Johannesburg - Back in the day, I was a huge fan of Sid Meyer’s hit game Railroad Tycoon. One of the amusing touches in this game was the fact that every new locomotive was announced with the same newspaper heading: “Bigger! Better! Faster!” But both in the game and in real life, bigger isn’t always better – or faster, for that matter. Ducati’s newly-launched “baby” Multistrada 950 is a case in point.
The 950, while visually almost identical to its 1200cm³ brethern, is slightly more compact and considera-bly lighter. It is powered by an extensively updated version of the 937cm³ Testastretta L-twin mill, but it's been extensively updated, with new cylinder heads and new throttle bodies. But before we talk too much about the technicalities, let’s take a look at the bike overall.
Niggles soon forgotten
Despite having the lowest seat height in Ducati’s Multistrada range, the 950 is still quite tall. Shorter-than-average riders won’t be able to put both feet on the ground, but the bike’s centre of gravity is low enough that it probably won’t be an issue.
At 1.78 m tall, I was just able to swing my leg over the seat without having to stand on the left footpeg when mounting the ‘Strada. Once on the move, though, these minor niggles are soon forgotten – the seat-to-footpeg distance makes for a very comfortable neutral riding position, and the bike feels light and chuckable in traffic.
The windscreen is manually adjustable for two positions, but as with most other bikes with a similar arrangement, I found that the upper position caused too much buffeting on my helmet. Leaving the screen in lower position left me with ample wind protection minus the buffeting, so after my initial experiment, that was where it stayed for the remainder of the test period.
The 950 has a monochrome TFT instrument panel, but I didn’t miss the 1200’s full-colour display. The mono panel was quite readable under almost all conditions, and while I’m no fan of LCD rev counters I found this particular one easy to read. A rocker switch on the left handlebar controls the two adjustable display areas, where you can switch between odo, trip meters, clock, air temperature, fuel consumption, range-to-empty and various other parameters.
While equipped with less electronic wizardry than its bigger siblings, it does boast four engine modes (Urban, Touring, Sport and Enduro). In addition to changes in the engine mapping, the modes also have their own factory settings for ABS and traction control. However, you’re not stuck with the factory settings – it is possible to customise each of the modes to your own preferences.
The big difference between the 950 and the 1200's is obviously the engine – with the reduced capacity come reductions in torque and power output to the tune of almost 44Nm and 35kW. With numbers like that, the 950 would seem to be a damp squib, but the reality is very different. The smaller ‘Strada accelerates briskly from a standstill and at highway speeds it has a prodigious amount of roll-on acceleration. Although I would habitually drop a gear when overtaking, it isn’t really necessary. A simple twist of the throttle in top gear will have you whizzing past the car in front of you in no time at all.
The 950 is equipped with a quick-shifter, the utility of which is less than clear on a bike that is intended as an everyday ride rather than a track demon. That said, the shifter was one of the better examples of the species I have encountered, provided you keep the revs up – in the rev range where sane riders dwell during commuting, gear changes are about as smooth as the actions of a chiropractor.
Handling and braking is fairly typical for adventure sport bikes – the firm suspension is offset by long suspension travel. Despite the travel, though, the ‘Strada tracks true under hard cornering with a surprisingly rapid turn-in for a bike sporting a 19-inch front wheel. To be honest, there was a little bit of oversteer on fast entry into a corner, although this could be due to my natural tendency to lean less on tall bikes. A compliment is due to the Pirelli rubber, as during the test period the traction control never had cause to intervene.
Much as this might be a cliché, the Multistrada 950 is much more than the sum of its parts. Less intimidating and cumbersome that the 1200s, the 950 is a true multi-purpose bike: it has enough power for the open road, it is sufficiently light and nimble for day-to-day riding and it handles dirt roads with much more aplomb than bigger, heavier adventure bikes.
But best of all, it comes in at a price point that makes it possibly the best value for money in Ducati’s stable.
Model: Multistrada 950
Type: Testastretta L-Twin cylinder Desmodromic, 4 valves per cylinder
Displacement: 937 cm³
Maximum Power: 83.1 kW @ 9 000 rpm
Maximum Torque: 96.2 Nm @ 7 750 rpm
Fuel supply system: Bosch Electronic fuel injection
Fuel type: Premium 95 Octane RON
Fuel consumption: n/a
Final drive: chain
Overall length x width x height (mm): n/a
Dry weight: 204 kg
Fuel tank: 20L
Front: 2 x 320 mm Semi-floating discs, radially mounted monobloc Brembo callipers, 4-piston, 2-pad, ABS standard
Rear: 265 mm Disc, 2-piston floating calliper, ABS standard
Front: KYB 48 mm fully adjustable upside-down forks
Rear: Fully adjustable Sachs monoshock unit, remote spring pre-load adjustment, double-sided swingarm
Wheels and Tyres
Wheel, front: Cast alloy, 3.00 x 19"
Wheel, rear: Cast alloy, 4.50 x 17"
Tyre, front: 120/70 - R19, Pirelli Scorpion Trail II
Tyre, rear: 170/60 - R17, Pirelli Scorpion Trail II
Price: R176 000