Way back in the early 1990s Ducati basically invented a new market segment by sticking the 900 Supersport engine in a frame similar to that of the 851 Superbike, and kicking in a fork from the 750 Supersport to create the Monster. It was a sporty bike you could use in the city and have fun riding on twisty roads all while looking damn cool doing it. More importantly for Ducati, the Monster cost Ducati almost nothing to develop and build because it was a parts bin special.
Nearly thirty years later with three distinct “generations” of the bike having been released, and over 350,000 examples sold, the Monster has become an Big part of the Ducati story. Naturally, making big changes to any product that attains icon status will come with some resistance, and Ducati is making some here. No trellis frame? “That’s not a Monster!” shout the people who never bought one when it had a trellis frame anyway.
(Full Disclosure: Ducati invited me to foggy but beautiful San Francisco, California, to ride its new Monster motorcycle. I paid for my travel, riding a bike to the event rather than flying. Ducati put me up in a fancy hotel on the Embarcadero for a night, and supplied me with posh food and drinks.)
Ducati has internally dubbed this new fourth-generation “Il Mostro Ristretto,”which is a kind of concentrated Italian espresso. It’s a tiny shot of hot bean that has been reduced to its essential form, a compact lightweight that’s ready to take the fight to the world. This flyweight zipper is a near-fatal dose of caffeine in a shot glass. The description is apt as all hell.
The Monster is Ducati’s upright naked sport bike. It may as well be the original upright naked sport bike. This is the bike that pretty much defined the class from the early nineties into the mid-2000s. Everyone else has kind of figured out how to perfect the form in the last decade or so, however, and Ducati fell behind the competition. Now the company is pulling out all the stops, and packing the new version with all of the Moto GP-derived tech it can in order to once again define this segment.
As with the Monsters of old, this new Monster takes a more road-focused engine and sticks it into a chassis developed from that of the current superbike, in this case Ducati started the structure of the Panigale. The new chassis ditches the old visually-iconic trellis ladder frame for a ten-pounds-lighter cast-aluminum front subframe and 4.2-pounds-lighter fiberglass rear seat subframe. A lot of work went into making this bike 40 pounds lighter than the Monster 821 it replaces.
The engine is the cornerstone of this bike, as usual. The brief is for a torquey street motor that doesn’t require a lot of effort to go fast, but won’t fall on its face on a track. The 937cc engine in the new Monster is derived from the Testastretta 11-degree mill found in the current Hypermotard 950 and SuperSport 950, but bumps displacement and power slightly. 111 horses and 69 lb-ft of torque are seriously sufficient numbers for a bike like this. Ducati says it has been working hard to develop longer service intervals for this engine, and claims it only needs oil changes every 9,000 miles and desmodromic valve services every 18,000.
As you can see from the chart provided by Ducati, power and torque are only up very slightly at peak, but the new engine massively increases the area under the curve. That’s where pretty much all of your riding is done, so it’s ridiculously quick at normal useable rpms. You don’t have to take this engine to redline to get the most from it, but it sounds good enough above 5,000 rpm that you’ll want to.
With advanced rider controls, the new Monster packs Panigale tech into the little entry level Ducati. With four different ride modes, adjustable smart horsepower limiters, lean-sensitive ABS and traction control, launch control, wheelie control, anti-stoppie tech, and Ducati’s near-magic quickshifter, it’s packed to the gills with electronic wizardry. You can wring this bike for everything it’s worth, or ride it gently, and it’s happy to adapt to everything you do.
Ostensibly the Monster is built for city streets, bombing around tight traffic, and zipping through tight gaps. It’s alright as a city bike, but you’d really rather have something softer like a Hypermotard for that kind of work as potholes and road imperfections are simply better with more suspension.
