It’s hard to believe the Ducati Monster is now more than 20 years old, but that’s good news since the continual upgrades over time to the iconic naked bike have brought us the outstanding “new” 2014 Monster 1200 and 1200S, which just debuted.
When the original Ducati Monster 900 hit in 1993, it was right on target and the line expanded quickly. Today, Monster models make up half or more of Ducati’s annual sales. Despite the Monster moniker, the third-generation 1200 and 1200S are some of the most refined models yet thanks to copious technology. One ride on these once ugly ducklings is all it takes to find out why they are some of Ducati’s most popular — and most imitated — models.
Styling a bike with no real “style”
When garage builders cobbled together the first “naked” bikes in the 1990s by stripping away the crashed-out plastic of modern sportbikes to reveal their cores, I’ll have to admit I was not a fan of the look. It seemed like owners were simply too cheap to buy new plastics and return the once-sleek sports machine to form. Then I rode one, and understood. It wasn’t about the look at all, it was about the ride, as it should be. But 21 years on from the birth of the “factory naked bike,” the nothing-but-essentials look has been largely codified. Thankfully, Ducati splashes that basic look with a welcome bit of style. It’s still just the essentials, with a dense, purposeful and approachable look that’s quite the opposite of the runway model gloss reserved for Ducati’s pure sport bikes.
The curved radiator and dangling oil cooler add some heft to the new Monster’s stance and the somewhat spaghettified path of the pipes is more a product of the engine’s L-format than a stylists pen. However, the black and bare metal stock 2-1-2 exhausts, which sound far more robust than I expected, are actually pretty good looking, although most will find their way to a shelf in the garage as owners strap on Termis, Arrows or other aftermarket cans in a bid to open up engine breathing and increase the decibels to car-alarm activation levels. That’s all fine and dandy when an engine sounds this good, but for this rider, the restrained burble of the stock pipes on the highway made a fine companion while still being plenty loud enough to entertain while on the gas.
A nice-looking removable cowl covers up the passenger’s quarters and with the license plate riding on a BMW-esque mudguard growing out of the single-sided swingarm, the rear undertail isn’t cluttered up by some ugly DOT-mandated fender. Sleek rear grab rails and two nicely-designed turn signals help maintain the clean look of the tail section. LEDs light up the V-shaped tail light.
My only stylistic beef is with the “shaped” headlight, which looks like it was parked next to a heater for too long and semi-melted into this odd, Dali-esque shape. Deal breaker? No, the bike’s numerous positive attributes make it a footnote, but given the chance, I’d go old-school garage builder on it and wire up something different. I just have not been able to come around to the backward sloping headlight thing started by MV Agusta years ago.
Tech angels soothe (smooth?) the savage beast
The original air-cooled Ducati Monster was about as high-tech as an anvil. Even the 2013 EVO 1100 still relied on air cooling (with a oil cooler assist), although liquid cooling was also present on older machines like the Monster S4R 1000. The original Monster featured finicky carburetors, analog clocks and its only nod to silicon was electronic ignition timing. Over time, more and more tech has been added, and the new 2014 Monster 1200 is a tech showcase, with liquid cooling, re-jiggered fuel injection, ABS, traction control (“DTC”), ride-by-wire throttle, a slipper clutch and three ride modes, making up what the manufacturer calls the Ducati Safety Pack. The new, highly informative color TFT LCD instrument panel is also an update for the new model.
What this bike really needs is Bluetooth and an app for setting up all the choices from a phone while stationary.
The “S” version I took for a ride adds $2,500 to the base 1200’s $13,495 MSRP and adds some carbon fiber bits of which the front fender is most notable, along with Ohlins legs, different wheels, up-spec Brembo brake sets and 10 more horses for a total of 145. Twist also gets a bump to 91.8 pound-feet from the plain 1200’s 87. Both bikes use the newly updated second-generation Testastretta “11-degree” engine.
A complicated pod on the left handgrip gives control over the myriad user-adjustable settings on the bike, which are displayed on the rectangular and somewhat smartphone-like LCD panel. The basic layer of control is composed of three primary riding modes: Urban, Sport and Touring.
In Urban mode, the display dispenses with the tach readout in favor of very large digits for the speedo and also enlarges the clock (handy, to be sure) and shows some selectable salient items like coolant temp and a trip meter. Tour and Sport add a tach in different formats. Two slider switches above and below the turn-signal selector change which data points appears in small info boxes within the display. Both ABS and DTC (traction control) settings are visible in every ride mode. Another menu accessible when the bike is stopped allows even finer customization of the display and all of the performance parameters. ABS can also be switched off completely and the numerous parameters can be saved as ride modes. Awesome.
Working the panel using the pod buttons was a bit tricky at first, but I got the hang of it fairly quickly. The lower slider switch is right next to the horn button so a cyclist next to me at a stoplight got an earful of honk as I tried to change the display. Sorry, buddy. What this bike really needs is Bluetooth and an app for setting up all the choices from a phone while stationary. After fiddling around with the LCD and performance settings while the new Duc warmed up, it was time to ride.
The new Monster 1200S I saddled up at MotoCorsa in Portland had a scant 70 miles on the clock, so I was admonished by MotoCorsa czar Arun Sharma not to zip his new baby to redline. The tires were also fresh enough to preclude knee-dragging around my favorite corners. Not to worry as the 1200S packs immense power in the middle of the tach where I’d be riding most of the time anyway, and I like to save the boy racer antics for the track. But was it my fault Ducati doesn’t include a tach readout in Urban mode? How would I know if I was over the lower rpm limit? If the scenery began to warp, that was probably going to be a first clue.
