Remembering the Ducati Multistrada 1100S

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The Ducati Multistrada 1100S is a special kind of motorcycle. It does everything very well. Even two years after its production has ceased and with the new Multistrada 1200 in dealerships, the old Multi’s unique combination of simplicity and ability is still very relevant. For a motorcyclist who chooses to live car-free, a simple yet fun everyday bike like this one is perfect.

I haven’t owned a car for three years. Living in Los Angeles, the land of endless urban sprawl. I realize this makes me weird. In that time, I’ve gotten around on a Ninja 250 and a GSXR 600. All of my commuting, canyon riding, track days, going out with girls, etc has been done on a bike. We usually take my girlfriend’s car to the grocery store, but there have been a few times when it’s been out of commission and we’ve just taken the bike and saddle bags.I use my bike everyday, for almost everything. That said, using a sport-bike as your only mode of transportation is a pain in the ass sometimes. I was introduced to the 2007 Multistrada 1100S by my friend and fellow LA resident David Johnson. He has a business called rentaducati.com and rents four bikes out of San Diego and Santa Barbara.

This can, on occasion, create some strange situations–sometimes you need to take a train from LA to Santa Barbara, ride two bikes from there to San Diego, swap for two different bikes, go home and sleep, and then ride them to Santa Barbara the next day. David told me this at Italian Bike Night last week while explaining the favor he was asking of me. Ride 4 Ducatis in 2 days? Sure. I’d be crazy to say no.

It rides like a sportsbike.

There’s plenty of go when you twist the throttle and it’s plenty fast and fun in the corners.

First and second gear wheelies are absolutely effortless. Roll on in sixth at 90 and there’s immediate thrust. Being a rental bike, all sorts of people have had an opportunity to mess up the suspension. I pulled over on highway 150 and with only two tools and a few minutes of fiddling, had the Ohlins suspension dialed in. No need to break out the hammer and punch, or preload wrench, the shock has a remote adjuster. Even the compression and damping adjusters can be adjusted without tools. The front end isn’t quite as easy, but it is by no means hard to work with. A wrench and 4mm all are all it takes. If it was my bike, I’d probably put stiffer springs in it at both ends, but with the rear pre-load cranked and the adjusters all set on one click out from full stiff (I wasn’t shooting for lap times–I just needed it stiffer), it handled great, even on worn Pirellis.

Cranked the rear pre-load?

Yep. I had the hard bags full of street clothes, camera gear, books, tools, water and snacks. I also had my girlfriend, Ashlee, on the back. Even with all the added weight on the back of the bike, I had no problem dragging the pegs and lifting the front wheel leaving corners. Ashlee appreciated the grab rail on the back of the bike and I appreciated being able to brake as hard as I wanted to without the familiar thunk of her helmet smacking into the back of mine.

It’s comfy.

After being brutally beaten by the wind for hours aboard the Hypermotard, I didn’t think twice about picking the Multi over the 848 when we got to San Diego. That the tall seat, low peg, high bar ergonomics were comfortable when what I really wanted was a bed is saying something. On the night trip back to LA, the temperature dropped and though my (now deceased) Apex gloves do a pretty good job keeping my fingers warm, I switched on the grip heaters and had luxurious toasty warmth for the rest of the ride. It’s not too bad for a passenger either. Ashlee’s sensitive lady butt didn’t even start to get sore until we hit the 101 after 130 miles of fast canyon riding. Even then, it wasn’t bad, just a little sore.

But it’s not perfect.

The windscreen flat out sucks. It’s poorly shaped and much too short. An aftermarket screen is a cheap and easy fix. All around, it’s kinda ugly. The bars are tall and wide. A lot of people like this, but the extra leverage weirds me out and makes the steering feel twitchy. The mirrors work alright if you pull in the clutch, and let the revs fall down to idle. The rest of the time, it’s hard to be sure whether that’s a black and white crown Vic or a red minivan. Wheelies are fun, but they can be a little excessive. The bags are a tad wide. Then again, that’s the price you pay to be able to carry a lot of stuff.

It can carry stuff.

