Comparison review: BMW's R1200RT and Ducati's 1200S Multistrada
I have not seen a comparison between BMW's R1200RT and Ducati's 1200S Multistrada, so I thought I would provide one. I have owned both for about 18 months, 10K miles. I plan to post this to both the RT and MTS forums, so I will try to be honest and even handed to both.
Firstly, I think I need to justify why one would even compare such different bikes. Both are state of the art vehicles, from two premium brands. Both are expensive enough to give you a nose bleed in the showroom. Both are well built and suited to long distance riding. Both offer a comfortable, roomy riding position. Both are classy lovely things. I think that both will appeal to a certain sort of well heeled rider with a gold card in their wallet. So which is best?
Well, lets first talk about similarities. Both of these bikes are dead easy to ride. They have light steering, they both handle perfectly (neither will wobble, weave, churn or shake its head) so you can mess up a corner, brake, change line, panic or whatever, and the bike will not care. This I think is an important feature of a tourer: you will be on roads you don't know, and the bike has to be OK with you messing corners up and still let you have fun. The other half to this is that such bikes need forgiving, flexible engines and both bikes have these: whatever gear you are in, whatever revs on the dial, opening the throttle on either bike will see it accelerate away convincingly.
Both bikes come with large, easily detachable paniers. You can get full face lid in either marque. The Ducati's bags work really well, and do not leak, but they can't match the heavy, riffle-bolt quality of the BMWs.
Both bikes have screens. And on both bikes you will be in for a shock as you pull away and a wall of air pours over them and into your head. Both bikes produce a stunning amount of helmet noise and you will have to wear ear plugs. Now on the BMW you can tweak the screen height and find that sweet spot where all the noise stops and one is in a bubble of calm, still air. It freaks me out a bit to be belting along and feel no, i.e. zero, wind blast, but then I am weird. On the BMW, escaping the air blast means having the screen up at one's eye line. This also freaks me out as I suddenly notice the extreme angle its making to the horizon as I wiz round a corner. The BMW can go round corners really quickly, and it just doesn't seem right with the screen up. But as I said, I am weird. On the Ducati, there is never really any escape from the air, and I ended up fitting a shorty pikes peak screen, which makes it much more like a naked. I prefer no screen to the need to constantly fiddle with the BMWs even though it means I get wet on the MTS.
There are many other areas where these bikes are the same. On both, everything works, and works properly. Tank gauges do actually tell you how much gas you have left. The brakes really will stop you violently if need be. The lights will light the road. The heated grips will keep your hands warm. I have taken both off road (well, dirt roads) and both bikes coped well, but you would have to be mad to take something as heavy and as expensive at these off piste. These are both well developed bikes that the manufacturers have taken time over.
Well, with one exception. The BMW has a comedy gearbox, that makes selecting the first gear of the day something of an event. For those of you who have never ridden a boxer, I want to just take a paragraph to give you a feel for the scale of this issue. The rest of you can skip the next bit.
OK, to get a feel for what its like to put an RT into gear first thing in the morning, find a car under a 7 story building, take a firm grasp of the driver side door handle, and have a mate push a skip/dumpster (ideally filled with scrap metal) off the building's roof onto said car. The resulting tooth-shattering bang will be fairly close to the experience of selecting first on an RT. You might think I am kidding, but old BMW hands will be now nodding into their beards and mumbling something about classic English understatement. It really is that bad. I never got used to this. Every morning I coped by closing my eyes before selecting first and I would keep them closed until the shock waves stopped echoing off the hills, and the sound of falling metal ceased. Then I would open my eyes and be amazed that the bike was still there, happily idling to itself, while people staggered around it holding their chests, crying children were comforted and old soldiers climbed out of ditches.
The Ducati will go into first with a discrete thunk.
Having said all that, the BMW feels wonderful as you pull away for the day. No clanking chains. Instead German engineered gears mesh with German engineered gears in a warm bath of the finest lubricant. It smooths itself away from my house like a steel pool ball on the finest green baize. Lovely.
OK, so what is different? Two things. First off the Ducati feels tiny after the RT. Its very narrow and its like sitting on a 250 trials bike. The RT's feeling of size and weight disappear as soon as you are moving, and it will dance up mountain passes as well as the Ducati, but it feels a big old lump when stationary.
The other, bigger difference, is the engines. As you walk to an RT, one is struck by the bloody great cylinders sticking out either side. Great big metal things. I found this thrilling. Whereas the engine is near invisible on the Ducati, hidden by plastic covers. However the big change happens when you press the starter. The Ducati is loud! It barks into life after spinning for just long enough to remind you that as an Italian, it reserves the right not to start. Then it roars into life, which is a relief, and a bit scary. I have never ridden anything this noisy. Someone at Ducati must have some very embarrassing pictures of the head of the EU noise certification department.
The experience of riding the Ducati is completely dominated by that engine. It praaps, it bangs, it pops, it roars and it grumbles. Come out of an average corner, see a little clear straight, open its throttle and the MTS will go braaaAAAP! and hurl you giggling at the next corner. No boxer has ever gone BRAAAP and no boxer has made its rider giggle like a little kid. You end up riding the MTS very differently from the RT, deliberately lunging from bend to bend, revelling in using the engine to brake "BWOOOAAAAAAarrrrr", then blasting away again. You are always very aware that there are two enormous pistons flailing around down there, exploding petrol. Even holding speed in traffic on highways, when the engine is essentially shut down, just wafting you along, you are still very aware of it. It's like sitting on sleeping dragon that has just eaten a village, there are rumblings, the occasional shudder, and you know all hell can break out at any moment.
The BMW engine is so smooth, and so silent, that you really do have to check the tacho to see if its running. Press the starter, click, and its on. Some air comes out the back of its exhaust. When you open the throttle, it feels like magic or magnetism gently but firmly moves you to the horizon. Honestly, it feels like an electric motor. To be frank, it’s a bit boring.
Both bikes have the euro 4 flat spot around 4,000 rpm, that makes them hesitate if you open the throttle at that point. Neither is that annoying. On the BMW it feels like the bike is just running through a check list before saying "yes, all parameters are appropriate, commencing level 4 acceleration now..". On the Ducati it feels more like you have just surprised it "Did you just tweak my throttle!, Right! BWAAAAAAA… ". Where the BMW flat spot can be annoying is around 80mph when it can feel like its running out of fuel. This weak feeling gets a lot worse if you have the screen up and the cruise control on. The Ducati never feels weak.
Both proved reliable for me but not niggle free. Main dealers had to sort the odd issue on both bikes but neither let me down on the road. The BMW really does need a new fuel map for happy highway cruising. The Ducati really did need a new seat (the standard one slopes forward, so when cruising you tend to slide down into the tank) - I fitted a touratec unit. Both will do good gas mileage. Both were all day comfortable, and this from a person who is very fussy about comfort. Both handled well, and it is easy and great fun to keep up with sports bike riders on either. Its especially funny on the BMW.
So which is better? The BMW is clearly the better vehicle. Its better made, more developed, it feels classier, it will last a lifetime and it will get you from A to B in more comfort. But the Ducati is the better bike. I can see that if you have a particular need for a two, not four wheeled, vehicle on a commute (maybe so you can filter lanes, or to easier park) then the BMW would be a great choice. But if you ride a bike not only for practical reasons but also for fun, because it makes you feel more alive, because you just like the sensations of riding, then the Ducati is for you. Its fun. You will always come back from a ride with a silly grin on your face.