STORY AND PHOTOS BY DAMIEN ASHENHURST
“You’ve got to be f#@king kidding me, right?”
“You want me to ride that in the dirt?”
This is a brief snippet of my inner monologue as I watched Nick Selleck unload the Ducati Multistrada V4S.
I didn’t say it out loud because my neighbours are losing their patience with me swearing at my whipper snipper. Apparently, the kid two doors down saw his dad having trouble starting his and asked, “Is it the same problem Damo is having with his f#@ked-up useless piece of shit?”
Honestly, I did the kid a service. A father should teach his son early that the whipper snipper was sent to earth direct from the seventh level of hell to ruin relaxing weekends.
Questions about motorcycles are never answered by looking over the bike as blokes do in their driveways while swatting mozzies. I’ve never understood the practice of studying a stationary motorcycle and in this case, I could stare for hours and learn nothing I needed to know.
The Ducati was a mystery to me.
The mere proposition that the bike before me could be ridden offroad seemed immediately to be a massive piss-take. My mind could not reconcile the request, although it was probably busy wondering what Australia would be like if we had our own monkeys…I think about that a lot.
No, I was going to have to stop thinking (something I’m quite adept at) and ride the bike without prejudice or favour.
And then it started to rain. And didn’t stop. For weeks. I took the dampened downtime to look at what Ducati is offering so when the weather was finished trying to turn New South Wales into a trout pond, I could go for a ride on something a bit more familiar.
The V4S takes the place of the Enduro 1260, which took the place of the Enduro 1200, which I quite liked. I rode it to Bourke and Lightning Ridge, a town where people work in holes like gofers, and I found it to be a very satisfying tourer that was stupidly fun on the dirt when you had a bit of room to play.
I did drop it in some wet clay though and it took about 45 minutes and a Herculean effort to lift it back up as it slid from one side of the slippery road to the other.
But while the Enduros models are now gone, Ducati hasn’t lost the bug for adventure.
One of the biggest releases of 2022 will be Ducati’s Desert X, a bike the company has invested a lot of money and time in developing and marketing. With much more of an offroad bias, it appears to be the pure adventure motorcycle the Enduro was not.
But the Enduro certainly had a place at the table as a well-appointed adventure tourer and Ducati hasn’t thrown that concept in the bin, instead introducing the Multistrada V4S.
TAKING A SEAT
IS THIS A COMFORTABLE BIKE?
Yes, it is. Most of the time.
Touring style seats with the high pillion section and steep tank angle can be hit and miss for long term comfort, particularly when subjected to the rough and tumble of offroad riding.
Ducati has found a middle ground that locks you in place but offers quality comfort, ie. doesn’t mash your goolies. The seat can be lifted fairly easily and the pillion seat and be shifted forward or back about an inch to help you find that sweet spot.
The standard seat height is low enough for me to put both feet flat on the ground and both the pillion and rider’s seats are heated, which is truly one of life’s great pleasures.
The handlebars are extremely wide and quite a way forward which introduces a conundrum. Rolling them further forward improves the standing position but increases that already big gap between the seat and the bars.
While I appreciated the greater control when standing I think I’d stick with the standard bar position for an all-round comfort compromise.
The tank isn’t too bad between your knees and doesn’t balloon out uncomfortably as it progresses forward. In fact, it’s a pretty slim feeling bike given you’re sitting on a V4 and I found it no problem to grip with my knees.
Unless you have the feet of a canary, the footpegs are ridiculous. They’re so small it defies explanation and as such, they aren’t suitable for offroad riding long term. Thankfully Ducati does offer a bigger optional set.
The rear brake lever is delivered very low. Like…what are you doing all the way down there kinda low, particularly when you’re standing up.
The electronic controls are all within easy reach and while there are more switches than a KTM or BMW cluster, it isn’t as bad as an Africa Twin which has more buttons than Clive Palmer’s raincoat.
The windscreen is height-adjustable, something that is done with one hand on-the-fly if needed.
Ducati has also gifted the V4S a sealed mobile phone pocket on top of the tank which includes a USB charger and a Euro-style 12-volt outlet to the right of the TFT screen.
