Only 10 minutes into my test ride of the 2016 Ducati Multistrada Enduro the phrase “Red Dragon” came to mind while exiting a sweeping 2nd gear corner hard on the gas. The Italian DVT (Desmodromic Variable Timed) motor growling smoothly into a controlled wheelie and slide. The dealer had left all the factory settings on default, and I took them all off only a few blocks into the ride. Following my intro to the Enduro I knew I had to have the Ducati in my garage. Its street manners reminded me of my road race/sport motorcycle days, and the smiles that followed spirited rides through the twisites. It is the reason I wanted a do it all adventure motorcycle, one which provided enough sport to keep me happy on the asphalt and the ability to go off-road easily. Eventually I tried the BMW R1200GSA and then I drank “the orange cool-aid” and purchased a KTM 1290 Super Adventure a year ago.
I loved the KTM 1290 SA, and still do, there is something magical about how hard the motor pulls low in the rev range. Turning off all of the electronic gadgets has to be done every time you start the KTM, but the reward is a bike that accelerates and handles like no 500+ pound motorcycle should. You are always aware you are on a big heavy machine, especially when the 30 litre fuel tank is full, but the KTM hides it well. A fast pace means getting all of your braking done while prior to turn in, unless you opt to leave all of the electronics engaged. Traction control allows trail braking but limits the off the hook acceleration that you get once you turn it off, of course I would ride with it off most of the time. I love the idea of traction control, and truly it is integrated so well that you would have to ride very hard to even notice it kick in. I like the rawness of the ride without it and once the big KTM is settled into a corner though, it feels planted, roll on the throttle and the rear end will step out easily. Wheelie control then becomes the game! The motor just flat out romps in the low end and mid-range, with a good top end rush, allowing me the option of not having to redline it to get it to go fast. The user friendly power delivery allowed me to keep all but the most aggressive sportbike riders in view. The brakes work well at stopping KTMs flagship adventure bike, but they lack the feel I am used to coming from a sportbike background. Stopping power was never lacking, and are not bad, they are just not quite the same as what I was used to on top shelf sport bikes. To be fair the KTM truly is not designed for that type of riding, so to provide such a high level of performance is truly worthy or note.
Despite the factory steering damper the front end would shudder and wobble when hard on the gas, especially on a bumpy road. I never had anything untoward happen but I know of others who have. To be fair, the speeds where the head shake appears are well beyond what the factory warns against while the factory panniers are in place. So ride accordingly. The panniers themselves never leaked, were always finicky to get closed, and constructed of hard resin plastic, not good for true off road excursions. I think they would most likely break off if the bike goes for a nap while off road. Thankfully I never had that happen.
Without the panniers the bike is as stable as a rock once the electronic suspension was set up for my riding style. For cruising on bumpy roads, I left the engine delivery in Sport mode (there are 3 other settings of which I only used off road mode) the pre-load in rider/luggage mode and suspension in off-road. This kept the ride plush which I appreciated, and allowed the bikes front end to dive while under braking, helping the big SA turn in quicker. I don’t ride with a passenger, so I cannot speak to how well the bike would handle with a big load, not that my better half is a big load, she just loves to rider her own bike which makes me a very lucky guy! I did try out the various suspension pre-loads and found that the anything above rider/luggage would not allow the suspension to react to bumps or my riding style in the way I wanted. So sport mode, rider/luggage mode, and the option of Sport, Street, Comfort or Off-road settings for the suspension. What I really liked was the ability to switch on the fly and I could genuinely feel a difference in the suspension feedback with each change. In fact it was so easy to do that I would change the settings regularly while riding sections of road. Sport mode rewarded me with very little dive under braking, and suspension is controlled (on relatively smooth roads) enough to give the rider confidence to push the envelope. Street mode was my setting of choice most of the time and would provide the best compromise of handling on the roads I normally ride. When I am touring or on a very bumpy road I would put the bike in off-road mode. It was just a bit better than comfort mode, and would give such an amazing ride. It reminded me of an old Cadillac Deville, floating over asphalt in a way that only implies luxury cruising! Toggling through suspension settings became second nature without me having to put any thought into it other than what mode I wanted, and KTM’s switchgear on the left handlebar made it intuitive and easy.
