Editor’s note: Breaking my collarbone just a couple weeks before the press launch of the new Ducati Monster in San Francisco, I asked the most discerning Ducatisti I knew to take my place and test this new street bike fro Asphalt & Rubber.
Colin has seen more than a few Ducati’s in his garage over his many, many years, so he knows the history of this iconic motorcycle name, and yet he has enough “other” bikes in his garage so as not to be a complete Italian snob. Enjoy his words, and the properly English accent they were written in. -JB
First a confession: I feel like an imposter. I am neither a moto-journalist nor a professional rider. But, I do have some qualifications.
I own an eclectic collection of Ducati icons from the 80s and 90s, and many other newer Ducatis have passed through my hands over the last 30 years including a beautiful, raucous, guttural, black Monster S4RS in the late aughts.
Now a second confession: that Monster was the only bike that ever really scared the crap out of me.
The ferocious power and torque and no electronics meant the front wheel needed no excuse to leave the pavement; usually when I least expected it and was not paying attention. This was a design feature not a fault.
It was…is…the reason people wanted that Monster. For me, it was exciting but exhausting. It had to go.
I am a much better rider now than I was then, but why should you read a bike review by someone who has no industry expertise about a bike that terrified him last time he rode one?
Because, you’ve all been there; on the road with riders that are better than you; on a bike with an imprudent amount of power and torque. We ride for exhilaration but we all need the fear.
We regularly read bike reviews with pictures of the author lofting an Italian superbike out of an Alpine hairpin or throwing a quarter-ton adventure bike through the Mojave Desert sand and ask, “Do I have to do that to truly enjoy this bike?
Well, I am not that author and the answer is – at least for the new Ducati Monster – no you do not.
The bike is clearly aimed at a range of rider skills and it can be switched from tame to ferocious, from Guide Dog to Doberman, all with a couple of buttons and menu selections.
I am the target market for this bike and I loved it. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
The Monster has been an enormous success for Ducati. It created a new class of machine when it arrived in 1993 – a naked, accessible sample of superbike-ness, but oriented to fun and frolic on the highway rather than lap times at the track.
Ducati has sold over 350,000 of them over the three prior generations – maybe a quarter of all Ducatis sold.
The same way that the Porsche Boxster saved the Porsche 911, the Monster saved Ducati and allowed the company to continue to invest in innovation across their whole range.
To say that the new Monster is an important bike for Ducati is a huge understatement.
Let me get this part out of the way, the last three Monster iterations have all followed the same design language that was imposed by the signature trellis frame.
Purists are now howling that this new bike is no longer a real Monster because the trellis frame is gone – that Ducati has broken with tradition and failed the faithful.
These critics are undoubtedly sincere in their love of their bikes and their desire to cling to the familiar. Love isn’t logical, but there are a few things wrong with this thinking.
First, the trellis has already been disappearing piece-by-piece on the last two of the Monster generations. My old S4RS lost a chunk of it, and the latest Monster 821 had just a vestigial trellis around the headstock; a dog whistle to trellis-ness.
Second, Ducati is seeking to appeal to new riders who are not bound up in a thirty-year design history. Ducati is happy to leave the trellisites with their current bikes. Time for the rest of us to move on.
Finally, I would argue that Ducati is, in fact, sticking to the tradition and the brand promise that they first created.
The central idea of the Monster from its launch has always been that it represented an accessible sample of superbike technology with a road focused engine.
In 2021, that means an architecture taken from the Panigale superbikes and not from the bikes of yesteryear.
So the new Monster chassis connects the steering to the motor with an aluminum front frame, the motor carries the swingarm and adjustable monoshock, and the rider’s backside is planted on a rear glass fiber reinforced polymer subframe.
Ducati claims that the side view of the bike – ‘the flyline” – tells us instantly and intuitively that this is still a Monster, but I don’t buy this at all. I could not look at the bike from any angle and immediately recognize the shape.
Personally, I don’t care. I’m moving on. If you want a trellis, get a Diavel or Hypermotard.
Now That the Trellis Frame Is Out of the Way…
Ducati has put a huge amount of focus on weight saving everywhere and the new Monster is 40 pounds lighter than the Monster 821. Forty pounds!
Imagine taking five gallons of water out of your tank bag. The front frame saves 10 pounds over the trellis, the rear subframe saves 4.2 pounds, the swingarm cuts 3.5 pounds, the rims 3.75 pounds, and the engine saves 5.7 pounds.
