Ducati Multistrada 1260S in Gran Canaria
Ducati hosted the launch of their new 1260 Multistrada, with more engine, more tech and more everything on the island of Gran Canaria. And then everything went wrong. We ended up on top of a mountain with mist completely clouding our view, rain soaking us to the bone and a temperature of 3º C freezing us to the core. That’s right, it was an adventure. It was brilliant.
Story: Donovan Fourie
Gran Canaria started life as a piece of empty sea off the coast of north west Africa. Then the seabed exploded and it became an island. No one seemed to be doing anything with it, so the Spanish quietly moved in and have been living there ever since.
Bike launch bosses enjoy hosting launches here – it’s cheap, it’s scenic, the roads are epic and they get to be far away from their wives. And it’s convenient for us South Africans because it should be a relatively, short flight – fly two-thirds of the way up the continent to Dakar and then hop across to Gran Canaria, right?
Wrong, say airline bosses. The best way to get to Gran Canaria from Jo’burg, apparently, is from Jo’burg to Abu Dhabi, then to Frankfurt, then to London, then to Seattle, then Buenos Aires…
Let’s just say that it’s a seemingly unnecessarily long way.
By the time I wondering lifelessly into the hotel lobby, my thoughts were: Ducati better make this worthwhile.
When the Multistrada was launched in 2010, it was wrongly hailed as Ducati’s adventure bike; at least it was wrong by South African definitions of adventure that seem to view adventure motorcycles as a motocross bike from the early 80s with a numberplate.
No, what the Multistrada was was an all-rounder, a mostly road-going all-rounder with a sporty theme, as is the wont of Ducati (see the Multistrada Enduro Pro for a more South African adventure bike). It was four bikes in one: a sport bike, a long distance tourer, an everyday run-around and even a light off-roader.
And since then the likes of KTM have upped the ante, offering more power, more torque and more gadgetry. It’s difficult to see the downside of the 1290 Super Advenuture, the very bike that won this year’s Pirelli Bike of the Year. While the evergreen BMW GS continues to top the sales charts, you have to presume that KTM is more Ducati’s target here. Or maybe BMW should start looking over their shoulder, especially with their XR? Let’s see.
The morning started outside the coastal hotel, with clear skies and a brisk 18º C. Journalists were presented with the usual line of motorcycles, roughly 30 new Multistradas all crisp and new. To look at they… well… they look like Multistradas. They are different to their predecessors, with different panels and lighter, sportier alloy wheels, but only people who know the Multistrada intrinsically will notice. Otherwise, before us was just a mass of grey, same old Multistrada-ness. That’s a little disappointing, Ducati.
Still, they have a whole day to impress, so onward we go.
We kit up and climb aboard, and things immediately hotted up. There is an improved keyless ignition system, meaning the bike is even better at reading the key from in your pocket. You therefore just thumb the grey ignition button on the right handlebar and a spectacle appears before your eyes.
A TFT dash is already something to behold, but when the Italians put some flare into the graphics, it becomes a masterpiece. Everything is controlled via a large, multifaceted switch a thumb’s distance from the left grip, and everything works by simply pushing buttons or holding them down for three seconds. Any menu or function you would need on the fly is never more than five seconds away.
But more so, there’s that flare with which it presents itself. The different options don’t simply disappear and appear, nor does a highlight bar move up and down in a strictly functional way – no, here the options do a full colour dance up and down at your command, giving the rider that slightly special feeling that’s been craved since childhood.
More than flare, there’s intelligence there too. Apart from every option being no more than five seconds away, there are graphics that help explain every single function. The wheelie control function has a graphic of a bike with an arrow showing the amount of no-wheelie each level will offer, The same is true for the traction control, the up-down quickshifter, the cornering ABS and everything.
More so, the look of the dash gives the rider a sort of executive feeling, like a future in senior management is forthcoming if not already realised. Then you click the start button on the right handlebar and the motor reveals that this position also includes a secretary that is happy to offer after hours services.
