Powerful, provocative, potent, and practical?
Three things typically come to mind when people think of Ducati: speed, timeless design, and the color red. None of those screams practicality, though, and neither does a V4 engine. Notoriously thirsty, frequently high-strung, and expensive to produce, modern V4s are more synonymous with power and performance than pragmatism. Ducati ignored that memo when it designed the Multistrada V4 S, but that doesn’t make the new ADV at all impractical.
In actuality, the company went to great lengths to make the latest Multi more utilitarian with added comfort, technology, off-road capability, and a new V4 powerplant. A dual-sided swingarm eases rear wheel repairs and adjustments. A monocoque chassis steps in for the traditional trellis frame. The spring valvetrain relaxes services to 9,000 miles and 36,000 miles for valve checks. All logical moves for Ducati, all transformative steps for the Multistrada.
On top of those revisions, the House of Borgo Panigale debuts adaptive cruise control and blind spot detection with the V4 S. Developed in partnership with Bosch, the new radar technology takes motorcycle safety to even greater heights. However, with all that safety and practicality, can it still feel like a Ducati? To answer that question, we hopped aboard the 2021 Multistrada V4 S for a day of exploring in Borrego Springs, California. Spoiler alert, the Duc didn’t disappoint.
Ducati’s Testastretta L-twin has powered the Multistrada platform since 2010. Over the past decade, the four-valve, liquid-cooled powerplant continued evolving, earning variable valve timing in 2015 before moving up to 1,262cc in 2018. Despite the engine’s success, the Multi was due for another upgrade in 2021. This time, the new mill came with two more cylinders. The Panigale V4’s Desmosedici Stradale was Ducati’s clear candidate for the new Multistrada, but the 214 peak horsepower was an excessive figure for an adventure bike.
To temper the 16-valve V4 for touring and off-road use, a model-specific tune nets 170 horsepower at 10,500 rpm and 92.2 lb-ft of torque at 8,750 rpm. Springs also replace the Desmodromic valvetrain in 2021, extending maintenance intervals to nearly three-times that of the Multi’s competitors. All those changes resulted in a completely different engine, prompting a new name: the V4 Grandturismo.
Compared to its L-twin successor, the Grandturismo is 2.6 pounds lighter and more compact overall. Aside from increasing peak power to 170 horsepower, the Grandturismo improves torque over the Testastretta by 16 percent at 50 mph and 25 percent at both 62 mph and 75 mph (in third gear).
Gallery: 2021 Ducati Multistrada V4 S
Hardcore Ducatisti might scoff at the prospect of spring valves, but all valvetrain debates go out the window once you twist the Multistrada’s throttle. Up to 5,000 rpm, the power delivery was smooth and linear. Thereafter, mid-range power rushes up to 8,000 rpm. Even with that power surge, I never felt out of control on the big adventurer. Its four ride modes and impeccable road manners probably had something to do with that.
On the open road, Touring mode was a no-brainer. It also proved useful in tight canyons where reduced horsepower helped negotiate technical turns. Predictably, Sport mode brought the ruckus, lightening the front wheel under hard acceleration. Spirited riding through the esses also showcased the Granturismo’s counter-rotating crankshaft, a feature that noticeably improved side-to-side transitions. While each ride mode imbued the Multistrada with distinct characteristics, the V4 was even more forgiving in other situations.
At one point in the ride, I failed to downshift from third gear on approach to a 20-mph corner. I assumed the V4 would bog mid-turn and stutter out of the exit. Instead, the almighty mill picked up instantly, compensating for my absentminded mistake. The Multi was just as merciful at the other end of the spectrum as well. In sixth gear, the Granturismo hummed along at 70 mph with just 4,500 rpm, but it was never too docile to overtake traffic or pull away from potential hazards.
Surprisingly, the V4 was ready to play (nice) at all speeds and the lenient maintenance schedule should help Multistrada owners cover even more ground. Of course, if you’re going to spend extended periods of time in the saddle, some added comfort would help and Ducati delivered with the V4 S.
