What does it take to grow a bike from an idea into a tangible, saleable product? We are handed the end product of years of engineering science, testing and development. The marketing teams sell us the story about endless changes, tweaks and developments, but how does a team decide on those? How do they test them? At what point do they decide it’s ready to be sold or go in the bin?

We sat down with the head of Ducati’s Multistrada Project, Federico Sabbioni, to learn how the Italian brand gave birth to their latest masterpiece, the 1200 Enduro. He’s a man that has been with Ducati since graduating from university and has a list of special motorcycles under his cap, the HyperMotard, Scrambler and Multistrada ranges.

This interview has been tweaked and edited for readability purposes.


BRAKE:
When you began the Multistrada Enduro project did you have an idea of the dimensional changes you wanted to make and the direction the bike had to go? How does the bike design process begin?

 

Federico:
We started the development of the Multistrada 1200 with the Enduro project already in mind. The idea was always to have a truly off-road capable version. So from the second part of 2011 we started the project. We developed the chassis and the engine platform with the idea to build both bikes from the same base.

At the same time we were really aware that this would be the first truly off-road capable bike that we’d ever built. We realised that this was a very important project and it should be taken seriously. It was decided to not bring the Enduro to the market at the same time as the original Multistrada because we had in our mind that developing an off-road bike would require some more time, testing, experience and for that we would need to recruit some more expertise. We felt we’d need professionals from outside the company. It also didn’t make marketing sense for us to come to the market at the same time with two vastly different models.

We started the development of the Multistrada 1200 with the 1200 Enduro project already in mind. The idea was always to have a truly off-road capable version.

As a team we decided to develop the Multistrada with the DVT system (Desmodronic Variable Timing) preliminary preparation for producing an engine that could be used as the platform for the Enduro model. The engine with DVT gives us combustion stability and very smooth torque delivery at low RPM. For off-road you need a very tractable engine at low revs and we’d not have got as good of a result if the engine had been based on the previous generation of the Multistrada.

The DVT system solves any compromise between smooth torque and power in the same way that electronic suspension solves the compromise of the damping settings. With standard suspension you’ll never be fully happy because sometimes you need comfort and othertimes you need stability and precise handling. Semi-Active suspension can modify in real-time and the same thing happens inside the DVT engine.

 


 

BRAKE:
When you first sat down in the planning meeting for the 1200 Enduro did you already know the changes you would make, such as the swingarm, the gearing, the suspension travel and so on?

 

Federico:
For some elements we definitely knew the direction we would take. There were some constraints that we always had the intention of giving the Enduro. The long suspension for example was a decision we made right from the start. You need that for the ground clearance and to deal with the rough terrain.

On the other hand, the extended wheelbase, through the longer swingarm, was something we arrived at during the development phase of the bike. On the Enduro model, high speed stability on and off-road is more critical to the bike than the standard Multistrada. We involved professional Enduro riders to take the bike to its limit on gravel roads and found the need for the steering damper. These requirements became apparent during the development. The choice of the measurements, the 200mm travel, the 30 litres of fuel and so on were fixed right from the start.

 


 

BRAKE:
What was the most difficult part of turning the Multistrada into the Enduro?

 

Federico:
There were two really challenging elements to the development. First was finding the balance in the chassis in order to have a great level of performance on road. The engine has the same performance as its sister, but the bike is bigger, has less efficient aerodynamics and so making it a stable and well handling machine was tough. Finding the best trail for the front wheel, the swingarm length and overall wheelbase to fit with the pre-determined measurements such as the long travel suspension was definitely one of the biggest difficulties of the development.

The surfaces that are approved in clay are then reverse engineered precisely by the technical team.

The second element was deciding how to integrate many of the components that we felt characterised a bike capable of long distance travel. A good example is the 30l fuel tank. Fitting that much fuel on a bike that takes its platform from a very stylish, sleek bike was not an easy job. We had to maintain the ergonomics of the mid-section, keep it looking fantastic and make it comfortable to sit on for a long time. We think design is the first pillar of our products so it has to look great all the time. It was a really tricky job to integrate all the different needs of the bike.


 

BRAKE:
With the development of the bike, how much of it is math and science and how much is done through the development riders and their feeling?