I started my ride in Urban mode to get a general feel for the riding dynamics as I sliced through downtown Portland’s 15 mph daytime traffic. Urban mode cuts engine power to about 100hp, dials up traction control to 6 (of 8) and sets ABS to 3 (of 9). Throttle response could best be described as “normal” and the bike burbles along nicely with smooth clutch engagement away from lights and no surprises from the engine department in terms of acceleration. Partial throttle and off-idle EFI gremlins that have cropped up in past Monsters appear to have been thoroughly exorcised. The ride-by-wire throttle spring weight is very light, maybe a bit too light, but it never really felt “unusual” or negatively affected control over the engine.
Despite being a big, powerful bike, the 1200S is very easy to ride in trudging city traffic. Even lugging the big twin results in clean, progressive, if slightly shudder-ridden forward progress. Clutch engagement is like buttah and while I sort of miss that old signature Ducati dry-clutch rattle, I’m fine with trading it for this extremely easy-to-engage wet mechanism. The comfortable seat is firm, fairly flat and also features an inch of height adjustment using a clever system that can be changed up in seconds, but at 6 foot 1, I left it in the topmost position for the perfect amount of legroom during my sortie.
Twist the grip and hold the hell on.
Out in the long sweepers and straights on the country roads west of Portland, the Monster is confidence-inspiring under Tour mode, with linear power delivery, big torque and the excellent and adjustable Ohlins bits smoothing out the rural pavement as the big bike rails through sweeping corners and builds triple-digit speed quickly on the straights. Going slow means going 80 as the new dual-plugged Testastretta 11-degree engine ticks away below without a care in 5th or 6th. But roll on the throttle and the surprisingly loud stock exhaust thrums inside my helmet as time and space begin to compress ahead of the wide handlebars that have a slight superbike rise to them.
Arriving at a famous set of local twisties, I switch the Monster to Sport mode heading into the first set of switchbacks. The change is immediately apparent as the ride-by-wire throttle’s arc becomes much more aggressive off idle and all 145 ponies in the barn came out to play. Sport truly transforms the Monster from an urban stealth fighter/commuter to something more akin to its namesake. The LCD switches over to a GP-style “r” tach with big speedo digits, ABS set to 1 and DTC at 2, plus a little clock. That’s it. Twist the grip and hold the hell on.
Being restricted to break-in levels of rev is no hardship since there’s just not a lot of need to run this ogre to redline unless you’re down at The Salt or at the track. Peak torque arrives at around 7,250 rpm but it comes on strong just off idle and the Monster just launches forward like the animal it was designed to be. Corners come up quicker than expected, but the giant dual superbike-spec Brembos scrub off the speed in a controlled, linear fashion. I don’t think I ever tapped into the ABS despite repeated hard braking into corners. Roll on the throttle during a corner exit and the combustion events vibrate through the seat, pegs and bars in the best way possible as it surges forward – this thing is lacking civility in all the right places.
This thing is lacking civility in all the right places.
The wide handlebar allows the rider to wrench the bike over and change direction quickly, no matter what kind of velocity is involved. I scaled the writhing section of road likely in record time as the unexpectedly burly exhaust note filled my helmet. Exiting the technical section of the road and transitioning to a smooth, well-maintained passage filled with sweepers bridged by quick direction changes, I left the Monster in Sport mode and quickly dialed up lose-your-license speeds on short straights. Coming into corners far faster than I should, the fade-free Brembos and excellent suspension kept the drama on low and the fun on high. This new Monster S, in terms of ride quality and performance, is exceptional. It truly gives the rider confidence at speed, which is high praise for any bike. Kudos to Ducati on the latest generation of monstrous fun.
After two hours of flogging the newest Duc on all manner of back roads, it was time to return it to Arun at MotoCorsa, which meant a 15-mile drone down a six-lane highway. Toggling the ride mode back to Tour and clicking up to 6th as I joined the 60 mph cagers results in a placid, comfortable perch as the big L-twin lopes away below, barely breathing. It would be ever so easy to add some bags and bedroll to the back of this newest monster and head for the far horizon; it’s that comfortable. Windscreen? The perfect forward pitch of the seat deems it unnecessary. Keep it simple.
Worth it? Yes.
The minimalist aesthetic naked bikes like the Monster follow helps keep things like spendy bodywork out of the cost equation. In the sphere of Ducati pricing, 16 large for the up-sell S model is actually fairly affordable, considering what you get for all those dollars. The horsepower and torque boost, Ohlins suspension, better brakes wheels and carbon fiber bits would likely cost far more than $2,500 to add on to a plain 1200, so the 1200S is actually somewhat of a bargain.
The Monster 1200S is a bike you can literally ride every day in comfort, and then get your rocks off at the track if you so desire. This highlights the versatility in the Monster’s mission, something that can’t be said for Ducati’s more sporting tools that cost quite a bit more for the most part and require a lot more core strength to enjoy. The added inclusion of the fantastic LCD screen, huge amount of rider adjustability, the no-joke Ducati Safety Pack (standard on both versions) and the high-quality fit and finish of the machine make those monthly payments even easier to make, especially as the miles and grins pile up.
- Big power and torque but very easy to ride
- Ride modes with clear differences
- Ducati Safety Pack works as advertised
- Riders can tweak the bike’s performance to their personal tastes
- S version adds lots of goodies for reasonable bump in MSRP
- Unfussy design and real-world comfort
- Styling might not be everyone’s cup of espresso
- Zero weather protection
- Working the display options not so user-friendly, especially for the non-techy
- Your new collection of speeding tickets