Ducati Multistrada 950 Launch Test: Worth Waiting For?

First test of Ducati’s new junior version of the Multistrada go-anywhere sports tourer

Ducati introduces something much more than ‘just’ a smaller-engined Multistrada – this 950 version is a standalone real world motorcycle done right

It had to happen. After Pierre Terblanche conceived the Multistrada for Ducati back in 2003 as an innovative blend of Supermoto, street enduro and sports tourer powered by an air-cooled 1000DS desmodue engine, it was followed two years later by a 620cc junior version that was a good seller for the Italian firm, as being more accessible and quite a bit less expensive.

But after Ducati completely revamped the model in 2010 as a Supersports adventure tourer by launching the Multistrada 1200 powered by the 1198cc liquid-cooled Testastretta 11° eight-valve motor – it’s failed until now to produce the junior sized version that’s seemed for so long to be such an obvious addition to its range.

Watch the Ducati Multistrada 950 First View Video in Milan:

Well, better late than never Ducati has now produced the new Multistrada 950 unveiled at Milan’s EICMA Show, and after a 140-mile/230km day spent caning it over Fuerteventura’s excellent traffic-free Canary Island roads infused with volcanic lava for super grip all I can say is that – I reckon it was worth waiting for!

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OK, you say – but 260cc isn’t such a big deal: this is barely a three-quarter scale downsize from the all-bells-and-whistles 1200 Multi. Well, yes – but please believe me when I tell you that, Ducati’s new 950 model comes across as a very different bike – and what’s more, it could be quite a bit more appealing to those who don’t want to have to worry about surfing the multitude of electronic programs or cope with the extra hit of performance included in the bigger 160bhp117.7kW DVT motor’s package.

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Call it Ducati’s equivalent of the almost identically priced, heavier but more powerful three-cylinder Triumph Tiger Sport, a real world moto totale that you can use for the daily commute, to take your wife to the shops, to ride on a Sunday morning run and still keep up with the sportbikes, or to fit luggage and go touring two-up – a bike to be generally enjoyed for its sheer usability, that sees sporting prowess married to everyday convenience. And that’s quite apart from the Multistrada 950’s price saving over the 1200, too – at Euro 13,690 in Italy the new 950 undercuts the more potent 1200 by more than Euro 4,000 on price – it’s even fractionally cheaper than Honda’s Africa Twin. Ducati’s priced this new model pretty competitively, plus service intervals have been reduced to 9,000mi/15,000km, with valve clearance inspection every 18,000mi/30,000 km.

This new junior Multistrada employs the same 94 x 67.5 mm engine dimensions as in the current Hypermotard, but with a redesigned oil system, new desmodromic cylinder heads with revised porting which deliver a compression ratio reduced to 12.6:1 from 13.1:1, smaller 53mm cylindrical (not elliptical) throttle bodies, and a Bosch ECU with revamped fuelling in each of the four riding modes delivered by the RBW digital throttle. Of these, Sport and Touring entail the 937cc motor’s full 113bhp/83.1kW output produced at 9,000 rpm, same as the Hypermotard, but each with a different degree of urgency, whereas Urban (aka Rain) and Enduro each peak at 75bhp. Switching between modes is easily done on the go via redesigned controls on the left handlebar, and each of the four has different default settings for the three-stage Bosch 9.1 ABS and switchable eight-level DTS traction control programmes.

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These comprise the DSP/Ducati Safety Pack included as standard, but are the sum total of the Multistrada 950’s electronic control systems. Plus without Bosch’s IMU/Inertia Measurement Unit fitted here, there isn’t the high end Cornering ABS found on the 1200, nor is the TC lean-angle sensitive. But the revised engine tune produces a wider spread of torque, with a peak of 96.2 Nm at 7,750 rpm, but with 80% of that figure on tap between 3,500 and 9,500 rpm, and only a faint fall-off before you hit the 10,500 rpm limiter.

So torquey is this motor that you can accelerate wide open in top gear from 3,000 rpm upwards without a hint of transmission snatch, en route to the 100mph/160kmh mark at 6,800 rpm. This is an extremely flexible friend of a desmo sportbike – and one that sounds pretty nice, too, with a punchy-sounding V-twin echo from that flat-sided silencer.

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Indeed, there’s a highly accessible and very enjoyable delivery of both torque and power on the Multi 950, with an especially noticeable clean, syrupy pickup from a closed throttle without any sign of jerkiness or over-aggressive fuelling, even in Sport mode. The ultra-flat torque curve means you needn’t use the six-speed gearbox too assiduously, because with such plentiful grunt at your disposal you’re always in the right gear.

That’s a pity in a way, since the Multistrada 950’s gearchange is absolutely stellar, with both bikes I rode happy for me not to bother with using the clutch in either direction from second gear upwards – or downwards.

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The lever for the cable-operated clutch isn’t adjustable, though the front brake lever is, and the twin 320mm front discs with two-pad four-piston Brembo M4.32 Monoblock radial calipers combine with the large 265mm rear disc sourced from the 1200 Enduro and its twin-piston floating caliper to stop a bike very nicely that rather surprisingly weighs just 5kg lighter than the 1200 Multistrada, at 204kg dry.

That translates to a 227kg kerb weight, with all liquids and the 20-litre fuel tank giving a 200-mile/320km range, at least 90% full. Plus, Ducati has left in quite a bit of engine braking on the settings of the ramp-style slipper clutch.