Living on Vancouver Island, BC I appreciate the wind/weather protection the ample fairing and windscreen provide. My 6’ 200lb frame fit the bike well, with no buffeting from the windscreen and enough legroom to allow me to finish a full tank of gas before needing a stretch. The seat was never uber comfortable for me, and seems to be a big complaint for most riders who opt for team oranges top shelf adventure bike. With the seat set in its high position and the foot pegs dropped slightly I could easily move around on the seat. I even did an Iron Butt ride from Blaine, Washington to San Francisco, California with half of that distance being done on the PCH. Not the best seat for such a trip but certainly not the worst I have sat on. If I had kept the KTM a new seat would have been on the top of the list. The cruise control was also a nice touch, not refined nor located in an optimal position (on the throttle side) for me. It was easily set and adjusted, but once turned off by either touching the brake or hitting the cruise switch the abrupt loss of power was disconcerting.It was never a problem but it is certainly something that is noticeable. I added the KTM radiator guard, engine bash plate, GPS mount, quick release tank bag and a Scottoiler to help reduce damage and wear. After I installed the Scottoiler I adjusted the chain which stayed within speck for the next 18,000km, and made chain maintenance easy!
The lean angle activated cornering lights are just ok, I would have preferred actual driving lights, with a rider operated switch to allow me the option to control how I use them. It made no sense to me that KTM would integrate LED lights but only have them come on while cornering. The KTM is an incredible machine and truly any of my complaints would disappear as soon as I turned the throttle. The KTM would give me an ear to ear grin after every single ride!
The only issue I had was the fuel pre-filter clogging, twice, with the bike dying in mid corner, while surrounded by heavy traffic. My dealer looked after the issue under warranty, but this issue is known to KTM and dealers. In fact it is exactly the same issue that is well known with the 1190 which has been out for much longer and has the same fuel pump/filters. To be fair, there is not a single motorcycle I have owned (I have owned almost every brand) which did not have some sort of mechanical issues. So KTM, either fix the issue or adjust your maintenance schedule to include a filter change, having your top end motorcycle die in traffic is unacceptable, period. For comparison, my wife’s old BMW F800GS was fueled at exactly the same stations and had no fuel filter issues at all. Sure the problem can be solved by using aftermarket fuel pre-filters and/or carrying spares on trips, but it is not something I would expect from a top shelf adventure motorcycle. The saving grace for me was how well my dealer took care of me and my motorcycle, they are truly amazing and I would not hesitate to visit them.
If you look at the spec sheets, both the KTM and Ducati are loaded with standard options, as well as accessories. It is easy to find all of that info, what is harder is to find long term reviews. Hence this blog entry.
Which brings me to “Red Dragon”! I visited Savage Cycles just outside Victoria on Vancouver Island, and noticed they had a new Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro. I was surprised and pleased that I was offered the chance to ride the demo model. Minutes later I was off riding the Ducati in sport mode, with all the traction control gizmos off while I explored surrounding roads. Although the Ducati did not have the low end grunt of the KTM, its turbine like engine, immediately got my attention pulling just as hard as the KTM, only from a little higher in the rev range. Later that day I returned the Ducati, and asked about cost, maintenance and such. I returned home and spent the night researching Ducati’s new Enduro, and asked myself (and my wife) whether I “needed” a new motorcycle. Lucky for me, my wife gets it and encouraged my research which revealed that the Enduro is more an evolution of the already successful Multistrada line, with over 260 changes and updates to parts. It is reminiscent of BMW’s R1200GS, which has evolved into a machine that just gets better and better every year. It is the well thought out changes to the Multistrada which make the Enduro similar to the GSA. Someone at Ducati has clearly taken a page from BMW’s playbook, and hit the nail squarely on the head, the Enduro is that good. After lots of research, I knew I was going to have a Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro in my garage!
When I got to the motorcycle shop, I finished inking the deal, with the bike being delivered in the Ducati Red paint I love! I also opted for the Touring accessory package which includes top shelf Touratech Ducati Performance panniers, heated grips and a handlebar bag. Off road exploring meant ordering the crash, oil cooler and radiator guards, which are part of the Enduro package but I did not opt to purchase the full package. So equipped the Ducati’s final price was still a few thousand dollars below a similarly equipped BMW R1200GSA and a little more than the KTM. Soon I was out putting the Enduro through its paces and I was so excited about my new ride that I had over 1000km on “Red Dragon” in less than a week! Thankfully the dealer accommodated the quick turnaround for my first service so I could get out and get a true feel for the Ducati’s street manners.
