NEVER MIND PIKES PEAK... How will it cope against a proper, Great Bri­tish hill climb? MCN finds out...

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Comment - By Si­mon Har­g­reaves MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

The Pikes Peak race in Colorado, USA, is 12.4 miles long. Which, let’s face it, is rub­bish. Here in Great Bri­tain we’ve a man-sized, 390 mile-long hill climb, ris­ing from the low­est road in the UK at Holme Fen in Cam­bridgeshire, to its high­est, the Cairn­well Pass on the A93 in the Cairn­gorms, Scot­land. So that’s 30 times harder. And, at 8.5 hours, it’s 51 times longer than the Pikes Peak race record time. So, metaphor­i­cally at least, up yours, Amer­ica.

On the other hand, the real Pikes Peak rises from 9000ft to over 14,000ft, while Holme Fen is 10ft be­low sea level and the Cairn­well Pass is just 2200ft above it. So nose­bleeds and oxy­gen star­va­tion won’t be a prob­lem.

But bum-ache might be, con­sid­er­ing this is go­ing to be the best part of an 18-hour rid­ing day there and back. The Pikes Peak is the lean, stripped-back Mul­tistrada fam­ily mem­ber. Sporty Öh­lins forks and shock re­place creamy semi-ac­tive sus­pen­sion and sug­gest a firmer long-dis­tance ride qual­ity. And the Peak has no heated grips, and only a tiny screen. Wedged into place be­tween a tail­pack (pan­niers an op­tional ex­tra) and 20-litre fuel tank, the low, wide seat feels thin, hard and un­yield­ing – even though it’s the same seat, same up­right rid­ing po­si­tion, same 160bhp, 1198cc 8v V-twin en­gine, same gear­ing and same Imu-backed en­gine man­age­ment as the stock Mul­tistrada 1200S. Yet, as we surge away from Holme Fen’s peaty-black, sub-sea level fields of morn­ing mist and link up with the Great North Road for the next 160 miles, the Peak’s long legs set­tle into an easy stride, like a marathon run­ner just warm­ing up. The mo­tor is about right at 90mph on the clocks (84mph in real money), revs hov­er­ing at 5000rpm in top. With VVT and ul­tra-re­fined fu­elling civil­is­ing the Mul­tistrada’s power de­liv­ery, it’s the smoothest, least Du­cati-es­que Du­cati ever. There’s no trans­mis­sion lash, no clat­ter­ing when you open the taps at the wrong revs. But jeep­ers, it still lunges past ar­tics and panel vans like a punt­ing-great torque mon­ster, front end wag­gling, ac­cel­er­a­tion pin­ning my coc­cyx against the tail­pack. It’s like tak­ing a bois­ter­ous Great Dane for a walk.

Some­where around Don­caster I de­cide the Du­cati’s rid­ing po­si­tion is un­ex­pect­edly and out­stand­ingly com­fort­able; bet­ter than many so-called grand tour­ers. I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced any dis­com­fort at all, any­where. Arms are wide, body braced against the wind, ad­justable stubby screen keep­ing wind noise and buf­fet­ing ac­cept­ably low, wide seat spread­ing my weight evenly and low pegs fold­ing hips and knees at pre­cisely the right an­gles. I’m so com­fort­able it’s a gen­uine sur­prise.

Our first fuel stop is at Wetherby ser­vices after 126.6 miles. The Du­cati is do­ing 49.4mpg. I drink a small can of Red Bull, so I’m do­ing 2536mpg.

The weather de­te­ri­o­rates as we spear off the A1 a junc­tion north of Scotch Cor­ner and on to the B6275, pick­ing up the A68’s panoramic roller­coaster across Northumberland, tum­bling over the Eng­land/scot­land border (pos­ing for oblig­a­tory selfie), then head down and boo­gie away

to­wards Ed­in­burgh.

