enjoyed, but in the environment it was built to explore. If you want an upright commuter or plan to discover the abundant beauty of Europe, it’s wonderful, and that engine… notevole!
£18,380 as tested (including £925.62 for touring package of panniers, heated grips and centre stand)
Words and images: Paddy Tyson
A full spec sheet is available here.