Indefinitely Wild

This New Ducati Is the Most Versatile Bike on the Road

Ducati's latest adventure bike isn't its fastest, but it is better off-road, easier to ride, and $4K cheaper than its big brother

Priced at $13,995, the Multistrada 950 is still a premium motorcycle, but an accessible one, at least by adventure bike standards. (Ducati)

Ducati’s midsize motorcycles are always its best. The 959 Panigale is sharper handling and more fun to ride than its big brother, the 1299. You can say the same about the Monster 821 versus the 1200. Now Ducati’s adventure bike is finally getting the midsize treatment. Can the benefits of a smaller motor make this new Multistrada 950 better than the 1200?

What Is It?

The adventure motorcycle category is broad. These rigs are supposed to be motorcycles you can ride around the world, carrying all the camping gear, tools, and spare parts you might need while giving you the ability to tackle any type of road you might encounter, especially difficult dirt roads.

A long time ago, that meant scaled-up dirt bikes with thickly padded seats, large fuel tanks, and big windscreens. But the tall, comfortable riding position paired so well with tossable handling and responsive engines that the formula also proved popular with road riders. To beef up their highway ability, the engines grew larger and gained more cylinders. The bikes grew fancier, more expensive, and more comfortable. Today, when you say “adventure bike,” most people picture $25,000 BMWs, not scuffed-up dirt bikes.

In 2003, Ducati launched the first adventure bike intended for road use only. The Multistrada 1000 was tall and narrow like a dirt bike but fitted with the 17-inch wheels and road performance tires of a superbike. It was comfortable enough for all-day rides while also being lightweight and nimble.

Seven years later, Ducati refined that formula with the all-new 2010 Multistrada 1200, powered by the brand’s incredible 1,198cc liquid-cooled V-twin. With it, Ducati reenvisioned the Multistrada as the ultimate performance bike for the road. The tall, comfortable riding position was still there, but it was paired with high-quality suspension with long, well-damped travel suited to smoothing out bumpy roads. Its 150-horsepower engine was capable of leaving superbikes in its dust on mountain roads. Away from the track, its good vision, swift steering, compliant suspension, and monstrous torque made the bike fast.

But just like on a superbike, managing huge power requires a huge rear tire. Where the 1200 wears a meaty 190/55 17-inch item, this new 950 is able to make do with a narrower 170/60 17. The difference may seem inconsequential at first, but the considerably steeper profile leans over faster, transforming a bike that already steers very quickly into one that steers lightning fast. It’s the same trick (along with a shorter wheelbase) that gives the smaller Panigale the handling edge over the bigger model. Again, the smaller Ducati is the better Ducati.

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Designing the 950, Ducati drew from both the regular Multistrada 1200 and the Enduro. (Ducati)

Who’s It For?

At $13,995, the Multistrada 950 not only undercuts the $17,995 1200 but also offers most of that bike’s performance and is even more versatile. It’s more accessible price-wise, more approachable for intermediate riders, and a bit better off-road than its big brother.

Smaller holes aren’t cheaper holes. To save money over the 1200, the 950 does without some of its sophisticated rider-aiding technology. Bosch’s incredible cornering ABS is replaced with the old-fashioned kind, and the 1200’s electronically adjustable suspension is replaced with a screwdriver. So, it won’t ride itself out of potential crashes for you, and you can’t just push a button and adapt the 950’s suspension to varying conditions. But that doesn’t matter, because the 950 works just fine as it comes.

That little bit of extra dirt-road ability is courtesy of a 19-inch front wheel (the 1200’s front wheel is 17 inches). The larger dimension helps it better clear obstacles, while the narrower contact patch tracks straighter through the rough stuff. It’s a good compromise: the Multi 950 still wears street tires, so sizing up just a hair keeps the on-road responsiveness. With a tall riding position, torquey V-twin, sportbike handling, confident brakes, supple suspension, and protective fairing, this is a bike that works just as well in the city as it does on the open road.