The Mul­tistrada is bliss­fully com­pe­tent in th­ese tough-ar­sed rid­ing con­di­tions. Doesn’t mat­ter if the front is com­press­ing and push­ing cor­ner­ing ABS into ac­tion mid-hair­pin, or driv­ing hard out of long curves and teas­ing the trac­tion con­trol; the Pikes Peak feels de­signed for such corners, skat­ing across the soggy, leaf-lit­ter slime of mid-oc­to­ber and hold­ing a con­fi­dent, rapid pace. Its Pirelli Scor­pion Trails are mis­named; on tar­mac, road noise is trans­lated in­tu­itively as grip. And I no­tice I haven’t adjusted my rid­ing po­si­tion from the com­fort of cruis­ing up the A1 – the Du­cati goes down through gears, from re­lax to at­tack, with­out any ex­tra fore­thought. It’s even still in Tour­ing mode; the soft­ened throt­tle re­sponse makes sense in the wet.

The Peak’s orange trac­tion con­trol lights wink in the gloom – even at just gone midday, the light is fad­ing enough to in­vert the Mul­tistrada’s pho­to­sen­si­tive dash to its night dis­play. I press on. A quick re­fuel for us both at Jed­burgh, then away again, over the Lam­mer­muir Hills and on to the Ed­in­burgh ring road. Traf­fic builds, chok­ing and clot­ting the ar­te­rial road on to the Forth bridge be­fore dis­pers­ing on to the M90 to­wards Perth.

The A93 col­lects us for the fi­nal sprint through Blair­gowrie and up into the Cairn­gorms. The Mul­tistrada is in the flow, string­ing bends to­gether in a fluid har­mony with such prac­tised ease it feels in­stinc­tive, like breath­ing.

Sud­denly, the dark shape of a deer ap­pears be­tween the line of mas­sive birch trees and trots on to the road in front of a quar­ter of a ton of Du­cati and rider. Be­fore I can reach the brake lever, a faster part of my grey mat­ter com­putes we’re not on col­li­sion course as long as the deer keeps mov­ing. Mat­ters, how­ever, are com­pli­cated by the ap­pear­ance of a sec­ond deer be­hind it. This one es­capes a fu­ture as veni­son only by the com­po­nent chem­istry of Bosch, Brembo, Öh­lins and Pirelli.

The land­scape sud­denly changes char­ac­ter, trees dis­ap­pear­ing and farm­land giv­ing way to moun­tain moor­land. From nowhere, huge shapes loom into the cloud base on ei­ther side as the road fi­nally rises, twist­ing and loop­ing like a skew­ered eel, to climb above 1000ft, 1500ft, 2000ft. The watery mist be­comes heavy rain, lash­ing down and bounc­ing off the tar­mac like chip­pings. At the 2209ft sum­mit, on the road-roof of Bri­tain, there is no cel­e­bra­tory marker. Just a lonely ra­dio tower and a windswept, rain-lashed sign mark­ing the border be­tween Perth and Kin­ross, and Ab­erdeen­shire.

We’ve of­fi­cially com­pleted Bri­tain’s big­gest, long­est hill climb. It’s taken al­most 400 miles, three fuel stops with over 36 litres of petrol, and eight and half hours (with fuel, food and photo stops) of ev­ery kind of road rid­ing to get here. The Mul­tistrada Pikes Peak has been sim­ply as­tound­ing; much more com­pe­tent at crush­ing the miles than I ex­pected, but equally skil­ful at deal­ing with treach­er­ous con­di­tions on A-roads and back lanes.

It’s time to start the long ride home. I look at the Du­cati, the Du­cati looks at me, and we’re both happy with the ar­range­ment. And as the Cairn­gorms ring to the heavy-duty thud of the Du­cati’s Ter­mignoni end can, its bril­liant LED main beam il­lu­mi­nat­ing the wind­ing moun­tain road, heated kit and mu­sic wound up to max, I can’t think of a bike I’d rather be on for the trip. Let’s do this again, back­wards.

The wind­ing roads of Scot­land are a far cry from the Multi’s Fen­land start­ing point

Smart­phone mea­sures al­ti­tude while sat­nav guides the way

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