Ducati launched the new Multistrada 950 in the Canary Islands and Adventure Bike Rider were on the invite list. Alun Davies posts a full review.
Ever since the BBC screened that documentary ‘Could We Survive a Mega-Tsunami‘ I’ve taken to packing a tin foil hat along with my usual paranoid survivalist gear when I visit the Canary Islands.
This obviously causes a packing crisis when the reason for the trip is the launch of a new motorcycle. Indeed, as I cover the living room floor with water filters, fire lighting equipment, tins of beans, various plant cuttings and all my motorcycle gear the level of anxiety in the Davies household dwarfs a tsunami. And then there’s the real and present danger of Easyjet excess baggage charges.
I jest, of course, and there’s nothing remotely light-hearted about a tsunami when we recall the devastation in the Indian Ocean back in 2004 and the more recent natural horror show in Japan which demonstrated the awful reality that there is nothing we can do to prepare for this force of nature other than abandon the coast.
The BBC documentary focused on the volcanic Canary Island of La Palma where during an eruption in 1949 an enormous crack appeared across the western flank of an active volcano. The scientific community is similarly fractured when is comes to envisaging a ‘what happens next’ scenario. The optimists insist that when the volcano next comes to life huge landslides are likely but they are of the view that the slips will happen in stages and be hardly noticed.
The pessimists, on the other hand, reckon that the next eruption could well see a chunk of rock weighing 500 thousand million tonnes crashing at speed into the Atlantic ocean. The displacement will cause a mega-tsunami with the initial, close cause waves anything up to half a mile in height, resulting in 50m high tidal waves racing across the Atlantic to hit the eastern seaboard of the USA and western Europe.
Thankfully, huge landslides and mega-tsunamis are extremely rare – the last one happened 4,000 years ago on the island of Reunion – and with the help of a mobility scooter, we could scrape a few more years out of Bruce Willis.
However, and more to the point, as our plane coasted high above the western flank of Fuerteventura I looked through the porthole and considered that just below the surface of the calm waters lay a block of rock 13 miles long and seven miles wide which had slid off the island at some point in prehistory. I instinctively fumbled around in my carry-on bag and stroked my top of the range aluminium lined beanie.
Anyway, armed with only a cheap plastic pen and notebook I walked into a presentation room at the Barcelo Castillo Club Hotel in Antigua, Fuerteventura for the pre-ride presentation of the new 950 Multistrada.
First up we were treated to the promotional video, wherein traditional Ducati fashion the rider never has a beer gut and there’s an expectant supermodel on hand for the ride through stunning scenery. At this point my technical notes tend to focus on weight loss tactics and what level of bank balance I need to achieve to live a sugar daddy lifestyle, though there was also a vague scribble that read ‘it looks very much like the 1200 Multistrada’.
And that was my overwhelming first impression of the 950. In fact, I’d go as far as to say the casual observer would not notice the difference when walking past the machine and even the most pointy-headed motorcycle-spotter would need to consult his Observer Book of Multistradas to come to a definitive conclusion.
That’s no bad thing, as in my view the 1200 Multistrada is a beauty of a motorcycle crafted with the sort of Italian flair and attention to detail that Michelangelo could only aspire too. It is simply a matter of time before the Multi takes its rightful plinth in the Palazzo sella Signoria in Florence.
There are also a few compelling reasons why the 950 resembles the 1200; they share the same frame, tank, beaky front end and many other components plus a few bits and pieces (including the exhaust and dual swing arms) off the 1200 Multistrada Enduro.
The essential visual differences come down to a 19in front wheel, where there was a 17in, and the 937cc Testastretta V-Twin from the Hypermotard in place of the ferocious 1,198cc Testastretta DVT V-Twin from the big Multi.
Essentially then, the new 950 Multistrada is a slice, dice, mix and match of three donor machines; the Hypermotard, 1200 Multistrada and the Multistrada Enduro. And whilst there’s no doubting that all three are very competent, desirable bikes the question has to be asked… “why?” Indeed, why build a 950 when there is already a superb 1200 and, more importantly, who is going to buy it?
The answer to “why build it” is self-evident; most all of the parts could be cannibalised from other machines plus there’s huge demand for comfortable, adventure styled bikes. Who’s going to buy the 950 is the trickier question with Ducati betting on it being the rider looking for versatility with more accessibility.
With that in mind Frederico Valentini, the Product Manager, opened his presentation by offering up the 950 as the Swiss Army Knife of the Multistrada family whilst stressing the accessibility and ‘cost of ownership’ advantages of the smaller bike.
But what, I hear you ask, does versatility and accessibility actually mean? Well, yes. Let’s start with the easy one; the 950 follows the ‘four bikes in one’ tradition of the 1200 by offering a level of performance to cover the riding pass times of touring, sport, urban and enduro. That’s the versatility explained.
The accessibility question is a little more abstract. It’s where Ducati hope the 950 is going to appeal and ultimately score in the demand for a slightly lower and lighter bike that comes with more manageable power and less expensive technology. Plus, it’s priced at £10,995 which is £2,266 more ‘accessible’ than the big 1200.
In a nutshell, Ducati is aiming at riders who are looking for a less intimidating adventure styled bike at a lower price point. But don’t get me wrong here, whilst the 950 is noticeably less powerful than the blistering 1200, we’re talking about the difference between a 100ft wave and a 150ft tsunami – in the real world, the end result, is not too dissimilar.
And so to the test ride, a 125-mile circular blast through the barren, mountainous volcanic rubble-strewn interior of Fuerteventura and a confession. Over the past couple of years, I’ve found I can’t walk up to a Multistrada and just ride. Such is my appreciation of the design and attention to detail I need to stroke the bike first and the 950 proved no exception to that rule.