I had a rip roaring time as I rode all of the same paved roads I had experienced many many times on the KTM. I made suspension changes and then re-rode the same stretch, and just like the KTM the reward was a better handling machine. The roads on Vancouver Island cover all aspects from tight technical sections including off camber decreasing radius corners, to bumpy high speed sweepers and everything in between! The Island is a motorcyclist’s nirvana and a perfect place to test a motorcycle on roads and situations that never disappoint! I was beyond impressed as I explored the Ducati’s potential and see how it faired against the KTM. I took the time to actually read the manual and set the preload, engine power, and suspension settings for each driving mode. Again setting engine power to high in all setting except off road, and wheelie control to zero, with traction and ABS in lower settings. I love the idea that I can tailor each mode with specific preload and suspension settings, although time consuming setting this up first offers the reward of easy changes to suit your type of riding or road. I can say that in all modes the Ducati surpasses KTM, the suspension is so much more tunable that getting it exactly right is worth it. Not that the KTM was bad, it is just that the Ducati was better, and more planted. Also there is much more feedback from the front end, when it was on the ground! The Ducati is just plain stable, it might not turn in quite as quick as the KTM, but the return in feedback from the front end will have you heading into corners with much more confidence. The stock Pirelli SCORPION Trail II dual sport tires stick well, and offered the same degree of confidence as the KTMs OEM Continental Trail Attacks. On the street you will run out of clearance before you run out of grip, both manufacturers tires are that good.
Like the KTM you are aware that the Ducati is a big motorcycle, but the Ducati is literally magical as to how the weight seems to disappear once you pull away. The brakes also provide exceptional feel, and stopping power edging out the KTMs binders by a bit. The Ducati requires a bit more revs to get into the power but once there it is like a jet engine, smoothly accelerating like one would expect from a 160 horsepower motorcycle. I love the sound from the Ducati just a little bit more than the KTM growl, the exhaust note from the Enduro more music to me than noise! The fit and finish on the Ducati is flawless, and well thought out. Once you learn where to find the controls and how to adjust the various settings it all becomes second nature very quickly. The backlit dash on the Ducati is visible in even the harshest light, with my only complaint being some of the lettering on the dash are small and are hard to read for an old guy like me! The cruise control is located on the left handlebar switch gear assembly, and worked easily and flawlessly without me adjusting my throttle hand. Again a small change vs. the KTM, but one which just worked much better for me.
The Ducati’s wind screen is easily adjusted one handed, a little easier than the KTM, but it offers less wind protection, although the airflow is smoother coming over the top of the screen. I might have to get the taller screen at some point when the weather gets colder, but I will give it more time. The seat and riding position on the Ducati fit me perfectly. I can go from seated to standing and not change a thing. If I decide to go off road, the rear brake lever is adjustable, pull it out (it is spring loaded) and flip it over, and then remove the rubber dampers from the foot pegs (no tools required) and I am set. No need to change handlebars, or anything else for that matter. It is the ONLY motorcycle I have owned that literally fits me in both the seated and standing positions right out of the box. That is money saved in terms of handlebars, risers, accessories, etc. And the seat, well it is comfortable right out of the box (I have the middle height version) which is something I appreciate and is much better for my butt than the KTMs.
This is a comparo, and a long term one at that. After a year with the KTM, I can say I loved that bike, I always had an ear to ear smile coming off every ride. Yes the motor is THAT good! It served me well, and I do miss it. The electronics, traction control, suspension, ABS, and engine management systems all work seamlessly on both bikes, keeping things safe for riders in almost any condition. I prefer that raw power with almost all of the electronics off. I love the feeling I get from riding a big bore motorcycle well without the help of electronics, there is a visceral feeling of being on the edge which keeps me yearning for more seat time. It makes me smile just thinking about both machines performance envelope. Not being limited in seat time has allowed me to play with all of the settings on both bikes, and if you decide to purchase either I would encourage you to test every single setting possibility. If there was ever a chance to easily tailor a bike to your style or road type it is with the new crop of adventure motorcycles.
Perhaps one day KTM will be able to get me back, but until then the Ducati is THE bike for me! It is better in almost every way, and it is refined enough that KTM could learn a thing or two from their Italian neighbors. It puts that silly grin on my face every single ride, from the mechanical symphony emanating from the motor, to the sexy red paint that screams Italian passion as only Ducati can. On the street Ducati has nailed it, not just in terms of the KTM but also the more expensive BMW R1200GSA, watch out my German and Austrian friends, “Red Dragon” has your number and is coming to pay a visit.
I would be remiss if I did not do an off road portion to this comparo, but I am still awaiting crash protection bits. Once I have them I will take the Ducati to exactly the same places I have been off road and provide my thoughts on how it compares exploring the dirt roads of Vancouver Island. Until then, Adventure On!!!!