The Multistrada wouldn’t be our first pick for a dedicated commuter, track bike, tourer, or camping rig, but it would be our first pick for a bike that can handle all those duties in a single package.

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On the road, the Multistrada's wide handlebars contribute to rapid steering, while the tall, upright riding position facilitates excellent vision. That works in the mountains as well as it does in city traffic. (Ducati)

Riding It

The narrow, winding coastal roads on the island of Fuerteventura, located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco, are the ideal proving grounds for a bike like this. Then there are the routes that pass over the island’s volcanic interior, which start in shaded hairpins as they climb away from the sea and are often damp through the morning, before the sun reaches them. Once the pines give way to barren volcanic planes, the constant wind blankets the roads in dust and pebbles. The views up there are incredible, but the riding remains challenging: the constant nightly cycle of heating and cooling in this desert fractures the pavement, turning it into a bumpy mess.

You wouldn’t want to bring a Panigale here. Its tall gearing and head-down riding position would make it miserable in traffic. Its massive power, track-focused rubber, and tight dimensions would make the damp hairpins potentially deadly. Its razor-sharp suspension would tie itself in knots. And you’d have zero vision around the blind corners on the one-lane roads.

But on the Multistrada, you can just relax, go fast, and have fun.

Peak torque is down from 100 pound-feet on the 1200 to just 71 on the 950. But with 113 horsepower and a flexible power band, the smaller V-twin still delivers plenty of get-up-and-go. Unlike the bigger bike, you don’t have to worry so much about overwhelming the back tire or rely on electronics to do that, which means you get to give the 950 bigger throttle openings and higher revs. I don’t know about you, but I like the work the bikes I’m riding, and here with sub-superbike straightline, you actually get to do that.

The 950’s suspension is still long travel, at 6.7 inches front and rear, and is still well damped despite cheaper components, so it still keeps the tires in contact with the road over bumps. On difficult roads like these, that allows the Multistrada 950 to retain the surprising speed of its larger sibling. You’ll be faster on roads like these on this midsize adventure bike than you will be on any race replica.

Back at the hotel, just before dark, I confidently stepped off the bike without aching legs, sore wrists, back spasms, or even numb hands. On the road, and even over long distances, this is a performance motorcycle you actually want to spend time on.

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Just a few years ago, a comprehensive LCD dash like this one would have been cutting edge. Now, with full-color, high-resolution TFT screens on high-end models, it's barely notable. (Ducati)

Likes

  • The $13,995 price makes it comparable to the Honda Africa Twin and BMW F800GS. It’s better on the road than either.
  • Long service intervals: 9,000 miles between oil changes; 18,000 between valve adjustments.
  • Sounds like a Panigale.
  • The 19-inch front wheel makes off-pavement riding more realistic, if still not optimal.
  • Eighty percent of torque is available from 3,500 RPM, all the way up to 9,500, making its performance very flexible.
  • Touratech already has a full range of upgrades available.
  • Good at everything, as long as that thing is on pavement.
  • Lower seat height comes without sacrificing suspension travel.

Dislikes

  • Stock wheels are cast aluminum, which you’ll break during any serious off-roading.
  • We really miss Bosch’s cornering ABS. It’s a game changer when it comes to riding safely.
  • Might not give you goose bumps as easily as the 1200.

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Options include color-matched panniers and top box, radiator guard, skid plate, and more, but you'll do better in the Touratech catalog. (Ducati)

Should You Buy One?

Here in the United States, motorcycles are mostly bought as toys. If you’re buying a toy, buying the fastest or flashiest is an easier decision than buying something fun but practical. For those few of us who ride every day, cover long distances, and don’t let weather or road conditions stop us, nothing is more fun than doing that on a Multistrada.

This new 950 makes the Multistrada more accessible to a wider group of riders without sacrificing much beyond the ability to scare yourself with the throttle. Does the formula prove true? Yeah, I think the midsize Multistrada is the best Multistrada yet.

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