There’s no such thing as perfect, but, man, the Ducati Multistrada 950 comes close. OK, well, actually, there are two pretty glaring imperfections, but after recently getting a chance to put 2,000 miles on the middleweight adventure-sport I feel I’d happily suffer them for the sake of all the things it does right.
The Multistrada 950 was introduced last year but seems to have already gotten a little lost in the noise of all the other things Ducati has been doing—a new Scrambler variant every other week, and the delightfully batshit Multistrada 1260 among them. I got a chance to ride the 1260 for the first time not too long ago and it really is nutso. Fun, but possibly too insane for everyday use.
Powered by the same 937cc Testastretta L-twin engine you’ll find in Ducati’s Hypermotard, the 113hp Multistrada 950 is never boring, but can be put too less exciting tasks like getting from point A to point B without earning you a license ban. For me, it’s an easy winner when compared against any number of adventure-styled all-rounders, including a few that are more powerful and tech-loaded.
Two Weeks and 2,000 Miles
I spent a fortnight (Lookit you and your fancy British words - JM) with the Multistrada 950 and really wish it could have been more. Rain or shine, I rode the bike every day, simply because I couldn’t get enough of it.
The bulk of those miles were run up when taking the bike north to the Scottish Borders, but I had so much fun covering big distances that I also threw in a trip to South Downs National Park (in southern England), and a 200-mile wander through Mid-Wales. I rode the bike in pretty much every paved scenario imaginable: big motorways, tiny country lanes, wide open spaces, and stopped-dead traffic. “Multistrada,” of course, is simply Italian for “multi-road”—after my time with it I can confirm this motorcycle's abilities meet its description.
Navigating the urban jungle is probably where the Multistrada 950 is weakest. That shouldn’t really be the case, though, considering how well balanced it is and how generous is the steering lock.
At one point during my time with the bike, I made the mistake of riding a very long stretch of the M25 during the middle of the day. For those of you who aren’t nerds for Britain’s motorway network, the M25 is a massive parking lot that encircles London. At 01:00 on a Sunday it’s not too bad but at all other times it is heavily congested.
On this particular occasion, it was even more so than usual because a large crane-carrying truck had broken down in one of the middle lanes. Highway officials blocked all the lanes while they tried to figure out how to deal with the issue and traffic quickly backed up for about 9 miles. The Multistrada 950 was able to deftly work its way through gaps and even around cars—Royal Jordanian-style—when necessary.
The bike is equipped with a number of riding modes—Sport, Touring, Urban, and Enduro—with Urban delivering a smoother throttle, but I found keeping things in Sport was ideal here since it allowed me to jump from gap to gap, all the way to the very front of the queue, where I was able to watch fellas in high-vis jackets confer with one another on what to do. I was also able to shut off the bike and step away from it, which was beneficial because the thing was spitting heat. Therein lies one of the “glaring imperfections” I mentioned at the start. The Multistrada 950 can get pretty toasty.
Hot engines seem to be a Ducati thing, and as a Texan who shivers through roughly 10 months of the British year I’d personally see it as a beneficial feature. Indeed, the number of times I find myself filtering through standstill M25 traffic on a 80-degree day are few and far between enough that this warmth wouldn’t negatively affect my buying decision. Riders of different temperaments may want to consider this aspect, however.
Ducatis are made for curvy roads. That’s a known thing. So, I’ll give you one guess as to how the Multistrada 950 performed on the beautiful sweeping bends of the Scottish Borders and the tight angles of Mid-Wales. If you said anything other than “brilliantly,” you’re playing the game wrong.
Stock Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires take a little longer to warm up than I’d like, but once the shoes are ready the bike is eager to dance. Its not-inconsiderable 505-pound curb weight is proportioned so perfectly that the 950 feels far lighter, far more nimble. The riding position sets you close to relatively wide bars, allowing for easy and confident steering.
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Particularly aggressive riders will probably long for a firmer suspension. Rear preload is easily adjustable but the front remains a little dirt-bikey for a motorcycle that is almost certainly going to be kept on the road despite its appearance and sharing DNA with the 1200 Enduro. In aggressive braking the front dives quite a bit, which means having to adopt a RoSPA style of riding—going into corners at the speed you intend to go through and keeping off the brakes. Again, personal preference comes into play here, but it’s not something that bothered me.
Meanwhile, I will admit to being a little concerned about the bike’s other “glaring imperfection”—the transmission. Wonky gearboxes are seemingly also a Ducati “thing,” having been present on every other Ducati I’ve ever ridden. It was most noticeable around fourth gear—going from 3rd to 4th or 5th to 4th—where I would often find a false neutral.
The 950 has fewer electronic bells and whistles than its 1200 Enduro and 1260 brethren, but what it does have is impressive. In the real world of imperfect roads and unpredictable variables I found it difficult to tell the difference between the Sport and Touring riding modes, but for the observation that fuel economy is counterintuitively better in Sport. Both modes deliver full power and do so magnificently at relatively low revs. Indeed, the almost instant wallop that comes from twisting the throttle takes just a little getting used to for someone familiar with the unhurried smoothness of a Triumph Tiger Explorer.
Urban mode limits power to 75 hp, subdues throttle response, and cranks the traction control to maximum. To my mind, that actually makes it a rain mode, which I used when I got stuck in some severe thunderstorms on the way home from Scotland. The storms caused some pretty intense flooding, so I can tell you from experience that the 950 is unfazed by standing water.
