Ducati Multistrada 950

By Tim Erickson

New for 2017, Ducati downsized its Multistrada platform into a middleweight, just shy of the liter-class.. First, a few clarifications: 1) Physical dimensions are shared with the larger Multistrada 1200; and 2) there is not a smaller version to claim the 950 as middle ground. However, with the popularity of small-displacement (and lower price point) adventure bikes, it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if Ducati’s future product plans included an entry-point Multistrada housing the Monster’s 690 mill. It makes perfect sense to us to launch first the hero model then follow with the lower classes once the business is proven and tooling is financed by happy consumers. Furthermore, classifying the 950 as a middleweight is appropriate – the $13,995 MSRP bike is better poised for the mainstream budget, as well as the mainstream performance delivery.

Heart of the Matter

The engine, a 937cc Testastretta Desmo-valved twin with a claimed 113 hp output at 9,000 rpm, is shared with the Hypermotard. It features new cylinder heads with redesigned oiling, as well as Ride-by-Wire throttle directing fuel through the 53mm throttle bodies. It’s tucked into a familiar Ducati trellis frame. Engine response is instant and the torque peaks at 7,500 rpm, though we noticed broad power from 3,500 until the needle and over-rev warning lights on the dash flashed yellow. There is also a significant change in intake noise starting just shy of 5,000 rpm, though we’d call it more exhilarating than annoying.

A host of electronics supervises power to the ground. Dubbed the Ducati Safety Pack (DSP), the system includes both ABS and Ducati Traction Control with four riding modes: Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro.

Multistrada in Multi Settings

We spent time in both the Sport and Touring modes, and while it was difficult to detect significant power delivery differences from the saddle that a dyno might identify, there was a change to braking sensitivity. The Bosch ABS system directs squeeze on Bremo calipers and is integrated with the four drive modes. Sport was less restrictive and allowed a bit of wheel spin in the gravel where Touring had a lower threshold and due to limited wheel spin, acceleration felt more productive in the gravel.

Though the electronics help with traction and braking in less than ideal conditions and circumstances, it was hard not to notice the Multristrada’s on-road bias. It wears Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires on the 19-inch front wheel and the 17-inch rear, and the Ducati literature states the tires are a marriage of off road and touring. On remote, loose gravel roads where we were able to confirm traction control interruption with ham-fisted acceleration, when not on the gas the front end surfed about on the loose earth.

Ducati Multistrada 950 engine
The 937cc, 4-valve Testastretta liquid twin spools 113 peak hp. Its performance is adequate, exhilarating and practical for heart-of-the-market consumers.

It wasn’t a nervous feeling – more of a compromise with the relatively light weight and choice of rubber. It’s likely that softer front damping would allow the bike to sit into the front for more forward weight bias than the factory settings, contributing to better bite for extended gravel or trail runs. But we didn’t play with suspension settings to confirm.

And suspension settings there are, manually adjusted. Ducati left off the semi-active and electronic damping adjustments found on the hero $17,995 1200 Multistrada, which combined with the omission of the corner-assisting ABS system as well, are significant contributors to the $4,000 lower base price of the nine-fiddy.

While there are better bikes for off-pavement work, on road the Multistrada 950 shines. The suspension offered nice feedback to the road, turn-in was effortless and the corner to corner thrust was addictive. Yes, more power is available for those who have to have the biggest, but the middleweight bike is well tuned and a more practical powerplant for most riders. For those familiar and experienced with liter-twins, there weren’t any scary-fast moments during our test ride. In short, it’s an engine that riders can make use of its full powerband without a nervous input hand that can get you into trouble quickly. This machine is well poised, and well mannered on paved surfaces.

Some of the on road behavior and confidence-inspiring spirit comes from the ergonomics. Like other adventure bikes, the wide, straight bars provide great leverage and a comfortable, squared-off posture. The seat is comfortable for day-long rides and the 5.3 gallon tank offers about 200 miles of range, including reserve.

Making it Yours

For those considering this machine for touring, we recommend considering a few alterations. The seat height is 33.1 inches, and the pegs are positioned 18.9 inches off the pavement. This translates to a short seat to peg height for taller riders. There is a taller seat in the Ducati catalog for this purpose. Also, while we liked the adjustment range of the 5-position, manual-adjust windscreen and it was adequate for the majority of the miles we covered, a wider window would better defect side draft and provide better protection for long highway journeys.

