BIG adventures are a hotly contested segment of the motorcycle market, replete with fanboys that will swear their overgrown scrambler is the beginning and end all of adventure riding.
For every fanatical BMW GS aficionado at a bike meet, there will always be an equally fervent KTM disciple, or a big Honda fan.
A few years ago, the Italians decided they wanted a slice of the pie, and, now, we have the Multistrada, meaning “many roads” in Italian. These, too, have many fans now.
The last Multistrada we rode was the 1200, powered by a reworked version of the 11 degree Testastretta from the 1198 and equipped with ride by wire and an active suspension system known as the “Skyhook”.
Generating 150hp and 119Nm of torque, the 1200 is a formidable contender in the adventure touring market.
Now, Ducati has come up with a smaller version Multistrada, with a 937cc engine capacity.
It shares the same frame as the bigger Multistrada, but is powered by a smaller 11 degree V-Twin, similar to the one found in the Hypermotard and Supersport.
There’s no Skyhook — the electronically controlled suspension — but Ducati Traction Control and ABS are retained, albeit the ABS is no longer lean sensitive.
But do we really miss all these things?
Not really, judging by the bravado and mayhem displayed by seven of my fellow journos as we attacked the tight corners of Genting Highlands and Fraser’s Hill.
We were on a two-day one night excursion organised by Ducati Malaysia called “The Multistrada 950 Campout”.
The tour was organised with assistance from Big Boys Adventure, in partnership with Shell Malaysia and Givi Malaysia.
Over the course of two days, we traveled 305km, starting off from the Ducati Malaysia headquarters at Naza headquarters in Petaling Jaya.
What did I think of the bike after two days with it? Can the Ducati Multistrada 950 unseat the competition?
Well, yes, in some ways. The Multistrada 950 has a lot going for it, and a few against.
The “against” is a much shorter list, so let’s start with that.
First off, those awkward plastic mandibles that have become the trademark of the model are still present.
I’ve also always had an issue with the Rosso colour going off road, and the bike I was testing was red.
For some reason, Ducati Red seems more appropriate in the urban setting of a Kuala Lumpur street rather than against dense green foliage.
Another thing that puts me off is the amount of plastic that the Multi is dressed in.
Almost all the big adventures have sprouted more plastic over the years, but the Multistrada is one of those with a great deal of it. Plastic and wild off-road adventures don’t really mix.
I remember seeing pictures of a big adventure bike from Malaysia, which made an overland journey to China via some really bad routes. By the time it arrived in China, it looked like a defeathered chicken, having lost all its fairings.
Now, let’s get on with why the Multistrada 950 is still on top of the list of best options if you are looking for a big adventure in Malaysia.
Firstly, it is a handsome motorcycle, despite the presence of that beak.
It’s a Ducati after all, and the people who make Ducatis are Italians, and everyone knows the Italians have style. The Multistrada 950 has lots of it. Even in the parking lot of the Ducati headquarters, the 950 looks aggressive and purposeful. The headlights are mere slits on the bodywork, giving it a mean, hawkish countenance. It’s a breath of fresh air compared with the lopsided one big, one small eye of a BMW GS, or the unimaginative headlamp design of the KTM Adventure 1050.
Then, there is that Testastretta engine. Yes, it produces just 113hp and 96.2nm at 7500rpm, but it produces most of the power low in the rev ranges. It’s not anything like the Ducatis of yore, which hated being lugged around at low RPMs. Power was more than adequate as it hauled us up the narrow, steep inclines of Genting Highlands and Fraser’s Hill. As a bonus, it sounded sonically fantastic in the process.
The handling is well balanced. The steering is sharp and precise. It handled so well that putting down knee is not an impossibility, even on those rut riddled Fraser’s Hill corners.
We spent a fair deal of time in the seat, and even after a couple of hours, the 950 was comfortable. Peg to seat height is comfortable for a reasonably tall man (5 feet 11). The seats are okay. It is surely a far cry from the original 2003 Multistrada seat, which Motorcyclist Magazine once described as “a vinyl covered sheet of plywood”.
Unfortunately, I found the standard, manually adjustable windscreen to be uncomfortable for touring for a person of my height.
On our journey back, we went for a fast ride on the North-South Expressway. Despite trying the entire range of adjustments, I couldn’t find a sweet spot that was absent of wind buffetting. This is, however, a minor inconvenience that should be easily rectified with an aftermarket windscreen.
Priced at RM85,900 in red and RM86,900 in white for the standard edition, or RM91,900 (red) and RM92,900 (white) for the spoked model, the Ducati is a makes-sense deal for anyone looking for an adventure tourer.
It may be a base model, but you still get those nice Brembos and the Ducati Safety Pack, which includes ABS, traction control and four operational modes: sport, touring, urban and enduro.
Big adventure touring, Italian style anyone?