For nearly thirty years the Monster has been a crucial member in the Ducati family, having carried much of the weight of the brand through the 90s with its stellar sales now topping 300,000 units. It’s become an icon, too, and has often served as the gateway machine to the Bologna company’s higher performance and higher-cost machines. So, when a new Monster arrives on the scene, it’s worth paying attention, especially when it’s been changed as much as this new one has.
Not unlike Frankenstein’s monster, Ducati’s original beast was also cobbled together from existing parts close at hand, including an engine from the 900 Supersport, the front end of a 750 Supersport, and of course, its famous trellis frame from the 851 super bike. This new model continues to share plenty of components with other Ducati models, not the least of which is its 937 cc Testastretta L-Twin from the contemporary Supersport 950.
But the circular headlight and traditional “bison back” tank shape are (largely) gone, and so is the immediately recognizable steel trellis frame. While weight and functionality are better for it, the styling has definitely been affected. It no longer looks like a Monster.
CMG boss, Dustin Woods, and long-time contributor Jeff Wilson got together to ride and debate this new Monster. Here’s what they think of it:
I’m pretty bummed about the loss of the trellis frame. Notwithstanding Suzuki’s blatant attempts to rip off the Monster’s look with its SV650, it was what really helped the Monster stand out. Now, it looks like it the Monster could’ve come out of any Japanese factory, taking with it so much of what made it special. And what’s with that rounded-diamond shape LED headlight ring? Why couldn’t it just be round like the headlight of all earlier Monsters? Thank goodness they didn’t update their trademark red paint colour too.
We disagree on a great many things, like, your questionable choice in that t-shirt, for instance, but I’m firmly in agreement with you on this. It’s a sad state of affairs when a Suzuki looks more like a Ducati than a Ducati does. Despite being outfitted in Ducati Red and having the letters D-u-c-a-t-i printed on the tank, I had several strangers approach me during my time with the new Monster to ask if it was a Suzuki. Not that image is everything, but imagine how pissed you’d be if you had just bought this brand-new exotic Italian for $13,795 and everyone you came across thought you were riding an $8,000 SV650. Thankfully the Monster has always offered substance behind its style, but its exoticism is gone.
Engine / Power:
The new Monster shed a staggering 17.6 kg (39.6 lb) from the outgoing Monster 821! That is impressive. It may share the same 937cc Testastretta 11° powerplant as the Supersport and Supersport S, but thanks to more aggressive software tuning it has a vastly different character. I considered both Supersports to be an enjoyable ride, but also quite docile in nature compared to their looks, but the Monster is anything but. Offering adjustable riding modes (Sport, Touring, Urban), as well as settings for traction, wheelie and launch control, the Monster is a two-wheeled hooligan.
Approaching a set of traffic lights that had turned amber, I decided to crack back my right wrist to get through the intersection faster, which I inadvertently ended up successfully doing much brisker than expected – exclusively on the back wheel. Needless to say, it’s got some pop. It may offer (only) 111 hp and 69 lb-ft of torque, but the fact that it only weighs 166 kg (366 lb) offers so much mid-range gusto that Ducati has allegedly questioned whether they will bother revamping the larger displacement models in the lineup.
It’s definitely got some beans, but not an obscene amount. With some of the naked litre bikes reaching into 200 hp territory, the Ducati’s 111 may seem paltry by comparison but make no mistake, this Monster is properly quick, easily leaving four-wheeled traffic behind at the stoplight.
What really impressed me was how much more refined this Monster is than the old ones. I owned an ’09 Monster 1100 and its throttle was snatchy, its dry clutch was grabby, and the power delivery wasn’t what one would consider smooth. Even the last 821 I rode felt a little rough around the edges, especially in terms of its fueling, but this new machine is a delight, enabling Dustin’s irresponsible behaviour, or in the hands of grown-ups, a tractable, easy-to-ride experience.
Still, the sound is pure Ducati L-twin, and while dramatically improved over earlier models, the Monster doesn’t have the smoothness or screaming revs of a Z900’s inline-4, or the triples found in competitive Yamahas and Triumphs. For some, that gruffness of the twin is the character they’re seeking, I suppose, but it seems better-suited to cruisers than sporty bikes.
If the inadvertent and easily manageable mid-range wheelies weren’t telling enough, the new Monster tackles the twisties with equal aplomb. Thanks to its drastic weight loss regimen, handling is effortless and rather uneventful. It is light and nimble, allowing it to carve corners with ease. Unlike Monsters of old which commanded a great deal of strength, skill and, frankly, guts to pilot at speed, the new model is a pussycat. It’s lighter and more responsive, yet much more approachable and far more forgiving. The techno-nannies working in the background will intervene with a gentle hand based on the riding mode and settings chosen.
The wet clutch is smooth, light and predictable while braking from the radially mounted Brembo M4.32 calipers and dual 320 mm discs (2-piston floating caliper and 245mm disc in the rear) scrub off speed progressively and with confidence. The crotchety old man in me thinks that all of these refinements make it less rewarding to ride somehow, but I also appreciate how it will open the door to new riders and hope it does.
