Words by Varad More
Images by Gaurav S Thombre
If adventure bikes were animals on a Chinese calendar, then the past few years would surely belong to the adventure bike. To say that the segment has exploded with a whole range of motorcycles to choose from would be something of an understatement. From the humble Himalayan to the monstrous Multistrada 1200, the Indian two-wheeler market is overflowing with adventure tourers. Into this overcrowded space has ridden the new Ducati Multistrada 950, the most affordable and most manageable of all Multistradas. Or at least, that’s what Ducati would have us believe.
It’s a claim that is difficult to refute going by what the company has published on paper because the 950 is lighter by three kilos than the 1200, which should make it less intimidating for riders. Obviously the smaller (relatively of course) engine makes less power and torque and is therefore easier managed than the bigger bike. Unfortunately, the proof of the pie can only be had by eating it so we did the best thing we could. We put Ducati’s new Multistrada 950 to the test.
Visually, the similarities between the 950 and 1200 are so obvious that you can be forgiven for confusing one with the other. Dimensionally and mechanically too the smaller Ducati is identical to the Multistrada 1200 Enduro, including identical wheelbase, 19-inch front wheel with the 120/70 tyre and the 17-inch rear wheel with the 170/60 tyre. The only differences are of course the size of the engine, the missing Skyhook suspension and the weight. The 950 also has a simpler electronics package. Simpler by Ducati standards of course.
Riding to our shoot location, about 100km from Pune, the bike feels instantly more direct and connected than the 1200 had. It’s exactly how I like it. The first part of the ride saw me through clogged citytraffic before a nice blasting on the highway and then disappearing into one of the countless B roads that lead to winding mountain roads.
But let’s rewind a bit. When leaving the city in the morning, it drew plenty of stares, with kids in yellow school buses swooning over the bright red Ducati next to them and the twenty-somethings pointing their phone cameras in a hurry at traffic light stops. The tall adjustable windscreen sitting atop that pointed beak-like fairing seamlessly flows onto the tank, presenting the 950 with a big-bike aura similar to its elder siblings. All said and done, this entry level Multistrada is still a charmer.
The LCD screen gives all the info you need. Swing a leg over the Multistrada 950 and true to Ducati’s claim it becomes apparent that she feels a lot more manageable than the bigger Multis. And no it’s not its lack of bulk, because it is only about 3kg and 6kg lighter on the scale compared to the 1200 and the 1200 S, respectively. The lightness and manageability is largely the outcome of Ducati doing away with those chunky centre panels, like they did on the eldest Multistrada, the Enduro. So the 950 instantly feels narrower and slimmer in its framework and despite having a non-adjustable seat height of 840mm, my puny frame found it easy and comfortable to reach the ground from the saddle. Tipping the scales at 229 kilos (wet), the Multistrada 950 is not a lightweight machine but it does an excellent job of hiding that mass once you get on the move.
And does she move! Although she can putter through the cityscape at a laidback 40kmph in fourth quite easily, her bulk and power isn’t ideal for our traffic conditions. The Ducati comes into its element, out on the open highways. True to its Multistrada DNA, munching up miles voraciously with the digital speedo on the LCD display locked in at triple digit speeds, the Multistrada 950 feels at home. With the windblast cut down to a minimum by that tall screen and the sorted ergonomics providing the rider absolute control, it all feels glorious.
The power hungry will of course wrinkle their noses at the idea of a “scaled down” bike with only 113 horses to let loose as opposed to the 1200’s 160, fact is that the Multistrada 950 is no slouch on the road. With 96.2Nm of torque available way down the rev-range from about 3,500rpm, acceleration in each gear is more than enough to scare even experienced hands should they get over enthusiastic. And if your courage can keep up with your right wrist then you will discover that the 950 is quite the happy puppy that wants to dance on its hind quarter. As long as you have the traction control system turned off.
Although much simpler than what you get in the 1200, the 950’s electronics package gets four riding modes – Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro – that can be changed on the fly using the five-way toggle switch on the left handlebar. In place of the 1200’s complex five-way IMU based traction control, the 950 gets a more conventional eight-level system that works on the basis of wheel speed. There are three levels of ABS but no cornering ABS here. There’s no separate anti-wheelie function, which is integrated into the traction control system, and no cruise control either. Navigating through all this on the LCD display isn’t easy either, unlike on the bigger 1200. So what’s the upside then? All of these electronics can be switched off if you want to let the demon inside you take over. How do we know? Because we did let the demon inside us loose and boy did we have fun.
We are sure updates will happen in due course of time but for now the Multistrada 950 is an entry level adventure tourer welcoming riders into the Ducati family. Riders who want a manageable yet sporty and stunning bike for weekend fun. Not just on road but off-road as well, for the 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheel combo makes the 950 more like the Enduro than the street-friendly 1200 and 1200 S. Furthermore, the sturdy double-sided swingarm taken from the Enduro’s parts bin instead of the single-sided unit found on the 1200 and the 1200 S, makes a lot of a difference once the tarmac runs out.
The 48mm KYB fully adjustable upside-down fork up front is soft enough to take on bumps but equally adept at keeping things from bouncing around when hitting high-speed corners on the highways. The fully adjustable Sachs monoshock at the rear too has been setup to accommodate varying riding and weight conditions and does a brilliant job of keeping the ride pliant yet sporty.
After a day full of shooting on some narrow roads circling the gorgeous backwaters of the Koyna dam near Pune, I had every intention of falling behind the crew and then peeling off towards some other destination that would see me enjoy the 950 some more. But life is seldom straight and soon enough a call came through that had me on the straight path back home. When the bossman wants a ride, you don’t refuse. You fall in, which is what I did.
The more time I spent in the saddle the more I found this fling blossoming into a full blown love affairDucati has very cleverly packaged all the machinery and equipment to create a potent entry level adventure tourer that is involving to ride, easy to manage and ticks all the right boxes. Twenty-four hours and 400km may seem like too little for anything other than a fling when you’re talking about a motorcycle like this. But the more time I spent in the saddle the more I found this fling blossoming into a full blown love affair. She cossets you with that cushy saddle and sorted suspension. Its endless torque and usable power makes for effortless mile munching capabilities while the balanced chassis and suspension offers a brilliant balance between dynamics and comfort. It is frisky when you want it to be yet sophisticated in its persona. A trait not many in its class can boast about.