The bike starts at $11,895, which seems like a great price to me for this much power and tech. You can get the Monster Plus, which comes with a pillion cover and a small flyscreen for an extra $300. Being a Monster, there are hundreds of aftermarket options for matching the bike to your style. It’s a deal, it’s a steal. If you think you can handle a 111 horsepower bike, go buy one right now. Well, maybe finish reading this first, come to think of it.
There are a lot of reasons for making a bike lighter. For one thing, it often correlates to quicker acceleration and better handling, you know, so long as it doesn’t compromise chassis stiffness. Thankfully, this one doesn’t trade lightweight for bad dynamics. Lightening a bike also makes it much more approachable and easier to handle for newer and/or smaller riders.
Ducati knows that in order to expand its sales, it needs to continually work to reach new demographics. The Monster was re-worked to be shorter — offering a seat height as low as 30 inches — and have a narrower standover height, making shorter riders significantly more comfortable at a stop. The idea here is to open the Monster up to newer riders, especially in rapidly growing segments of riders, namely women riders and the Chinese market.
It might sound silly to convince new riders to pick up a 111-horsepower 366 pound (dry weight) motorcycle, and yeah, it definitely is. But [and there is a but] Ducati has done a lot to tame this bike to make it docile enough to ride if you don’t provoke it with too much throttle. To Ducati’s credit, the company has equipped the Monster with a best-in-class electronics package with a six-axis IMU, to keep the rubber side down.
In addition to being light, the new Monster is also more maneuverable at low speeds, thanks to the addition of far more steering angle. It also has a hydraulic clutch, rather than a cable clutch, to make for easy lever adjustments and a lighter pull. And while typical squids will totally ignore this bit, there are power modes for the bike, allowing you to restrain the bike to just 75 horsepower while you ride in the city, in the rain, or while you’re learning the dynamics of your steed.
It’s fast. Even in the lower power modes, it’s way too fast for a new rider. There’s technically nothing stopping a squid who passed an MSF course from going out and buying a liter bike. If you’re sensible, however, this is a bike you graduate up to, not start with. It’s a great second or third bike after, say, a 650cc naked.
All of that lowering and narrowing might sound like it would be limiting to large American and European male Monster riders, but as one of them, I can tell you it genuinely isn’t. Standing at 6'2" in height, with a 30-inch inseam, I was perfectly happy riding the Monster all day. The seat height is adjustable up to 32 inches, and a taller seat option is also available. Near the end of the day, after 20 minutes on the highway in a mid-tuck position, I found my right knee starting to throb slightly, but it went away quickly once I got to surface streets.
Ducati worked hard to get the ergonomics right, shifting a lot of things around from the last Monster. The handlebars have been moved 2.6 inches closer to the rider, meaning a less strained reach and less weight on your wrists. The foot pegs have been moved 1.4-inches rearward and half an inch down to extend the leg and reduce the bend in your knee. Like I said, even for taller riders, it’s a comfy place to spend the day.
We kicked off the ride with a low-speed run around the streets of San Francisco. The starting point down on The Embarcadero ran us up and down some of the city’s steep hills, ending at the world-famous Lombard Street. With a police escort, we were given the opportunity to ride uphill and downhill the usually one-way street. It wasn’t dynamically engaging, but it was cool as shit.
The rest of the morning consisted of a run down highway one to Half Moon Bay, a cut inland to ride the famed Skyline, and up to the sports car and motorcycle gathering point, Alice’s Restaurant. Thankfully it was the middle of the week, so traffic was light and tables were available. The roads in that area are among the best in the world, and the Monster absolutely ate up those miles with ease.
It’s been a while since I’ve ridden anything this sporty, to be honest. The closest thing to a sport bike I’ve been on this year is the Moto Guzzi V7. No disrespect to the Goose, but it’s no Monster. Aside from that, everything I’ve been on this year has been an adventure bike or a cruiser or an electric. Nearly everything on two wheels I’ve sat on recently has been at least 100 pounds heavier than the Monster. I’m telling you this, because I don’t want my level of preparedness to undermine how great the bike is.