The resulting dry weight is now 366 pounds, which is right in there with the competition.
The new Monster uses a Euro5 version of the 937cc Testastretta 11° motor, used in the Hypermotard 950 and Multistrada 950.
This has a small bump in power over the Monster 821, up to 111 hp at 9,250 rpm and torque to 68.7 pound-feet at 6,500 rpm.
More importantly the power and torque curves are quite a bit fatter through the whole rev range and peak torque arrives 1,250 rpm lower – the increase in both power and torque in the mid-range is much greater than the peak increase.
This makes the grunt really useful lower in the rev range, where you need it in tighter winding roads and in city riding.
The enhanced gearbox with up/down quickshifter makes backroad riding more relaxed and precise and takes most of the chore out of riding in city traffic.
The bike is not just lighter, but the design is clearly slimmer and easier to manage in close quarters. The standard seat height is 32.3 inches, but the narrow seat will allow even riders with shorter legs – like me – to safely plant both feet at a stop or on uneven surfaces.
The increased steering angle +7° really helps at slow speeds, in tight slow turns, and in manhandling the bike in the street.
There will also be a lower seat available and a lower suspension option that will include a new spring and shorter side stand.
I am just catching up with modern bike electronics and I was really impressed with the setup on the Monster. There are three Riding Modes – Urban, Touring, Sport – that allow the power and throttle response to be tamed – or not.
There are fully-adjustable traction control, wheelie control, launch control, and cornering ABS that is sensitive to lean angle.
There is a full-TFT 4.3” dash taken from the Panigale V4 that includes a large rev-counter and gear-selected display. Two buttons control the menu system, which is easy to understand with great graphics clearly displayed on the dash.
Each of the three riding modes comes with a default set of safety and performance settings, but these can all be changed and stored. Sport mode delivers all 111 hp with a direct ride-by-wire throttle response and reduces traction control, provides some ABS and provides just moderate wheelie control.
Touring mode still gives all 111 hp, but with a more progressive throttle and cranks up the DTC and DWC as well as selecting a more protective ABS setting. Urban mode clips the power at 75 hp and maximizes the safety settings for the bike.
All the modes leave some ABS enabled on the front wheel, but everything else can be turned off completely if you want to make the bike into a complete hooligan. Overall a class leading set of tools to control safety and performance features.
The front suspension provides about 5” of travel front and back via a non-adjustable 43 mm upside down fork and a rear monoshock that is adjustable just for preload.
I weigh about 200 pounds in riding gear, and the suspension worked perfectly well in a range of conditions. I did not mess with the pre-load setting, but I would probably crank it up a little to live with it every day.
The alloy wheels are 3.5”x17” front and 5.5”x17 rear with very sporty Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires; 120/70 front and 180/55 rear.
The brakes are Brembo M4-32 4-piston monobloc calipers on 320 mm discs at the front, and a 245 mm disc at the read. The clutch and brake levers are both adjustable, with a noticeably pleasant and light action in the clutch.
Finally back to styling for a moment – and back to subjective comments rather than hard data. The build quality feels good and, for a naked bike, Ducati has done a great job tucking away all the tubes and wires that come with a modern computerized machine.
It feels new and clean, and there are a lot of nice detail design touches in the different textures and surfaces around the bike.
The headlight is round-ish and set off by the distinctive LED daylight running light (DRL) around the perimeter.
In most of the stock photos of the bike, it has “swiping” front indicators integrated into the cheeks of the tank, but these are not yet homologated, so the US bikes will initially come with white LED stalk turn front turn signals with the new lights as a future option.
Personally I liked to look and the feel of the bike even though critics point out that it shares many design touches that are indistinguishable from the competition.
The bike will cost $11,895 with $200 more the Monster+ that we rode that includes a small fly screen and passenger seat cover. Options will include a Termignoni exhaust that adds 4% to both power and torque if your home state will allow the noise.
You can also get a multimedia system or heated grips, and a number of different sticker kits to add your own flair to the decoration of the bike.
On the Road – In the Town, and Out in the Twisties
The new Monster is a real urban-rural machine – it will live perfectly comfortable in the city, but really enjoy escapes to the country.