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The Multi 950 further shares with the Enduro not only the same gunmetal-coloured tubular steel chassis common to all three Multistrada variants, but also its 2-1 exhaust’s flat-sided left-hand silencer, its seat and passenger handgrips, and especially its double sided swingarm and 19-inch front wheel/17-inch rear, all cast in aluminium.

For the riding stance on the Multistrada 950 is very road-oriented, with the 840mm-high seat (820/860mm options are available) well-padded enough to be plush rather than merely adequate, and very accommodating for a 1.80m/5’10” rider, who’ll find it easy to put both feet down at rest. This new 950 feels light-steering and agile at any speed, seemingly more so than the 1200 in spite of its weight and general architecture being so similar.

It handles intuitively, since you sit so snugly in the bike that you feel a part of it, with the flat, fairly wide handlebar giving good leverage to hustle the Ducati along twisting mountain roads, where it hugs your chosen line even under power – it steers impeccably. The handlebar’s quite fat grips (even without the optional heaters) are adorned with hand deflectors incorporating the direction flashers, while the one-hand adjustable windscreen comes straight off the 1200 version.

But the 950 doesn’t have the full-colour TFT dash of the Enduro model  launched earlier this year, instead coming equipped with a very easily readable monochrome LCD unit based on the standard 1200’s, with the gear selected reading framed by a plastic surround – every bike should have this! The wide-spread mirrors can’t be faulted, either.

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No IMU also means there’s also no Skyhook semi-active suspension either here, as found on the S-version of the 1200.  That means the fully-adjustable 48mm KYB upside down fork is essentially the same as on the standard 1200, though internally recalibrated, while although the offset Sachs rear monoshock is fully adjustable for compression and rebound damping, and has an easy-access spring preload adjuster on the left for when you carry a passenger and/or luggage, it’s a direct-action cantilever unit, with no variable-rate link.

The 950’s geometry is rangier than the 1200’s, with a 25.2º fork rake (versus 24º) and long 1594mm (1529mm) wheelbase providing good high speed stability even with luggage delivering a rearward weight bias, as well as resulting in spacious onboard accommodation for rider and passenger. The suspension is set on the soft side as standard, though, and there is some front end dive when you lean hard on the brakes – nothing that a couple of clicks of added compression damping couldn’t make bearable, without sacrificing the bike’s excellent ride quality.

The progressive-rate springs on both front and rear suspension surely play a part in this, providing supple compliance over smaller bumps, but a firmer response to bigger ones.

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For the balance of the Multi 950 indeed feels good, and to be honest, with 170mm of wheel travel at either end, I never felt it to be deficient in ride quality or suspension compliance in any way – and that’s with the narrower rear wheel downsized to a 4.50 x 17 format, shod with a 170/60 Pirelli Scorpion tyre rather than the 1200’s 190/55 item, which surely explains why the 950 is noticeably more agile than its bigger-engined sibling.

Same thing goes for up front, where the 19-inch wheel gives lighter if slightly slower steering than the 1200’s 17-incher, which isn’t at all such a bad thing in terms of all-round stability, with the leverage from that wide handlebar ever ready to come into play.

Four different accessory packages

As on the other Multistrada variants there are four different accessory packages available for the 950, besides the DSP that’s included as standard. The Touring Pack (as on the white bike I rode) has a centrestand and twin hard luggage panniers, although the left one of these has limited room because of the side-mounted exhaust silencer.

Sport has a freer-flowing Termignoni silencer that’s still Euro 4 compliant, plus a few billet-alloy goodies, then there’s an Enduro Pack with an alloy sump guard, twin supplementary LED lights, steel footrests and tank-protecting crash bars, plus a metal radiator protection mesh that was fitted on its own to our test bikes to combat the many lava pebbles littering the road in places.

Finally, the Urban pack has a topbox and clip-on tank bag incorporating a receptacle for your I-phone, as well as a power extension cable with a USB port. There’s also a spacious stowage area under the passenger seat.

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While unsuitable for serious off-roading, where its lack of ground clearance would always be an issue, the Multistrada 950 will be a great ride on gravel or hard-packed dirt roads, where those Pirelli Scorpion tyres will be ideal equipment as well as giving great grip on Fuerteventura’s black asphalt. That made lapping the island’s superb roads in great 26° weather aboard the Multi 950 a good test of the bike’s handling, which it passed with flying colours, carving its way round countless mountain hairpins and wide-open 200kmh stretches of open road with complete aplomb.

This is an extremely capable, ultra-comfortable all-round motorcycle that’s so very satisfying to ride, with accessible performance and great reserves of torque – it’s much more in every way than a downsized, downscale, downpriced middleweight model.

It’s arguably a better real world bike than the more powerful but also more demanding and ever so slightly intimidating 1200, for the 950 motor has a sweeter power delivery and I never felt during my day’s ride that it was lacking anything in the performance department. Sorry to say it – but you’d have to be a serious performance addict to opt for spending the extra money to buy a 1200 Multistrada over this, its very capable new kid brother.

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OK – cliché time. This new Multistrada mileater proves that less can indeed be more – and that numbers aren’t everything. Ducati deserves congratulation for developing a standalone smaller capacity motorcycle that’s in no way a lesser product than its larger-engined sibling, just because it’s not as fast or powerful. There may indeed be no substitute for cubes – but those cubes are indeed not everything. After spending a day riding it, for me the Multistrada 950 is a better bike precisely because it IS less powerful. It has the same versatility, the same mileating capability, and the same practicality and comfort as its Multistrada 1200 kin – but all delivered in a more accessible, more affordable, ultimately more user friendly and equally engaging way, that’s frankly more manageable. It was worth waiting for!

Photo credit: Milagro

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