With all of that in mind, it took me at least twenty minutes of riding the Monster to regain my sea legs on a bike with this much grip and power. Sure, it’s no superbike, but compared to the Indian Challenger I rode to San Francisco, it may as well have been. As the only non-bike pub reviewer in attendance at this particular test, I was thrust into the deep end of the pool and it was sink or swim time, baby. Once I regained that comfort level, however, and I convinced myself that the shadows from trees overhanging the twisting coastal road weren’t water, and that more lean angle was possible, I was able to keep up.
Once you figure out how to tame the Monster, you’ll happily gallop into battle astride this beastie forever. I simply cannot figure out how anyone would grow bored of riding this bike. It’s powerful and fast enough to keep even a longtime rider begging for more. It’s not a bike without its issues, but as with most Italian-built things, if you can learn to look past those issues, you’ll fall in love.
For twelve grand, this motorcycle feels like a ridiculously good bargain. The quality of materials is great, the level of standard equipment is next-level, the ergonomics are great for pretty much everyone, and the ride is something you’ll never shut up about. The original Monster defined this segment for basically twenty years, and while it has lost its recognizeable aesthetics, this is a bike good enough to define the segment for the next twenty years.
The electronics suite for this bike is phenomenal. The quickshifter normally found on a twenty or thirty thousand dollar motorcycle has found its way down to the twelve grand machine. Likewise the inertial measurement unit (IMU) is a must-have on every bike from now on—again, something that has trickled down from more expensive segments. With lean-dependent ABS and traction control, your level of rider safety has never been higher. Stellar work, there.
The TFT dashboard is derived from some higher end Ducatis, and looks gorgeous on this entry level bike. It’s clear and crisp and visible in any light. 10/10, would recommend.
Far and away my greatest gripe with the new Monster is heat management. It’s so ridiculously hot. Obviously when you have two nearly-half-liter pistons pumping between your legs, the heat has to go somewhere, but this is by far the hottest bike I’ve ever ridden. Even with the underslung exhaust, the back of my right thigh felt like it was on fire at city and suburban speeds. I think there may have been an aerodynamic thing where the exhaust was caught in a turbulent vortex behind my leg, but whatever caused it, I felt like I was fried at least 10 percent of the ride.
The Monster Plus isn’t much of a plus with just a flyscreen and a pillion cover. I know it doesn’t matter, but the name should have been reserved for something else more exciting, and this should have just been an option package.
Speaking of the flyscreen, it’s positively useless. I rode one bike with and one bike without during the day, and noticed absolutely no difference.
The pillion cover makes the bike look much nicer, but there’s no option to remove the rear passenger foot pegs. Because they’re integrated into the exhaust mount, you would need to actually grind the right side off to get them properly gone. For a bike where a lot of focus was put into weight, I’m surprised that these aren’t optional.
Visually, there isn’t much distinguishing this from anything else in the class. Sure it still has the Monster-style fuel tank, but that’s pretty much it. It’s not an ugly bike, per se, but it’s not exactly fetching either.
From where I’m standing, this is a big time buy if you’ve been riding for a handful of years and you’re looking for something to step up to. You’re getting a ton of bike for the money. Admittedly, it’s at the top end of the compact sporty naked market, but deservedly so.
I would probably do a few simple modifications to make this a better looking bike. The first thing I’d do with my new Monster is order a set of the European-style flush-mount front turn signals. Those just look WAY better. And they’re sequentially strobing, so you get that cool flashing light effect.
The pillion cover is a good start, but I’d skip the flyscreen and just order the one piece separately. I’d figure out some other method of supporting the exhaust and ditch the rear passenger pegs, and add an under-seat license plate mount to clean up the rear.
The hope here is that with the rear of the bike a bit less cluttered with stuff, that exhaust aero wash would figure itself out and correct the leg cooking. Even if it didn’t it would still probably be worth buying. Just keep your speeds up and air out your leg every few miles. This is the Italian way.