Crotchety as he is, Dustin’s not wrong about the older Monsters demanding more of their riders. They were never nearly as well-sorted or easy-to-ride fast as this new one, and while Woods shook his fist at clouds and shouted about the loss of character in this new bike, I was more than happy to take a few more rips up and down the twisty roads we had found.
I may not like the look of the Panigale frame structure here, but it has transformed the Monster’s handling. This tamer Monster dives into corners eagerly and tracks solidly, plus knowing the traction control and slipper clutch will help keep things sorted and inspire confidence even if a rider gets a little overexuberant. Ducati has made much ado about the Monster’s weight loss, and it does feel remarkably fleet, but it just means that it’s finally matched with the Street Triple and MT09 (both within a couple of pounds of the Ducati), or a KTM Duke 890, that’s actually lighter still.
Comfort and Convenience
I’ve always been drawn to naked bikes for their performance bike capabilities, but more comfortable riding position. The new Monster moves the handlebars slightly closer to the rider than last year’s 821 and the result is a very natural riding position that’s both comfortable and commanding. The slight forward cant of the rider always makes me feel more in control than the bolt upright position of, say, the MT-09.
The ride is firm, but not so much that it feels harsh over our crappy, frost-heaved Southern Ontario roads. I could certainly see myself taking occasional multi-day trips on the new Monster, quite comfortably.
I’m sure there’s no question that Jeff’s (much) shorter inseam appreciated the proportions that the Monster’s 82 cm (32.3-in) seat height provided. Truthfully, my six-foot frame found the riding position a bit on the cramped side. I also felt as though the riding modes and settings could be easier to access. Navigating through the menus on the 4.3-inch TFT display is managed by a simple toggle switch. It’s a more intuitive system than what some of the competitors offer, and the screen is bright and easily legible, even in sunlight.
The least comfortable part of any ride was the temperature, particularly in stop-and-go traffic. The engine heats up like a furnace and becomes almost unrideable at slow speeds on a hot day when the passing air isn’t vigorous enough to cool off your legs.
Cost / Value Proposition:
With a starting price from $13,795, the Monster isn’t wildly expensive for what you get, but it also isn’t cheap. You’ll drop an extra $200 is you want one in Dark Stealth (black) or Aviator Grey, but my thoughts on the matter are that Ducatis should only come in one colour – red. We rode the Monster+ which adds a pillion seat cover and small matching wind deflector, ringing in at a cost of $14,195.
The Triumph Street Triple R weighs 1.3 kg (3 lb) more but offers 5 more horsepower and costs $2,000 less. For $555 more, you could opt for the Street Triple RS, which features similar braking and weighs the same amount as the Monster but offers an extra 10 horsepower. The KTM 890 Duke R’s 889cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin has been tuned to produce 121 hp and 68 lb-ft of torque and comes at a cost of $12,899. The Ducati is priced well, but so are its many competitors.
The bikes Dustin referenced are only the premium competitors. Cheaper thrills from a Kawasaki Z900 or Yamaha MT-09 will cost a rider thousands less, but of course at that price those bikes don’t come with the Ducati panache, which, for many buyers carries a lot of value. Build quality on our test bike was top shelf, and maintenance intervals are now exceptionally long, quelling some big concerns of past Ducati ownership.
My opinion of naked bikes is that they typically make for a great urban commuter and weekend warrior. Under 2,000 rpm, the Monster objected and shuddered in response to gentle throttle inputs, begging me to stretch its legs, which I would have loved because it was roasting mine. Touring mode added to its versatility by softening throttle response and intrusion of traction control, but its seat and suspension are too firm for me to want to take it on a long trip. If I was looking for a lapping day bike, I’d want something with a more aggressive riding position and fairings. It was perfectly at home carving corners on smooth, undulating asphalt through the countryside, but unfortunately that’s not where I’m spending all my time.
While I understand that Dustin’s spider monkey proportions might have cramped him up on the Monster, I didn’t realize he was so delicate in the posterior. I found the Monster’s seat decently comfortable. The riding position keeps pressure off my wrists and neck, but it’s not so vertical (like the MT-09) to turn the rider into a complete sail on the highway. Still, the lack of wind protection would prevent it from being a great long-distance tourer. But throw a big tail bag on the pillion and pick a route to the cottage that includes as many backroad corners as possible, and the Monster would be a great weekend getaway companion. Its nimbleness makes it an ideal traffic carver for commuting too, if it wasn’t for the relentless heat thrown at the rider.
This new Monster is unlike any of its predecessors, maybe to the detriment of its fabled character. But it has matured into a higher-performing, easier-to-ride, and arguably more fun bike, all of which makes it the best Monster ever. It’s still offered in red and has the gruff L-twin engine, and you can still tell people it’s a Ducati, even if it doesn’t look like one, but now it’s actually a great bike to ride, too.
When the first Monster arrived on the scene, it was a revelation. It didn’t look, sound, or ride like anything on the road. Here in 2021, we’ve got more naked bikes to choose from than we could ride in a season. It’s a crowded marketplace and my thoughts are that the new Monster, while a blast to ride, may not differentiate itself enough from the pack to justify the cost. It has lost some of the legendary personality that made it a must-have, but in doing so has ultimately become a better motorcycle that is accessible to more riders.