MULTISTRADA: A 20-YEAR DYNASTY
Ducati’s Multistrada is a bike that both broke the rules and redefined them when first introduced back in 2003. A bike that was misunderstood by many – and described as both the most versatile motorcycle and one of the ugliest – its designer, Pierre Terblanche, saw it as a direct evolution of his Ducati-powered, Dakar-inspired tourer, the 1998 Cagiva Gran Canyon. With the iconic Multi turning 20 in 2023, its evolution and success is surely worth reflecting on.
While Ducati had long been associated with iconic race-cum-street bikes, such as the 900SS and 916, they knew the world was changing. Riders wanted more versatility, suitable to tour with luggage and a passenger, plus hit the occasional track day alongside the daily commute. Their bold direction with the introduction of the Multistrada family changed the course of history for Ducati, and maybe even the motorcycling world at large.
2003: THE BIRTH OF A LEGEND
With an air-cooled 992cc V-Twin featuring dual spark plugs on each cylinder (the “DS” in DS1000 wasn’t for dual sport), a 17-inch front wheel, big bars and long-legged travel, this new Multistrada brought supermoto-style seating and corner entry, mixed with sports-style performance and comfort for eating up the kilometres. Jack of all trades and master of none, some might say. But with the big twin soul, trellis frame, single-sided swingarm and a dry clutch, all at a record-breaking weight of just 195kg, it was a revolutionary bike. It wasn’t just a parts bin special either; the Multistrada brought new ideas to the table, the most striking perhaps being the tank, produced as a single piece that ended under the rider’s seat – a solution that the Superbikes and GP bikes of the time were beginning to adopt. Add to that the split windscreen/fairing and here was a bike that defied categorisation.
“Their bold direction with the introduction of the Multistrada family changed the course of history for Ducati, and maybe even the motorcycling world at large.”
This first generation of Multis really found its mark, selling higher volumes than any Ducati before them – including one to me that travelled over 80,000km, a lot of the time on off-road tyres proving its ‘many roads’ name. This first-gen design evolved from 1000 to 1100cc and even an off-shoot 620 found its place on roads around the world over seven years of production, and it was consistently one of Ducatis highest-selling bikes. A nimble, lithe bike, able to tackle sport bikes on tarmac as well as fire roads. So much for that ugly tag…
2010: THE SECOND GENERATION – MULTISTRADA 1200
With the Multistrada’s success, Ducati didn’t rest on their laurels and began developing the second generation of this do-it-all platform. Code-named “Cayenne”, the Multistrada 1200 came to be the most symbolic bike in Multistrada history and the one that, at least until the more recent arrival of the V4, represented the biggest turning point – not only for the Multi family, but for the brand as a whole. Ducati went from being simply a manufacturer of sports bikes to something much more. The Multistrada 1200 aimed its sights squarely at the maxi enduro market. It was a crazy bike, at least on paper, with a level of technology and performance never before achieved by a bike of this kind.
In designing the Multistrada 1200, the focus was aimed squarely on improving comfort and space. The original bike was cut, lengthened and lifted, creating more space for both rider and passenger, improving the aerodynamic protection, and offering more luggage loading options. Underneath the design elements, a version of water-cooled Ducati’s Testastretta 1198 was shoe-horned in. While being an extremely high-performance sports twin with oodles of horsepower, the Multistrada also needed torque and ease of use, and thus the Testastretta Evoluzione 11° engine was born with a change in the iconic Desomdronic timing.
“The 2010 Multistrada 1200 came to be the most symbolic bike in Multistrada history and the one that, at least until the more recent arrival of the V4, represented the biggest turning point – not only for the Multi family, but for the brand as a whole.”
On launching the Multistrada 1200, Ducati continued the “four bikes in one” claim. An assertion that is not far from the truth, because now, a simple click on the handlebars changes the power delivery, the throttle response, and the intervention threshold for the electronic traction control. This is the beginning of the riding mode revolution, with four modes (Sport, Touring, City and Enduro) further enhancing a bike that has made versatility its very essence.
