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Ducati Multistrada: old vs new

By Adam Child -

First rides & tests

 07 January 2013 09:34

In 2010 Ducati’s all new Multistrada turned the adventure market on its head. It was a breath of fresh air, the sportiest bike in the sector.

An impressive 150bhp from the 1199 V-Twin was backed up with high-tech gizmos, comfort and usability. It proved to be the success story Ducati was hoping for.

Now three years on Ducati want to stay ahead of the increasing competition in the growing adventure market with the introduction of the new 2013 Multistrada, which features numerous upgrades the most significant being Ducati’s first semi-active suspension called  ‘DDS’ (for Ducati Dynamic Suspension) or more commonly labelled ‘Skyhook’.

We’ve already tested the new 2013 Multistrada in isolation on its world launch in Bilbao, Spain, back in September and I have to admit I was impressed.

However, it was almost impossible to tell how much the new ‘Skyhook’ suspension improved the ride quality compared to the old bike without the old bike present.

The ‘old’ system was so good that if you rode both the old and new bike back-to-back, in normal conditions I doubt there would be a huge difference.

This is why we’ve flown to Bologna, Italy, the home of Ducati to grab the first 2013 Skyhook Multistrada off the production line and test it against last year’s model.

For reference both bikes were fitted with the same Pirelli rubber and we used Ducati’s outgoing S model, which, remember, features electronic adjustable suspension as like the new bike.

We were intrigued, would the difference be noticeable or would the Skyhook suspension turn out be a red herring, like a glass hammer?

Test 1: undulating road with small humps
We stumbled across a section of road which was more like a tarmacked BMX track, this would stretch the limits of the new suspension and highlight the difference between the two Ducati’s. We honestly didn’t know how the test would pan out and set both bikes to full power in sports mode, the hardest suspension setting, (150HP,DTC4,ABS2).

Fellow MCN road tester and road racer Bruce Dunn set the aggressive pace on the new Duke, with me playing catch up on the old model. I’m unsure what I was expecting but I must have forgotten how good the old bike is.

In sports mode it coped with the undulations admirably. The traction control would kick in a few times as the rear wheel left the ground but that was my only grumble. We quickly exchanged bikes and repeated the experiment, which left us scratching our heads, does the Skyhook suspension work as both bikes feel very similar?

We came to the conclusion that the old Multi is such a good tourer in a sports package the new bike simply matches it. To see if the Skyhook system works we must test the extremities therefore we hit the same section of road in Enduro mode, the softest of settings.

In theory the old bike should pogo around like a toddler on Christmas eve, while the new bike should be controlled as the Skyhook system takes over and changes the rebound and compression to compensate.

As we expected the difference between the two bikes was clearly highlighted whilst trying to ride fast in Enduro mode. The new 2013 Ducati coped with shocking ease, controlling the squat from the rear shock and the rate after large undulations. It also kept the front more stable and more planted, very impressive and proves the new system works and works well, finally we have the results we were hoping for.

Test 2: aggressive sports riding smooth tight and flowing
Again as like before with both bikes in sports mode the differences were barely noticeable without riding like an idiot on the public highway. Both bikes reacted very similarly, the Brembo radial brakes being slightly more responsive on the new Duke. Again this just highlights how good the old Multi is.

Cutting up a mountain pass, both 150bhp V-Twin tourers would give a sports bike a run for its money which is why Ducati have won Pikes Peak for the last three years running.

But again we decided the test the extremities and ran the same section of switch back corners swapping bikes midway but this time in the relatively mild Urban mode (100hp, DTC6, ABS3). Initially the difference wasn’t huge, but as we increased the pace the gap between the two Ducati’s became obviously apparent.

Get on the power early and the old Multistrada would sit down like an obedient dog and stay there, which meant the front would go light. In comparison the new Multistrada would add rebound and compression, levelling the bike, making it feel more like a sports bike.

Switch back corners hit at speed would cause the old bike to pitch back and forth on its long travelling suspension, not alarming just noticeable compared to the flat sporty, Skyhook, 2013 bike. As the speed increased to peg scraping angles of lean so did the difference between the two Italian bikes.

The old Duke in Urban mode was crying out to be flicked into sports mode where the 2013 model had already taken over and adjusted the suspension accordingly in the blink of an eye or less.

Over an espresso Bruce and I summarised the first two experiments. If both bikes are ridden in sports mode and ridden accordingly there’s only a small differences, a fraction here and there.