The motor is essentially that from the X-Diavel, and it’s a reaction to the need for more bottom-end and midrange torque. They answered this need in the previous model with the introduction of the new Desmodronic Variable Valve timing that is a very clever and complex means of ensuring that there is plenty of bottom end while not having to sacrifice top end power. KTM, on the other hand, simply put bigger pistons in, and it worked magnificently.
And so, the new Multistrada goes from the traditional 1198cc twin to a meatier 1262cc while still keeping the clever DVT. The results are massive – 158hp and 129.5 Nm, but more importantly it produces more than 100 Nm at just 3,500, and there is a massive 18% increase in torque over its predecessor at 5,500 rpm. This means all the good stuff is placed exactly where it is most needed.
This became evident as we left the hotel parking lot, and as every mature, responsible adult does, I gassed it over the speed bumps in first gear. Of course, the front wheel lunged upwards at an admittedly unexpectedly fast rate. Thankfully, the electronic wheelie control flashed a yellow light on the dash and brought the wheel back down surprisingly gently. The result is that everyone thought I did a controlled wheelie over a speed bump and brought it down expertly. I’d thoroughly appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone the truth. Thank you.
We headed out of town and immediately started climbing Gran Canaria’s towering peaks. The roads are beautifully made using volcanic rock from the island, meaning they are tough, sturdy, grippy and smooth, and while the surface is remarkable, every other part of them seem to have been built with economy in mind. We are pretty sure that questions were asked during their planning process, such as – do they really need to be wide enough to accommodate two vehicles? Are road markings really that important? Do we really need barriers on the edge of every sudden drop off?
On the plus side, though, given the somewhat vertical nature of Gran Canaria’s topography, there doesn’t appear to be a straight piece of road anywhere on the island, so every bit of road is a smooth, glorious racetrack – albeit a narrow, unmarked and potentially lethal one – and a bike like the Multistrada comes into its own.
Unlike other adventure bikes that attempt to outsize most ocean liners, the Multistrada is built on the principle that smaller and lighter is better. When sitting on it, you really don’t get the impression that you’re a captain at sea, but rather that you’re riding a somewhat more comfortable sports bike. The seat height is adjustable between 825 and 845 mm, meaning even a fledgeling like myself has little trouble getting my feet down.
The swingarm length has been increased by 48 mm, the steering angle has been increased from 24º to 25º and with all this, the wheelbase has been lengthened by 55 mm. The result is a bike so full of confidence that it could take over the presidency and build itself a giant house. It feels light, lighter than a larger “adventure” bike should, but at the same time there’s none of the obligatory shakes and wobbles associated with anything that feels light – this motorcycle is as solid as Mercury.
Some of this might have something to do with the Sachs Skyhook semi-active electronic suspension that is found on our S models. Suspension that has a mind of its own tends to worry the more avid sports rider. When you’ve spent years developing your riding, you expect a motorcycle to behave in a certain way, and when it attempts to do its own thing the feeling tends to be a little unnerving.
The biggest compliment I can give this suspension is that I had no idea it was there. But then, when I think back to all the riding, it makes sense. Through the corners, the suspension was always stable and solid, and yet when we reached sections where the road took an turn for the worst, there were no broken spines. It worked well everywhere, and it should do every where. Part of the redesigned dash is that the rider can change the load settings of the suspension on the fly in a few seconds, meaning you can pick up hitchhikers without stopping.
The suspension isn’t the only bit of electronics that have been updated, they have all received a rework. It still has its Bosch IMU that defines every aspect of the electronics, including the cornering ABS and the new cornering LED headlights. New additions to the Multi include a both-ways quickshifter and a hill-hold start as standard. The ride-by-wire system has also been updated, meaning that all throttle related functions are smoother. We have already discussed the wheelie control, but the same can be said of the traction control.
