Multistrada Pikes Peak vs S1000XR
Want a bike that’s useful as well as a riot to ride? Ducati’s new Pikes Peak Multistrada and BMW’s S1000XR offer superbike performance in towering packages. Time for a quick and dirty in weekend in Europe...
’VE RIDDEN PAST the signpost for Le Touquet in Northern France what feels like hundreds of times, always on the way to somewhere else. Each time, I’ve said to myself that one day I should pay a visit to the annual beach race, but like every other Rosbif who emerges from cross-channel conveyances at Calais, Le Touquet is one of those places I always simply pass on my way to somewhere else.
The nutty beach race at the French seaside town has been on my ‘to do’ list for years, as has the Pikes Peak hillclimb in Colorado, USA. One is a tank and a half of fuel, and just a few hours away, the other is thousands of miles and a hefty flight, and therefore unlikely to get ticked off the list any time soon. The compromise: take the new Pikes Peak-spec Ducati Multistrada to Le Touquet, bring PB’s YouTube guy John Bennett along with a BMW S1000XR for reference, and tick something off my ‘to do’ list by selling it to Newbigging as a useful road test. He bought it. Mug...
In fairness, the Ducati in particular is a tempting prospect, and it’s had a hefty overhaul for 2018. While the adventure bike genre is rarely a blip on PB’s radar, the new 1262cc V-twin now has 160bhp: the sort of power we were stunned at litre sportsbikes kicking out 10 years back. Now you can have it in a bike with panniers...
It gains its extra capacity over the old bike via an increase in stroke from 67.9mm to 71.5mm. New crankshaft, con rods and of course cylinders are therefore the only mechanical differences between the engine in the old bike and this new version. Its variable valve timing operates on the inlet valves and exhaust valve, and has been set up to optimise low-down torque, so much so that Ducati claim 85% of its peak torque is available below 3500rpm, and there’s 18% more at 5500rpm.
Elsewhere, the 2018 Multistrada gets upgraded electronics, most notably cornering ABS, a quickshifter and auto-blipper, plus fully adjustable riding modes with anti-wheelie and traction control. There are also some trinkets in the form of a full colour TFT display, Bluetooth connectivity and cornering headlights. Don’t push that button... But the less said about the keyless operation of the bike the better. With key fob stashed in a pocket, the bike is then powered up via a button just below the engine starter button. Both buttons are very similar in size and profile, and right next to each other on the right hand switchgear. You can probably guess what happened next...
Care must be taken when reaching a thumb out to press one of the two buttons to restart the bike if you stall at a busy junction. Because when you press the wrong one, you shut the bike down completely in the middle of the road. Push the correct one, and you’ll get away with only mild indignity and laughter from your mates.
Cock it up, and that innocuous stall becomes staring death in the face as the lorry that was a safe distance away is now bearing down on
‘The Multistrada’s trump card is its massive spread of torque. Put it in third or fourth, and simply twist and go’
you. Only once you’ve powered the bike up again can you get it in gear, and subsequently get out of Dodge.
As you can guess from my specific outlining of the potential for danger, just such a thing happened to me, and by virtue of the fact I am able to relay those moments of terrifying vehicular paralysis, I clearly got away with stalling the Multstrada on a main road. Apart from the huge shit that dropped inside my underwear. Dear Ducati: please administer a severe beating to whoever decided to put those two buttons so close to each other. Better still, take your keyless system, and kill it with a dogshit-covered fire hammer.
The chassis is new, and free from pant- filling design oversights. There is a new swingarm which is 48mm longer, and overall the geometry is slightly lazier thanks to a very small increase in rake from 24 to 25 degrees, and an increase in the wheelbase by 55mm. The overall effect is an increase in stability without a sacrifice in agility due to lower weight, claim Ducati. Brakes are Brembo M50s, so no grief there.
The Pikes Peak pays homage to the famous hillclimb in Colorado Springs where Ducati have had success over the years, and it loses a little touring sensibility to do sporty stuff better. Setting aside the usual carbon what-nots and special paint scheme, the notable upgrades are lightweight forged aluminium Marchesini wheels which are claimed 3kg lighter than the regular Multi’s cast wheels, a mechanically adjustable Öhlins TTX36 rear shock and forks up front in place of Ducatis ‘Skyhook’ semi-active system on the Multistrada S. There is also a particularly tasty-looking carbon Termignoni exhaust, which is essentially cosmetic as it is
‘There is not only a gulf in price between the BMW and Ducati, but also in their handling ability’
homologated for road use. It does look good, still sounds fruity enough and might save a bit more weight... All told, the bike is 6kg lighter than the Multistrada S, most of which is unsprung weight. At £20,795, it’s not cheap, though, even alongside the S, which will set you back £17,195, and the base model Panigale V4, which costs £19,250.
