Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Review: All About The V

Chiang Rai, Thailand – ‘DVT’ sounds like the worst thing possible for long-distance motorcyclists. If you’re thinking ‘deep vein thrombosis’ though, you’re entirely wrong.

For starters, you’d never be able to get a clot if you rode a motorcycle properly as involved motorcycle riding is a full-body sport. Secondly, it’s also an acronym for something that makes Ducati’s big, fast and red sport tourer, the Multistrada, even more ‘multi’.

The Multistrada has been in existence since 2003 with the first ‘mecha-looking’ one infusing unconventional style with slight off-road flavour. 2010 saw an all-new version which debuted the ‘angry vulture’ beaked look so fashionable in modern adventure-style tourers.

This one here is all-new from the ground up, although it still has the familiar flared nostrils and avian-esque front end, its most important evolution lies behind that facade.

Times A Changing
‘DVT’, in this case, stands for desmodromic variable timing, meaning the Multistrada is the first production motorcycle with fully variable valve timing on a V-twin engine (see box).

Honda’s VTEC system on the 2002 VFR 800 met with mixed results, and the operation of that system is not seen continuosly throughout the rev range (the pronounced VTEC ‘step’, which spawned its own meme), unlike the DVT system.

Arguably, this means the Multistrada is the first modern production bike to get a ‘real’ (variable valve timing) VVT system that continually changes the valve timing/lift in accordance to revs, oil temperature and other sensor input.

If you don’t care about all the techy stuff then know this: Now the engine has 10bhp more power while being eight percent less greedy, plus a higher, more constant spread of torque and is also easier to ride.

For a normal bike, the classic V-twin experience (or L-twin, as Ducati likes to say, since it uses a 90-degree cylinder angle) is enjoying the gurgling, thumping mid-range. But not so fun is constantly tap-dancing with your left leg to be in the right gear to avoid chugging, chain slap or even an outright stall.

DVT helps overcome that. With the new 1200 engine, you can be lazier with your shifts – for example, leaving it in third gear down to 40km/h or less than 3,000rpm only bogs the engine slightly. Older twins would have required a handful of throttle and judiciously applied clutch fanning.

The 1,198cc L-twin is, like most modern engines from Bologna, oversquare (that is, bore is larger the stroke) so it builds revs very quickly. But another benefit of DVT is combining the characteristics of a classic, grunty roadster with sportsbike-style top-end scream.

You’ll hardly get to experience the latter, though it’s there, as the muscular mid-range is more than enough for the most spirited road riding. Ducati says 80Nm is available at 3,500rpm, and at 5,750 to 9,000rpm it’s averaging above 100Nm. Peak torque is 15Nm higher than the Multistrada’s latest arch-rival, the BMW S 1000 XR too.

The generous grunt, backed by the jackhammer sound and feel of the twin, is addictive and perfect for blasting out of corners with, or rapid highway overtakes. For the long haul stuff, the Multistrada will sit at 120km/h and more all day without distracting vibrations.

Speaking of all day, the DVT system has also reaped rewards in terms of fuel consumption – we averaged better than 5.0L/100km throughout our journey, which gives at least 400km from the 20-litre fuel tank.

Mad Hatter
A more flexible engine package suits the bike’s character, though. Ducati pegs the Multistrada as ‘four bikes in one’ (the Multistrada name itself means ‘many roads’) and it indeed has more than one hat in the bag, which can be taken out and worn instantly thanks to different, switchable riding modes.

What really makes this work are the electronics. There’s a full suite of the latest, slickest tech – wheelie control, traction control, rear wheel lift control for starters. There’s also state-of-the art ABS with cornering ABS from Bosch’s latest 9.1ME system.

Informing all those systems is also a new inertial measuring unit (IMU), also from Bosch, which basically tells the Multistrada’s computer brain how the bike is moving, in five axes no less.

All this is channeled through the four riding modes: Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro. Sport and Touring get the full 160bhp power output, while Urban and Enduro are limited to 100bhp. You can also edit the modes according to your liking. 

Naturally the bike’s electronics package evolves to suit the mood-mode. For example, Sport mode sees less electronic intervention from ABS and traction control, Touring makes the electronic watchdogs a bit more vigilant, while also providing for heavier loads, while Urban makes everything safe and cushy.

The S model tested here packs the Sachs adaptive suspension with ‘Skyhook’ : Ducati terms it DSS (Ducati Skyhook Suspension) Evo, so it’s an improvement over the system which the previous model debuted. Skyhook works with suspension travel sensors and an algorithm that makes the bike as stable as possible, as if it’s suspended from a virtual point above the machine, hence the name.

You can change modes on the fly by pressing a button on the left handlebar then rolling off the throttle, and such is the flexibility of the system that you’ll notice the differences almost immediately.

For the urban areas around Chiang Rai, with numerous road deformations and holes, Urban worked a treat. It was noticeably plusher than Touring, and the engine’s torque flexibility meant the power ‘cut’ wasn’t a drawback at all for quick getaways or overtaking.

