Common Tread

Sweet, merciful fury: Venturing into the dirt on the Ducati Multistrada Enduro

Mar 19, 2018

The Ducati Multistrada shouldn’t work.

As a concept, the first generation took a sport bike and made it into a sport-tourer. The second generation then made that sport-tourer into a road-biased adventure bike. And now, Ducati is trying to make that road-biased adventure bike into a dirt bike. And yet, here we are, sending this sport bike turned adventure bike into the Wisconsin atmosphere with all the grace of a freed orca.

What a dumb, beautiful machine. And what is it like to ride? And where are we?

That would be the T.W.A.T., the Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail. This 600-mile "trail" in Wisconsin connects highways, back roads, gravel roads, and double-track off-road trails into one route that snakes its way through Wisconsin and terminates at the shores of Lake Superior.

Ducati Multistrada Enduro
Loaded up and ready to go. It wouldn't be a group ride if everyone was ready to leave at the same instant. Photo by Nathaniel Salzman.

It’s here where I find myself in the thick of controlling this rumbling war pony while toggling with one hand to turn off the traction control and using the other to modulate the front brake while trying to avoid rear-ending my friends at Motoworks Chicago, who invited me on this trip. The scene is right out of the modern adventure-bike playbook — a group of friends, wild expanses, GoPros rolling, cameras shuttering, all on a trip to find serenity while embroiling ourselves in distraction. And the Multistrada Enduro is perfect for this task.

With a 34.25-inch seat height, more than 500 pounds of weight, and featuring a 160-horsepower Testastretta engine, the Multistrada Enduro adds more height, fuel capacity, spoked wheels, and knobby tires to turn the Multistrada into a more capable off-road machine.

There are more subtle tweaks to aid comfort and stability on the dirt, as well. The Enduro adds four millimeters of trail and one degree of rake. The swingarm is slightly longer and Ducati claims stronger. The handlebars are higher and have more sweep, and the seat is higher as well. Even the exhaust muffler is higher to increase wading depth. But these are mere millimeters when the true story is in the looks.

Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail
The Multistrada Enduro's spoked wheels allow the use of tubeless tires. The front is a 19-inch wheel. Photo by Nathaniel Salzman.

Beef. Toughness. Gnar. That’s the story in the looks department. With a significantly larger tank, contrasting panels in an aluminum finish, optional aluminum panniers, and armor attached, the Multistrada I’m riding looks every bit the part of a go-anywhere G.I. Joe machine. The slathering of Olive Drabish green certainly plays up the part, as well.

This is the raison d’ etre for the modern ADV machine. You can’t just have an adventure bike that does the adventuring bit. It must also look like you’re one mailroom meltdown away from a divorce and a cross-country expedition. It’s a multivariate status equation: you can afford the bike, you can afford the time to escape, and you have the means to pay for that escape, as well. The modern ADV bike lives in this triangle of performative utility and actual utility. In the dance between those two roles, the Multistrada Enduro both looks the part and has the engineering to walk the walk.

And speaking of performance, let’s talk about that engine.

The Multi Enduro’s 1200 cc Testastretta DVT is nearly identical to the standard Multistrada's engine, except for mapping and a shorter first gear. However, it dominates the riding experience. For one, it’s loud. Dual-sports start with a gentle putter at the push of a button. The Multistrada wakes up with the sound of howitzers saying hello.

The bite behind that bark is 160 horsepower. That’s insane for a bike that splits duties between dirt and tarmac. Of course, the Italians have a lineage with this line of thinking stretching back to the Cagiva Elefant, but this is not small potatoes amount of power. Just 10 years ago, this would have been near the top of the pack of the literbike class.

Ducati Multistrada Enduro
Traction control and other electronic aids also help on the pavement when things turn wet. Photo by Nathaniel Salzman.

To rein in the power, it has four riding modes for a variety of terrain conditions, based off the Panigale’s electronic suite: Touring, Enduro, Sport, and Urban modes. On top of that, there are individual settings for wheelie control, traction control, and ABS.