Ducati is clearly positioning the bike as being within the reach of everyone – ideal as a first bike with lots of headroom, but also a perfect “everyday companion” for more experienced riders.
When I bought my first serious motorcycle, the sales guy saw me eyeing a much more powerful bike and he told me to “buy your second bike first.”
He was right; I got bored quickly and was stuck. The new Monster can be your first bike and your second with the flick of a few menu changes.
Given this bike’s positioning by Ducati, the choice of San Francisco as a launch venue made perfect sense to showcase its balance and capabilities. The Embarcadero and the streets of the city threw us into tram lines, traffic, potholes, and unpredictable drivers and pedestrians.
The Pacific coast and the Sant Cruz Mountains provided the winding tarmac up and through the redwoods to be able to sample the sport mode characteristics and handling on wonderful twisty pavement.
First thing you notice getting on the bike is the combined effect of the weight loss and the slimness of the frame. The tapered bar adds to the feeling of lightness and the whole thing feels instantly comfortable and easy to deal with.
A few minutes is enough to learn the menus and to dial in and store your comfort level with safety and performance settings. Then the all too familiar sounds and feel off the Testastretta v-twin, and we are off.
The riding position of the new Monster is a clear improvement on the Monster 821 – the bar is set a little bit further back and the footpegs moved a bit lower and further back, which leaves you in a very comfortable, more upright position.
Great for being up and aware of the traffic and chaos that surrounds you in town, and I loved the higher sight line in the backwoods – great for visibility in turns and less effort in the neck.
Our riding group clearly all had different ideas about how to explore the riding modes. My own methodology was to start in Urban and work up, others went for Sport and never dialed back – with burnouts and wheelies up San Francisco’s iconic hills.
This really is different bikes for different people and a different bike on different days.
Urban mode was totally comfortable and drama-free in the city when I did not want to have to think about anything but competing traffic.
My bike was equipped with heated grips, which are an option that clearly says that this bike is intended for commuting and year round use.
It is also worth noting that we rode for an hour or more on a hot day with lots of stop lights and waiting for our photo team, and the bike never felt uncomfortably hot – if this had been my 916, I would have been in the ER with leg burns by then.
I then moved to Touring mode as we were leaving the city – on and off freeways and faster streets – and the 40hp increase in power and punch was evident with a smooth and responsive throttle for overtaking. Easy to cruise and great visibility.
As we settled onto the coast road and headed for the redwoods then up into Sport mode – all the power and barely a hint of safety features. After warming up on the other two modes, this became a different bike entirely.
I was also shocked to learn that the more conservative settings I’d selected for wheelie and traction control were stored only in the Touring mode settings, and did not follow me into Sport mode, and my bike was set to the no-holds-barred bare knuckle category.
No problem, increase the focus, look further down the road, let it go, and enjoy the adrenalin. The front wheel will come up further, and the rear wheel will lock up more easily.
When we started the ride, I was determined not to not test personally the cornering ABS – why would anyone deliberately roll into a corner and grab a fistful of brakes just to see what happened – we are programmed to know that this leads to bad outcomes.
Well, of course, it’s there for the times when you accidentally roll in and grab too much brake, and I can attest that it works very well after a moment of carelessness at high-speed on Skyline Boulevard in the Santa Cruz mountains.
I was expecting the worst, felt a small tingle in the brake lever, and powered through disaster even though I was seriously unbalanced and leaned into a tightening curve. This stuff works. (Editor’s note, this is the first I’m hearing about this Colin…)
A Day Later
I’m probably in the middle of the target audience for the Monster – an experienced rider, but not expert, aggressive but not crazy, my ego does not rule my rides any more – well not every day – and different days have different moods.
Having spent a day with the bike here in and around San Francisco, I really like this new Monster, and I did not find any aspects that were deal-breakers for me; everything feels and sounds right, and I like the look and touch of the design.
It’s a very well defined and fun urban/rural machine – the riding position works perfectly; the suspension is more than good enough for potholes and high speed freeway bumps; the motor has great and manageable power and torque through the whole rev range; the narrow light frame allows easy body movement and is perfect when stopping and starting; and the electronics allow you to really create a number of different bikes depending on skill/comfort/environment/mood/weather.
The bike can be tamed or unleashed with two buttons via an easy menu – commuter or hooligan – your choice.
Trellis be damned, I like this bike. Affordable, accessible, and fun.