Once my touchy, feely fetish had been satisfied, swinging a leg over the Muti was a very familiar and, with the lower seat, a little less drama than I’ve experienced over the past year whilst running the taller Enduro version. The riding ergonomics are spot on with the wide bars and upright stance offering that king of the road presence, which at 6ft 2in I find just about perfect. A set of 20mm bar risers would eliminate the ‘just about’.
The 840mm high seat coupled with the tapered seat meant two feet flat on the ground and confident slow-speed manoeuvrability was a feature. However, it was interesting and occasionally entertaining to view a 5ft 4in American journalist having a few precarious tip-toe moments. When asked how she found the lower seat height the reply was…”it’s still too high for paddling but it wouldn’t put me off”. Land of the brave alright.
The controls are all easy to hand and it would take no more than a two-minute demo in the showroom to be whizzing through the different riding modes along with setting the ABS and eight stages of traction control. The need to know info is clear to read and prominent on the monochrome LCD display with all the nice to know stuff available in two scrollable boxes.
There’s a handy accessory plug upfront, plus an adjustable screen and, with the adoption of the twin swing arms and Enduro rear seat and grab rails, it’s possible to fit either the Ducati plastic panniers or, better still, the aluminium Touratech boxes which were designed for the Enduro. Extra touring essentials are available by purchasing the Ducati ‘Touring Pack’, though glaring omissions include heated grips and cruise control.
For the first section of the ride out I dialled in ‘Touring’ mode and off we went on the main roads skirting the airport and west coast. There’s no denying that the 950 is far less powerful than the rampant 1200 Multistrada but then you’d expect that, and a comparison would be unjust.
What you do get is a very capable, perky, fast and smooth 937cc with bags of torque right through the rev range, making overtakes a breeze and high speed cruising a relaxed affair.
It also had me pondering the question; since when did a 937cc motorcycle become the baby of a range? The answer, of course, doesn’t make any sense.
The standard suspension set up on the 950 is on the soft side which I found comfortable and spot-on for cruising, though there was a noticeable front end dive, even under moderate braking. The suspension is fully adjustable and given time I’m sure I’d find the right setup but even after adapting the preload (1.5 turns), compression (three clicks) and rebound (three clicks) it was all still a little soft.
Turning off the coast road and onto the less congested and exceptionally grippy tarmac of the interior, I dialled in ‘Sports’ mode which kicks in with the same 113bhp as touring but with more aggressive power delivery. With little traffic to contend with the pace picked up as did a noticeable spot of vibration through the bars. It was not enough to cause discomfort but sufficient to disturb the mirrors to the point of double vision at around 7,000rpm.
As the roads changed from long open sweepers into tight mountain hairpins, the 950 was in it’s element. Riding the torque between bends and rarely changing up into fourth I found the brakes were more than up to the job, and the handling, despite the softness of the suspension, never wavered even at the point of a little peg scraping.
I absolutely loved the engine performance of the 950 and whilst it hasn’t got the full on right hook to the chin devastation of the 1200, it would be far more user friendly, compelling and practical for over 90% of my riding back at home. In reality, it’s almost impossible to use anything like the full power and performance of the 1200 and remain at liberty. The same could be said of the 950 but you’d get to use far more of the performance range before being locked up.
At the 1200 Multistrada launch, Ducati limited the off-road riding to a 100-metre dirt track connecting a couple of car parks. The company decided to dispense with such trivia when it came to the 950 and just informed us that it’ll be fine for light off-road use. That I could agree with.
After a full day in the saddle I arrived back at the hotel with no complaints about comfort though I would consider buying an aftermarket screen. As with the original Multistrada I found the lowest screen setting to be the most comfortable with a little turbulence creeping in when set on the highest notch.
But I’m nit picking here, the 950 is a formidable adventure sports tourer, and a machine I’d be more than happy to own. It looks fantastic, the price is competitive and it comes with a level of performance, comfort and versatility that’s hard to fault. Plus, you’d have something of beauty to stroke on a daily basis.
ABR VERDICT – Ducati Multistrada 950
As a commuter
The riding stance offers great visibility, and the fuelling is smooth as silk for around town use. Shorter riders could still find the seat height makes slow-speed manoeuvring stressful, but overall I’d be happy going to work on the 950.
As a weekend tourer
More than enough comfort for long motorway journeys and ditto for A and B road ride outs when you arrive. The vibrations are a slight irritation, otherwise a class act.
As an off-roader
You get a 19in front-wheel which helps and lower ground clearance which doesn’t. Stick to gravel roads and all will be fine.
As a continental road tourer
All day comfort is a given with the qualification of a slight vibe feel at higher revs. Motorway cruising is a breeze and Alpine roads will be as thrilling as you want.
As an RTW overlander
The 9,000 mile oil changes and 18,000 main service intervals help, as would avoiding the gnarly stuff and sticking to tarmac and gravel. Can’t see why not.
As a pillion carrier
No chance to test on the launch but if the 1200 and Enduro models are any judge as to pillion comfort, I don’t foresee anything other than a happy companion on the 950.
Multistradas: Height, weight and price comparison.
950: 840mm (820mm/860mm options); 204kg dry weight; From £10,995 (£119/month)
1200: 825-845mm; 209kg dry weight: From £13,261 (£149/month)
1200 Enduro: 870mm (850mm and 890mm options); 225kg dry weight; From £16,826 (£195/month)
The cost of ownership
A recurring theme at the launch was value for money with the company stressing sector-leading service intervals – oil changes every 9,000 miles and a full Desmo service at 18,000 miles – and PCP deals from £119 per month..