Fast forward to the present: With the 2010 Multistrada 1200, Ducati has completely redefined what multipurpose means. The concept behind this bike was not just versatility but, in Ducati s words, to make a motorcycle that is quattro moto in una, or four bikes in one.

Ducati wasn't the first to take a crack at big-bore, multi-surface machines, but it has applied a ton of technology to create a bike that can change its demeanor at the touch of a button. At the core of the concept are four distinct riding modes—Sport, Touring, Urban and Enduro—that the rider can select on the fly. And within each of these modes, load settings can be varied and include single rider, single rider with bags, two-up and two-up with bags.

BMW offers a similar system with its ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment), but what sets Ducati's arrangement apart is its "global" nature. That is, choosing a riding mode instantly puts into motion changes that alter three different areas of the Multistrada's dynamics: level of traction control (DTC), electronic suspension (DES) setting and ride-by-wire (RbW) engine response/output parameters.

As a society, we have become ac customed to personalizing things like the desktop layout on our computers or the menus on our music players and cell phones, so it is no surprise that the Multistrada allows the same kind of flexibility. As delivered, category defaults should work well for most riders, but a little exploration through the multitude of menus reveals much opportunity for specific tailoring of performance. And if you screw it up, you can always hit the reset button, just like when you're getting your butt handed to you in a video game.

Our pre-production testbike was the top-shelf 1200S Touring, which, like all models, comes standard with the aforementioned DTC but adds ABS, DES, heated grips, saddlebags and a centerstand. If you are more comfortable tickling carbs before kickin' it over than booting it up (and I don't mean the ones on your feet), this bike may not be for you. But if you're completely competent in finding Motorhead's "Killed by Death" (please tell me you have that song) instantly on your iPod, you'll do just fine.

I know that reading instructions isn't manly; but ifY-chromosomers don't read this bike's manual or get a thorough lesson from a dealer, it's likely to take them a while to figure out how to start the engine. All Multistrada 1200s feature a keyless ignition; the rider carries a key fob in his or her pocket (a PIN code can be entered in case of a lost key), which communicates with the bike (within a 6'/2-foot range) to switch on the ignition and disengage the electronic steering lock.

Sounds easy, right? So far, it is, but you're still not ready to make noise. First, you have to activate the electronics by holding down the red button that slides over the top of the starter button when the bike is turned off, then slide it back up to uncover the starter; now you can fire away. Yeah, it's a few extra steps, but you get used to it quickly. Inside the fob is a switchblade key that manually opens the fuel cap and bags. For fueling convenience, the optional "Hands Free" tank-filler cap is a must, even though it costs a whopping $320; like the bike, the cap unlocks with fob proximity and is opened by a pushbutton.

Our first order of business was to photograph the bike in action. Fortunately, our selected location was 175 miles north of our Newport Beach offices, allowing me to pile on miles to and from. For the freeway, I selected Touring mode, a setting in which engine output

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