A Ducati assembly line worker told me five years ago that every second motorcycle made at the company’s Bologna, Italy, factory is a Monster.
A major U.S. Ducati retailer told me recently, “Monster is Ducati.” Since beginning production of the naked sport bike in 1992, it has shipped more than 250,000 of the little Monsters, the company recently announced.
But until two weeks ago I’d never even sat on one.
An hour after I did, I was a convert.
I rode a route that started around Laurel Canyon and Mulholland, wandered through Topanga Canyon and the Malibu mountains, and circled back via the freeway. The bike felt as smart and steady on short-cornered stretches of Stunt and Piuma roads as it did on flat-out straightaways on Kanan Dume or the 101. At every speed between 5 mph and 105 mph the bike felt comfortable, confident, controlled.
Even in traffic, it felt as lithe and light as a messenger's bicycle.
The Monster proved a nimble and responsive canyon carver, quick to lean and, thanks to a six-speed transmission, easy to keep in the power band. The same six-speed configuration kept the Monster calm on the highway, making 80 mph a gentle cruise at around 4,000 rpm.
The specs say the Monster weighs just over 400 pounds fully fueled and boasts 87 horsepower and 58 pound-feet of torque. The 803cc Desmodue twin engine, new to the Monster this year, is said to be lighter and torquier than its predecessor.
Nothing in the ride would suggest otherwise. The power plant produces a smooth, aggressive pull, but never feels unmanageable. The huge twin 320-millimeter front disc brakes and Brembo calipers produce equally impressive stopping power. Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires are standard and contribute to the Monster's sure-footedness.
This Ducati's ergonomics do not encourage either the kicked-back, tailbone cruiser position (you can find some of that on the company's Diavel) or the lean-forward, tank-hugging superbike position (which is your only option on Ducati's flagship Panigale). Instead, the sit is a comfortable mid-upright style, tall enough for good visibility but pitched forward enough to feel glued to the road.
A well-formed seat and minimal vibration make for a soft ride. After three hours in the saddle, I was ready to ride for three more.
Quibbles? Excessive engine heat means that comfy Monster saddle would be a hot seat on a hot day -- even though the valve covers made for nice hand warmers on the cold morning I went out. (The Panigale, which had much bigger heat issues, features a new heat shield on the 2013 model.)
Also, the gas mileage isn't great. Even with a 3.8-gallon tank, you’re not going to ride far without needing to top off. One test ride put fuel consumption at 35 mph. And the mid-upright position means you’re always in the wind -- a great sensation in the canyons but probably a little tedious after an hour on the freeway. But Ducati does sell a taller replacement windscreen.
But these are nothing in light of the simple pleasure of riding the marvelous Monster.
There are vast options within the Monster family. The 696 is Ducati’s starter bike, at an MSRP of $9,295. The more powerful 796 is goes for $10,495 -- a little higher for the ABS version. The 100-horsepower 1100 EVO costs $11,995.
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