Instrumentation is all handled by the center-console-mounted LCD. There are two trip meters, engine temp, ambient air temp, average speed, fuel range, and more all toggled with the left thumb. When the bike is off, the LCD and toggle action also control the ECU map settings and various drive modes. There is not a dedicated “home” function on the LCD other than speed and tach, so the rider can choose what to display. Hopefully, it’s not the clock with a deadline to be somewhere.

Why? This bike is pure joy to ride, and we were reluctant to return it. It corners so effortlessly, and power is so predictable it puts it in elite category as a master of do-all motorcycling. It’s no wonder this class of motorcycle has become more popular than Trump’s Twitter account – we pity those who are trying to sell a sport tourer in today’s used market. And for the adventure class of motorcycle, the Ducati Multistrada 950 is near the top of the list.

Special thanks to Moon Motors and Kyle Erickson for making this road test possible. Interested to check it out for yourself? Head to Moon for a demo ride – tell them your interest piqued in MMM.

MMM

By Steve Tiedman

Capt. Kirk to Mr. Scott- “Scotty, we need warp speed!”

Multistrada gauges
The windshield is indexed with 5 different height positions, and the LCD panel is loaded with useful rider information toggled with the left controls

“Aye, Captain, just put it into Sport mode, you’ll have all the warp speed you can handle!”

Okay, the 2017 Ducati Multistrada 950 isn’t the Starship Enterprise, but like the Enterprise, it is more than capable of going stupid fast, quickly. I haven’t had the chance to ride its bigger sibling, the Multistrada 1200, but the new 950 chops CC’s, overall power, some features, and a little weight. And dollars, about 4,000 less of those! At a claimed 113hp, and 71lb-ft of torque, the re-worked 937cc L-twin, 4-valve (per head) Testastretta engine slings this 500lb (wet) Italian dual sport/adventure bike down the strada with ease. The engine does not like to lug, but once you’ve got the rev’s up to 3,000rpm and beyond, the engine reacts quickly and happily.

I rode this demo bike, courtesy of Moon Motorsports, Monticello, MN, for 2.5 days and a couple hundred miles, in both good and bad weather. On Day 1, I was in “Sport” mode. The reaction time of the engine to throttle input was just short of wheelie-popping fast. Or, maybe it is that fast? Anyway, if you watch the LCD dashboard screen rather than the road, you’ll see the bar graph tach go ripping across the screen as the digital speedo is shooting up toward 3-digit territory, and that’s just third into fourth gear. For Day 2, I switched the engine management to “Touring”, and I found my just-right mode. Acceleration was still abundant, but more manageable and with less chance of getting myself into trouble. (There are also the “Urban” and “Enduro” modes.) Each of the 4 modes can be further customized to meet your needs; this is all explained in the comprehensive owner’s manual.

The gear shift lever requires a firm and positive movement to avoid false neutrals. The dashboard gear indicator shows where you just shifted to, but when letting out the clutch lever several times I found myself in a false neutral. Also, the gear shift lever itself felt gritty when moving it, especially in the lower gears. And finding the real neutral was easier going all the way down to first, then up to neutral. New bike break-in? The cable-actuated wet slipper clutch seems smooth and forgiving, shifting up or down.

Yep, it sure goes, but how does it stop? The front dual disc brakes with Brembo calipers work well, but seemed a bit soft to me. I’m not sure what was happening out back, because the rear brake is, in a word, worthless. Seriously, I could not tell the difference between front/rear stopping and front-only stopping. And because the front brakes are carrying so much of the stopping load, there was quite a bit of fork dive on everything but the gentlest of stops. Maybe this was unique to this particular bike, but at over 700 miles on the odometer, I’d expect the brakes to be broken in and working at their peak.

What about handling? It’s a large bike, but for its size, the “feels lighter than 500 pounds” adventurer handled pretty well, feeling like it has a fairly neutral center of gravity. Tight U-turns on narrow country roads were easy, as were general curvy conditions at modest speeds. At highway speeds, the 950 wanted to hold a line, almost to a fault. I easily put it where I wanted it to go, and

Multistrada front
Ducati style is distinct. This bike looks like a bird of prey.

once in that transitional orientation, it wanted to stay there until I would bring it back the other way. Quite gyroscopic. Suspension, front and rear, is manually adjustable for rebound, compression, and pre-load, and each end moves 6.7 inches. On the morning of Day 3, as I left home to return the bike, I was greeted with 40 miles of heavy rain and stiff winds, and the bike did not flinch while roaring through it. The Multistrada 950 was very stable in windy and wet conditions on the interstate.

