BORMIO, Italy — It’s the engine. It’s always been the engine. From Dr. Taglioni’s trademark desmodromic valves and Paul Smart’s first L-shaped twin at Imola; to the ground-breaking 851 and the way today’s GP21 dominates the MotoGP straightaways, Ducatis have always been about the engine.
Oh, gorgeous styling — stand up and take a bow, Massimo Tamburini and your epoch-defining 916 — helped put Borge Panigale on every motorcyclist’s radar. And there have been innovations — MotoGP’s launch device, just to name one innovation that other manufacturers have unashamedly copied — but when you’re talking about Italy’s most celebrated motorcycle brand, it always comes back to internal combustion.
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Why then, I need to ask, did we expect anything different from the Multistrada? You really thought CEO Claudio Domenicali was going to commission an all-new MotoGP-inspired V4 for its sports bike and not find a way to shoehorn it into the rest of the lineup? Yes, I know the news of a four-cylinder adventure bike brought back (nightmarish) visions of Honda’s truly horrible Crosstourer — basically an NC-like adventure bike with a positively ginormous VFR1200 motor stuffed in its poor, supposedly off-road chassis — the worry that a ponderously overweight Multistrada might besmirch Ducati’s sporting good name.
Well, as we should have known, there was nothing to worry about. For one thing, as Ducati has determinedly pointed out, the new V4 is, in all but in width, more compact and lighter (by 1.2 kilograms) than the iconic 90-degree V-twin it replaces. More, importantly Ducati’s new V4 is an absolute marvel, even, yes, in this, its tamer Multistrada guise.
Yes, we have reached a point in motorcycling when the Multistrada’s 170 horsepower is actually considered tame, watered-down if you listen to the bitching and moaning on the internet. But, it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you’re twisting your right wrist. Oh, this 1,158-cc version of the Ducati’s V4 — 55-cc larger thanks to a two-millimetre bore increase — doesn’t superbike like the real-deal Panigale. But it is the sportiest of adventure touring motorcycles, the big — though, according to Ducati’s insistence on its miniscule dimensions, I should perhaps being saying tiny — V4 winging to 10,000 rpm with seriously bad intentions.
Indeed, like so many Ducati’s the new Granturismo engine can be a little grumpy at low speeds — though not nearly as lumpy as the 1,260-cc twin it replaces — it fairly sings when you’re on the gas, especially through the optional Akropovic slip-on. Ride the Multistrada like a sports bike is to understand all there is to know about Ducati. There are crosstourers as capable as the Multistrada V4S — BMW’s S1000XR comes to mind — but none are as eager. Few motorcycles — and none of them with an adventure tag — are as much fun on wide-open throttle.
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That same eagerness applies to apexes, the V4 S drawn to a hairpin’s inflection point like flies to indigestible carbohydrates — the part of human feces that musca domestica find so irresistibly delectable. Despite the requisite 19-inch front wheel — spy shots indicate there will almost assuredly be a Pikes Peak version with a 17-inch front rim available next year — the big Mulistrada needs little encouragement to fling itself into a corner.
Oh, it helps if you put the electronic preload adjuster into two-helmets-and-full-saddlebags mode to jack up the rear. And it doesn’t hurt to scooch up a bit towards the tank to get a little more weight over the front wheel. But, bang on the front Brembo Stylema four-piston brakes to get the front fork compressed and the V4S will lay over like the son of Hypermotard. It really does flick into turns and, in fact, I found turn-in superior with the front suspension in its medium setting, the increased fork dive equating to shorter trail and more of that eagerness I’ve been waxing lyrical about.
Not that this ardour for the twisty road makes the Multistrada less accommodating on the straight and narrow. Indeed, the Multistrada’s stock windshield is one of the best — that should be read turbulent-free — I’ve found on an adventure tourer and its height system the very best in motorcycling. With something so intuitive, who needs motorized windscreens?
The seat too is plenty comfy, more so, in fact than previous Multistrada. Ditto the seating position, at least between the seat and pegs. The handlebar, on the other hand, is a little weird, almost as if Ducati took a motocross gripset — or maybe even something from a trials bike — and then rotated it backward to make it work for a seated position. And no, the solution isn’t as simple as a “bar-back” riser.
It is the sportiest of adventure touring motorcycles, the big V4 winging to 10,000 rpm with seriously bad intentions
That said, what you see — as in the instrument panel — ahead of you is absolutely stare-of-the-art. A large TFT screen dominates the proceedings and it is even brighter and more configurable than the similar technology adorning BMW’s latest R1250 GS. All the information necessary is easily decipherable, there are multiple “themes” that offer different layouts of the information and the joystick control is incredible intuitive. You can also turn the entire 6.5-inch screen into a truly useful navigation system. Other than requiring that you access the computer to turn on the handlebar heaters — there is physical heated handgrip button on the right handgrip cluster, but it merely tells the computer that you want to set the grip temperature via the joystick and screen — the electronics seem pretty intuitive.
Oh, and yes, the new Multistrada features Bosch’s latest adaptive cruise control system as an option. Like the similar BMW system, Ducati’s cruise control maintains a set distance between your bike and the car/truck/scooter ahead of you at any speed up to 160 km/h (and yes, Bormio being deep in the land of the autostrada, I did test it). Where the Duke one-ups the BMW is that the Multistrada system also has a radar sensor in the rear and will alert you — via a flashing yellow light in each mirror — if a car is in your blind spot. I was initially surprised to find it quite useful, but, considering how small motorcycle mirrors are, it’s actually quite a novel bit of kit.
Indeed, almost all of the Multistrada was perfectly engineered. One issue might be that the V4 throws off a lot more heat than the outgoing twin and the sheer compactness of the engine exacerbates heat retention. Ducati has maximized airflow through the cooling system so that it’s barely noticeable while riding, but if you have to stop at a light right after a long, hard run on the highway, the seat warms up appreciably.
Oh and while I am carping, a fully-loaded V4 S Sport — which comes standard with an Akropovic pipe, by the way — outfitted with the adaptive cruise control system and a full set of luggage is going to set you back well over $30,000. That’s hardly atypical for a full-zoot adventure tourer, but that doesn’t make it any easier on your wallet.
But that’s it for complaints. The new V4 is more comfortable than Multistradas past, more expertly computerized and, frankly, a lot easier to live with on an everyday basis. Its incredible 60,000-kilometre valve service interval is the longest in the biz, its comportment civil and high-tech gadgetry plentiful. Most importantly, this is the best engine yet in a Multistrada and, like I said, it really is all about the motor.