 

Federico:
In this case we took a huge amount of feedback from our test riders. We listened to the feelings coming from very different riders in extremely varied situations. We tried to couple the standard customer use of the bike, not a professional pushing to the limit, with someone who can push it to the edge on and off-road. We spent many hours on the handling track, at the high speed oval, testing the reliability of components and we did huge kilometres in the real world.  All this is our standard approach and we racked up a monstrous amount of distance, almost 400,000km.

We buy those bikes and asses them very early in the process of defining the design.

On top of this there was the off-road part which was an entirely new process for us. We had to invent a set of tests that would give us the confidence to stand in front of the press and customers and say “This bike is capable of performing what it needs to”. We wanted the bike to be able to do everything it needs, so we took it to Motocross tracks, Enduro tracks; we tested all types of dirt, mud and gravel. For example, we found we needed the steering damper while testing at high speed off-road, but high speed means 160km/h (100mph). The customer will probably never do this but we didn’t want to leave any gaps in the performance so we fitted it. We needed the bike to be stable, safe and high performing in all conditions.

 


 

BRAKE:
Did you bring new staff into the engineering/design team or the testing team?

 

Federico:
It was mainly the test team, but we involved people with off-road experience right from the start when we were modelling the bike in clay. All the ergonomics that are related to the standard riding position and the movement your body makes when riding off-road must be very slim. Having tall handlebars, wide footpegs and so on, was decided by the testers before we got to the development stage.

We also used people inside Ducati that race Enduro for their hobby, we added them to the panel that judge the bike at the various stages of development. We gave a lot of attention and time to ask the right questions to the right people.

 


 

BRAKE:
When you start the development process do you purchase all of the rival bikes to see what works and what doesn’t?

 

Federico:
Yes. We do it every time. We normally have one or two main competitors that we define at the beginning of the project when we fix the end goals for the bike in regards to performance or whatever. We buy those bikes and asses them very early in the process of defining the design. Not because we want to copy their design. We’re comfortable in our direction and design ethos, but it’s good to understand why our competitors do things. We try and understand the direction they took, why the decided on making different sections the way they did and then we make our own decisions based on all of the information.

Like BMW or KTM have their own heritage, Ducati does too and for that reason we always make our own decisions to suit our customers and our background. KTM has an off-road background, BMW a premium background and it’s reflected in their products. There is nothing wrong with looking at the best products to gain inspiration. Very honestly, when you take the firsts steps into a new market, you should look at the competitors and understand why certain parts are so good. If we take inspiration from that it is positive.

 


 

BRAKE:
When you first began the project did you have an idea of the end goal?

 

Federico:
We had a good goal after taking analysis of our competitor’s performance, but we also had to consider how far from the standard Multistrada we wanted to move. We didn’t want to lose the performance on the asphalt. It was important that the bike that remained easy, fun, agile and useable and at the same time have the off-road performance. Finding the balance, the areas to lose and gain, was clear.

 


 

BRAKE:
What is the process a bike takes from being an idea on a drawing board to assembly on the production line?

 

Federico:
We start with the document that leads to the development phase. This is called the Product Brief. It’s an internal document and collates all the information from the marketing requests, the performance targets, the economics, the timings, quality issues from previous models and many more things. It’s the holy bible of the new product. Hopefully the document is approved by the management and then things begin. From there we define the design. This starts with sketches of the bike. We then apply scaled dimensions to the sketches and model the first surfaces. Then the first mock-up is built with all the correct dimensions. If that looks good then the bike is modelled in clay. It takes a few months to get all the surfaces of the body work finished.

 If it’s a partnership that we have had for years as with Brembo, we don’t spend time judging the competition.

The surfaces that are approved in clay are then reverse engineered precisely by the technical team. They begin the engineering build up of each component into individual pieces, the fairing, the frame and so on. Each part is designed internally by engineers or by our suppliers if we develop a part in co-design. As soon as we have 3-D and 2-D drawings defined we start building the first prototype. We assemble a bike and the first tests begin. To get to this stage takes 18 months.