Since adventure bikes frequently double as tourers, Ducati equipped the Multistrada V4 S as such. The plush seat suits all-day riding for both the rider and passenger. After six hours in the saddle, the Multi’s cockpit felt just as welcoming as the moment I first swung a leg over. It also helps that Ducati designed the V4 S to move heat on those sweltering days while also delivering heat during chilly rides.
While most modern superbikes adopt bi-plane winglets to minimize high-speed wheelies, the Mulitstrada utilizes them to redirect air into the cockpit. The circulating breeze simultaneously cools the rider and shuttles hot air off the V4 engine. A series of gills and thermal tunnels near the radiators also amplify the temperature-regulating properties and the wind stream was easily detectable when I placed my hand over the slits. You won’t notice the cooling effect at speed, but you can trust that the new aerodynamic appendages are doing their job.
Despite Ducati’s best efforts, however, they couldn’t negate the engine heat completely. In the early afternoon, when the temperature reached 82 degrees (F), the left side of the Granturismo radiated a notable amount of heat. It wasn’t thigh-roasting, but it was definitely perceptible. Thanks to the low desert heat, we didn’t need to activate the heated grips or heated seats during our time with the V4 S, but it never hurts to have the feature at your fingertips.
Another creature comfort that only required one digit was Ducati’s brilliant windscreen. With one quick motion, the system instantly reduced buffeting or increased airflow. The one-finger actuation isn’t only effortless but comes in handy in the most unexpected situations. After peeling off the highway and onto a secluded canyon road, the bike in front of me started kicking up loose pebbles. As we swiftly approached a corner, I was still able to shift the windshield into the high position without spoiling my line. The side deflectors also did a great job of keeping the wind off my shoulders and virtually turned the Multistrada’s cockpit into a climate-controlled bubble.
Aside from the aerodynamics, heated doodads, and intuitive windshield, the designers improved ergonomics by increasing the distance between the seat and footpeg. On that note, Ducati lists stock seat height as 33.1 inches but the narrow midsection eases stand-over. A high position on the stock saddle also lifts seat height to 33.9 for those inseam-gifted folks. With a 32-inch inseam, I easily flat-footed the Multistrada V4 S, which is especially valuable when you take the premium motorcycle of its stature into unknown territory.
Most adventure riders see the Multistrada family as a road-oriented alternative to BMW’s R 1250 GS and KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure R, but Ducati upped its dirt game with the V4 S. The large-displacement ADV opts for a 19-inch front wheel this time around, making off-road exploration more feasible. That change also broadens tire selection for the V4 S with Ducati offering 50/50 and 30/70 options in the form of Pirelli’s Scorpion Rally a Scorpion Rally STR tires, respectively.
To further enhance the Multi’s off-road prowess, Ducati adopted the 1260 Enduro’s dual-sided swingarm to the new ADV and improved on the design in the process. Catalog upgrades also include tubeless spoked wheels and crash protection for the off-road-inclined. A dedicated Enduro mode and center stand cater to the trailblazers and Skyhook suspension should adapt to all varieties of terrain.
For the dirt portion of the day, Ducati hooked us up with wire-spoked wheels shod in Scorpion Rally rubber, engine guards, and a skid plate. I must admit, off-road riding isn’t my forte, especially aboard a big adventure bike. With that in mind, my goal wasn’t to impress on the Multistrada. I just wanted to get it back to the trailhead without testing the crash bars. Thankfully, I pulled it off, but I can’t take much credit. The V4 S wasn’t so much under my charge as I was under its.
With the Enduro ride mode activated, our off-road guide suggested stiffening the rear suspension to the hard setting, the front to the hardest option, and the preload to auto. I didn't use the improved responsiveness to push the pace, though. Instead, the accurate feedback signaled when to let the bike do the work. When the back end broke loose, I eased up on the bars. As the front started to tuck, I leaned back to hook up the rear. Like following a lead dancer, I took cues from the Multistrada, not the other way around.
