Rolling out of Bologna on a sunny Saturday it was difficult to stop pinching myself; Saturday June the 7th 2003; practice day for the Italian MotoGP; the race that would be Ducati's first home GP for over thirty
To cap it all I had solved my Mugello accommodation crisis in the most spectacular way, I had got a hotel room in Bologna, one hours ride from the circuit and found a Multistrada to use for the daily commute.
Oh and one more thing, there is a choice of route, you can either travel by the Autostrada or you have to cross over the
hills on the Futa and Raticosa passes; Ducati's unofficial test track. If you are reading this website I am sure you would agree with me there was no contest.
This was my first ride on a Multistrada, the first of a new family of bikes for Ducati, designed for fun riding on roads that are not perfect (I think that'll mean normal roads then) and for every day use.
Initial impressions are of height, the bike and its seat measure up quite reasonably low, but after years of rolling forward to the
bars the easy seating position seems tall. As you roll to a stop at the lights and put your feet down your legs go in front of the saddle, alongside the narrow section at the front of the seat,
just like an old style independently sprung saddle. The seat is hard but wide at the back, again like an old fashioned saddle, and because of the shape you don't notice the hardness so quickly
because your weight is spread over a wider area (well mine is anyway….).
Power is easy, really fluid and surprisingly smooth. From just over tickover upwards. You find yourself easily rolling forward and then just gassing it because it's fun. It just storms off towards
7000 rpm in an addictive rush. Power levels are similar to a bored and ported 900ss or Monster engine, it tapers off over 7500 but I think decent porting would do something about that. This is
an example of real world power delivered in a really usable way. Overtaking is a complete doddle; stick it out into the opposite lane and nail it anywhere under a 100 and it just gets up and goes.
The ride is firm but supple; hitting the brakes
on a bumpy road doesn't bottom anything or knock it off line. Rear end is well controlled and safe. It's a really easy bike to trickle along on, seating position very relaxing at
low speeds, and it seems just as easy when you start to go for it.
Tootling up into the hills towards the Futa pass the bike simply performed, it settles easily into the corners, real stable, no noticeable pitch. As the roads open up and we got further away from Bologna it just got
better. The bike encourages easy speed, just rolling on the throttle anywhere above 3000 rpm and up to 7500, third and fourth gear. Everything from the motor to the ride
was real smooth and surreally quick. It gets quite addictive actually, you slow down just you can wind it on again………..
Braking very progressive, you wanna stop? Just pull the (adjustable) lever … and it stops, every time, no snatch, no fade; and if you are really, really into serious braking the 999S's four pad
calipers will bolt straight on.
The S65 is the old road from Bologna to Florence (Firenze if you are looking this up on a map), two lane and unpredictable, lots
of twist and blind corners. Following the ridge the section from Bologna to the Raticosa is well made, after that the tarmac deteriorates with repairs and frost heaves destroying the surface, usually when you
need it least, and that's what the Multistrada deals with really well. The front suspension is really well controlled, no obvious pitching but with the ability to follow the road surface
perfectly. The sensation is of complete control. Unlike some of the other bikes in the range it doesn't seem to need to be 'on throttle' for the bike to hold a line, it just does.
Not being a regular commuter over the Futa pass there was a limit to how fast I was prepared to go, especially on a bike new to me. The bike made up for a large part of my lack of knowledge and allowed me to make a
reasonable attempt at staying with the locals on their way to Mugello. Two tricked up Monsters came past in close formation but after several miles of trying to get close enough to see the 'factory tester' signs on
the riders backs I decided that I was going to live longer by continuing to assume that the next blind corner would tighten up half way round, and have a 200 metre drop straight off the edge.
A brief aside here; riding in Italy infuriates me like that. The whole Italian race seem able to assume that the road after a blind corner will be safe; and they ride in to the corners
appropriately quickly; after 30 years of being vaguely silly on English backroads all I have leaned to assume is that something nasty will be hiding round the corner; either the entire Kent and
Sussex Hunt or merely a pile of gravel (managed both of those at least once before!!), if I cant see, I just can't go for it.
I found a more acceptable riding partner in a local on a BMW R1100S, I had difficulty in staying ahead (see paragraph above); but as soon as I let him past and I could use him to spot the
corners I would be right behind him and wanting to get him out of my way. Watching him from behind his suspension was clearly giving him more cause for concern over bumps and there was
a lot more gear changing going on.
Real speed on a road like this is down to trusting the front and getting into a quick rhythm. This bike simply enhances that trust and makes it easy to roll along somewhat faster and easier than
you would expect to.
Back to Bologna after dark on the Autostrada; big rucksack and a little compromise to the wind and the bike gets up to 210 kmph (130mph plus, ish). It's a bit blustery simply because of the
speed but the wind coming off the screen is clean, no turbulence or head banging buffeting. Ducking down is effective but as the initial seating position is upright it means you have to pull
forward on the bars, 100mph is easy, there is a load of power for more but its missing the point if you want to regularly hold 100mph plus speeds, that's what a 999 is for.
The next day we had a rerun, somewhat faster this time, with some more playmates too, in front I would have some problems but with a front runner to follow they would suddenly be in my way,
this is a seriously quick bike; in the real world……
Mugello itself is set in the Tuscan hills about 20 miles from Florence, still green in early June the circuit is a complex mix of a long
straight and variable radius curves set on a hillside, lots of ups and downs and plenty of places for passing. The crowd is really enthusiastic and knowledgeable too.
Different parts of the circuit have different allegiances, just like a Roman amphitheatre in the days of the Gladiators. There is the Rossi corner, with the official Rossi fan club,
all dressed in yellow and fully armed with yellow smoke bombs………then there is the Max fan club opposite. Ducati had a stand especially for their supporters too, with enough red smoke bombs to hide the Bismarck………….
I went down to the line for the start then walked towards the first corner; nothing, absolutely nothing, on the telly gets you ready for the sheer noise of these bikes as they all set off together.
And there are few camera positions that can handle the speed the bikes go past at the end of the Mugello start straight. What they don't tell you is that the 207mph clocked through the speed trap
at the 300-metre board is done with the front wheel in the air. The straight rises as it goes past the pit lane, crests at the 300 metre point where the speed trap is situated, then dives down to
the long gently curving entrance to the first (150 degree uphill) corner. The bikes front wheels rise over the crest then as they dropdown the final hill the brakes go on and the back wheels
slide out of line, all the time sounding for all the world like a Formula one race. I honestly thought I had pretty much seen it all with racing but watching Rossi, Capirossi, and Biaggi slide sideways
in to the first corner, side by side was dumbfounding, quite, quite unbelievable. 200 mph US dirttrack racing, but with fairings and clipons.
Capirossi grabbed an initial lead, Rossi and Biaggi hanging on at the rear; Bayliss off a third row start (setup problems following a new front tyre construction) fought his way up to the lead group
and then bayled (sorry!!) into the gravel. Capirossi went back to third as the two Hondas got in front then as Rossi started to break free in the last third of the race Capirossi made a charge
towards the front passing Biaggi by riding round the outside at turn three. In the final stages Capirossi started to close the gap but couldn't quite get there, not bad for Ducati's second ever
Italian GP and their first for over thirty years.
Neil Spalding 2003