2015: THIRD GENERATION – NEW MULTISTRADA 1200
With the third generation of Multistrada, Ducati again ups the ante with the brand-new Testastretta DVT and its 160hp is equipped with double variable timing. Both the intake and exhaust valves can vary their timing, and this is a first; the Multistrada once again raising the bar. The new Multistrada also stands out for its onboard technology, which reaches new heights with the arrival of the most cutting-edge electronics to be found on a bike at the time. An essential role is played by “big brother”, which monitors the entire system, managed by various control units. This is known as the IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit). The IMU reads roll, pitch and yaw, as well as the rate of their change, improving the ABS Cornering, traction control and semi-active suspension functions.
“In 2015, with the third generation of Multistrada, Ducati again ups the ante with the brand-new Testastretta DVT and its 160hp is equipped with double variable timing.”
THE EVOLUTION CONTINUES: MULTISTRADA 1260 & 950
Once again, the evolution of the Multistrada revolves around the arrival of a new engine, an updated version of the 1262cc Testastretta 11° DVT used to power the Diavel, which has perfect characteristics for the Multi. Of course, it’s here Ducati finally begin to see the off-road ability of their flagship machine and introduce the 1260 Enduro in 2018 alongside the more road-oriented models.
A lighter and more compact package utilising the core of Ducati’s powerplants? Consider it done, the Multistrada 950 is born. It’s a far from simply being a scaled-down version of the 1200; it’s a bike that carves its own path, offering a combination of never-before-seen tech and a level of equipment that stands out in the segment, all in a touch smaller, lighter package.
2020: FOURTH GENERATION – MULTISTRADA V4
Just like in 2010, the Multistrada V4 shifts the paradigm and revolutionises the concept of the do-it-all bike. And, naturally, it continues to raise the bar when it comes to technology, forcing all to follow suit. As with every Ducati, the engine is at the centre of the changes. Deriving from the Desmosedici Stradale – which conquered racetracks, hearts and minds in the Panigale and the Streetfighter – the V4 Granturismo exploits that power and combines it with technical characteristics that highlight the versatility and ease of use in all conditions.
“Just like in 2010, the 2020 Multistrada V4 shifts the paradigm and revolutionises the concept of the do-it-all bike.”
The Multistrada V4 is the first mass-produced bike to be equipped with two radars, front and rear. These have two functions – namely, Adaptive Cruise Control, which allows for automatic adjustment of the distance to the vehicle in front, and Blind Spot Detection, which warns the rider about any vehicles in their blind spots. Another massive step forward in safety terms and, particularly, a functional element that riders quickly come to rely on. You can read up on that brilliant tech and all our thoughts in our review on the V4 Multi here.
“With 20 years of development and history under its belt, Ducati’s Multistrada is a bike that the world never knew it needed … until they rode it.”
LEGEND OF PIKES PEAK
In 2010, American rider Greg Tracy powers what is essentially a production Multistrada to victory in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, the famous timed ascent that takes place each year on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The following year, Ducati decides to participate in the race in an official capacity and creates a special version of the Multistrada, the sportiest and most adrenaline-fuelled of them all.
With the V4, the Multistrada Pikes Peak outdoes itself. It is no longer just a “version” of the Multistrada, enriched in terms of its equipment and with a sportier look; it’s a separate model entirely that starts from the same platform, but differs in terms of its front wheel diameter, tyre section, suspension and single swingarm.
The original Ducati Multistrada 1000DS felt like a big, practical supermoto, but was an entirely road-focused effort for the most part. Its evolution has been nothing but success after success for Ducati. In 2021, the V4 Multi was Ducati’s biggest-selling model. But far from simply bringing in revenue, the Multi stepped Ducati into a world far beyond simply loin-tingling pieces of automotive exotica; the sorts of bikes that can live comfortably on bedroom wall posters alongside Ferraris; expensive, temperamental and entirely impractical in real-world conditions. The Multistrada (“many roads”) was a brave move into a new and barely even accepted market for Ducati. Their gamble would evolve over time into a truly capable adventure motorcycle with some of the most advanced suspension and traction control tech on the market, thanks to their race programs. Its latest iteration in the V4 Rally steps the bike firmly into this world; V4 power, massive fuel range and bigger travel than all Multis before it. With 20 years of development and history under its belt, the Multistrada is a bike that the world never knew it needed … until they rode it. And the rest, as they say, is history.