In contrast, PB’s current favourite tall/fast tourer thing, the BMW S1000XR (represented here in Sport SE spec) is unchanged for 2018, and could be seen as a bargain at £15,010, when you consider that offers 165bhp from its S1000RR-derived engine, plus an array of cool features and toys. Notable differences as standard to the Ducati are semi-active suspension, preparation for GPS (an official accessory Garmin Navigator costs around £600 extra), a centrestand, hard luggage fastenings and heated grips. On the surface, it makes the case for any of the Multistradas a difficult one, let alone the Pikes Peak model. But this is PB, and it takes more than a massive spec sheet and list of gadgets to impress us.
Differences aside, both share one thing: they are massive, especially when fitted with panniers. I can’t remember the last time I had to open both doors of the PB lock up to get a single motorbike out, but this was one such rare occasion. They’re broad-shouldered bikes anyway, even without their panniers fitted. They came in handy for vlogger John – he painstakingly packed his hard luggage with all his video recording kit, and enough associated paraphernalia to make Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman look like rank amateurs. Eventually, we set off in the direction of France. Later, we’d discover that John’s fastidious packing of camera equipment came at the expense of personal items. Like his trousers and shoes, neatly left on his car seat in the PB office car park. Bell-end...
The 160 motorway miles from PB to Folkestone were largely uneventful apart from occasional bouts of cruise control-induced amusement on the Ducati, riding hands-free, steering with my arse. Once on the train, John noted that the BMW’s handlebars had felt quite vibey – a complaint of the first-gen XR, apparently not cured by new handlebar mounts for this revised model introduced to the world last year.
He should be grateful he was able to feel the bars at all. My hands were so cold on the Ducati, I couldn’t feel anything from about 20 miles after we had set off, and the handguards don’t actually seem to provide any wind protection for fingers. Minor grievances (or maybe not, given the salty list price): generally speaking, they make this sort of mid-distance touring a damn sight easier and more comfortable than attaching it to a normal sportsbike. But this isn’t RiDE magazine: I wanted them to make me smile too.
We spent the next day looking for somewhere for John to buy some trousers and flip-flops to save another night eating moules et frites in sweaty textile trousers, by razzing round the back roads of Northern France on these two oversized, over-powered behemoths. Usually, you’d bypass this part of the world in search of sunnier or more mountainous climes, but while it’s no Alpine pass, it’s quiet and undiluted in its Frenchness – just the thing to break the housebound winter tedium.
As good as the Ducati’s engine is on the motorway for delivering roll-on acceleration, in many ways the same characteristic makes it perfect for blasting along back roads. Its trump card is its massive spread of torque and smooth power delivery. You barely need to touch the (perfectly good) auto-blipper or quickshifter – just put it in third or fourth gear, and twist and go for mile after mile. Super Duke-owning John is a self confessed V-twin fan, and was gushing about the Multistrada’s power delivery for being so flexible.
As good as it is, for me the Ducati’s stand-out feature is its handling. I’ve ridden the XR before, and it’s good, but the Multistrada is shocking in how effective it is. No doubt the
lightweight wheels have a big part to play, but the Pikes Peak has an agility to it that is astonishing considering its size and weight.
It makes the BMW feel like a canal barge by comparison. It flicks, turns and holds a line with such ease that it takes some time to adjust to using a large pair of handlebars, festooned with gadgets and tech normally the preserve of proper tourers, to hammer along back roads like a good (if lanky) super-naked. Its agility feels like it’s created by the high centre of gravity more than its geometry. The result is that the quantity and quality of feedback from the tyres is less than you get on a pure sportsbike, but trust the tyres (which grip just fine despite the faux trail-look tread pattern) and the Pikes Peak turns out to a really playful bike which as well as being competent as a practical, long-distance mile muncher, is exciting and bit edgy when you’ve dispensed with boring get-you-there miles.
It’s like a straight-A student who cage-fights for a hobby. The suspension feels a little underdamped, most noticeable during fast direction changes, but with some adjustment (and a rise in road surface temperature) I’m sure the levels of feedback from the tyres would increase.