That approach helped me get out of the Ducati’s way. At times, I was just along for the ride. The active suspension even adjusted to endlessly changing conditions without my input. By the end of the day, I was more confident than ever, even catching modest air from a second-gear jump. Full-size adventure bikes can intimidate many a novice off-road rider, but the Multistrada’s malleable personality and suspension made things much more manageable.
Last but not least, Ducati takes safety to uncharted territory with new radar technology. Leading up to the Multistrada V4’s release, the company touted its Bosch-developed adaptive cruise control (ACC) as the first implementation in the motorcycle sector. Examples from BMW and KTM will follow close behind, but what’s most surprising is the system’s efficacy out of the gate.
As motorcyclists, we’re used to rider aids improving with time (ahem, traction control), but Ducati’s first crack at ACC rose to the occasion. Activated at the left switchgear, the cruise control works similar to those found in automobiles, but Ducati added two additional ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ buttons to control the ACC’s trailing distance.
The system allows users to dial following distance to near, medium, far, or farther, but even in the closest setting, it's never too close for comfort. The cushion provided ensures enough time to react to traffic or disengage the cruise control altogether. To do so, users simply brush the brakes, roll the throttle forward, or turn off the system with the designated buttons. Along with the distance options, one very useful ACC feature was assisted overtaking.
With the system activated and the cruise control speed set higher than your current speed, the Multistrada applies throttle when the blinkers are initiated and the IMU detects lean. Of course, both front and rear radar units have to work in sync and ensure you’re not pulling into an unoccupied lane (fore or aft). Acceleration only occurs when those criteria are met, but the assisted overtake worked seamlessly each time.
Whether we were trailing a line of cars or pulling ahead of the pack, the adaptive cruise control introduced speed or braking immediately yet gradually. None of the autonomous inputs felt jarring or out of control. The switchgear was also easy to use and offered ample adjustability on the fly. Though the near setting provided more than enough stopping room, the system extended following distances with just the touch of a button. Overall, the ACC was gentler and more nuanced than I anticipated and I look forward to other iterations coming to market soon.
While a good part of the day was dedicated to Ducati’s new ACC, the V4 S showed off other class-leading features that didn’t get as much hype. Arguably more useful than adaptive cruise control, the blind spot detection proved its worth throughout the day. Connected to the rear-mounted radar, blinking LED at the top of each mirror alerted me each time a vehicle moved alongside the Multistrada. The strobe increased as the vehicle approached or if the IMU detected me leaning in that direction.
What’s great about blind-spot detection is that it isn’t as intrusive as adaptive cruise control. For those riders that aren’t comfortable with turning the reigns over to computers just yet, blind spot detection should still be a reason to give the Multistrada V4 a shot. The safety system is already prevalent in modern cars and if more OEMs apply it similarly to Ducati, we’ll all be that much safer on two wheels.
Aside from the two headlining tech upgrades, Ducati’s latest quickshifter left an indelible impression on me. Linked to the IMU, the bi-directional quickshifter takes lean angle into account to ensure smooth transitions. At one point, I shifted in the middle of a turn and the system lengthened the gear engagement as not to upset the cranked over chassis. Even when the quickshifter wasn’t making up for my mistakes, it eased hard acceleration and braking. Ducati’s quickshifter should stand as the industry benchmark, as many modern quickshifters still have to iron out clunky and mechanical applications.
By improving the engine, comfort, off-road ability, and technology, Ducati armed the new Multistrada to take on all competitors. The Bologna brand has always positioned its ADV platform as a four-in-one bike, capturing touring, sport riding, off-roading, and urban in one bike. With the latest update, Ducati shores up the things the Multistrada already did well while addressing key areas of improvement.
Aside from the aforementioned engine heat and trouble finding neutral throughout the day, my time with the 2021 Multistrada V4 S was thoroughly enjoyable. Before hopping aboard, I anticipated multiple tip-overs in the dirt and the power pulling my shoulders out of socket. Instead, the Multi’s approachable nature, all-day comfort, and numerous safety nets made me see the House of Borgo Panigale in a new light. Now, when I think of Ducati, speed, timeless design, and the color red won’t just come to mind. Practicality will too.