The Multistrada Enduro is luxuriously equipped to match its $21,295 price point: heated grips with three settings, electronically adjustable windscreen, and of course all those electronic bells and whistles, but those are mere line items when placed next to that engine. This bike is dominated by the powerplant that resides within it, and your experience of the journey is crafted by it. There’s no ignoring it.

Ducati Multistrada Enduro
The Multistrada Enduro provides a comfortable ride on the road and is plenty capable of chewing up big miles. Photo by Nathaniel Salzman.

In all conditions, the motor is smooth and tractable, capable of lugging around in traffic and howling at interstate speeds with nary a burp or a blip. You ride high and feel mighty as the motor belches at the top of its lungs that people ahead of you should get out of your way. You're an adventure person on the way to do many important adventure things. Then it’s time to head to the dirt.

But first, time to adjust my electronics. What, do you think one simply hits the dirt in a modern adventure bike? No, the tradeoff for having superbike-level traction control and ABS means you must turn them off before venturing into the dirt unless you want to send the bike and yourself careening through the air.

To modify or disable these settings on the Multistrada Enduro, hold the toggle on the left grip button cluster, arrow up to Enduro Mode, which cuts traction control and most ABS intervention in the front. Close throttle, open it up. Mode changed. Now you’re successfully ready for adventure time.

As we transition from pavement to gravel road, you immediately feel the change in personality. Although the power is reduced, the immense and immediate torque from the Testastretta powerplant dominates the experience and your attention. And yes, you feel the weight. With an eight-gallon gas tank perched on top, you feel the balance teeter-tottering side to side in transitions.

Ducati Multistrada Enduro on the trail
The Multistrada Enduro can handle some rough terrain, but there's a lot of weight and power to manage. Photo by Nathaniel Salzman.

My journey on the Multistrada 1200 Enduro along the T.W.A.T. continued in this pattern — asphalt, change settings to Enduro, 90-degree turn onto fire road, change settings back to Touring and repeat as we cut a grid along Wisconsin.

And then the mud, more wobble, more fury, more noise. It was all a bit... much. Glorious, furious, decadence. Too much, some would say.

The major complaint of the modern adventure bike is that its size and power never allow the motorcycle to shrink away from the experience and let you just ride. You’re always focused on dialing in just the right amount of power and having to think significantly more than you would on a slower, lighter machine. However, its size, fury and power made even the most mundane of trails seem like an adventure. The constant balance and focus made easy obstacles difficult and ordinary rides into legendary tales of taming nature with a 160-horsepower machete. It's true the Multistrada Enduro is a constant struggle between power and weight being played beneath you. It’s never comforting, but always thrilling. Personally, I loved it.

camp fire
This is the way days are supposed to end on an ADV ride. Photo by Nathaniel Salzman.

In capable hands, like those of more talented riders on our T.W.A.T. ride, the Enduro sings. In mine, it’s still capable, but not exploitable. But this isn’t the case to take tech and weight away from the Multistrada Enduro, but rather the case for more.

Motorcyclists have a tendency to think of dirt-capable machines only in the terms of simple, rugged, and purpose-built, but full-size adventure bikes have shown that people will pay to expand the riding envelope for comfort and convenience, not just speed off-road. This segment offers the opportunity to push riding technology ever upward.

Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail
The Trans Wisconsin Adventure Trail provides some fine views on its way to Lake Superior. Photo by Nathaniel Salzman.

Think of a huge adventure bike that made off-roading a breeze with the tools that modern luxury automotive vehicles have. Give me automatic hill descent, approach angle monitoring, depth monitoring, the works. Give me all of them. Bring this ferocious capability down a couple rungs into the hands of mere mortals.

Sure, you could start on a smaller bike and learn, but that would take years and years, and for what? If you’re in this price bracket, you’re buying to brag, not to look within oneself and learn. If you’re spending $25,000 and change, a little electronic chicanery should be mandatory. Let the full-size adventure bikes bring the tech to market and have that tech trickle down into all adventure bikes. Besides, the more friendly these bikes are off-road, the more people will want to take them there.

Because right now, bikes like the Multistrada Enduro are awesome, brutal, explosive machines, it has intoxicating power wrapped in extreme convenience and comfort for tourability. I just wish I could use all the tools it provides.