We found this out as the ride continued. While we were in the relatively balmy hotel parking lot, Beppe – Ducati’s go to man for organising launch rides – told us that things can get frosty on the mountain, and was greeted by unbelieving faces – the sky was clear, the sun shone brightly and there was not a cloud in sight. Idiots.
As the climb continued, ominous clounds began gathering. The on-board temperature gauge started on 18º, but began a steady decline as we ascended – soon it was at 15º, then 12º, then 9º…
With the grey masses of clouds now completely obscuring the sun, spots started appearing on our visors – little ones at first, but getting bigger and bolder the higher we got. Eventually, the now shiny road started kicking up spray. This sounds terrifying given the tight, narrow nature of the roads, with the imminent death drop should things go wrong, but there was never that feeling of being stranded on a frozen lake. Whether it was the setup of the chassis, the grippy lava road or the 17-inch Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tyres, but even when riding became a tad vigorous, the ABS was never once engage, nor was the traction control and no one died.
“This isn’t too bad” as the thought dashing boldly to the forefront of our minds about twenty minutes later as confidence in the rain mounted. Then we climbed higher, and instead of being under the dark grey death clouds, we went into them. The rain continued, and the temperature began plummeting – 8º, 6º, 4º, 3º…
The Touring Pack fitted to our bikes included heated grips – wonderful, glorious heated grips that were turned to full heat and then spueezed to within an inch of their lives. At the top of the mountain we were due to have photos taken, but all the cameras had cracked and the photographers had turned blue, so we thought “sod it” and made for lower ground.
The issue here went beyond simple cold and rain, as the mist meant that there was only a good 20 metres of visibility, which is not ideal when riding on tight mountain passes lined with seemingly bottomless cliffs. The only saviour was the red LED tail light of the journalist riding in front of me. When his brake light came on, so did mine. When he starting tipping into a turn, so did I. The only worrying thought eating away at my mind was what I would do if I saw his tail light suddenly drop into oblivion.
I’m pleased I didn’t know this at the time, but the journalist in front of me – friendly gent from Croatia – was riding with a dark visor and said that he made it through that pass by sheer luck.
If it sounds like things couldn’t get worse, we then started riding through forests, and the heavy rain and winds had dropped bucket loads of leaves onto the roads forming a slippery blanket of foliage. And yet this was not the end of the world. A few times I happened to get a little too ham-fisted with the brake lever resulting in a light flashing on the dash, a slight shudder from the lever and no death. Eventually, it became more like a game – go down to first gear, jam on brakes letting the ABS come on and then whack open the throttle feeling the traction control kick in. The systems are so good that it became fun.
As we descended below the clouds, the temperature rose back into the balmy teens and the rain abated. Soon, it became a relatively nice day. The rest of the ride was flowing and scenic, and the Multistrada was an absolute gem.
There are one or two points that might count against it, but both of them are inherent in any big twin – while there is oodles of toque above 3,000 rpm, below it the bike tends to shake and rattle as the big pistons battle with the lower revs. Also, the two-way quickshifter is a fantastic addition, but it isn’t the smoothest available, especially at low rpm where the term that comes to mind is “clunky”. I’d put this down to bad engineering from Ducati, but the KTM 1290 has exactly the same problems, hence it is most likely an unavoidable V-twin trait.
Neither of these two issues are deal-breakers, though – the Mutli remains a gem. Ducati say that it is four bikes in one, and I tend to agree with them. I might not want to attempt the rigours of Baviaans Kloof with this bike’s modest off-road prowess, but should you not be the Baviaans sort of person, then it is literally all the bike you will ever need. It is a remarkable sports bike as we saw through the tight bends, and after two and a half soaked hours in the seat, I can confirm that it is an excellent long distance tourer. With the tight roads and the occasional homicidal van driver, I can also assure you than it can handle the challenges of the morning commute without issues.
I feel sorry for every other kind of bike out there. The jack of all trades has become a master.
Ducati Multistrada Spec sheet – click to download:
Below is the Ducati Multistrada 1260 promo video followed by the full gallery – click to enlarge: