HEAD-TO- HEAD

New Mul­tistrada 950 v Africa Twin

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Phil West MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

Du­cati are usu­ally quick to of­fer ju­nior or more ba­sic and af­ford­able ver­sions of new mod­els. For ex­am­ple, the 1100 then 848 Street­fighter; the Mon­ster 1200 and, now, 797, plus, of course, the Pani­gale 1299 and 959, to name just three.

This sort of ex­tended fam­ily has pretty much al­ways been the case in Du­cati’s line-ups. Re­mem­ber the 900SS and its lit­tle broth­ers, the 750 and 600SS? Or how about the 916 and 748? Lit­tle chips off the big block, all of ’em.

But that hasn’t been the case with the lat­est, big 1200 Mul­tistrada – un­til now. Ever since the orig­i­nal, elec­tron­ics-packed MTS1200 de­buted in 2010, rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the mar­ket thanks to class-lead­ing per­for­mance and pi­o­neer­ing, switch­able rider modes, the op­tion of a smaller, more af­ford­able Multi has been con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence.

The lat­est big Mul­tistradas, now with even more po­tency and even more advanced elec­tron­ics in­clud­ing cor­ner­ing ABS and Sky­hook semi-ac­tive sus­pen­sion and pro­duc­ing over 160bhp are bril­liant, but ar­guably too much for some. With the S ver­sions start­ing at over £16,500 and ris­ing to just shy of £20k for the Pikes Peak, they are topend pur­chases, too.

Hence the new 950. Although based on the 1200 and shar­ing its frame, body­work and ba­sic pro­por­tions, in many ways the 950 is less in­tim­i­dat­ing than its big brother. By us­ing the 937cc engine from the lat­est Hyper­mo­tard, con­ven­tional swingarm and rear end from last year’s Mul­tistrada En­duro, plus more ba­sic sus­pen­sion and clocks from the stan­dard 1200, the 950 comes over as some­thing of a poor man’s Multi – but that’s only com­pared to the posh 1200.

An­other way of look­ing at it is that you’re get­ting much of the full-on Multi experience for nearly five grand less – which puts the 950 in a whole dif­fer­ent price band than the 1200. In short, while the 1200 is on a par with fare such as the KTM 1290 Su­per Ad­ven­ture or a fully-loaded BMW GS Ad­ven­ture, the 950 is cheaper ( just) than the Tri­umph’s 94bhp Tiger 800XRT and £300 less than KTM’S new 1090 Ad­ven­ture. And that’s a big deal.

Com­pared to the Honda, even at a stand­still, the Du­cati re­mains a true Mul­tistrada – hand­somely ex­otic, still so­phis­ti­cated, truly ver­sa­tile and also a gen­uine per­for­mance road­ster thanks to hav­ing al­most 20bhp in hand over the Honda.

That’s not re­ally a crit­i­cism of the Africa Twin – it’s a bril­liant bike – but it does be­gin to il­lus­trate the fact that, while both are £11k ad­ven­ture bikes, the Du­cati and Honda are also po­lar op­po­sites: while the Mul­tistrada is a down-specced ver­sion of a per­for­mance road ma­chine, the Twin is a clean sheet de­sign with the em­pha­sis very much on the dirt.

So, where the Du­cati is fairly man­age­able with 19in/17in cast road wheels (although wire en­duro ones are avail- able as an op­tion) and an 840mm seat height, the mon­ster trailie Africa Twin has a tall, 870mm sad­dle (although this is ad­justable down to 850) and big, com­par­a­tively nar­row, 21in/18in wire off-road wheels. In short: it’s a stretch, even for 6ft 3in me, to swing a leg over the Twin.