Out on the highways, Touring came into play with superb high-speed stability and full power which was great for lazy, sixth-gear roll-ons well into triple digit speeds. The active suspension is immediately noticeable in the change of character – perhaps even more so than the engine – and really backs up Ducati’s claim of the bike’s versatility.

Sport, for example, can have you out of the seat over bumps, superbike-style, but press a button and it’s solved. In Urban mode, you can straight-line, or even accelerate over bumps like that and stay seated, butt comfortably in place.

Handling is obviously sharpest in Sport mode. The bars aren’t particularly tall, but they are adventure-wide, making inputs quick and almost effortless and the bike falls into a lean easily, although it does require a bit of effort to push back up as you exit the corner. Not quite as effortless as the BMW R 1200 GS, but it’s still extremely agile for a bike of this type, and in almost all road conditions.

The ergonomics are classic sport tourer: Adjusting the screen is a one-handed operation, so you can easily do it while riding. It works well, although it’s not particularly wide – at maximum height you can still hear some wind noise.

Ducati says the seat is narrower at the waist, which makes it easier to put your feet down. It’s roomy enough that you can sit forward for a more sporty crouch or sit on the wider, rear part of the pad for more support.

Seat height is adjustable from 845mm to 825mm – I’m 172cm tall with 81cm inseam and the latter was enough to flat foot in boots –  while there’s an even lower option seat that goes down to 800mm.

Tech Heavy
Like any top-level sports touring machine, there’s a serious amount of technology on-board the new Multistrada, and that’s always a concern for riders: If technology gets in the way of the actual riding.

After 340km of riding the Multistrada over mountain roads, urban sprawl and highways, it’s obvious the sports tourer is both very well sorted, has an extremely well-integrated electronics package.

A few years ago, you could still feel the difference between the mechanical and the electronic, but that’s no longer the case with modern performance machines like this one. Under regular riding it was hard to feel any intrusion from the electronics, and the controls and fuelling were all spot on.

The most important tech you can’t see,, but there’s plenty of other cool features you can, such as the LED lights (they even adapt to bends, like active systems on cars), the TFT display unit that comes with Bluetooth connectivity for phones and intercoms.

We compared BMW’s Multistrada rival, the S 1000 XR to a BMW X5 M. The obvious analogue for the Multistrada might be Maserati’s new Levante SUV in terms of branding, though the technology bit might fit in better as Audi’s Q7 SUV.

But the Multistrada’s character is more like a combination of both big brand appeal and a very advanced tech package – like a Porsche Cayenne GTS or Turbo.

That’s because the biggest takeaway here is the V: versatility. Ducati’s made its Multistrada more usable and versatile than before. You could get lost in its myriad functions and bells and whistles, or you could simply hop on and ride and enjoy a fast, desirable and useful sports tourer.

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S

Engine type 1,198cc, 8V, L-twin

Bore X Stroke 106 x 67.9mm

Gearbox type 6-speed manual

Max power 160bhp at 9,500rpm

Max torque 136Nm at 7,500rpm

0 to 100km/h Not quoted

Top speed >250km/h (est.)

Weight (wet) 235kg

Seat Height 825-845mm

Price $50,800*
Availability Now

*On the road with road tax, COE, insurance included.


Tech Talk: Ducati’s DVT System
Ducati’s variable valve timing system is likely the first for a full production motorcycle. 
Variable valve timing (and/or lift) has been standard tech on automobiles for many years – there are as many terms for it as there are brands: BMW has VANOS, Honda has its VTEC system, while Toyota has VVT-i.

Why do we need variable valve timing?
In a nutshell, valve timing is needed because engines have different rates of air/fuel flow at different RPMs: There’s a much higher flow or intake and exhaust in say, an F1 engine at 20,000rpm redline than at idle, for example. There, the engineering task is simple because a racing engine is optimised for high rev performance. A normal engine has an arguably harder task: It needs to operate well at low engine speeds too.  

To use a bike analogy, Ducati had its Testastretta 11 Degree engine on the old Hypermotard. The ‘degrees’ there refer to valve overlap – or how long the intake and exhaust valves are open at the same time. For a street engine, 11 degrees was good for low and mid-range. The Panigale 1199 R for example, had 45 degrees of overlap.

Why haven’t bikes adopted VVT widely?
Until now, they haven’t needed to. Bikes have a generally high power to weight ratio, so riders could always opt to shift gears or fan the clutch if the engine bogs or fails to deliver enough torque – not an option for cars with automatic gearboxes. More importantly, VVT systems also add weight, complexity and cost. But with increasing emission standards for motorcycles, it might be more effective to have VVT rather than say, an excessively heavy exhaust/catalyser system or servos. Ducati says its system remains relatively light because the valves don’t have springs, but use the company’s desmodromic valve actuation system.

How does variable valve timing work?
The solution is to have a system that changes the duration the valves are opened (valve timing) and how much they open (lift) according to engine speed. There are many different types of VVT and operate in different ways, but they all have the same basic function. Some may affect timing only, without affecting lift.

Ducati’s system works by oil pressure: As engine revs go up, oil pressure increases and this affects a rotary valve timing adjuster connect to the camshafts. Other variables are processed by the ECU too, and modified into the final result.  

about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong