The busy week for the Ducati Multistrada 1200 Pikes Peak continues with a trip upto Cheshire and Oulton Park. Can the big touring bike hang with sportsbikes?
Part two: Peterborough to the Peak District
Track: Oulton Park
Minutes ago, the big red Ducati was wafting me in calm comfort to Oulton Park on this crisp, damp morning. But now, with the sun breaking through the clouds, I’m about to find out if this Pikes Peak Multistrada, the most unlikely of trackday bikes, will shine at one of the most breathtaking circuits in the country.
Before the morning’s safety briefing and 102dB limit noise testing (the Ducati is no louder than the standard bike, despite its flashy Termignoni can) it’s time to start pre-flight checks.
We’ve fitted Metzeler Racetec RR K3 trackday tyres, so my first job is to drop the pressures: 31psi rear, 33psi front. Now, go into the on-board computer menu and customise the ‘Sport’ riding mode: we’ll keep the full fat power, but disable the ABS and anti-wheelie and turn traction down to ‘2’. The track is littered with damp patches and the red flag is hung out to scrape bikes off the track every few laps – of every session.
Like the current ‘S’ model, the out-going Pikes Peak had semi-active Sachs ‘Ducati Skyhook’ suspension, but for 2016 the Italian firm have gone back to a regular Öhlins fork and shock set-up. When you’ve paid £19,295 you at least want a few designer labels, and the Swedish suspension brand is one of the best. You also get lots of carbon-fibre goodies and a Ducati Corse paintjob, but this year’s model does away with the lightweight forged alloy wheels and has cheaper, heavier cast items instead.
With no Skyhook buttons to push, setting the suspension is all about a socket set, Allen keys and that satisfying, oily click of damping, rebound, compression and preload adjusters. We’ll see where everything is set to begin with and tweak from there. But for the life of me I can’t find the shock damping adjusters and have to ring a mate who’s got a Pikes Peak. They’re hidden under the seat, behind a plastic inspection cover. Thanks, Bob.
In the queue to join the track the Pikes Peak towers above everything else: sportsbikes, track tools and full-on race bikes. It’s like one of those laughable, speeded-up pieces of track footage from a Herbie film, where a VW Beetle somehow manages to fly round the outside of Porsches and Ferraris.
The Multistrada and Oulton Park are a pretty good match. This isn’t a power track and it’s more about keeping maximum momentum through its majestic curves, whoops and cranked over jumps. A race bike is short, snappy and aggressive around here, but the Pikes Peak, with its lazier 160bhp variable timing V-twin motor and long travel suspension, simply glides round.
Even without tyre warmers, the road-compound Metzeler track tyres are good to go within a few corners. Ably assisted by the classy Öhlins and kind power delivery, they find huge grip on the cold and sometimes damp tarmac. The secret to fast and safe laps is not to take it by the scruff of the neck, but to be smooth and let everything settle before hammering it hard.
Let the weight transfer to the front when you come off the throttle before squeezing the brakes, then let them off gently before throwing it on its ear. With so much grip and rear weight transfer when you crack the throttle, you can squeeze the power on very hard, even with high angles of lean. It takes your breath away hard, you can slingshot out of corners and it digs in harder than a stiff sportsbike.
Of course, it wasn’t designed for the track, so it’s not a surprise that it’s hard to get into a race tuck down the straights. You have to sit on the Ducati’s rear seat to really get under the bubble and it’s only then you realise you can’t see where you’re going, as all you have is a carbon blade for a screen.
As the sessions flick by, the damp patches dissipate and warm sunshine spills over the track. The Pikes Peak feels ever tighter and more poised with gradual suspension tweaks. Winding on more rear preload helps sharpen steering, and a turn on the front stops the forks bottoming out on the brakes. Adding more rebound and compression damping each end adds stability.
Despite having Brembo monoblocks, braking power and bite isn’t up to superbike standards. Whether that’s down to the pads or the way the brake hoses go via the ABS pump on their way from lever to caliper, even with the electronics turned-off, I’m not sure. But that’s the only real weak link in the Peak’s make-up. Last year’s lighter wheels would’ve helped on track, too.
But now it’s time to leave Oulton Park’s woodland dreamscape behind and get on the road. We pump the tyres back up, twizzle the suspension adjusters back to standard and set the electronics to ‘safe and steady’ Touring mode.
On the far less glamorous M6, A50, M1 and A14 back to MCN HQ it buckets down, but I don’t care. Cruise control set, I’m comfy, dry and still beaming on the same bike that, just a few hours ago, was mixing it with R1s, ZX-10Rs and GSX-R1000s on track.