I was barely out of my helmet when it began. With the exhaust pinging and earplugs still inserted, I heard a muffled, “hey man, nice bike. I’ve always wanted a Ducati”. The ferry terminal in Tobermory, Ontario could have just as easily been a taco stand along PCH or a cafe in Bologna; if it’s red and Italian, it will always attract attention. The iconic Italian marque consistently delivers world-class products sculpted into the most desirable shapes. Even the machine that I’ve just hopped off — their pannier and top-box equipped sport-adventure-touring model, the Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Granturismo ($22,295) — imbues a decidedly functional bike genre with sex appeal. I tossed the earplugs in my pocket and turned to say thanks but a crowd had already grown. So much for some quiet time before crossing into Manitoulin Island.
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While every motorcycle enthusiast dreams of taking off for an epic adventure a la Ewen and Charley, most are simply ill equipped. Track-inspired sport bikes will cramp and cripple any rider after two tanks of fuel (trust me, I know), retro classics lack storage and bulky baggers, despite their rolling-couch comfort, lack that man-of-the-world aesthetic. No surprise, then, that adventure motorcycles are the fastest-growing segment on two wheels. Their go-anywhere, do-anything attitude squarely strikes a chord with the very essence of riding. Ducati has clearly tapped into that with the design of the Multistrada GT, so when a set of keys found their way into my pocket I set my GPS to “disappear”.
Long travel suspension, large 73-liter panniers, 48-liter top-box and hand guards give this big Duc the requisite “adventure” look. In fact, the only obvious indicator that the Multistrada GT prefers pavement over the rough stuff (aside from its Granturismo nomenclature) is the sport bike-sized 17-inch front wheel. While that alone will be enough to cause hardcore overlanders to scoff, the tradeoff on tarmac — where 90 percent of us typically ride — is a revelation. Sure, with a quick toggle to Enduro mode, fire roads and cottage trails can be (and were) confidently negotiated, but it’s not really advisable; the Pirelli Angel ST shod Multistrada comes into its own as a sport-touring machine, devouring miles of smooth corners and straights. Riders can attack undulating canyon roads and easily manhandle every one of the Multi’s 540 pounds (wet) into technical transitions that, quite frankly, a bike this size shouldn’t shrug off so readily.
Many of those abilities can be credited to Ducati’s Skyhook Suspension. Available on all Multistrada S models (including the venerable Pikes Peak version), the Skyhook system is a semi-active suspension kit that electronically adjusts damping on the fly to maintain the motorcycle’s attitude on a given plain. Its pre-programmed settings coordinate with each of the Multistrada’s four riding modes (Sport, Touring, Urban, Enduro), which riders can further customize to accommodate extra luggage and passengers. This means the typical pitch and yaw associated with acceleration and deceleration are all but eliminated, creating an incredibly balanced bike that isn’t unsettled during mild mid-corner adjustments, pavement imperfections or surprise near-misses.
As good as the Skyhook System is, the 1,198cc, 11-degree, dual-spark, desmodromic L-Twin engine also deserves much praise. Where most modern high-performance bikes feel twitchy and rough at low speeds and throttle roll-on (thanks to air-injection systems), the Ducati mill is smooth and predictable throughout the rev range. In both Sport and Touring mode, 150 horsepower and 92 lb-ft of torque are at the ready, making 6th-gear interstate passes simple as a twist of the wrist. The engine can also be detuned with the left-hand toggle to run with 100 horsepower in both the Enduro and Urban settings. Regardless of your preference, the algorithmic communication going between the ride-by-wire throttle control and Ducati’s Traction Control feels precise and staid.
Over the course of a single three-day, roughly 900-mile loop, the Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Granturismo proved itself to be an entirely capable and comfortable bike to ride. In the saddle, my arms and hands were always relaxed and ready to react — no tingling or numbness to distract me from focusing on the road and enjoying the ride. The tall, adjustable windscreen was easy to position (albeit a touch too short for my six-foot frame) and the user controls were intuitive and well placed. The thick, chunky foot pegs absorbed vibration well and provided the perfect perch on which to stand and stretch my legs. Miles on highways and B-roads melted away, almost unnoticed — an integrated cruise control feature would really seal the deal here. In truth, were it not for the need to refuel (both myself and the machine), I had little reason to ever stop. The Multistrada 1200 S GT rides as if it’s powered by your yearning to escape: the more you want to get away, the further you want to go, the better it performs — even if it’s just to ditch the jealous onlookers.