Years ago I shared a cubicle with a Scotsman. It was my first real job and I was often bored, passing time drooling over new motorcycles while trying to explain to him why they were cool.
When I told him how much some of my dream bikes cost he made a point to snort dramatically, his thick brogue going up an octave. “Does it make tea?!”
This is a common sentiment with expensive vehicles: If someone is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars, it had better deliver something above and beyond what’s expected. I’ve been lucky enough to ride a few motorcycles in my time that could be categorized as expensive and only a few of them have been truly inspiring. I think the 2021 Ducati Multistrada V4 S might be among them.
An historic crescendo
Ducati’s Multistrada goes back nearly 20 years now, first poking its head out of the back rooms of Bologna in 2001 as a prototype and landing on showroom floors in 2003. It was a funny-looking sport bike on stilts, with long legs and a bifurcated upper fairing that only Pierre Terblanche could love. But, it was quintessentially Ducati, too, powered by a regal, 992 cc, air-cooled V-twin that fed gaudy exhaust pipes jutting out from under the seat, with 17-inch wheels and a single-sided swingarm that made us all long for the recently deceased 998 superbike. It evolved to use the liquid-cooled 1198 engine (2010), then adopted Skyhook semi-active suspension (2013), variable valve timing (2015), spawned a fraternal twin with a knobby 19-inch front tire and “Enduro” in the name (2016), and eventually was beefed up to a 1260 version (2018).
For 2021, the Multistrada gets another overhaul, most notably with the application of radar technology and Ducati’s flagship, V-four engine. But, this is more than just a V4 Stradale transplant from the Panigale or Streetfighter. The counter-rotating crankshaft design remains in the Multi’s new V4 Grantourismo engine, as does the compression ratio and the same 53.5 mm stroke as the V4 Stradale mill. Ducati chose to increase bore by 2 mm to 83 mm, for a total displacement of 1,158 cc. Most notably, this engine abandons Ducati’s beloved desmodromic valve actuation and now uses springs. Other adjustments compared to the V4 Stradale engine stand to reason — smaller intake and exhaust valves, a lower redline (11,500 rpm), and longer final drive gearing (16/42) than the Streetfighter with internal gearing that uses a shorter first gear and a taller sixth for better versatility.
As it turns out, the conventional spring system is relatively light, compact, and efficient in this application. Ducati claims the V4 Grantourismo engine is only 0.8 inches wider than the two-cylinder 1260 engine it replaces, while being 3.75 inches shorter top to bottom, 3.3 inches shorter front to back, and 2.6 pounds lighter overall. Fair to note that it’s also five pounds heavier than the V4 Stradale. The engine being slightly smaller and lighter than the 1260 was good for engineers when placing it in the chassis, allowing the Multistrada V4 to have 1.8 inches more ground clearance, for example, than the outgoing 1260 version (granted, the V4 has a 19-inch front wheel). The efficiency of the conventional valve train contributes to the marquee specification of the Multistrada V4: The first major service isn’t due for 37,282 miles, more than double that of the Multi 1260.
Chassis updates reach far and wide, but most of what Ducati seemed to focus on was rider comfort. Both rider and passenger seats are a much different shape (more on that later), and otherwise it seems the folks in Borgo Panigale have come to terms with their reputation for engine heat, and put some serious effort into saving the rider from cooking on a hot day. Side-mounted radiators breathe through the obvious gills, and a closer look behind the front wheel shows one duct in particular that exits behind the radiator just in front of the rider’s knee, through a smaller exhaust port than intake. It seems clearly meant to create a high-pressure blade of air to keep warm air away from the rider. Then there are the prominent scoops hanging below the radiators on each side that look like downforce winglets but are there to direct more fresh air at the rider’s legs and push away engine heat.
It was not hot when I tested the Multi V4, rarely more than 70 degrees, so heat from the engine was never a problem. Later I noticed that the coolant temp while riding often settled around 160 degrees F (about 70 C), which is lower than most bikes show, but Ducati said that’s normal for this engine. Incidentally, the V4 Grantourismo mill uses the same technique at idle as the V4 Stradale, whereby it shuts off the rear bank of cylinders to avoid overheating the engine and rider. Again, all of these steps make sense for the goal of the Multistrada V4 — the rider and the engine need to be cool and under low stress in order to cover their relatively long distances. And it’s worth noting that a few of these changes are seismic for Ducati, especially using springs to actuate the valves.
It’s big news, and those are just the basics. We’ve got a long way to go, so if anyone needs a bathroom break, now’s a good time.
