Twenty-four years ago Ducati unleashed the Monster on an unprepared world and created, well, a monster. Forget the 916, 1198, Diavel or any other super-sexy, bedroom-poster thingy because this iconic, trellis-framed naked bike accounts for as much as half of Ducati’s sales worldwide. Not bad for something that came into this world as a parts-bin special.
The Monster has become one of the most copied motorcycles of all time. That’s according to Ducati, of course, but it’s fair to say it was instrumental in the development of the modern, naked class as we know it today.
“All you need is a saddle, tank, engine, two wheels and handlebars,” Miguel Galluzzi said of the design philosophy behind his beast, and proved his point by stripping his own Ducati 888 to expose the engine and trellis frame. This championed a less-is-more approach combining high performance in a compact, versatile bike. The daring formula worked and every other motorcycle manufacturer wanted a piece of the action.
A deluge of ‘supernaked’ bikes have hit the market in recent years: Aprilia Tuono V4 R APRC, BMW S 1000 R, Kawasaki Z1000, KTM 1290 Superduke R and MV Agusta Brutale 1090 RR. They’re powerful, comfortable and highly specified so it’s no wonder they’re upstaging their narrow-focus, fully faired siblings in sales terms.
Ducati’s flagship Monster 1200 S won’t win the supernaked war on a track but, in the real world, it’s up with the best…
And of course the Ducati Monster, spearheaded by the range-topping 1200 S (priced from $23,990, plus on-road costs) as tested here, which makes the final piece of the supernaked puzzle.
Below it are the regular Monster 1200, with lower-spec components and a tad less performance for a $4000 saving, and the ‘mid-size’ Monster 821 that sits above the 696 and entry-level, LAMS-approved Monster 659.
When the flagship Monster was launched in 2013 to replace the 1100, some overseas reports labelled it as soft and lazy compared with its predecessor and more-upright, with shorter-wheelbase rivals. That may be the case on the billiard-table smooth roads of Europe or the US, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a bad thing on Australia’s battered and bumpy bitumen. Time to find out.
You’ve got to hand it to the ‘Eye ties’ and their crotch-grabbing salute to the status quo when it comes to passion and soul-stirring. Perceived long-term reliability issues? Pah. Overrated. Here for a good time, not a long time. Who else wears Gucci to get groceries or builds bikes and cars, fast or small, with such verve and character?
The Monster 1200 S is no different, oozing iconic Italian visual and aural presence that has you whistling in awe because you can’t articulate the words.
The Monster’s trademark DNA including the trellis frame, exposed V-twin engine and bulging tank, is all there in plain view. Other details are raucously reinterpreted, such as the snaking exhaust, fancy LCD multifunction display (that changes data presentation with each riding mode), carbon-fibre front guard and the purposefully low, long looks. You can see a few cues from Ducati’s daring Diavel ‘power cruiser’, too, with the registration plate floating over the fat rear wheel connected to a sexy, single-sided swingarm. Shame our law-makers said ‘no’ to aesthetics and insisted a dirty, big plastic hugger be slapped over the top of the rear wheel. Philistines.
The oddity is the ugly radiator and its associated plumbing to keep the beast cool and maintain consistent performance. But it isn’t the first Monster to do this and the rubber hoses are more or less as discreet as its rivals.
As you throw a leg over, you’re greeted by a low, plush and wide seat that was probably added to satisfy lardy ’Muricans, who also happen to represent Ducati’s largest market. It’s a welcome addition and adds to the comfy ergonomics that have you in a sporty, slightly forward riding position with a hint of rearset ’pegs instead of the bolt-upright perches of its rivals. It’s comfortable for a broad range of riders and day-long stints are fine without physically straining shoulders, legs or wrists. Neck strains, however, depend entirely on your right wrist…
When you start the Monster you can’t help assuming the maniacal mindset of a trigger-happy dictator. It’s as if the demise of democracy is at your fingertips as you flick the safety switch to access the ‘fire’ button – a nice touch on an otherwise-normal kill switch.
As you tickle it to life, you’ll be doing your best Dr Evil laugh as the pair of concrete-cracking cannons pump hard balls of hot air into the atmosphere in lumpy intervals. Then you crack the fly-by-wire throttle and release the fury of bellowing rottweilers. Yes, the V-engines of the Super Duke and Tuono sound hellishly agile and guttural, too, but the Monster’s aural delight somehow confirms a personal preference – an intangible rationale – of choosing it over the others.
It also boggles the mind to consider the awesome-sounding factory exhaust can be upgraded with a Termignoni system for even more audible drama.
INTO THE DEEP
The maiden ride on the 1200 S was unwittingly straight into the deep end of ‘Sport’ mode where the Monster’s power, throttle sensitivity and electronic safety nets are ‘turned to 11’.