At this point we are just developing the performance and not reliability. Because of the type of components the bike is built from it doesn’t make sense. We test the functionality, ergonomics, handling performance and so on. Once the product is mature and we are happy with the performance, we launch the tooling with the suppliers. We outsource around 80% of each bike, so it’s crucial to decide which partners to work with. As soon as we have the tooling we get the first samples. We assemble a pre-pre-production run, normally around 20 bikes. We repeat all the performance tests and begin reliability testing because we now have the significant parts and they are theoretically in the final form. We test if every component has both proper function and reliability. If it doesn’t we modify it. Once we’re happy the project then moves to the pre-production fleet. This is normally around 100 bikes with which we complete the development tests. We start to use these bikes for commercial activities such as press launches and technical training for the sales network. Next is the start of production.

 


 

BRAKE:
The swingarm is a completely new design and it has really stood out. It’s a cast product, so when you’re in development how do you make a new swingarm to test?

 

Federico:
We took the decision for the double sided design in the design definition phase. There were many reasons for making this decision. The process is that we start by making a single sand cast mould to test. If we need to make changes to the design we make a new sand cast until we’re happy with the dimensions. It can take a little bit of time to make a change like this but it has to be done this way.

 


 

BRAKE:
Do you ever get to the point where you know a bike is very good, where you are confident in the performance, or is it something you’re always unsure of?

All the parts, panniers, the top case, they’re all designed together with Touratech. The only exception is the sump guard.

Federico:
Yes, you do have a very good idea. With the Enduro we were very positive at each step. Since the prototype, so two years before production, we had very good responses from all the development team. We were very confident about the final result.

 


 

BRAKE:
When you’re developing a new bike, do you ever reach the situation where you have to draw a line and say “The bike is not perfect, but now we have spent too much money and we have to sell some.”

 

Federico:
This gets discussed many times in the project life. Each bike is assessed and then determined if the project is headed in a good direction or not. We have project reviews where we map the process and look at whether everything is where it should be. All these reviews are predefined, so we collect the information from each department, we draw up the status of the project and present it to all the management of the company. This happens whether it’s good or bad.

 


 

BRAKE:
How do you decide which components to use? For example the brakes, these are from Brembo and the suspension from Sachs, so how do you choose the exact version?

 

Federico:
It depends. If it’s a partnership that we have had for years as with Brembo, a company who we use exclusively because we like their product so much, we don’t spend time judging the competition. We trust them and have a great relationship with them. One or two times each year they come to us and make a presentation of their new products so we have an idea of what will be suitable or interesting for our developing bikes. From there we can make the correct choice.

With other components, for example the suspension, we judge parts from different suppliers. To achieve this we may produce a development bike fitted with different items, such as Öhlins, Marzocchi or Sachs. We judge them all and make a decision accordingly. It completely depends on the situation.

 


 

BRAKE:
Touratech was a very interesting choice of partner. Was that a decision from the design or the marketing department?

 

Federico:
I would say strategically it was from the marketing department. All the guys inside the company that have experience of this market pointed us toward them. We know that Touratech is an important name in the Adventure market. We always internally had the awareness that Touratech would be a great partner for us with this bike. We started to work together more than a year ago. They’ve made a complete line of accessories for us as well as the components in the Touring and Enduro packs.

 


 

BRAKE:
A product such as the crash bars, is that all designed by Touratech or do you work together?

 

Federico:
Components like these are co-designed. All the parts, the panniers, the top case, they’re all designed together. The only exception is the sump guard. That is designed entirely by us and made by a different supplier. This is because Touratech are very good with laser cut, folded steel sheet. It’s a quick production, prototypal technology. For this part we wanted a more industrial product and they don’t use the technology we wanted to. We developed the component with another supplier to be produced in large numbers at a reasonable cost, whilst being very strong, stiff and precise. However for components like the oil and radiator protectors laser cut steel is perfect. Touratech excel at this type of product so that’s what we work on them with.

 


 

BRAKE:

I think that’s all our questions, so thank you very much.

 

Federico:
Thank you.

 


 

Crafted By

Llewellyn Sullivan-Pavey

Photographer, Videographer, Writer, Motorcycle Racer, Dakar Rally Finisher and BRAKE Magazine's big dog, Llewelyn really likes to do things involving motorcycles. He also likes bicycles, coffee, pop punk and making horrendous puns.

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