New Multistrada 950 v Africa Twin
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?