There is a gulf in price between the BMW and Ducati, and there is also a gulf between them in terms of their handling. That doesn’t mean the BMW is a poor handler. It’s pretty good in isolation, and we’ve discovered before that it can be put to good use chasing sportsbikes on road and track.
It’s only that the Pikes Peak seems to be on another level. Acknowledging the fact that you could spec your S1000XR with some BMW HP forged alloy wheels to bring it more in-line with the Pikes Peak spec (though, from experience, they don’t make a big difference to the BMW), and still have thousands of pounds left over, the BMW feels like it carries all its weight lower down than the Ducati, which would still prevent it achieving the Ducati’s outright agility.
It is also physically a bigger bike, with a more spread out, wider riding position, which generally makes manoeuvring it into and through bends a bit more of a physical affair. Don’t think for one second think that the S1000XR is a 165bhp blancmange, though – the slimmer Ducati is just sharper all round.
Any edginess or deft handling the XR may lack next to the Corse-inspired Ducati, it more than makes up with the top-end power rush from the S1000RR-alike motor. The 1260 simply can’t touch the Beemer beyond a certain point. Furthermore, the BMW’s electronics are less intrusive than the Ducati’s, allowing power wheelies, while scooping up unexpected slides off damp French roundabouts with the absolute minimum intrusion. It’s hard to fault their intervention on the road.
It’s easier to find fault with the BMW’s front brake set-up, though. The combination of the first touch of the lever generating a lot of power immediately, and the initial part of the fork stroke being underdamped, is unnerving. It’s almost as if there is a very slight delay where the suspension reacts to initial dive of the fork, then an abrupt over-compensation. I’d like the brake set-up to be softer on the first touch and with better modulation. The mechanical Öhlins set-up on the Pikes Peak feels really well matched to the Brembo brake set-up. It feels more analogue, and familiar. It’s a shame the BMW system only allows you to choose preset modes, rather than tailor the electronic parameters a bit more.
They’re minor issues, and John echoed my thoughts, finding himself hard-pushed to find anything wrong with the BMW, other than it doesn’t have a V-twin engine (a personal choice), and its (heated, warm) handlebars vibrate slightly at motorway speeds (annoying to all). And that’s the thing about the BMW – there is nothing wrong with it at all. We liked it before, we like it now. There is a lot right about it, especially the price tag.
‘Don’t think for a second that the BMW is a 165bhp blancmange; the slimmer Ducati is just sharper all round’
However, as we roll into Le Touquet on Sunday morning through the police road blocks, and make our way to the seafront past thousands of pissed up Frenchies, it’s the Ducati that they’re all pointing at, taking pictures of. The BMW is invisible. Maybe they’re still a bit touchy about Germans pitching up on the seafront in this part of the world...
We watched the first bit of the beach race and decided to head for home. It turns out that once you’ve seen one pile-up of motocross bikes and the odd broken collarbone at the bottom of a massive sand dune, you’ve seen them all. Half an hour’s viewing was more than enough: turns out I was probably right to blast past this place on the motorway. Oh well: box ticked, sights seen.
Our bikes proved much more entertaining, though for completely different reasons. As it happens, we both preferred the Pikes Peak Multistrada. For me, the reduced weight and posh suspension you get from this race-rep adventure bike brings it much closer to the sports and naked bikes I love – so much so, I’d gladly own one. Not something I predicted – usually they’re a bit soft for my tastes. John appreciated it for much the same reasons, and for being a storming example of a big twin.
The BMW, while an undeniably good bike, doesn’t appeal so much. Comparatively, it’s less dynamic, although still pretty handy, and a bit more practical. Also, such a hard-revving engine gives one hell of a rush when it’s rocketing such a big bike along the péage.
When it came to choosing which bike to ride home, neither of us had a preference; they both fulfil the practical side of the design brief: if we were going to keep one once we were back in Blighty, however, it’s the Ducati that won the hearts of these sportsbike fans.
‘If we were going to keep one once we were back in Blighty, it’s the Ducati that won the hearts of these sportsbike fans’
Main: Johnny and John set off in search of replacement trousers Left: The stultifying Eurotunnel experience is countered by a reasonable French breakfast
Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all
Lower level of electronics intervention allows the front to come up under power Left: Le Touquet’s beach race fans couldn’t give a monkey’s about the Beemer
Nimble, engaging: the Multi gets the nod on back roads Right: “You’re shitting me, John: you’ve lost another pair of shoes?”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the start of a beautiful friendship
Despite numb fingers, Johnny still has the horn for the Pikes Peak Multi