Up at the handlebar, there are many things that you can do along with steering the bike. The engine modes, and many other features on the dark-on-light LCD screen, are controlled at the left thumb with easy-to-use buttons. The monotone screen is a good size, it’s easy to read in the sun, and shows a lot of data. All gauges are on this screen. The hand levers and foot pedals are adjustable to suit your needs. Having ride-by-wire technology, cruise control would be nice to have. (My beloved Kuryakyn Universal Throttle Boss helped a lot.)

Ergonomics. Well… I like to state my body dimensions so you can get a comparison to yourself. I’m 6-feet tall, 215 pounds, with a 36-inch waist and a 30-inch inseam, so my upper body is a bit taller than average. (Speaking of weight, the bike has a max. weight, bike and loads, of 992 pounds, giving a load carrying capacity of 492 pounds of people, luggage, and gear. That’s very good.) Seat-to-handlebar reach was relaxed, the handlebar is wide and high, and provides lots of leverage for making the bike respond to your steering inputs. Handlebar vibration was minimal and not bothersome at any rpm.

The seat-to-foot peg reach is pretty good, giving me just about 90-degrees of knee bend, placing my foot below my thigh. The cleated pegs have a thick, soft rubber pad (easily removable for standing/adventure riding) that worked very well to nearly eliminate any vibration from reaching my feet. But, the rubber pad is shorter than the peg length, and with the soft rubber my feet felt like they wanted to roll off the pegs. I removed the pads to check the difference- vibration was insignificant and I never thought twice about it, but having the full length of the foot peg under my boot was much more stable and reassuring. I’d leave the pads off. It also allowed my knees to unbend a couple degrees, this was more comfortable than with the pads installed. The foot pegs are quite high from the ground. I can’t imagine dragging these pegs during hard leaning (they don’t even come with scrapers), so having a lowered peg would improve comfort for anyone with legs longer than 30 inches, or, um, knees that have been around the block a few times. Maybe the aftermarket will bring out a lowering kit.

Standard rider seat height from the ground is 33 inches, putting my boot heels about an inch off the ground. Shorter and taller seats, about 3/4 inch each way, are available. And then there is the added height of the passenger seat and rear luggage rack, bringing your leg swing-over height 5 or 6 inches higher, without saddlebags or a top case. For those who may have inseam measurements less than 30 inches or so, a quick web search found at least one method for lowering the rear end by 25mm (1 inch). This may necessitate raising the fork in the triple clamps to maintain the bike’s geometry, which could lead to needing a shorter side stand…

The stout, adjustable windshield worked well, with just mild helmet buffeting at highway speeds while letting the right amount of air flow around my body. Bending down and forward just a little bit, I found smooth, clean air at my helmet, but this was not a natural seating position. For most motorcycles, accessory or aftermarket windshields often bring improvement, but I’d try this windshield before shopping for a replacement.

I wanted so much to ride a 400-mile day on the Multistrada 950, but, the seat… There’s no way to be diplomatic about it; the stock seat on this motorcycle is bad. The factory seat was uncomfortable from mile 1, and painful by mile 20. There is effectively no flat surface for your rear end to sit upon; you are either too far back sitting on an upward curve (where your pants stick to the upholstery, yet your body wants to sink downward/forward inside your pants… causing accelerated monkey-butt syndrome), or if you lift and move even a fraction of an inch forward, suddenly your, uh, “front bits” (male for sure, and probably both genders) are pushing right into the front upward slope of the seat. It’s yet another seat that is fashioned to flow with the lines of the bike rather than provide comfort for the rider. With the price of motorcycles today, especially “all-day” motorcycles, seating needs to be at its best first, and look pretty last. Maybe the aftermarket, or a local upholstery shop can help. The Multistrada 950 is a dual sport/adventure bike, as a segment they are meant to be ridden long distances in comfort. With this seat, I was not able to ride long distances. But with the big cost savings over the Multistrada 1200, you’ll have plenty of cash to fix that seat, and outfit the bike for your next long adventure.

Many thanks to Moon Motorsports for the use of the Ducati Multistrada 950.

MMM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *