2015 Ducati Monster 659: LAMS review

Date 30.6.2015

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader

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Big-Bore LAMS Test

Learner riders now have great choice with the second generation of large-capacity LAMS bikes. Motorcycle Trader took seven contenders on a 1500km round trip with surprising results. Read the intro here.

Contender #1: Ducati Monster 659

Ducati’s 659 has all the running gear of the 696 but a sleeved engine to reduce capacity to under the magic 660cc limit. The bike was developed by Ducati in Italy exclusively for the Australia/NZ market and includes features such as a version of a slipper clutch to discourage rear wheel lock-up during down-changes.

ON THE ROAD

During the photoshoot, the bikes get very hot riding back and foward past the photographer and idling for long periods. With the exception of the Ducati, all these bikes are liquid-cooled so the fans were turning themselves on and off. The Ducati was fine and actually seemed to enjoy having a little heat in its oil.

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The Kawasaki jumped away from the Ducati in both top gear roll-ons and acceleratin tests but the Duke eventually crawled past at higher speeds. The statistics make interesting reading. The Kawasaki has around the same power as the Ducati and 10 more Newton-metres produced 3500rpm lower down, making it much more lively in everyday use.

The 659, though, with its peak torque and power being closer together, has an advantage at the top end. Perhaps more significantly, the Ducati’s suspension is set up for peak speeds and allows the bike to be ridden hard at its maximum speed while the Kawasaki leans more towards rider comfort and better performance at normal speeds.

The Duke isn’t exactly slow at low engine speeds but prefers higher revs. Its 770mm seat height also makes it the most accessible bike for shorter riders.

The chosen route the following day included 200km of hilly, twisty road on a good surface which brought out the little bit of Cam Donald that lives in all of us.

We queued to get the Ducati keys because it’s beautifully sorted for this kind of riding. Its superior suspension and Pirelli tyres combined with the same steering geometry and brakes its 696 parent runs was addictive to all.

Genuine learners, though, may never develop enough confidence during their learner period to explore the 659’s potential and may instead feel short-changed by the flat feel of the engine at low revs in higher gears.

The most experienced riders in the group favoured the Ducati largely because it had the best suspension and was the best handler. Like the Benelli, it was also challenging to ride well. If we were trying to actually declare a ‘winner’ for best large-capacity LAMS bike, neither would rate as both engage too much in the science and technology of riding and don’t free up enough time for a learner to smell the roses.

The Ducati was definitely the surprise package in that nobody expected it to be as competent as it was but both it and the Benelli were begging for the power necessary to challenge the integrity of their respective chassis and running gear. Both bikes were better than their engines and both fully engaged their riders.

The Ducati is easier to ride than the Benelli and, despite it being the most expensive bike in the group, it suits smaller riders and has great Latin appeal. One of MT’s testers described them as ‘exhausting’ but that’s probably because both force you to concentrate to get the best from them. If that’s your scene, you know what to buy. You’ll never be bored.

All the bikes tested delivered excellent stopping performance as the brake systems were originally designed for bikes that developed substantially more power. Anti-lock braking system (ABS) on the Triumph, Kawasaki and Ducati elevate these three from the pack not because you can brake harder but because it removes the fear in learners of locking the front wheel in an emergency braking situation.

What really matters about the performance of all of the test bikes is, at normal road speeds, they all have plenty in reserve for overtaking and it makes them safer in that they can do it quickly with composure.

STYLING

The Ducati is, well, part of the Monster range which first made its styling statement in the early ’90s. The style is enduring and you either like it or you don’t.

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Older members of the MT crew preferred the Kawasaki and the Suzuki to the moderns but what everyone was unanimous about, though, was, for new riders, the old-fashioned analogue dials were much easier to read than the ‘modern’ digital ones. Riders were particularly critical of the Ducati and Yamaha.

In the right lighting, information was clear but, on the road, you hardly ever get the right ambient light. So, yes, digitial is modern but the instruments on the Ducati Monster 659 are difficult to read in bright sunlight.

Read more on the LAMS review contenders:

LAMS review intro
Triumph Street Triple 660
CFMoto 650NKS
Suzuki Gladius 650
Benelli BN600S
Kawasaki ER-6nL
Yamaha MT-07


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