Once on­board, the Africa Twin is slim and wide-barred in true en­duro fash­ion; the Du­cati, though tall-ish, is more fa­mil­iarly road-ori­en­tated: broader and with a more sport­ing for­ward cant. That dif­fer­ence of em­pha­sis is also made clear by each bike’s spec: while the Honda has plenty of ground clear­ance, a meaty bash­plate and elec­tron­ics that ex­tend only to switch­able trac­tion con­trol and ABS, the Du­cati has three dif­fer­ent road rid­ing modes (plus En­duro), an ad­justable screen for se­ri­ous dis­tance work and over­all has an air of ur­bane, per­for­mance­ori­en­tated so­phis­ti­ca­tion the Honda just can’t match.

On the move those dis­tinc­tions are im­me­di­ately un­der­lined. Where the Multi has an im­me­di­ately fa­mil­iar up­right, ad­ven­ture style but semis­port­ing gait, even de­spite hav­ing a slightly taller front thanks to its 19in front wheel in­stead of the 17s the 1200s wear, the Twin is clas­sic tall and nar­row laid-back trailie. Where the view ahead on the Du­cati is over a semi-sport­ing screen mounted above an LCD panel dis­play­ing revs, rid­ing mode and the like; on the Honda you’re look­ing through an even taller screen above a dual dis­play, which em­pha­sises jour­ney data over per­for­mance (it’s ba­si­cally a travel com­puter with odos ga­lore, am­bi­ent tem­per­a­ture, range and more).

Then there’s the ride it­self. While

‘Get much of the Multi experience for nearly five grand less’

the new Du­cati may not be as hard­core or so­phis­ti­cated as its more pow­er­ful sib­lings, with 113bhp it still has 20bhp over the Honda with a lust for revs the more gen­tle Africa Twin would be dis­gusted by. It has a hunger for cor­ners matched by a rea­son­ably firm, sport­ing ride and is sim­ply a blast, once in Sport mode, to throw through the twisties. Think ‘about 75%’ of the full fat 1200 Mul­tistrada experience, and that’s not bad at all.

By con­trast the Twin is the a slightly gan­gly trail bike on the road. Again, that’s not a crit­i­cism. Its er­gonomics are bril­liant. Its han­dling man­ners, though soft and rel­a­tively se­date, are with­out com­plaint and its par­al­lel twin is flex­i­ble.

As I sug­gested be­fore, and cer­tainly as ev­i­dent on this test, th­ese two bikes are chalk and cheese. The Twin is the classy, true dual-pur­pose bike, the Multi is the per­for­mance, ad­ven­turestyled ma­chine you’d have to be fairly brave to take off-road, although Du­cati do say that, with the En­duro wheels op­tion, that is gen­uinely within its realm.

But that’s miss­ing the big­gest point. By fi­nally pro­duc­ing a ju­nior, more af­ford­able Mul­tistrada, the ques­tion was whether, shorn of its big broth­ers’ 160bhp, fancy elec­tron­ics and more, the new MTS950 could be a cred­i­ble con­tender and have enough re­main­ing to ap­peal over to the likes of the Africa Twin. On the ba­sis of this test it does so in spades. Wel­come Mul­tistrada 950, we’ve been wait­ing for you!

DU­CATI MUL­TISTRADA 950 £11,195 (AS TESTED) THE 113bhp 227kg ● New ‘ju­nior’ Mul­tistrada uses 937cc engine from the Hyper­mo­tard with a lower spec but is it still a proper ad­ven­ture bike? The rid­ers Phil West Guest road tester Age 52 Height 6ft 3in CV Rid­den and tested all the key bikes since 1989 Vin­cenzo Lom­bardo Guest road tester Age 46 Height 6ft CV Pirelli test rider for more than 15 years TEST HONDA CRF1000L AFRICA TWIN ● £10,849 94bhp 232kg All-new last year the re­vived, 1000cc Africa Twin has be­come the bench­mark £10K ad­ven­ture bike. So how does the new Du­cati mea­sure up?

Think 75% of the full-on Multi and you’re there If you’re stick­ing to the tar­mac the Multi has the edge The Honda’s itch­ing to head off into those moun­tains

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