However, if you ride both bikes in extreme circumstances, fast riding in Enduro mode for example, the difference becomes obvious as the Skyhook system takes over. But in the real world who’d hit a mouth-watering switchback mountain road at speed in Enduro mode?

Surely they’d just click into sports mode, which can be done on the move with a closed throttle. This is why we devised the third experiment, touring mode, two up.

Test 3: riding with a pillion
I pulled the short straw and had to jump on the back of Bruce, a scary moment. We set both bikes to the same settings, touring mode and chose rider with pillion from the options menu which increases pre-load further. You can actually hear the system wind up the rear shock and see the bike rise slightly; it’s bound to impress your mates.

First up was the new 2013 ‘Skyhook’ model with Bruce at the helm and yours truly holding on for dear life, as the pace was brisk!

The new model felt incredibly stable, really impressive on the rear, I wasn’t being thrown around and wasn’t head-butting Bruce as he threw the new Multi around. There was very little pitching back and forth, very impressive.

Bruce remarked “That has to be one of the best bikes for taking a pillion, everything was planted, you wouldn’t know there was a pillion on the back, with someone braver on the back you could really tram on.

"The new Skyhook system takes over, increases the suspension when it’s needed, that has to be one of the best handling bikes I’ve ever ridden with a pillion on the back”.

Next up the old Multistrada, again Bruce at the helm and me holding on like I was on a roller coaster without a seatbelt. The difference was felt immediately like a big smack in the face.

The rear squatted on hard acceleration and the front went light. I had to hold on tighter trying to stop myself being thrown forward as the front end plummeted on heavy braking.

Long sweeping corners taken at speed caused an alarming weave and wallow. Ok admittedly we were riding slightly aggressively and both topping the scales around 12 stone each meant the old Ducati Multistrada was near its limits.

But the speeds never exceeded 90mph and the difference was chalk and cheese or as Bruce put it “You wouldn’t think both bikes came from the same factory never mind be almost identical.

"The old bike was all over the place, but to be honest like most bikes once you throw a chunky pillion on the back (12 stone). The new Skyhook model is really impressive, the pillion hardly affects the ride quality, front stays on the ground rear doesn’t sit.

"Even at very slow speeds just turning around the new model is much easier as the bike is flat, not sat on the rear with little weight on the front, everything is constant on the new bike very impressive”.

Test 4: cobbles
For the final test we headed for some old fashioned cobbled streets in Northern Italy. We set both bikes in Enduro mode and rode the long cobbled section back and forth at relatively slow speeds through the picturesque village.

At such slow speeds the difference between the old and new bike was hardly noticeable with both bikes on their softest settings.

We then repeated the exercise but this time in Sports mode, surely the old Multi will rattle our fillings out while the new Multi should be much smoother. There was a more noticeable difference in that the 2013 model wasn’t as harsh as the old bike, however at such slow speeds the difference wasn’t huge.

However I’m sure if we’d increased the pace the difference between the bikes would have been highlighted further. I really don’t think the locals would have appreciated two Ducati Multistrada’s barrelling through their postcard village like it was Kirk Michael at the TT.

Verdict
We can finally and categorically conclude that the new Skyhook system works, works well and isn’t just a gimmick. It’s the next step forward in terms of suspension and comfort. The new Multi is the most fun adventure bike in the market and it’s practical too. We’d argue it’s one of the best handling bikes on the market two up.

It will be interesting to see how the system performs on track with and without a pillion, but the Ducati Multistrada isn’t designed to be a race bike and the DDS system is for comfort not performance.

But this test also highlights how good the old bike is. So should you upgrade from the old model?  If you ride the majority of the time in sports mode and on your own then I’d question the need for an upgrade and stay with the old model.

However, the new bike is significantly better two up and you don’t have to flick between modes as the Skyhook system takes over.

The new dash is clearer, easier to use, the new adjustable screen can be raised and lowered on the move and the fuelling has been improved at slow speeds which makes the new model very tempting.

Finally if you’re looking to move from a sports or naked bike into the adventure market then the Ducati is the one to have. It has sports bike handling which now reacts to road imperfections and is one of the best handling bikes two up.

The engine is powerful, it’s comfortable versatile and safe, remember there’s excellent traction control and excellent ABS. The only problem for Ducati is there’s a new BMW GS and KTM Adventure just around the corner which will be on the market early next year.