Riding the many roads
As huge as the Multistrada V4 is figuratively, it’s also literally large, weighing in at a cool 570 pounds on our scales with a full tank. Interestingly, at 33.1 inches the seat doesn’t feel as high as it reads on the spec sheet. During the outing to get photos, Spenser and I swapped bikes briefly so I could climb aboard the Triumph Street Triple R he was riding, and we both commented immediately on how approachable the Multi’s saddle felt compared to the Street Triple’s (listed at 32.5 inches). Seat heights in the up-spec ADV class are especially nebulous, what with electronically adjustable suspension that may or may not be adjusting itself every time you sit on it. Still, a nice surprise.
What awaits in the cockpit is a refreshed version of the Multistrada we’ve come to know over the past decade, with a wide, tall handlebar and a modest windshield sitting above a state-of-the-art cockpit. The fuel tank and fairing make for broad shoulders and it feels like there’s a lot of motorcycle sitting in front of the rider — you sit down in it, rather than on top of it. As is tradition these days, a big ol’ thin-film transistor dashboard glitters with colorful menus and information, controlled mostly by a five-way joystick and a handful of buttons on the left switch cluster. An eager and familiar starter motor spins the V4 Grantourismo into a lumpy idle, and it’s clear that this engine uses the twin-pulse firing order used in all of Ducati’s other modern V-fours.
When I rode the Streetfighter V4 last year one of the most pleasant surprises was how gentle and tame the engine felt, at least when it was unprovoked. This Multistrada takes that a step further. It’s unexpectedly friendly at low speed, with the same great clutch feel and solidity in the powertrain that you’d expect from a flagship model. As a test, I put it in third gear and let it slow to an idle, chugging along at 15 or 20 mph, and then eased the throttle open to accelerate. Despite this nightmare of a request the bike just shuddered a little and surged forward predictably. I had a second-generation Multi under my charge for about a year and if I tried that stunt it would have either stalled or shaken my molars loose.
Otherwise, the experience of riding this V4 version is very similar to late-model Multistradas. The riding position is commanding and comfortable, and the handling is more agile and direct than you might expect considering the size of the thing. Bombing along twisty roads is really satisfying, in part because the machine encourages it. A BMW R 1250 GS or KTM 1290 Super Adventure S offers similar poise dancing through curves, but the Multi has always goaded me into going faster in a way that motorcycles like this rarely do, and that feeling is alive and well despite the 19-inch front wheel. The narrower, 170-section rear tire probably helps with this. To me it feels similarly agile to the 1260 version, which felt slightly slower to steer than the 1200 DVT, which wasn’t as aggressive as the pre-2015 Multistrada. In other words, not as razor-sharp or willing to be rowdy as the first generation of liquid-cooled Multi 1200, but still terrific and a little bit surprising.
Peeling into one particular curve a little too fast, I left the rear brake pedal pressed longer than usual, and as lean increased I felt the ABS pulsing at my right foot. A friendly reminder that while I was having fun the bike’s computer was hard at work. As is Ducati tradition, every facet of each ride mode (Urban, Touring, Sport, and Enduro) can be tailored in the setting menu. Engine power and response, TC, ABS, and wheelie control all have a variety of settings, and that’s not to mention the ability to fiddle with the quickshifter, daytime running light, or the five different semi-active damping settings for both the fork and the shock. Spring preload can be adjusted as well, with its own button on the left switch cluster, to four different presets or an auto-leveling function where the bike decides how much preload to add or remove based on how much weight it “feels.”
Entering that one corner a little too fast, I was in the default Touring mode. That’s the softer engine response but full power, with TC in level 5, ABS in level 3, eight clicks of preload, and the front and rear damping set to “medium.” Along with adjusting the suspension as I rode, the bike was using the IMU to help smooth the automatic throttle blips for the quickshifter, cornering lights were kicking on as the bike leaned, and the ABS was waiting to relieve pressure on the front or rear brake pads if anything started to go wrong. Bottom line, the only drama I could perceive was a wiggle from the rear end as the tire slipped and grabbed in tiny oscillations and the computer played with maximum traction. One of the many ways this technology has gotten so good is to be basically seamless — a safety net that you can’t see and will rarely feel, until you need it.