I bought a set of Cortech saddle bags to increase the load capacity of my sportsbike over what I can stuff in a backpack. They get the job done, but they flop around, try to crush my license plate and generally stress me out. Except for getting on and off the bike and aggressively lane-splitting, I all but forgotten that I had hard bags full of stuff. Hard bags solve all the soft bag issues of bouncing around that upsets the suspension, worries about the straps coming undone and limited carrying capacity. With a top case and my backpack, Ashlee and I could easily camp out of this thing for a week. Or buy our groceries for the week.

It’s affordable.

Maybe not in the same way a 1989 EX500 is, but RentaDucati.com is thinking of selling this pristine low mileage example for around $9,000. The fancy new Multistrada 1200S touring goes for $19,995 before you pay fees and taxes. It’s also a much different bike. The new Multi is a technological tour-de-force. Electronic suspension, riding modes, key-less ignition, a 155bhp liquid cooled superbike motor — it’s got more tech than the space shuttle. The old bike, on the other hand, has a simple air cooled twin and grip heaters. The difference is something like comparing a Sport 1000 to an 1198.

You can live with it.

Even with the minor gripes, I could live with this as my only form of transportation. The air-cooled motors are easy to work on if they ever do need a valve adjustment. That air-cooled twin, exposed frame, and general lack of whiz-bangery makes it seem like more of an honest motorcycle, and less of a sales gimmick too. In a world full of bikes all trying extremely hard to be something specialized and focused, the Multistrada is a simple bike that does everything good enough.

  • Lowell

    I loved my Multistrada. The bike is simple, fun to ride, great two up. I was very sad to see Ducati replace it. The new 1200 is a breathtakingly competent machine, but I loathe it. The new bike is hatefully ugly, stratospherically expensive and no more fun that the air-cooled original. The phrase “honest motorcycle” totally hits the mark. The old bike was a pure rider’s bike.

  • Cheese302

    a goof friend had a multi 620 for a while, really was a nice bike.

  • Todd

    My EYES!!! My EYES!!! Quick, where’s the bleach? :)

    …otherwise, yeah, I appreciate its versatility and utility, while still being sporting. I just couldn’t own/ride anything that homely.

    I do know of a guy who has a ratted out one that he converted into an “adventure bike.” No fairings + knobbies = coolest Multistrada evah.

  • ontheroad

    Good article, always loved the aircooled Multi series: the smaller ones are perfect beginner or city bikes and the 1000/1100 variants are exactly as you said: a good, honest motorcycle that does everything very well. Every time I’ve had the chance to take one for a weekend I’ve been overwhelmed by how much fun such a practical bike is… then promptly ran the errands that were a hassle on my sportbike.

    I think the Multi’s never been much of a looker and the new one is damn ugly too, but maybe in a more acceptable (read: GS-like) way. I was sad to see the aircooled bikes go, but it was never a big sales success here in the states (or never seemed like it). So they’ve predictably replaced it with a model with all the farkles that fancy touring bike buyers are apparently drawn too. Oh well, just means the older ones will (hopefully) be all the more affordable for guys like us when we’re finally ready for a sensible everyday bike… oh God, I’m getting old.

    • Sean Smith

      The GS reminds me of the exposed air-conditioning systems you see on the roofs of industrial buildings. Not that it’s good or bad, that’s just what I think of when I look at a GS.

  • http://cynic13th.livejournal.com/ cynic

    It’s a great bike, I have one on loan from my NYC friend since he rather ride out here than on the east coast.

    I never thought it was a beautiful bike, but I think people tend to exaggerate how ugly it is.

    It has some long term annoying traits (gas light comes on too early etc.) but it’s on my list of bikes I’m looking at when I finally get to buy another one.

  • Glenngineer

    Definately a cool bike, definately an ugly bike. I see a black one commuting into my town just about every day I’m on my Strom. He waves.

  • JTourismo

    Excellent write up, agree with the “honest motorcycle”. I personally have loved these bikes ever since they hit the streets. I have also been a big fan of the controversial looks, I think in a world of motorcycle designs that get old fast, or default to the original, this generation of Ducati designs will alway’s remain…interesting at the very least.

  • stabmaster

    i have a 1000ds and i love it. the seat height is a little too high for me but whatever im short. the early low gas light and expanding gas tanks i can live with.