DUCATI TECHY STUFF
IS THE ELECTRONICS PACKAGE IMPRESSIVE?
Yep…but you can set and forget if you like.
This bike is probably smarter than I am. I’ve been told there’s a Cavoodle on our street that’s almost certainly smarter than I am too.
The Multistrada V4S’ electronic suite is comprehensive, and I won’t go through everything because I have no doubt, I didn’t see everything. Let’s hit the basics first.
The 6.5-inch TFT screen is excellent and presents a lot of info in, clean easy-to-read segments. The top left corner carries a small, scrolling sub-menu which is handy. The bottom right shows the individual settings you’re running like traction control and ABS while the bottom left indicates ride distances.
The main middle section gives you all the stuff that changes in real-time, like speed, gear choice and I love the simulated analogue tacho.
There’s a lot going on, but Ducati succeeded in making the system fairly simple to learn and use. I say fairly because this is a complicated electronics package in terms of the scope of what it offers and it’s impossible to make that completely straightforward.
But once I felt my way around for half a day I knew where needed to go to make certain changes and little time was wasted thumb wresting the switchblock.
The marque feature is the Adaptive Cruise Control made possible using a front-facing radar and the inclusion of a Blind Spot Detection system that utilises a rear-facing radar.
As an example, Adaptive Cruise Control kicks in when you are travelling at 110kph and approach a car doing say, 100kph at which point the bike will slow to match the car’s speed and keep you at a safe distance. You can adjust that distance to account for highway or city traffic conditions.
Should you choose to pass the car that is wasting precious minutes of your life going 10kph under the speed limit, the radar will recognise you’ve changed into another lane and resume the original cruise speed of 110kph.
The rear radar has the job of alerting you when a vehicle is approaching from behind, at which point a light on the corresponding rear-view mirror will illuminate. It’s not infallible and no reason to stop the head check, but it let me know there was a car in my blind spot almost every time and given the quality of driving where I live, I probably owe the radar a beer.
Simple accidents can be pretty devastating. This kind of tech improves safety but doesn’t ensure it. Use it alongside the standard motorcycle survival skills and it’ll help make most rides less treacherous.
The Multistrada V4S offers four programmed riding modes to choose from: Travel, Enduro, Sport and Urban.
Sport mode is where all the hype about a 170Hp bike comes from. It’s like Zeus himself visits upon throttle twist to gift you a colossal shove forward that requires a nano-second for my brain to catch up with the bike. All the electronic aids are at work so that you can play as hard as you dare and honestly, it’s breathtaking.
Urban is a much friendlier way to get about town with its lowered suspension height and more measured throttle response – I like Urban. Travel is a line dance to Sport’s mosh pit, while Enduro is where I spent most of my time.
You can change the throttle response within each mode across a choice of High, Medium or Low outputs. You can also adjust the electronic suspension to its Soft, Medium, Hard or Hardest settings while the shock presents four levels of pre-load at your fingertips.
The traction control offers eight levels of control or can be turned off while the ABS offers three levels with the lowset cancelling ABS at the rear.
The overly intrusive traction control is the weakest link in the chain. The bike benefits from an amount of rear-wheel steer and given the V4 engine is so smooth, I found it easy enough to control the bike without TC turned on. I tried riding with differing sensitivities at the throttle, and medium offered the best middle point between control and that ability to bring the back around when needed.
So…there’s a bit to take in but if you’re riding offroad a lot then I found the best settings to be:
- Enduro Mode
- Medium throttle
- Traction control off
- ABS off at the rear
- Preload – rider plus luggage
- Thanks to Nick for the input
IS A V4 ANY FUN IN THE BUSH?
It sure as hell is
The new 1158cc, 170 HP V4 Granturismo engine can be both a beast and a bro. Aided by the Akrapovic on our test bike it sounded furious and produced the kind of thrust that puts the fear into the feeble and propels the bikes claimed 218kg (dry) at speed with ease.
