It’s been a very mild summer in Chicago this year, yet when my wife and I attempted to leave town that Friday afternoon, temperatures had managed to climb into the upper 80s. Seated two-up aboard a growling 2014 Ducati Multistrada S Granturismo, the downtown Chicago traffic wasn’t helping to keep us cool. Yet as the Multi grumbled between my knees, I knew that while rush hour might slow us down, we were getting out. Slow or fast, we were making our way into Wisconsin for an epic weekend of alphabet roads and a little motorcycle rally I’d never heard of.

The Multi is not a small bike, yet it’s certainly not big in the grand scheme of things, even for a 1200. In city traffic, I wondered if the bike would feel big, especially with full luggage and a pillion. Yet for all the Multi’s visual presence and big, wide bags, it was actually a pleasure to pilot through the throngs of commuters as anxious as I was to kick off the weekend. With its low center of gravity and (no really) perfect chassis balance, the Multistrada did exactly what I wanted it to, and in Urban mode, the bike’s more docile power delivery and softer suspension settings made dodging potholes and stop-and-go traffic much easier to manage. I’ll get more into those riding modes later on.

We spent nearly two hours in our own personal Escape from Chicago, yet the Multistrada at least made easy work of boring riding. We met our moto road trip compatriots just this side of the Wisconsin border at a gas station rally point. They were Bree, aboard his Triumph Bonneville T100 and Jen, the mistressmind behind this little adventure, on her Ninja 250. Turns out we weren’t the only ones out for a bit of fun on the road:

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With the city traffic behind us and adventure before us, Jen led the way toward that evening’s destination: Boscobel, WI and the Sands Motel. Yet we didn’t go direct. What’s the fun in that? Instead we started winding our way through the remainder of northern Illinois and into America’s Dairyland. We left behind the outer edges of Chicago’s urban sprawl for the occasional small town and rural Friday night’s entertainment. With the sun getting lower in the west, things cooled off and we continued our two wheel cruise vaguely north-by-northwest.

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Our meandering ate up a little more daylight than we’d wanted it to, but it’s tough to give up on winding country roads when you’re used to the crush of Chicago city traffic. We made a fuel and stretch stop about an hour outside our destination — managing to catch the place just as the service station was closing for the night at 9:00 PM. I can only assume it was also her night to roll up the sidewalks. No matter, with proper darkness falling we set off into the night and simply steeled ourselves to a bit of boring freeway riding. Along the way, we were joined by Davin, the fifth member of our caravan, aboard his Honda VFR. The four bikes now together, I’d put enough miles on the Multi to really start figuring it out.

In Granturismo trim, the Multistrada S has a starting MSRP of $22,295. Without previously experiencing the bike first-hand, I’d wondered where all that money goes. After four hours and 200+ miles, the asking price made a lot of sense. In terms of the big-picture aspects of the bike, you’re more than getting what you pay for. The chassis is utterly poised at all times, whether deep in a corner or under heavy braking. That 1200cc, 11° L-Twin engine makes gobs of power, but has a lot of fun doing it. It’s also mated to the smoothest-shifting transmission I’ve ever put my left foot on. The gear engagement and hydraulic clutch make for truly effortless shifting. The Multistrada’s tall gearing is perfect for stretching out at speed, but I had to adjust my riding style to make sure I was in the right gear. This bike is geared tall and the gears are pretty far apart compared to your typical sport-oriented motorcycle with close-ratio gearing. If I was two gears too high and tried to roll-on aggressively, the Multi would pretty much have none of it. Sure, it’d climb out of that torque hole eventually, but downshifting is a must on this bike.

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The chassis and engine are great, but it’s the tunable riding modes and variable, electronic Ohlins suspension make the underlying bike one of the most brilliant motorcycles I’ve ever ridden — and I sway that without even getting into the ABS and traction control settings that, along with the suspension, can be adjusted on the fly through the bike’s riding modes. Choose Sport or Touring, and you can then further tailor to the bike’s settings. Want more ABS? Done. Want the traction control to interfere later? You can set that. Want to dial down the rear suspension and make a more comfortable ride for your passenger? You can do that too.

Add to all that a particularly spacious and sturdy set of key-matched luggage, and a pair of blinding driving lights, and the Multi really does seem to earn its asking price. The only thing I can ding it for is not coming standard with an integrated USB charger. That can be had easy enough, but given the Multi’s competition (for instance, BMW) that would be an easy box to check.

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Those projector driving lights came in particularly handy as we rode through the darkness to our lodging in Boscobel. Yet it must be said that the standard LED headlight array on the Multistrada is extremely impressive all on its own. With a separate halogen high-beam, the default eyes on the Multistrada do a great job lighting up the roadway. There’s a certain kind of luxury in being on a motorcycle that isn’t over-driving its headlights above 45 mph.

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An hour or so gone in the unseasonably cool July night, we finally cruised into Boscobel and pulled up outside the Sands. It’s an old fashioned place, where you half expect spacious showers and a nice young man at the front desk who does his own taxidermy. That’s unfair, though. The Sands is not the Hilton, but that’s okay. Not everything old is actually bad. Even aboard such a new, modern motorcycle, it’s easy to appreciate the simple utility of a well-kept motel. I could park my bike right outside my door, the room was clean, and the A/C worked. What more would we really need?

Well, food, for starters. The Sands couldn’t help us there.

At nearly 11:00 PM, we had a quickly-closing window where we could make it to one of the local watering holes and actually get some real food made for us. I snatched the side bags off the Multi, stowed them in the room (then proceeded to lose my room key for about 10 minutes) and we headed off on foot for Double K’s Bar and Grill half a mile away. It’s funny what “walking distance” is for Chicago folks as opposed to most other places, but distance notwithstanding, we still had to get there before the kitchen closed, so our pace was just shy of a jog.

We burst through the door at Double K’s and Jen flagged down the bartender with great urgency. “We’re gonna need food! Is it too late?” Thankfully we’d made it. With some hasty browsing of the menu we ordered the first things to catch our eye. Burgers, fries, various deep-fried cheeses and other grill food was on its way. With food on the way, our journey on foot was completely worth it. We could now order drinks with complete abandon. We could crawl back to the Sands if need be.

The blur of our riding and rushing immediately melted away as we took our seats around an empty high-top. We toasted a ride well ridden and reviewed our plans for the following day. Breakfast at Unique Cafe would kick us off, because pancakes, then we’d take the scenic route up to the Lorem Ipsum Rally, then alphabet roads back to Boscobel to improvise our own Saturday night pub crawl. With leg one done, we reveled into the night.

The walk back to the Sands was, thankfully, much more leisurely. With nothing waiting on us but our beds, we said our goodnights and retired to our respective rooms. Outside, the Multistrada waited for the next day’s adventure. We were just getting to know each other, and soon, I’d have the crucible of Wisconsin alphabet roads to really see what the big Ducati was made of.

To be continued…