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    I do like the Multistrada, even though the looks fall flat for me. The ST4 was one of the first bikes I rode regularly, and appreciated the commodious of it. Now I am limited to whatever I can jam in my backpack, and rely on the wife’s Subaru for almost all errands.

    • Sean Smith

      Backpacks are great, but for if you’re serious about hitting the Trader Joe’s on a bike, this is what you need. The tail pack is amazingly versatile, and I’ve heard that it’s absolutely 100% waterproof, and will no blow off your bike. Even in a downpour pinned in sixth. The quality isn’t amazing, and the looks are meh, but this luggage get the job done for cheap.

  • Brook

    I own an ’09 and for the most part, I love it. I hang in the front of the pack with my Jap riding sportbike group. I love the higher center of gravity…it practically corners itself. I did a BunBurner Gold (1500 miles in a day) and had no issues.

    It turns heads. Most people that see them it person like the looks…and they spend a lot of time looking at it.

    It seems like no matter how fast I’m riding, I’m always in the sweet spot of the torque curve.

    Downsides: after having three mirrors snap off while riding normally, I had to replace them with some from moto-science.

    I had an engine oil leak appear after about 3 months (fixed under warranty).

    It takes about 5 minutes just to warm up before you can hit the road.

    The biggest complaint I have is the valve adjustments every 7500 miles. To keep the warranty valid, they must be completed by a dealer (and at $700-$900 a pop, it gets expensive). The service costs have kept me from riding my MTS more often.

    • Todd

      “The biggest complaint I have is the valve adjustments every 7500 miles. To keep the warranty valid, they must be completed by a dealer (and at $700-$900 a pop, it gets expensive). The service costs have kept me from riding my MTS more often.”

      Deal. Killer. That’s ridiculous for what is supposed to be, essentially, a sport-touring bike. Same silly valve service interval issue with the ST4 as I recall too. $700-$900 in maintenance (not including the normal tires, oil, etc.) every 6 months or so is absolutely unacceptable for a bike that purports to be so useful and functional.

  • Miles Prower

    “The windscreen flat out sucks. It’s poorly shaped and much too short. An aftermarket screen is a cheap and easy fix.”

    Stock screen sucks. Worse under-helmet buffering ever!

    And there are very few aftermarket screens available.

    After lots of research (and reading/posting on various Multistrada forums), I just bought an aftermarket screen from California Scientific. It’s very much a “science project” like product. Before that, I had the tallest double-bubble from Zero Gravity — which was worse than the stock screen in terms of both protection and turbulence.

    • Sean Smith

      Whoa. You weren’t kidding about the science project part. Still, I’d rather have a funky looking screen that works great than a neat looking screen that makes it hard to see and beats my head around.

      I actually have a problem with most factory wind screens. I bet the guys building the bike spec something that is shaped so that air doesn’t beat you do death and is somewhat see though.

      After they spend some time dialing in the design, the bean counters get a hold of the bike and run past their friends at fisher price who take a look at things and see where they can make the bike cheaper and more plastic-y.

      The fun-house mirror-like, non-wind blocking screens are what we inevitably end up with.

  • Robin

    I have a 2007 MTS 1100 that is nicely modded. I love it. It is simply a great bike to put miles on. It’s quick enough, handles great and is super comfortable. I get the ugly part, but it really has some attractive angles.

  • Miles Prower

    BTW, this single-piece (underslung-only) exhaust from QD Exhaust really cleans up the rear end. I hate the stock underseat blob of a muffler with its fake “guns” (although the Arrows in the photos above don’t look as bad).

  • Barry

    The MTS 620 is one of the most under-appreciated daily riders around town of all time. Dead cheap for what you get, cheap tires because of the smaller rear, and all the power you really need for almost anything in town or for short day trips. The 1100 motor is one of the best Ducati ever made, until they completely borked it with all the new electronics in the sport classics and beyond. If Eagan is using it for long distance record-setting, you KNOW the thing is rock-solid and capable. If I hadn’t bought an ST4s back in ’02, I’d probably own an MTS 1100 for my general go-to do-everything bike. As for the looks, well.. aherm. Yeah, it’s fugly, unless you’re a Cylon, then it’s harmless.

  • http://www.faster-faster.com fasterfaster

    Once I have garage space again, the R6 will be relegated to track-only use and a Multi S WILL be my go-to street bike.