Fifteen years ago, everyone had to sell cruisers. But these days, adventure bikes have become the must-have class. For 2016, it’s Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro.
The Dirty Ducati
Ducatisti accustomed to their brand being synonymous with red sportbikes and uber-powerful V-Twins better get used to it: adventure motorcycles are now part of Ducati’s portfolio. There’s no reason why not. The adventure class has become mainstream and whoever doesn’t offer one of these globetrotters is now a minority. In Ducati’s case, as the lineup already includes the adventure-ish Multistrada 1200S, it made sense to use it as a starting point to build a proper adventure model. At least in theory, adding appropriately sized wheels and off-road capable suspension seemed all the necessary mods the MS 1200S required.
A quick glimpse at the new for ($22,395) reveals this is in essence (see tech sidebar for details) how Ducati built a model to rival Yamaha’s Super Ténéré, Triumph’s Explorer, KTM’s 1190 Adventure and, of course, BMW’s R1200GS. One thing for sure: with its protruding beak, long legs and boxy aluminum bags, the MS 1200 Enduro looks the part, while brochure images showing it with both wheels way off the ground in various apocalyptic landscapes make no bones about its promised capabilities.
So, mission accomplished? Not so fast. As anyone who knows anything about adventure bikes understands full well, the offerings in this class aren’t equal. All the models mentioned above are street bikes so good they actually make great touring motorcycles. All offer the natural upright riding position typical of adventure bikes, all have soft long-travel suspension, and all are powered by generously torquey, plenty powerful and nice sounding 1200cc motors. Every one of those characteristics can be found on the new Multistrada 1200 Enduro. What distinguishes adventure models, then, really isn’t how nice they are on pavement (they almost all are by definition), but rather how well they handle off-road conditions. So getting them dirty is essential before any sort of credibility is given to them, no matter if very few owners actually get further than the occasional gravel road.
To its credit, Ducati didn’t shy away from this and asked for experienced and capable off-road riders only to attend the model launch, then organized an equal part pavement versus dirt test day. The norm for these events is much more biased toward pavement riding, with only a short off-road loop.
The street portion of the launch didn’t generate many surprises. Maybe the biggest is that on asphalt the Multistrada 1200 Enduro is a significantly different motorcycle than the MS 1200S upon which it’s based. The latter feels like a streetbike with adventure-type ergos on tall suspension (what I call a crossover) and is properly fast and agile. The Enduro almost feels like a different model altogether: it’s bigger, wider, heavier and taller, all of which gives it a more intimidating, less rider-friendly nature, especially at low speeds and in tight maneuvering. To a tall and experienced rider, it’s not a big deal, but to the lesser advanced or the shorter, it can be a handful. Get moving and not only does the weight disappear but the entire ride experience makes more sense.
Shod with stock tires and out on the magnificently scenic and twisty roads of Sardinia—where this new model’s press introduction was hosted—the Enduro behaved lightly and gracefully, demanding very little effort to lean over and staying solid and precise even during hard riding.
However, the general feel clearly isn’t as tight and purposeful and especially as sporty as what the MS 1200S offers, so the Enduro isn’t an off-road capable sportbike. In this application, the Multistrada has instead become a comfortable and well-equipped off-road capable streetbike.
The performance situation is similar. Although Ducati claims the same 160 hp on both Multis, the Enduro is heavier and delivers its power with much more calm and in linear fashion. Full throttle acceleration is strong, but the purebred high-performance feel of the MS 1200S just isn’t there, even though gearing is considerably shorter to help with off-road riding. Although there was no MS 1200S for direct comparison, it’s clear the Enduro does rev higher at highway speeds, while its engine sounds more muffled, probably the result of the more stringent Euro 4 emissions it must meet as a new-for-2016 model.
Switching to bikes shod with knobbies and with the aluminum bags removed in the afternoon, we headed for the dirt. Riding off-road is sometimes taken for granted in North America, but the fact is it’s not at all as widely permitted in other parts of the world. So, to not only be in Sardinia, but to have the chance to get up close and personal with the Italian island’s nature was a true privilege.
There, the Enduro surprised. It’s a big bike, as all the 1200 adventure machines are, and it has no way of masking its 254 kilos curb weight (19 kg more than the MS 1200S), but what does allow it to be remarkably efficient over pretty rough terrain and even at a brisk pace is its amazing suspension. Over easy trails with a surface mix of gravel, small rocks and dirt, the Enduro glides. So much so that analyzing the exact composition of the ground becomes unnecessary: it will easily take the ground without fear of either bottoming or a hard hit resulting in a puncture. Just stand up, look far and go as fast as you have the heart for. Fortunately, the ABS works very well—there’s an off-road mode that keeps it active on the front wheel only—so slowing down quickly for a sharper than expected turn or a very damaged portion of trail is just a matter of hitting the excellent brakes and letting the electronics do their thing.
Nor is there any hiding the Enduro’s mass or its tall seat, so in tighter conditions like switchbacks, the best thing is to be patient and deal with the turn sanely. The fun will be back as soon as the throttle is opened.
There were a few “pros” in our group, guys from dedicated off-road publications and more than one of them hit the ground wanting to show off, mostly in tight and low-speed stuff. In one case, I stopped to help one who was struggling to get the big 1200 off the ground. He wasn’t hurt at all and the bike was still rideable, but it was damaged. A word of advice for serious off-roaders (or show-offs): invest in good crash bars.
The Enduro kept surprising when the going got tougher. Steep hills covered with big rocks, some loose some not, were climbed and descended without issue. In such conditions, the amazing work of the long-travel, semi-active suspension was still the star, but going uphill, the V-Twin’s very low rpm grunt was also worthy of mention.
As mentioned earlier, the Enduro’s V-Twin has shorter gearing and a different tuning than the S-bike and this is the main reason. Ducatis typically aren’t fond of super low revs and only become usable above, say, 2,000 rpms. But climbing a rocky hill or negotiating a sharp turn off-road require excellent off-idle engine response and in this regard, the Enduro setup works well.
What Ducati achieved with the Multistrada 1200 Enduro isn’t necessarily class leading or ground breaking —other than the very impressive performance from the semi-active fork and shock, that is— but it’s still remarkable. Here’s a manufacturer renowned for its sportbikes and best-in-the-world sporty V-Twins who’s basically a virgin as far as anything truly off-road is concerned. And yet, what it offers in the Enduro is a properly credible and capable adventure machine. Its most impressive characteristic isn’t that it’s so good and competent in the dirt, but rather that it’s both that AND a very good street/travel companion. Heavyweight adventure bikes typically offer one or the other; in other words, they’re either very good on the street but have limited capabilities on the dirt or vice versa. The one exception is the BMW R1200GS, which is genuinely excellent on or off pavement, a quality that’s at the core of its reputation. And now Ducati, with its first adventure model, offers a similar dual competency. That, I wasn’t expecting.
The Ducati 1200 Enduro : Technically speaking
The Ducati 1200 Enduro is considerably more than a modified Multistrada 1200S. The list of parts specifically developed for the new model is extensive and includes 19/17-inch wheels and semi-active suspension with 200mm travel front and rear (30mm more than the MS 1200S). There’s a longer, stiffer swingarm, higher handlebar and extended reinforced skid plate. The list goes on and on. As it does with the Multistrada 1200S, Ducati offers several accessory packages for the Enduro: Touring, Enduro, Sport and Urban.
by Bertrand Gahel