This one’s a hidden gem, folks. I love my R1200R and there’s really not another bike I’d want to trade it for- anything else I see and lust after would be an “in addition to” bike. A big luxury tourer couldn’t replace the around-town-ness of BMW’s camhead roadster. A small scooter or pit bike is a kick in the pants, but not Interstate worthy. Bonnevilles and Sportsters don’t make as much power. The only other do-it-all bike that merits serious consideration, and that I love as dearly, is the old air-cooled Ducati Multistrada.
Two talking points appear in Multistrada reviews so often you’d think they were mandatory: the bike’s name means “many roads” in Italian, and it had off-putting looks designed by Pierre Terblanche. Does it look vaguely like a sportbike on stilts? Yes. Is it beautiful in the Italian tradition? Gods, no. But every review also states that you forget about the looks once you’re riding- it really is that good. The translation of the name rings true because in a real-world setting (that is, off the race track), it’s hard to find a better or faster machine.
I owned a Multistrada 620, and it’s hard to overstate what a wonderful do-it-all motorcycle it was. Throw a Givi v46 top case on the bike and it’s pretty much ready to fulfill any in-city errand running or chores that come it’s way. The high seating perch gives you a good view in traffic. The standard foot pegs fall below the rider’s hips (not forward or rear) and handlebars rather than clip-ons give tremendous amounts of control to the pilot. The only other addition on my bike was hand guards to help shield my fingers from the cold winter air at sustained high speeds.
Granted, I was younger, always wanted more power, and the 620 engine simply isn’t an instrument of weaponized speed. It doesn’t wheelie if you sneeze, but any idiot can twist a throttle in a straight line. The real fun of riding well is how a bike handles in the twisties, and that’s when the Multi really shines. (Mouse over the images below for captions.)
OneWheelDrive.net did a crazy comparison of the Multi 620 vs. a GSX-R 1000 and while the little Desmo couldn’t keep up with the litre bike in straightaways, the article really highlighted the handling of the Italian bike and how much more usable it is in the real world. I experienced that very scenario. If you watch the random header images of this blog, sooner or later you’ll see a pic of three roadside bikes: my Multi 620, and a friend’s GSX-R 1000 (and his wife’s 600). If I blinked when the road straightened Dan was gone, but as soon as the corners came I could pass him, laughing all the way.
In the shooting world, the 1911 trigger is considered so good that it makes bad shooters look better. It’s effortless. That’s the Multistrada. The handling is so insane it makes a novice look like a pro. Top speeds aren’t as high as superbikes’, but cornering is so much better that everything else is faster and the overall ride becomes light-years more fun.
I got used to the looks. Heck, I even got to liking them! I used to imagine my Multistrada “Dark” was a two-wheeled F-117 stealth fighter. The one piece of the design that looked like an afterthought to me was the rear swingarm. To save cost on the smaller Multistrada, it got a generic swinging fork swingarm instead of the single-sided unit the more upscale Multi 1000DS and 1100 had. What I didn’t know was that the swingarms were completely interchangeable between the big and little bikes (I guess because they share the same frame). The photo in this paragraph was stolen from this blog, and he’s got perhaps the coolest Multi 620 documented on the web. I especially like the wheels he’s put on- the Multistrada never had good looking wheels until it’s 1200cc liquid-cooled update in 2010.
Now, the Multistrada 1200 won praise from all over. It was Cycle World’s 2010 “Best Open Streetbike”, and Motorcycle.com rated it the best Sport-Touring bike and runner up to Motorcycle of the Year. The Duc can do anything, is insanely versatile and regarded as one of the best bikes on the road, bar none. Except it cost $20,000 US, and that’s a lot of money. But the new liquid-cooled 1200 meant that air-cooled models were now outdated, and the old outdated models depreciated, and that means they cost less, and that means… One of the best bikes you can get today is a 2008 or 2009 Multistrada 1100S.
Any of the air-cooled Multistradas are great bikes and worth consideration. One of the traditional complaints about Ducati ownership is the high cost of maintenance, but a lot of it can be done DIY-style to reduce costs by visiting the Ducati Suite. It’s such a good site I keep it bookmarked in my web browser even though I don’t own a Duc at the moment.
What makes the 1100S such a stand-out (when it was upgraded from the 1000 DS in 2007) isn’t the marginal bump in torque, but that Ducati ditched their signature dry clutch. The sound of the rattling dry clutch has it’s place in history, but it’s much more suited to a track bike than a civilized sport-touring machine. I hate loud pipes on Harleys and a loud clutch at a stop light is no different- they’re both just rude. A quieter machine is more peaceable for a neighborhood during quiet hours, the minivan mom at a stop light that’s already frazzled by her crying kids, and even just the rider during an extended outing. There are enough causes of fatigue and risks to hearing as a motorcyclist already. The quieter clutch is just smarter.
The Multi 1100 also got extended valve service intervals for reduced maintenance cost and better vibration isolation from the engine. I focus on 2008 or 2009 as models of choice because they had refinements in the fuel injection. And get an “S” model for the Öhlins suspension- it’s absolutely the best in the business and always cheaper to get included on the bike than to add it later.
Now, some of my love of this bike is pure sentimentality. This was my first “real” motorcycle, and for a brief and glorious moment in time it was the only motorized vehicle I used. Living in Arizona allows year round riding, and there’s something really special about the experience if you can swing it. When it rained, I got wet. Riding on the highway on a winter’s night meant pulling over and warming my fingers by the engines radiating fins. There were times that it sucked, of course. But without those moments of misery, the blissful ones wouldn’t be as sweet. The smell of fresh cut grass as I rode past a golf course. Feeling hot and cold on the back of my neck as I passed from sunlight to shadow through a mountain pass. Noticing a consistent temperature drop of a few degrees every time I crossed a certain intersection. This was the machine that taught me how visceral riding a motorcycle could be. It wasn’t about being the fastest; it was about being the most alive.
I could sing the bike’s praises all day and it wouldn’t be enough. I don’t have command enough of the English language to transport a reader to heaven through my words. But that’s what this bike does through it’s trellis frame and throbbing L-twin engine. Read more effusive praise of this overlooked treasure of a bike here, here, and here. Then go buy one before everyone else wises up and there are no more for sale.