Riding the bike off-road is joyful and impressive sprinkled with brief moments of complete panic. In general the bike is balanced well and has lots of steering sweep, plus the good clutch feel and linear fueling that makes it nice in a parking lot. If you jump the Multi V4, that’s actually when the semi-active damping in the suspension will be most amazing. It’s genuinely cool to feel the compression damping ramp up suddenly as the full weight of the bike lands. On the other hand, if you lose your balance and have to save the bike from tipping over you might find yourself crumpling under the weight of both a heavy bike and a looming repair bill. Riding a 570-pound, $25,000 ADV bike off-road reminds me of the few times I’ve tried surfing — absolutely freeing until it goes a little bit wrong, at which point I can’t believe the thing that was just helping me is now trying to hurt me.
So, a quick recap: As a dirt bike it’s willing yet worrying, and as a city bike or sport bike it’s amazingly good considering it has too much power and/or too much weight depending on the situation. As a touring bike, the Multistrada V4 S is excellent. We can go ahead and get the one, glaring problem out of the way, and that’s the range limitation. First of all, it’s thirsty. All of my calculated consumption figures were between 31 and 35 mpg, meaning even if you theoretically used all 5.8 gallons on board you’d struggle to make it 200 miles on a tank. Realistically, the fuel light will come on at 140 or 150 miles, and based on how flirtatious you want to be with the on-board calculated range meter the tank will need a top up before 180 miles. Oddly, I ran the range-to-empty number down to two miles and the tank only took five gallons — a little too pessimistic for my liking. Taller final-drive gearing would probably help bring mpgs and range up a bit.
If those complaints don’t apply to you, happy days, because otherwise it’s great. The seat shape changed quite a bit (see the photo gallery for a technical drawing) and is narrower at the rear than before, while the passenger perch has about an inch more foam thickness than the previous model. Both pillions I rode on the back were impressed with the legroom and loved the two-setting heated element. Weather protection is good, and Ducati somehow managed to improve on its “pinch-and-slide” windshield adjustment system. Now, a simple pull or push on a horizontal tab in the cockpit raises or lowers the windscreen, and it locks in place wherever it’s left.
RAdio Detection And Ranging
It’s a glorious place to spend time on the open road, with heated grips and seats plus loads of roll-on power, and it’s all made more luxurious and a little safer with the addition of radar. In collaborating with Bosch to mount one radar unit at the front of the bike and one at the rear, the Multistrada V4 now offers adaptive cruise control (ACC) and a blind-spot warning system. I won’t dive into too many technical details here, partly because it’s about as granular as a bag of salt and also our man Mark Gardiner interviewed the engineers working on the development a couple of years ago and his piece has at least as much information as I was able to pry out of Ducati while writing this article.
In practice, the ACC is a hoot. Approach any vehicle in the lane ahead going slower and the bike will adjust speed to match it. At first I experimented on a highway, where the system gently slowed down to follow cars ahead at a pre-set distance (adjustable to four settings), as expected. Eventually I let the bike approach cars way too fast, and sure enough it reacted swiftly, jumping on the brakes to avoid getting close to the vehicle ahead. It’s hard to measure how hard the bike brakes by itself, but it’s a lot; I would say I experienced about 60 percent of maximum braking with no input other than coming up on a car too quickly. Spooky. Last of all I tried it on a twisty road, setting it to 55 mph and following a pickup truck going about 20 mph slower. The Multi just trundled along, not the least bit baffled by the situation, until I came upon a stop sign and it slowed down enough to shut off the cruise control system, blinking a visual whimper at me as it did.
At first I avoided shifting, figuring a tap of the quickshifter up or down would cancel the cruise, but no. As the bike slows to match speeds, a quick shift (even with the clutch) is acceptable and the cruise motors on. If I chose to merge into a lane with faster moving traffic the bike accelerates into the space, recognizing the car is being passed, and I could shift up as necessary. I’m told this is an instance where the IMU is communicating with the radar data in order for the ECU to know that the space the machine is moving toward is open, despite being behind a car. Should you merge all willy nilly and not check your six, a small band of orange lights on the top of the mirror will glow, and if you’re a good citizen you’ll be using your blinker, in which case the orange LEDs will blink, desperate for your attention.
This is the bike announcing that there’s something sitting in the blind spot between the border of the mirror and the edge of the rider’s peripheral vision. It’s nifty technology that many people have in their cars, but it was more sophisticated than I was expecting in motorcycle form. Radar in cars doesn’t have to worry about lean angle, so there were some concerns that if the bike leaned over enough it would see things (asphalt, hedges, barriers) rushing past behind the bike and constantly be sending mixed signals to the rider. However, not only does the system ignore anything silly like that, it doesn’t bother to warn the rider when cars are being passed at a certain rate of speed. In other words I didn’t get any warnings for cars I was passing quickly, but ones that I was easing by or that came up from behind would trigger the warning lights.
