PALM DESERT, Calif. — The 2022 Ducati Multistrada V4 Pikes Peak comes from a brand with a complex relationship with the mountain course from which it takes its name. Of course, Pikes Peak means different things to different people. Ask rally legend Walter Röhrl, and he’ll regale you with tales of breaking the 11-minute barrier in the bonkers Audi Sport Quattro S1. Talk to reigning motorcycle record holder Rennie Scaysbrook, and he’ll describe the two-wheeled terror of wrangling the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 up the mountain in a mere 9 minutes, 44 seconds.
Though Ducati was a relative latecomer to the event, the Bologna brand racked up 7 class wins at Pikes Peak between 2008 and 2018, inspiring the brand’s first Pikes Peak edition Multistrada model in 2018. It was essentially a snazzy livery package, but the PP edition was notable because it marked the brand’s escalating reputation due to its association with the event — that is, until the unthinkable happened. In 2019, 36-year-old champion racer Carlin Dunne, on his way to a likely fifth win aboard a Ducati V4 Streetfighter prototype, lost control of his bike just yards short of the finish line and was killed. The tragedy sent shockwaves through the industry; after 66 continuous years of two-wheeled competition, motorcycles ceased being a part of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
And yet, there is the 2022 Ducati Multistrada V4 Pikes Peak. Between the marque’s record sales and a global pandemic that has bolstered interest in two-wheeled diversions, it’s only natural Ducati upgrades its strong-selling Multistrada. Rather than use the Pikes Peak badge for a graphics package, this time they attached the mountainous moniker to a comprehensive series of upgrades intended to make it a sportier pavement bruiser. First, there’s the livery, inspired by Ducati’s 2021 MotoGP bikes and featuring a red, white, and black scheme that differentiates it from more plainly ornamented Multis.
Power comes from the same 170 horsepower, 92 lb-ft V4 powerplant you’ll find in other Multistrada variants. However, the front wheel shrinks from an offroad-friendly 19 inches to 17 inches, matching the rear diameter. Gone is the stout double-sided swingarm in favor of a sexier single-sided unit that shows off more of the matte black Marchesini wheel. Between the front and rear forged hoops, unsprung mass is reduced by a significant eight pounds, trimming curb weight to 527 pounds. Furthering the sporty mission are revised ergonomics that include taller footpegs that are positioned further back, and lower handlebars that are swept forward and tucked in. Wheelbase has been lengthened by 1.1 inches for stability, and rake climbs by 1.25 degrees. In the interest of handling crispness and control, the rear wheel sacrifices .4 inches of travel. The bike’s copious electronics systems have also been reworked, with software tweaks enabling more aggressive ABS, quick shift, and wheelie control action.
Climb aboard this Multistrada, and there’s no denying its imposing presence. With a minimum seat height of 33.1 inches (which can be raised to 33.9 inches) and a hulking tank that holds a bladder-busting 5.8 gallons, the Multi feels substantial at rest. But when the mighty V4 is cranked to life and the bike lifted off its side stand, power, weight distribution, and suspension tuning conspire to shrink its proportions and bolster its impersonation of an agile superbike trapped in the body of an adventure tourer. Particularly at lower speeds, the Pikes Peak feels surprisingly agile, able to flick around with the nimbleness of a smaller bike. The smaller and lighter front wheel plays a big part of this renewed maneuverability, which breeds confidence when managing quick turns and mid-corner adjustments. Also confidence boosting: A blind-spot detection system that illuminates the side mirrors, and an adaptive cruise control system that operates smoothly and effectively at speeds above 25 mph, the first in any production motorcycle.
The Multistrada offers quite a bit of electronic adjustability, between engine, ABS, suspension, traction control and wheelie control settings. Much of these parameters require the bike to be stopped in order to fine tune the particulars. However, preset ride modes — Urban, Touring, Sport, and Race — can be selected on the fly, the latter of which is exclusive to the Pikes Peak model. All is managed via buttons and toggles on the handgrip’s switchgear, with slick graphics displayed on a 6.5-inch digital screen. Once you’re over the dizzying task of setting up the bike, this Multistrada tends to feel comfortably set up for quick, precise riding. The seating position is just a bit forward and committed, but not so much so that it strains the wrists. Equipped with the optional titanium and carbon fiber Akrapovič exhaust can, there’s enough engine bark to make its presence known, but not so much that it wakes the dead (a non-street-legal version is also available).
As much as the engine feels smooth and grunty at lower rpms, the V4’s evenness feels like it lacks the thumpy, uncorked character of the late great L-twin. That said, there’s a deceptive amount of power lurking in what already feels like an immensely powerful engine. Ride around casually, and the V4 pulls strongly and easily without complaint, cooperating nicely with Ducati’s quick shifter, which eliminates the need to pull the clutch lever for upshifts or downshifts. But let’s say an opening in traffic requires an aggressive squirt ahead: Crank the throttle and the engine pulls and pulls, exploding with power beyond 5,000 rpm all the way up to its 11,500 rpm cutoff. Peak horsepower occurs at a lofty 10,500 rpm and max torque comes at 8,750 rpm, which makes it tempting to rev the bejesus out of the engine before tapping the shifter with your left boot. But there’s also no real need to wring it out, given the engine’s flexibility and comfort at lower rpms.
Riding the Pikes Peak Multistrada through the San Jacinto mountains on a brisk December day made it feel like a near-ideal dance partner for the winding roads above Palm Desert. Though our tester was equipped with the optional heated saddle, it lacked the available heated grips, making for a chilly experience despite the handguards diverting some of the cool airflow away. Dynamically, it delivered an experience akin to a super SUV like a Cayenne Turbo GT, a Bentley Bentayga, or a Lamborghini Urus.
These are fitting analogies not only because the Multistrada is refined, capable, and effortless in its speed, but also because Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A is owned by the Volkswagen Group. While the Multistrada Pikes Peak’s $28,995 premium puts it in the stratosphere of sporty adventure touring bikes, its engineering achievements and performance capabilities make it a sort of moto bargain compared to its automotive equivalents. Whether or not this Italian powerhouse is for you, the Multistrada V4 Pikes Peak stands alone as an exceptional accomplishment in a field of already capable bikes. Here’s to some of its tech trickling down to more affordable models so performance and safety can be enjoyed by a bigger slice of the riding population.