One of the reasons I threw some extra long-haul trips into my time with the Multistrada 950 is the fact it is so damned good on the freeway. I have encountered very few bikes that tackle a long superslab slog as well as this machine. That includes luxury liners like the Victory Vision (RIP) and speedy continent crossers like the Kawasaki GTR1400.
Folks used to the ergonomics of an adventure bike will find the 950 to be more compact than on… well… any other adventure/adventure-sport machine. After some initial moments of muttering, “Hmm, I’m not sure about this,” I started to realize it was actually quite comfortable, even for my 6-foot-1 frame.
Everything is closer and thereby feels more accessible, more useable, more functional. Case in point: the windscreen. Just looking at it, I felt that it wouldn’t be very effective. Because of my proximity to it when riding however, I found it performed excellently. It’s refreshingly low-tech and easily adjustable with one hand while on the move, and does a great job of keeping weather off the core of the body.
The seat, meanwhile, is cosseting but allows some wiggle room for when the task of racking up the miles puts ants in your pants. Passenger accommodation is agreeable, too. My wife hopped on the back and reported that things were good. She especially liked the fact the seat put her a little higher than when joining me on my Tiger Explorer, which meant she was able to see over my head a little better.
Throw down the extra cash for the Touring pack and you’ll get panniers that can accommodate 56 liters of storage—the right pannier giving up a decent amount of space to make room for the exhaust—and a center stand. Personally, I feel that any distance-focused bike with a chain should come standard with a center stand. Oh, and heated grips. Ducati disagrees. Equally disappointing is the absence of a cruise control option. Considering the fact it’s available on the 1200 Enduro and 1260 I don’t entirely understand why it’s not at least offered as an accessory.
Riding the Multistrada 950 has a certain decadent feel, so it’s somewhat hard to imagine as a daily grind machine. Or, perhaps it would be more correct to say it is hard to imagine feeling the daily grind if you rode around on a 950. Certainly there’s every reason to believe the bike is capable. It’s comfortable, easy to live with, and, when equipped with panniers, can hold all the bits and bobs a person might regularly haul to work.
Fuel economy is decent. Keep your riding within the letter of the law and you’ll easily manage in excess of 200 miles from the 20-liter tank. Ride it like a Ducati and you’ll need to stop closer to the 180-mile mark.
The only quirk to regular use is the fact you need to give the bike time to warm up before first setting out. I found it preferred to have a full 90 seconds to two minutes of warm up if I didn’t want to stall out at the first stoplight. That’s kind of a weird issue for a bike to have in 2018, and it makes me wonder how reliable it would be in the dead of winter, but there you go. In turning on the bike before I put in earplugs, threw on my helmet, and adjusted my gloves, I didn’t actually “lose” any time.
The Little Things
In addition to the need for warm-up time, another quibble I had with the Multistrada 950 was the fact the switch for the riding mode menu is the same as the one used for the indicator. If you are the sort of person who compulsively presses the indicator switch multiple times to ensure it’s cancelled, there’s an off chance you’ll end up changing the bike’s riding mode in the process. This never actually happened, but I can imagine a scenario in which it might.
Another wee lament is the placement of the front DIN socket. The 12v socket is ostensibly there for you to plug in heated gear or electronics, but the plug for any such equipment will end up hitting the ‘bars when you turn left. Fortunately, there is another DIN socket, as well as a USB socket, under the easily accessible passenger seat.
The Best Things
The sound, y’all. Great googly moogly, the sound. The Multistrada 950 has one of the best stock soundtracks I’ve heard on a bike. I cannot imagine how Ducati managed to build a bike that sounds this good while still having it adhere to Euro IV regulations. Considering the fact Ducati is owned by Volkswagen, maybe it hasn’t—but who the hell cares? Indeed, when you accelerate on this bike the sound and feel are such that any other concern you may have is eradicated.
That transmission’s not the best…
Yeah, but Braaaaaaaaap!
The engine certainly puts out a fair bit of heat…
Yeah, but Braaaaaaaaap! Braaap, braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap!
Have you noticed how the designers don’t appear to have actually considered how someone might strap a bag to the rear seat?
The Ducati Multistrada 950 is a really, really good motorcycle, y’all. When it was first introduced, a lot of sportbike-loving moto-journalists offered a lukewarm reception because it didn’t make them poop their pants with its intensity and madness. Because the bike didn’t turn them into a gibbering wreck, clinging to the ground and whimpering, “Please, hold me”—as some Ducatis have the power to do—they kind of lost sight of what a fantastic motorcycle it really is.
For me, the bike has earned a spot amongst my all-time favorites, right up there with the Triumph Tiger Sport. In fact, it even competes with that bike as my No. 1. The Triumph has a more reliable transmission, more power, and costs less, but, you know, braaaaap. There's also the fact the Multistrada 950 looks better than the Triumph. Interestingly, both bikes are woefully underrated. I feel that’s particularly unfair in the case of the Multistrada 950.
Placed in its class—among the likes of the Triumph Tiger 800, Suzuki V-Strom 1000, Kawasaki Versys 1000, Yamaha Tracer 900, and… uh… I guess the Honda Africa Twin—it’s the easy winner. You have to go up the performance and price scale to find a worthy opponent, and even when placed against the likes of the BMW R 1200 GS it comes out ahead on paved roads.
The 950 has gotten a little lost in Ducati’s line-up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great find. To my mind, it’s a Mary Poppins bike: practically perfect in every way.