This full-attack mode is better reserved for the track or a familiar set of twists rather than the daily commute, because the snorting, bucking beast goes hell for leather and rears like a stallion with the slightest input of a red right hand. It’s insane fun in the right hands in the right conditions, but it’s certainly not the mode to smoothly carry a pillion, let alone instil them with confidence.
Beyond the ’burbs and through the forests, however, the Sport-mode Monster demands you ride it hard, rewarding you with shots of wicked adrenaline, but also possibly pushing you beyond your comfort zone.
Helping boost your confidence are powerful, well-modulated Brembo brakes from the Panigale and fully adjustable Öhlins suspension all round offering agile, sporty handling with good compliance. That, mated with the sticky Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tyres, give you plenty of faith, no matter how bumpy the road. If that isn’t your experience then just have the suspension adjusted to suit your weight and riding style.
Touring mode, meanwhile, should be renamed ‘Ideal’ because it takes the edges off Sport and controls the aggression by reducing throttle sensitivity and increasing the intervention thresholds of traction control and Bosch ABS. This is your happy medium and probably the default choice until the mood brings out your Mr Hyde.
With the throttle now less twitchy, you can enjoy the bike’s sharp handling, fast turn-in and predictable, mid-corner stability.
Clever electronics harness the neddies from the 1198cc ‘Testastretta’, 90-degree V-twin, which musters 106kW at 8750rpm and 124Nm at 7250rpm in Sport and Touring modes. If that still overwhelms in the wet then switch modes on the fly to ‘Urban’, which reduces outputs to a still-impressive 99kW and 118Nm at the same engine speeds while adding further electronic forgiveness. The three engine modes are customisable via an eight-level traction control and three-level Bosch ABS system.
The dual-spark V-twin, shared with the Multistrada and Diavel, has been appropriately retuned to sacrifice a little top-end power for more low- and mid-range punch with plenty of urgency. Think better real-world performance that you would expect of a naked street fighter. Combined with a well-disguised and class-competitive 209-kilogram wet weight, the Monster S stabs through tight traffic gaps, punches off from the lights and tasers the walking, driving zombies. Fantastic.
Whether the roads are quiet and winding or constricted with impatience, the Monster S devours it all with ease and pure Italian theatre as the Testastretta’s extra urban flex comes on song and muscles away.
Gear changes are seemingly optional, with third just about up for anything, anywhere through the rev range. At least shifting is now a pleasantly light experience with a nicely weighted, power-assisted clutch, easy-to-find neutral and positive, clicking gearshift.
‘Effortless’ also aptly describes the bike’s flickability and neutral handling thanks to a low centre of gravity and wide ’bars for leverage. Helping this is a comfortably low seat that adjusts between 785 and 810mm to appeal to a broad range of riders. Two shorter options are available with 745mm being the lowest. The rear cowl is easy to remove, too.
SO WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?
The swingarm pushes your heels out a bit, particularly if you’re big-footed, and the digital display is comprehensive but doesn’t have a gear indicator or fuel gauge.
Sure, several rivals boast more impressive figures such as price, performance or weight, but Ducati will inevitably say, “But they’re not Ducatis” and, for the enthusiast at least, that’s probably true.
Fact is, it doesn’t need to outperform the others on paper because, in the real world,
it nails the design brief of a supernaked while nailing the essence of what a Monster is.
And for that, we ought to be very thankful.
– Real-world performance
– All-round ability
– Accommodates riders short and tall
– Most expensive in its class
SPEX | ENGINE:
TYPE: Liquid-cooled, four-valve per cylinder, ‘Testastretta’ 90-degree V-twin
BORE & STROKE: 106mm x 67.9mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 12.5:1
FUEL SYSTEM: EFI with Mikuni 53mm throttle bodies
Final drive: Chain
POWER: 106kW (145hp) at 8750rpm
TORQUE: 124.7Nm at 8000rpm
FRAME: Trellis, tubular steel
Öhlins 48mm upside-down fork, fully adjustable, 130mm travel
Öhlins monoshock, fully adjustable, 152mm travel
FRONT BRAKES: 330mm discs with four-piston radially mounted Brembo monobloc calipers
REAR BRAKES: 245mm disc with twin-piston Brembo caliper
WHEELS & TYRES:
FRONT: 17 x 3.5-inch alloy with 120/70-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tyre
REAR: 17 x 6.0-inch alloy with 190/55-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tyre
DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:
WET WEIGHT: 209kg (claimed)
SEAT HEIGHT: 785-810mm
FUEL CAPACITY: 17.5L
PRICE: From $23,990 plus on-road costs (base Monster 1200: from $19,990)
COLOURS: Red or white
WARRANTY: Two years, unlimited kilometres
BIKE SUPPLIED BY:
Ducati Australia & New Zealand