New Ducati Monster is a scary beast
(MCT) -- Ask any Hollywood producer. There's only one way to go when it comes to monsters in blockbuster sequels. They need to be bigger, badder, more capable of beating their enemies into the ground, which is exactly what Ducati has done with the latest incarnation of its iconic naked bike.
For 2014, the Monster is back and bigger than ever - with a more powerful 1,200cc engine.
"More" seems to have been the design mantra for the Monster 1200 S, which doesn't only offer a neck-snapping 145 horsepower from its ready-to-roll weight of 461 pounds and the usual upgrades that define most updates, like improved torque. The Monster is rigged with unprecedented adjustability to everything from the power delivery and anti-lock brakes to its traction-control settings, suspension, seat height and clutch and brake levers.
The Monster has long been Ducati's entry-level machine, due in large part to an easy-to-control upright seating position and reasonable power plant - reasonable being relative with all things Ducati. Offered in various displacements over the years, the smallest of which has been a 696, it is also the Italian motorcycle maker's best-seller.
Powered with the second-generation, superbike-derived 1198 Testastretta L-twin, the newest addition to the Monster family is not beginner material, though it pretends. At least its performance can be toned down to accommodate riders early-ish in their learning curves. Pre-tuned for mid, rather than high, rpm, it can also be ramped up to a level that exceeds the capabilities of the most seasoned sport bikers, making the Monster the rare machine that can adapt to riders' improving (or declining) skills.
Like its too-powerful-for-the-street Panigale, the Monster engine features revised fuel injection that sprays gas into a hotter part of the intake valve to improve combustion and power, as well as two spark plugs per cylinder to make sure the fuel goes bang. The engine is, like the Panigale, a stressed member of the frame to improve rigidity and handling.
The engine makes so much power that produces an enormous amount of heat, so it's cooled with an extra-large radiator that curls back toward the beefy Ohlins fork in a sort of cocoon. A bigger, more complicated engine on a naked bike is far more cluttered than the little carbureted Monster 750 I bought new in 1999. Look beyond the eye-catching Ducati red of its iconic trellis frame, and the Monster 1200 is a Rube Goldberg system of tubes and cables. At least they're all black and blend together.
It was early in my week with Ducati's super beast that I re-learned what I'd already been taught through test rides of the Hypermotard, Diavel, 1198 and Panigale. The Monster does not like to be ridden slowly. It would just as soon there was no 1,000, 2,000, even 3,000 rpm. It wants to cut to the chase and ride far closer to the 10,000 rpm redline, where it sings. There's nothing quite like the sound of desmodromic valves, the waste from which is channeled through stacked dual exhaust pipes large as water cannons.
If you're the sort of person who can ride a Ducati slowly, good for you. It means you have consummate clutch control and impeccable self-restraint that's likely to keep your driver's license where it belongs - in your pocket instead of the hands of a police officer. It also means you probably shouldn't waste your money to buy one. The Monster 1200 starts at $13,495-$15,995 for the S model I was testing.
What makes the S worthy of the additional letter is, of course, a slight boost in horses and torque. What makes it worth the extra $2,500 are three-spoke alloy wheels, a fully adjustable Ohlins rear suspension, a carbon fiber mudguard, larger disc brakes out front and hazard lights built in to the LED turn signals in case something goes wildly awry - and it could. Living up to its name, the Monster is scary fast.
Exactly how fast can be modified.
The Monster can be ridden in sport, touring and urban modes, each of which automatically change the level of ABS and traction control to match the level of power. The ABS and traction control settings can also be hand set. But if left to its own devices, sport unleashes full giddyup while minimizing traction and anti-lock brake intervention, touring maintains top horses but offers slightly less aggressive throttle response with increased traction control and ABS, while urban dramatically bridles the horsepower from 145 to a still-impressive 100 but ups the traction control and ABS to better respond to traffic and the increased likelihood of poor drivers that tend to plow into two-wheelers.
I found myself riding in touring mode most often, just so I could experience the majority of its power with a safety net. Unfortunately, I also experienced its heat. The stacked exhaust is low slung, but it isn't low enough. At slow speeds and idle, I feared my leg might spontaneously combust. It was hot.
The Thin Film Transistor that Ducati now uses for its information display was also problematic. I loved the intelligence behind the system that changes the information provided to the rider based on riding mode. Urban offers speed, time and fuel info – bare-bones data that won't distract, so riders can focus on the maniacs with whom they're sharing the street. Touring delivers the most information, including tripometer readings, while sport restricts the display to track essentials, giving revs, speed and engine temperature.
It's a terrifically smart idea that is, unfortunately, almost impossible to read in the sunlight. I found myself yearning for the shade provided with underpasses so I could get a sense of my speed and revs. Only the dummy lights indicating neutral, a fuel tank nearing empty and the setting of my ABS on the dashboard edges were bright enough to see otherwise.
The Monster 1200 compensates for its increased power plant with ergonomic improvements that make it easier to control, especially when cycling as two. The wheelbase is slightly longer for improved stability when riding with a passenger. The handlebars are still wide and flat, but they're slightly higher and also closer to the rider. The 31.8-inch seat is likewise adjustable for the first time on a Ducati, enabling it to be lowered to 30.9 inches without tools. An even lower, 29.3-inch saddle is available as an accessory.
Being a naked bike, there's no wind protection, which is, in itself, a sort of safety mechanism on a bike with a top speed approaching 150. The only way to max it out is to ride like Rollie Free. The Monster 1200 is such a blast to ride, riders just might feel inspired.
2014 Ducati Monster 1200
Base price: $13,495
Price as tested (S version): $15,995
Powertrain: Fuel-injected, ride-by-wire, Testastretta 11-deree, L-twin cylinder, 4 valves per cylinder, desmodromic, liquid cooled, 6-speed
Horsepower: 145 at 8,750 rpm
Torque: 92 lb.-ft. at 7,250 rpm
Wet weight: 461 pounds
Seat height: 30.9-31.8 inches
Road test fuel economy: 50.8 mpg
(c)2014 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services