The Ducati team set itself a very ambitious goal when it went about re-imagining its least popular model, the Multistrada adventure bike. The aim was to make the 2010 Multistrada a much more flexible bike than anything before it, offering proper sportsbike performance, true long-range touring abilities, easy commuting and a genuine ability to get offroad and play in the dirt. Starting with the monstrous v-twin from the 1198 superbike, the design team has pulled together and integrated a huge range of cutting-edge technologies to get there. In fact, with its traction control, variable engine maps and electronically adjustable Ohlins suspension, there's a good argument to say that it'll be the most technologically advanced motorcycle in production next year. Oh, and it'll be much, much lighter and much, much more powerful than anything else in the adventure bike world. Forget everything you know about Multistradas, this bike is going to be an absolute animal.

Ever since Ewan and Charley made their first trip around the world, the "adventure bike" segment has captured the public imagination. R1200GSes, V-Stroms, Tigers and big KTMs have all planted niche flags in the "Go Anywhere" segment, and done a fine job of the compromise between road and off-road touring. But while a good rider can certainly put some sportsbikers' noses out of joint astride one of these warhorses, none of them really tickle the hooligan glands. One hundred-odd horsepower is well and good for sensible, quick roadriding, but short of putting knobblies on an R1 there hasn't really been a proper attempt to meld offroad capability with true sportsbike performance.

The 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200

So here it is, the 2010 Multistrada - and Ducati have thrown the kitchen sink at this baby, with a combination of quirky Italian design, cutting-edge technology and plain old horsepower. This bike will be an absolute monster.

Let's talk about the engine first - the older model Multistrada 1100DS offered plenty of displacement but put out a fairly pedestrian 90-odd horsepower. The change for 2010 is more revolution than evolution - the new bike gets a version of Ducati's hammering 1198 superbike engine, detuned to 150 horsepower.

This is one of the few cases where buyers might be relieved to hear the engine has had some power lopped off the top end - after all, the barnstorming 1198 superbike rears up like a randy stallion in third gear on an abrupt throttle input, even with the rider hunched over the front end. One hundred and fifty horses, combined with the upright seating position of the 2010 Multistrada, will be more than enough to massage the adrenaline glands and make riders glad they wore the brown underpants.

The bike's dry weight is also very impressive - Ducati claims that its 189kg makes it lighter than any other adventure, touring or sports-touring bike. And that will certainly add to its impressive credentials in the sports and offroad areas.

Ducati goes all-in on electronics

While the old Multistrada (or "many roads") was a fairly simple bike, the 2010 model bristles with the kind of technology you'd expect to see on a top-shelf BMW.

Ducati Traction Control
For starters, there's an eight-stage traction control system to keep that vicious motor in check, letting you decide exactly how much slide you want out of the rear wheel. At level 8, the system intervenes in milliseconds to quell the slightest wheelspin. At level 1, you're on your own.

Ride by Wire throttle management
Like we've seen on recent Yamahas, Aprilias and other sportsbikes, the twistgrip on the new Multistrada has no throttle cable at all - instead, it's got a spring and a sensor that feeds all throttle inputs into the bike's ECU before it decides exactly how much fuel to squirt and how much air to suck in. This allows Ducati to offer easily switchable power modes - but more on that later.

Electronically Adjustable Ohlins Suspension
Now they're just starting to show off - this top-shelf Ohlins suspension can be adjusted for preload, compression and rebound damping at either end without a c-spanner or screwdriver in sight. The rider can set all these variables electronically via the digital dash. To date and to my memory, the only other bikes to have this sort of feature have been late-model BMWs with optional ESA systems - but those don't offer this degree of fine control. It's an option on the base model Multistrada but standard on the 'S' version.

ABS
Again standard on the S model but optional on the standard model is a Bosch-Brembo ABS system. True to the sporting nature of this bike, it can be turned off. I'll admit to having been a skeptic on the value of ABS on motorcycles, but recent bikes I've tested have thoroughly convinced me it's a great addition - being able to ram on the front and rear brakes in an emergency, wet or dry, and pull up right at the edge of traction is a real lifesaver.

How it all comes together

You could spend all day long fiddling with all the electronics on the new Multistrada, choosing the perfect engine mapping, suspension settings and traction control setup for each road you turned down. Or, you could simply choose one of the four riding modes built-in: Sports, Touring, Urban or Enduro - and choose whether you're riding alone or with a passenger, and with or without luggage.

From there, the systems above work in concert to transform the nature of the bike from firm, slightly squirrelly, 150hp sports mode with an abrupt throttle response, through touring, which still gives you that full 150 horses, but does it in a gentler way and backs off the suspension for comfort, to urban, which ratchets up the traction control, softens off the suspension again and drops peak power output to around 100hp - and down to enduro mode, which raises the bike up on its suspension, gives a smooth 100 horsepower, and drops the traction control and ABS right down so you can make rooster-tails in the dirt.

It has to stand as the most thoroughly integrated and broadly conceived multi-mode option ever offered on a motorcycle, and if it works as well as it should, it seems lie the 2010 Multistrada will live up to its promise of being "four bikes in one."

And the rest

As I mentioned before, Ducati has really thrown the kitchen sink at this bike. Rather than go into too much detail, I'll just mention some of the other gear that comes with it:

  • Dot-matrix LCD dash displaying a dizzying array of data including everything you'd expect plus tire pressures, fuel levels, remaining fuel/distance, fuel consumption data, average speed, air temperature and the last three seasons of 'The Sopranos'
  • Keyless Ignition - the bike arms itself when the electronically coded key is within 2 meters, and can be started
  • Slipper Clutch to manage rear-wheel traction under engine braking
  • A mobile phone storage area in the front fairing
  • A natty single-sided swingarm

...and a huge range of options, from panniers and GPS units to the requisite lashings of carbon fiber you'd expect in a Ducati options list.

Make no mistake, this is a groundbreaking bike and a huge achievement for Ducati. It's so much more advanced than the previous Multistrada that it almost seems worthy of a new model name. It pushes the limits of the adventure bike segment in both directions with its frankly rude sporting performance figures and its intelligently integrated offroad abilities. It pushes Ducati a nose ahead of BMW in the advanced technology stakes. It's going to be an absolute blast to ride, and it's so much slimmer and better looking than anything else in its segment (the Triumph Tiger is second, then daylight) that it's almost embarrassing.

What an outstanding machine. I can't wait to ride one!