Odds and ends
But wait, as the infomercials say, there’s more. Ducati has partnered with travel-technology company Sygic to pair the Ducati Connect app with Sygic’s navigation software, in case you’ve got a destination fewer than 37,000 miles away and you’re not exactly sure how to get there. The result is a mixed bag. After downloading the two apps, I made sure my phone was connected to the bike, then that the apps were talking to each other, before putting the one app in the correct mode to talk to the first app, and then plugging my phone into the bike. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, but it does have to be set to never lock the screen or fall asleep, otherwise the connection to the bike is lost and the software doesn’t work. At least there’s a nifty cubby with a USB port that holds a phone.
Once I had jumped through all of the hoops to get the app up and running, I’ll admit the 3D flyover navigation is pretty slick. The turn-by-turn directions are clear and crisp, and there are live traffic updates with blips in the status bar of the trip to see when and where delays might flare up. Unfortunately that was as good as it got — after about 25 miles it froze and I couldn’t get the dash to return to the main screen until I pulled over and power cycled the bike. I backed away from the Sygic sync and just connected my phone and my Sena headset to the bike, which worked a little better. I could skip songs via the bar-mounted joystick and see who was calling me. But even then there are giant holes in the UX, like audio being piped into the speakerless dash instead of my headset, and not being able to do anything else on the display while a phone call was happening.
Basically, diving too deep into the dash is a house of cards. It’s a distraction that’ll eventually fall over. Or, more literally, make the rider fall over. None of it makes riding the bike better, certainly when compared to the ease of use of navigation and media connectivity offered by modern headsets, imperfect as they can be. For me it was a fair awakening, and made me all the more dazzled by the radar system simply because it works. Technological advancements don't just grow into something useful if you give them water and light, they have to be engineered painstakingly and tested rigorously before being worth integrating into a larger product. It’s hard.
Dollars and sense
A base version of the Multistrada V4 can be had for $19,995, which basically comes with a smaller TFT dash, smaller brake discs, as well as no electronic suspension, LED headlight, or radar option when compared to our test machine. On the topic of tech, there’s some fine print that needs to be addressed before I swoon any more over all the whiz bangs and doodads. While the radar system was activated on our test bike, it hasn’t been cleared by the U.S. government yet for use on Multistradas sold to consumers. Ducati is aiming for activations of the systems to start in the summer of 2021, meaning the V4 S models (all of which have radar hardware on board) won’t be free to fully spread their wings until Uncle Sam says so. When the green light is given, bikes will have to go to a Ducati dealer and have the software unlocked for a fee of $850 plus dealer labor. That’s on top of the price of an S model , which in our case was a V4 S with the Travel package (panniers, heated seats and grips, a center stand, radar) and tubeless wire-spoke wheels ($600), for a total of $24,695.
To the Scotsman’s point, it damn well better be good for that much money. All told, the application of radar is a genuine breakthrough in motorcycling. BMW’s RT and GS models are set to receive it, as is KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure S and I’m sure plenty more to come. Adaptive cruise is a fun party trick. The fact that it can hit the brakes to lessen the likelihood or severity of a collision is helpful but shouldn’t be relied on over actually paying attention. The blind-spot warning is a legitimately useful safety feature. I found it extremely accurate and trustworthy, and I hope it can trickle down quickly to bikes that are more likely to have new riders on board.
So no, it doesn’t make tea. But this motorcycle does do some things no other motorcycle ever has, with a combination of mechanical grace and ferocity that few other machines can match.
|2021 Ducati Multistrada V4 S|
|Price (MSRP)||$19,995 ($24,695 as tested)|
|Engine||1,158 cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve, V-four|
|Claimed horsepower||170 bhp @ 10,500 rpm|
|Claimed torque||92 foot-pounds @ 8,750 rpm|
|Front suspension||Marzocchi 50 mm fork, adjustable for spring preload, electronically adjustable compression and rebound damping; 6.7 inches (170 mm) of travel|
|Rear suspension||Marzocchi shock, electronically adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 7.1 inches (180 mm) of travel|
|Front brake||Brembo Stylema four-piston calipers, 330 mm discs with ABS|
|Rear brake||Brembo two-piston caliper, 265 mm disc with ABS|
|Rake, trail||24.5 degrees, 4.0 inches (102.5 mm)|
|Seat height||33.1/33.9 inches (840/860 mm)|
|Fuel capacity||5.8 gallons|
Pirelli Scorpion Trail II 120/70ZR19
front, 170/60ZR17 rear
|Measured weight||570 pounds|