As some evidence of this, for the first half of 2010, BMW reports the GS outsold all other motorcycles worldwide in the 500cc or larger category. Furthermore, for the same period, the mighty GS led the charge in a 23.2% gain in bike sales volume for BMW.
Within BMW the GS also dominates. According to Pieter de Waal, vice president of BMW Motorrad USA, the GS accounts for upwards of 30% of total BMW bike sales around the Big Blue Marble.
The king is still on his global throne.
But in recent years other brands have made attempts to loosen the GS’ stranglehold over the on/off-road sector of motorcycling – KTM’s dirt bike-inspired 990 Adventure leaps to mind. However, not until this year has any brand attempted to match the German giant’s ever-growing array of electronic rider aids available on the GS.
The new Multistrada 1200, now powered by a retuned version of the liquid-cooled 1199cc L-Twin sourced from Ducati’s 1198 superbike, has not only gained heaps more power over the previous 1078cc air-cooled Multi, it brings a multitude of e-gizmos.
Although Ducati doesn’t tout the new ‘Strada as a conqueror of unforgiving backcountry, its MSRP(s), engine performance and rider-manageable electronics package are thinly veiled advances against the GS’s profound share of the A-T market.
A duel between the updated-for-2010 GS and new Multistrada seemed inevitable, so, that’s just what we did.
A battle of upscale gadgetry
We procured a GS ($14,950 base) with the optional Premium Package.
This top-shelf trim level includes extras such as heated grips, saddlebag mounts and BMW’s Integral ABS – which make up the Standard Package $16,400 – as well as Enduro ESA push-button suspension, on-board computer and hand guards. The Premium trim level pushes the GS’s price to $17,695.
BMW’s Enduro ESA adds six rider-selectable damping settings (tailored for off-road use) to the existing nine on-road damping settings from ESA found on BMW’s road-going bikes. Suspension preload settings (rider, rider/gear, rider/passenger for street, Minimum/Maximum Reserves for off-road) combine with damping settings to create a grand total of 15 possible suspension settings.
It bears noting that only the damping selections are switchable on the fly. Additionally, in order to toggle between on-road and off-road damping choices, as well as for preload choices, the GS must be at a complete stop with the engine running.
BMW’s ABS also requires the bike be at standstill before the rider disables or enables the system.
BMW has its own traction control system called ASC (also disabled by the push of a button), but none of the test units available to the press at the time we requested a GS had the system installed.
Our GS also came equipped with optional spoke wheels ($950) and centerstand ($240). To highlight the GS’s touring capabilities we opted for a set of BMW-branded Vario sidecases ringing in at $466.95 per side.
All totaled, with BMW’s $495 destination charge factored in, the GS retails for $20,313.90.
That’s a steep entry fee by most standards, but when compared to the Multistrada S models, the Beemer comes in as the less expensive bike. Wow. How often does that happen?
Although ABS is a $1500 option on the$14,495 base Multistrada, Ducati’s traction control system with eight levels of intervention, as well as four fuel mapping selections (Sport, Touring, Urban, Enduro), are part and parcel on the entry level Multi.
Sport mode unleashes the full potency of the 1199cc Twin, which churned out 128.7 peak hp at 9250 rpm and 78.6 ft-lbs at 7500 rpm when we ran it on dyno at Gene Thomason Racing (310-704-4544) in Torrance, Calif. Touring mode allows the same peak power, but with a softer delivery. Urban and Enduro modes clip power significantly by limiting throttle openings to 60%.
No big shocker here, but the BMW’s peak ponies fall a fair bit short of the Duc’s.
Still, the GS’s 88.2 hp at 7500rpm provides plenty of poke to get the big traillie down the road briskly. And it’ll cruise the interstate all day long at an indicated 90 mph. The GS’s 68.6 ft-lbs at 6750 rpm torque reading isn’t exactly on par with Multi, but the Beemer produces the lion’s share of its torque early in the rpm range (48.0 ft-lbs by 2000 rpm). And it’s able to keep within a couple ft-lbs of the Duc’s torque output until 5K-ish rpm where the Ducati starts to edge away.
Like the flagship 1198 superbike and hooligan-maker Streetfighter, an up spec S model is available for the Multi, too.
The Multistrada S Sport features various carbon fiber covers and trim pieces, while the S Touring model forgoes exotic carbon in favor saddlebags, heated grips and a centerstand. But the most impressive and distinctive feature on the S models is the use of Ohlins TTX electronic suspension.
On the S models, fuel-mapping selections are tied to DTC as well as the electronic suspension to create a series of turnkey settings. For example, in Sport mode the engine’s full power is unbridled, suspension damping is firmer and DTC is set to level 4.
Adding further to the Duc-e-wizardry, a rider can choose from four different load scenarios (rider, rider w/gear, etc) for the suspension compared to three on the BMW. These load settings – indicated by lil’ helmet and luggage icons – compensate for added weight by screwing down spring preload.
The mapping modes and suspension load changes on the MTS can take place while blitzing along at speed, if you wish. Depending on your needs, the Duc’s on-the-fly adjustments may be perceived as a distinct advantage over the GS’ system. Yet, the GS’s engine is quite manageable and user-friendly, so there doesn’t seem a genuine need to grace it with selectable mapping.
ABS on the MTS can be disabled entirely, as can DTC. Also, DTC allows for level selection (1 for least intrusive, 8 is most intrusive) independent of presets programmed into the system.
Our Multi test mule was an S Sport; and with accessory saddlebags ($849 per pair) it tallied up a $20,844 price tag.