RIMINI, Italy – There’s an unmistakable familiarity when you sit on a Ducati Monster, regardless of which model it is.
The wide, low-rise handlebar, the stout, bulbous gas tank, the abbreviated front end: they all combine to provide that muscular naked-bike look and feel that Ducati introduced 25 years ago with the first M900 Monster. What differentiated the Monster from fairing-less standards of the day was that it combined the air-cooled engine from the 900SS with the frame from the 851 supersport, essentially building a milder, naked supersport machine.
Even though that original Miguel Galuzzi-designed Monster still looks fresh today, several generational upgrades have made Ducati’s original naked bike sleeker and more refined over the years.
Back in ’93, there was only one model to choose from, but over the years the line branched out into many different variations and engine sizes. Today there are three variations: the air-cooled 797, and the liquid-cooled 821 and 1200. We’re in Rimini to ride the 821, which has received some cosmetic changes for 2018 that put it more in line with the 1200 in terms of styling.
Unless you own a current Monster 821 or are otherwise very familiar with it, the changes might slip by you unless they’re pointed out. Up front, a new headlight incorporates LED running lights, and as before, all lighting is LED. The gas tank’s appearance is truer to the original bike, with a smoother, rounder profile and less pronounced knee indentations—it’s also a litre down in capacity compared to the current bike, at 16.5 litres. At the front of the tank you’ll find a “ski-boot” buckle that allows you to release the fuel tank and pivot it up without tools to access the air filter. This device was included on the Monster of a quarter-century ago but was eventually removed.
The tailpiece is smaller, more streamlined and angled slightly upward. The exhaust system has similar twin mufflers as before, but they are squared off as opposed to the outgoing bike’s round cans. The section between the seat and the mufflers also looks cleaner, as the rider and passenger footpegs are now on separate brackets, which also frees up some space adjacent to the rider’s heels.
A 7-inch TFT colour screen replaces an LCD screen and adds a gear-position indicator and fuel gauge to the array of info already available, including engine and road speed, trip info, traction control and ABS levels, ride mode selection, etc.
What’s the same?
Speaking of ride modes, there’s Sport, Touring and Urban, each one providing progressively softer throttle response and increasing ABS intervention (three levels of that), while Urban mode also limits output to 75 hp from 109 hp in the other modes. Traction control is standard, and it has eight levels of intervention.
The chassis is the same, with identical frame geometry. Up front is a 43 mm, non-adjustable inverted fork, and at the rear is a single shock adjustable for rebound damping and preload. Twin four-piston radial calipers squeeze 320 mm discs up front, and a twin-piston caliper is paired to a 245 mm rear disc; Brembo provides all braking components, except the standard ABS, which comes via Bosch. Despite the smaller fuel tank, wet weight is up half a kilo at 206 kg. Seat height is adjustable to two positions, either 785 mm or 810 mm.
The Testastretta 11° 821 cc liquid-cooled V-twin returns, and although we were told output is the same as the current model, according to the specs it’s down 3 hp to 109 hp, and torque is down a bit too, now peaking at 63.4 lb.-ft. as opposed to 65.9 lb.-ft. The new Euro4 compliance might explain this slight drop in output. As before, maintenance intervals are at 15,000 km, and valve-adjustment intervals are double that. The engine drives the six-speed gearbox via a slipper/mechanical assist clutch. The bike is now prewired to accept an accessory quick shifter that works up and down the gears, though our test bikes were not so equipped.
Hitting the pavement
Swinging a leg over the seat, you’ll find an easy reach to the handlebar that places you in a slightly forward lean, while legroom with the seat in the high position is quite accommodating. The only issue I have with the riding position is with the sculpted seat angles slightly down at the front and locks you into one position, though it is wide and supportive and only begins to irritate my backside after a few hours.
The engine is quite snappy when blipping the throttle, and throttle response is a bit choppy at low speeds when in Sport mode, which is the mode I settle on most of the day. I didn’t notice a big difference between Sport and Touring modes, the latter seeming somewhat redundant. I did like Urban mode in town, as it really turns down the throttle to about 500 cc twin levels, making riding around town smooth and effortless. With its reduced output, Urban mode is also a great choice for beginning riders, allowing them to hone their riding skills before moving onto Touring or Sport modes.
One gripe I do have is with the ride-mode selection procedure. You have to push in the turn signal button when the turn signals aren’t activated to prompt the ride mode menu, then use a rocker switch above it to highlight the desired mode, then push and turn button switch again and close the throttle for a couple of seconds before it selects the ride mode. There are single-button systems now that are much more convenient to use.
The engine has a relatively flat powerband, though it really feels best above 4,000 rpm, especially when sprinting between turns on a winding road. You do have to work the gearbox more at a quick pace than on the brutish Monster 1200, but it rewards with satisfying speed that can match any sport bike. Gearbox action is light, with a short lever throw, though I got about a half-dozen false neutrals during our 160-km ride, especially between fourth and fifth gears.
Steering is light and neutral, though the wide handlebar does prompt the occasional rider-induced mild weave when riding over a series of sharp bumps at speed; otherwise, the bike is stable and confidence-inspiring.
Quite uncharacteristically for a European press launch, the roads on our route through the hills west of Rimini, although twisty, were quite bumpy. There were sharp bumps and dips, deep cracks, uneven pavement repairs; basically everything but frost heaves. This provided an excellent environment to test the bike in conditions we actually experience back home. And the Monster impressed.
Although the setup is on the firm side, tuned more for a fast pace and keeping the bike planted through high-speed sweepers, it is also surprisingly compliant, lacking harshness and almost never kicking me out of the seat. Mid-turn bumps transferred through the chassis, but the bike stayed on the chosen line without wavering.
The brakes are supersport-strong, with good feel and feedback, and the ABS is there to manage wheel lock for over-enthusiastic stops.
Why would you want one?
The Ducati Monster 821 is more powerful than its air-cooled smaller brother (which produces about the same power as the 821 does in Urban mode), and way more manageable than the bigger 1200, which requires expert-level throttle control. It also falls between those two in pricing, starting at $13,395 ($10,595 for the 797; $16,695 for the 1200), and that includes a two-year warranty.
Over the years the Monster has become a cult bike. It has a timeless design that appeals to many, while offering the best balance among its stable mates. It is easily recognisable, readily customisable, and the 821 embodies qualities that make it a practical choice, whether you’re kicking around town during the daily commute, or zipping along winding country roads with your knee-scraping buddies.
Check out all the pics that go with this story!