Sunday, January 21, 2007


Well, I did manage to do a little riding yesterday, despite the fact that i don't have either of my bikes within 100 miles of me. The local Ducati shop, Bend Euro Moto, is super-cool and has demo bikes. I went by there a couple months ago to check out the DS1000 Multistrada. The weather that day was pretty lousy, but they told me to come back another time and try the bikes out. So yesterday, I did just that.

First I rode the Multistrada 620. The 620 is the little-brother to the 1000, and is not really the one that i'm interested in, but they didn't have a 1000 demo. So Dave suggested i ride the 620 to see how i like the feel of the Multistrada, then ride the GT1000 sport-classic to get an idea of the power that could be expected of the 1000, since it shares the same engine. The 620 was very comfortable and easy to handle/steer at low speeds. However it felt a little nervous at high speeds.

Some bikes--typically the more sport/race oriented sort--are fairly stable and require stronger inputs to the handlebars, these bikes often respond very well to body language input. That is, shifting your position and your weight in order to guide the bike, rather than relying solely on handlebar inputs. This is preferable in my opinion because it offers more stable and smooth high-speed cornering, and also is more fun, because of the increased depth of rider involvement. The trade off--there's always a trade off--is that they are typically more akward handling at very low speeds, like in slow traffic and parking lots. My philosophy is that bikes are meant to be enjoyed carving up the twisty back roads, who cares how they handle in a parking lot! The only other Ducatis I've ridden (996 and 900SS) were both very stable and required heavy bar inputs along with body language--they were also rock solid mid-corner. So I was a bit surprised that the Multistrada was so different.

Of course, all that is in reference to bikes that are mostly spent riding at highway speed, on well surfaced roads. If we're talking about off road bikes, or dual-sports, the rules change. In those cases, it's much more important to have good control at lower speeds and in technical situations, so they typically are much more sensitive to steering input, and easily maneuvered, but at the expense of high speed stability.

Back to the 620, it fell closer to the dual-sport side of the handling spectrum. Which it should; it's meant as a very easy to ride, do-it-all kind of bike, and it's intended to be friendly to novice riders. In those points, it succeeds very well. It's just not what i'm after.

Other points i noticed are that the suspension seemed very stiff over small bumps, transmitting a lot of harshness right into the rider. I was a little surprised by that; given the nature of the handling, i'd have expected a more plush ride. The brakes weren't terribly impressive, but i suspect that could easily be cured with lever adjustments and different pads.

My overall impression was somewhat mixed: the handling was not what I'd expected, although it shouldn't be considered a fault, just a different approach; the controls were not as 'nice' as i'd expected, although this is an entry-level bike, for Ducati. The power was not particularly thrilling, but it's only a 2-valve, air-cooled 620, so i wasn't expecting much there and it actually did better than I'd have guessed. However, it was an excellent seating position, very comfortable and in control, and from what i could tell in such a short ride (not much) the seat seemed to be pretty good. And I love the looks of these bikes. My favorite is the black plastic over a red frame. The transmission shifted very positively and without delay or needing a lot of pressure.

Next i rode the Sport Classic GT1000. While I do think this is a very cool bike--especially after riding it--it's not one that i had been considering buying. The reason for the ride is that it has the same 1000cc dual-spark motor as the Multistrada 1000, so i could get a feel for the power level and engine character.

As soon as I turned the key and hit the starter, I knew this bike had something the 620 was missing--namely, displacement! The larger engine makes itself known immediately. Also, the controls felt much more refined and higher quality. Things seemed to be more in adjustment and the clutch and brakes had much better feel.

It wasn't quite as much of an upright seating position, but close. The seat sloped forward quite a bit though, and was very slippery on my textile riding pants. I wanted to sit back a little bit but just slid right back into the tank the instant i relaxed. I guess that's where i have to sit.

Naturally, acceleration was much better, though still not on par with liquid-cooled sportbikes. I believe this engine is rated at about 95hp; even my 10 year old TL1000S makes 130hp or so from the same size v-twin, but this bike is not meant to compete with the super sports. It's a comfortable and nostalgic ride that still has plenty of oomph for spirited street riding. Aside from that though, the 1000 engine also had an excellent mid-range power delivery that is very smooth and enjoyable. It just runs out of breath as you pass seven or eight thousand RPM.

There is a GT1000 that rides past me at work every once in a while and the sound as it goes by is absolutely music to my ears. I found it to be just as satisfying while on the bike. The desmodromic valve-train also makes a rather nice sound, a little different than conventional systems.

The handling of this bike is excellent. It was much more in-line with what i'm looking for (compared to the 620). It is a good compromise for an every day bike. Easy enough in the slow stuff, but not twitchy at speed, and it feels very natural to move around on the bike a bit for the curves.

I really enjoyed this bike and would love to have one in the garage. I suspect that if i did, it would probably get ridden more frequently than anything else. It just wouldn't quite be the right ticket for the longer rides, and for carrying a passenger. And something would have to be done about the seat!

Perhaps the best thing about this motorcycle is how the character and soul just shine through the appearance. I love the round fenders and headlight, the horns, dual shocks and lack of windshield. Even though I'm too young to have memories of my own about the motorcycles that the GT1000 harkens back too, it still makes me feel a wonderful nostalgia! It doesn't dissapoint in motion though, with it's modern running gear and quality.

Unfortunately, having ridden the two bikes, i'm still not sure what to think about the 1000 Multi. If it handles identical to the 620, then i'm afraid i'm not interested. However, Dave and Kathy both advised me that the 1000 is significantly more stable and fluid at speed. I'd certainly have to try it before plopping down the cash, but that wouldn't be a problem. They even offered to prep the brand new one they had on the showroom, but I didn't want them to do that until i was ready to make a purchase.

So i'm still a bit unresolved on what to do. I've more or less lost interest in the TLS. If i sell that, and the old GS750, i could get about halfway to the cost of the Multi, which would make for a pretty bearable loan. On the other hand, for the money, i could also pick up an old KLR or Bandit 1200 or something for touring, and a used 600 sportbike for the racier times.

What to do, what to do...

Before I left, i told Dave there was one thing i had to ask, or i wouldn't be able to sleep that night: can i demo the 999? I told him there was no way i'd buy it, but if he was willing to let me ride it, i'd love the opportunity. He did, and i did.

If it's been a while (about 4 months in my case) since you've ridden a full-on sportbike, you forget just how incredible they are. You become easily impressed by lesser machines, and you forget what real acceleration and precision feel like. Well, the 999 was a wake up call! The controls were all perfect, with the exception of the rear brake, which was incredibly stiff and didn't offer much feel. The front brakes were flawless though, and while still very stable, the bike didn't need to be muscled around like the 996.

After a brisk, but not all-out, run up to 5th gear on a rural road, i looked down to see 102mph registered on the display. Hmm, doesn't feel that fast. That is at once, both the wonderful thing, and the tragic downfall of sportbikes. It's wonderful because it's so much fun, but tragic because it's just not usually a good idea on public roads with Johnny Law and the neighbor's dog on the loose.

The result is that once again, i'm doubting the likelihood of being satisfied with just one bike. A man's really gotta have half a dozen or so, now that bikes are so specialized. One bike can not do it all. The multistrada may well be the closest thing for now, for me.

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