But – and I did not expect this – it is capable of plodding along at the most pedestrian speeds and picking over technical terrain that it’s like you’ve jumped on a different bike entirely. It goes from Metallica to Coldplay within metres.
Being a V4 it’s inherently smooth and resistant to stalling, but the supremely easy roll-on in low revs is an absolute joy to play around with and beckons you to venture further into tricky country.
Twist the throttle in anger and the full force is unleashed, which in Enduro mode is cut to around 100Hp. But the linear nature in which it builds, coupled with the way the rear end keeps in check, allows you to pour it on and have some fun when there’s enough track to do so.
It revs up quickly when asked and there’s no guarantee you won’t get yourself in trouble, but I’m impressed predominantly by how easy it was to control at low revs.
We have plenty of hyper-powered bikes that can spin your beanie from 50-feet, but not many of this size can do that as well as pick through a rutted tight single trail with no fear of a stall or fighting for traction.
The engine is mated to a beautiful gearbox that offers lighting fast clutchless shifts, with just the right amount of feedback through your boot. The ratios are spot-on for the range of riding the bike is capable of handling which is no easy feat.
Fuel range varies greatly with right-hand usage, but you will get over 300 kilometres in general riding conditions, less if you’re racing home to catch MAFS, but more if you ride like you’re trying to avoid MAFS. I reckon a safe distance for average riding is 320 kilometres.
IT’S ONLY GOOD FOR THE ROAD, RIGHT?
And now it’s time for a reality check. But first…
Motivation to ride harder is always born from confidence. That confidence comes from a feeling of comfort and predictability in the bike as well as a connection to the terrain.
The Skyhook Suspension system on the Multistrada does a fine job at convincing you it has everything in hand. Even though it’s carrying a 19/17 wheelset there is minimal deflection and redirection when you approach ruts and tree roots.
The entire package is aided by a capable aluminium monocoque frame that offers sharp turning and a good feel from the rider to the rear wheel. It doesn’t change direction like a 1290 Super Adventure but it isn’t pretending to be anything like the big Kato.
And you can push the suspension surprisingly hard before you find its limits, but you will find them.
It’s extremely comfortable at low speeds and the rear stands up to great gobs of accelerative forces. Jumping drainage mounds is best kept on the conservative side, but that brings us to the point where the truest compromise is found between the road and the dirt.
The Ducati isn’t designed to jump anything, but there I was…jumping. Because the bike gave all the signals that it was up for it. I caught three trailbike riders and stopped for a chat. They asked if I knew where any good single trail was and I showed them, riding in with them right on their back wheels the whole time.
WHAT’S STOPPING YOU?
This is an incredibly capable motorcycle. But…
It’s a very expensive motorcycle. And it has a lot of lovely bodywork that isn’t built to take the rough and tumble of vigorous offroad riding. And in that bodywork – which includes a long tailpiece, enormous rear wheel mudguard and quite a few forward seams – rest two separate radars. Not something you find on many bikes in the bush for good reason.
And we need to be honest here about something; when you see a journo like me riding a 1200 on single trail, I’m not finding answers to any genuine questions. I’m doing something nobody will do on a Ducati Multistrada V4S on an actual adventure ride unless they’ve been chased in there by Somali pirates. It’s a fairly unlikely scenario.
I did it because it seemed fun at the time, and the bike encouraged me to do it. I’ll post the GoPro video on our socials for you to see but remember, I’m there because the bike did nothing to tell me I shouldn’t be.
This is so far from my first thought when I looked at the Ducati being delivered to ADV LIFE HQ.
The bike has shown me it’s far more than I imagined it would be. But there’s a point where sanity must prevail, and you do not push your luck riding super technical stuff on a bike that’s approaching $40,000.
No, instead you live safe in the knowledge that you can escape pirates but choose a life of relative safety on those wide-open trails and winding roads. That’s where the Ducati is most at home and where you’ll find a stunning and exciting ride.
That’s where you’ll really allow that engine to sing and take advantage of the differing ride modes and suspension feels as well as the comfort and safety features. Give the Ducati some room and it will impress anyone with a pulse.
The Multistrada V4S is an adventure tourer extraordinaire.