Traditionally, Monsters were like Marmite. If you got on with them, you loved them. But if the riding position and other quirks proved an irritation, well, there was no convincing some people.

This was a drawback, because the whole idea of the Monster was to extend the Ducati experience (and, let’s be frank, sales) beyond hard-core sports bikes. Over the years the Monster mellowed, improved, got faster, became more reliable and practical. But the ‘not-for-everybody’ impression lingered.

The latest incarnation aims to change that. Abandoning the incremental improvement of previous generations, the Monster 1200 and 1200S launched last year took a clean-sheet approach. The hallmark air-cooled engine? Gone, in favour of a water-cooled Testrastretta 11º L-twin. Trellis frame? Sort of, but really just a stubby thing triangulating between the cylinder heads to hold the forks on. The new bike is bigger, with more ergonomic adjustment, and a different riding position. But is it still a Monster?

1200 easily identified by single-sider; ’S’ model by gold Öhlins forks

1200 easily identified by single-sider; ’S’ model by gold Öhlins forks

Monstrous differences

It might never have been entirely mainstream but the Monster always had a devoted fan base. It was Ducati’s best-selling model ever, often accounting for over half of total sales, and played a huge part in making the company the thriving concern it is. Quite a change from the economic basket case of decades past.

Altering a successful recipe is risky. It’s a balancing act: trying to retain enough soul and character from the original while creating something capable of challenging the best modern competition. So there’s a lot riding on this new bike and how it manages to satisfy competing demands.

Straight away, it looks like a Monster. The stance, proportions and details are just right. Like the original, it’s something of a parts-bin special, and there’s no hiding it. Pipes, pumps and hose clips are all on show. It’s not pretty but it is authentic, with a gutsy industrial appearance that doesn't really give a damn. Good.

The real differences come when you ride it. And the news here is even better. There’s no mistaking you’re on a Ducati, with that roiling, booming L-twin a constant soundtrack. The front end feels frisky, as it should. In every other way, however, the new bike is not just a better Monster. It’s capable of rivalling the best in its class.

No need for Termignonis. The 821’s pipes sound amazing.

No need for Termignonis. The 821’s pipes sound amazing.

Bigger and bigger

The old monster came in every capacity you could think of, from a little 400, through the first water-cooled monster (the fire-breathing 998cc, 130hp S4RS) and ending up as an 1100.

The new line up uses two capacities of the same Testrastretta 11º motor, in three guises: 821cc/112hp, 1198cc/135hp and the 1200S with 1198cc/145hp.

You can already see where things are going. The 821 produces significantly more power than the outgoing 1100 Evo. Both 1200s outgun the S4RS. With dry weights around 180kg, performance isn’t lacking. Of course there’s more from the 1198 motor, making gathering pace a lazy, any-gear affair. It’s the 821, though, that sounds better as the revs rise. Termignoni will not be happy.

There are other important dimensional differences, too. The new bike is larger: the 821 has a 30mm longer wheelbase than the last of the old bikes, while the 1200 is 30mm longer again. The bars are a fraction wider, higher and closer to the rider. The seat height, previously a fixed 800mm, can be adjusted between 785mm and 810mm (further options are also available). The result is a bike that feels roomier, and that makes finding a good riding position, and moving body position, much easier.

Rear shock on 821 adjustable for preload and rebound

Rear shock on 821 adjustable for preload and rebound

Apex predator

Alike in so many ways, the 821 and 1200 begin to feel quite different when you get stuck into a series of corners.

The 1200 is more stable, a little harder to turn, but reassuringly composed. The 821 is nimble and darty, hunting down apexes like a Bronzie sniffing out your catch.

It only takes a look at the spec sheets to find reasons for these differences. The 821’s twin-sided swing arm is shorter than the 1200’s single-sider, reducing the wheelbase. It has a narrower 180-section rear tyre with a relatively tall 60% profile, something taken from supersport racing. (The tall profile tyre gets pulled in by the rim, presenting a sharper profile for agility then presenting a larger contact area when leaned over.) By contrast the 1200 has a fat 190/55 rear. With a 2.5 kg difference in weight, the end result is that the 821 is the faster-turning bike for any given nudge on the ‘bars.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the 1200’s handling. And with full suspension adjustability (the 821 is only adjustable at the rear) you can easily dial it in to your desires. The posher 1200S model, with its plush Öhlins front and rear, is just that tad more supple. And, with an extra 10hp, even stronger at the top end. (The monobloc Brembos on the ’S’ are a notch above, too.)

Full adjustability on 1200, Öhlins on 1200S

Full adjustability on 1200, Öhlins on 1200S

Living with a Monster

All Ducatis are now thoroughly house-trained, and the Monster is arguably the most practical of all. There are no real quirks to get used to, with the exception of a pillion footrest arrangement that will have larger-hoofed riders fouling their heels if they ride on the balls of their feet. Clutch action can also seem a bit snatchy at first, whether it’s the 821’s cable-operated item or the hydraulic one on the 1200. The mirrors are pretty average too, subject to vibration and hard to adjust.

While the all-electronic dash (full colour on the 1200) seems to promise limitless possibilities, it doesn't have a gear indicator function. Nor can you conjure up a proper fuel gauge, only a ‘fuel trip’ countdown that appears when the light goes on. You can, however, play around endlessly with customised displays and riding modes.

The standard riding modes–Sport, Touring and Urban–are pretty much as you’d expect. You get full power in the first two, differentiated by the aggression of its delivery, with increased Traction Control (DTC) and ABS sensitivity in Touring. Urban reduces the power, puts the DTC to level 6 from 8 and ramps up ABS sensitivity to maximum level 3.

Convenient and practical touches include angled valve stems for checking tyre pressures, an easily-removed pillion seat cowl, grab handles for the pillion and a sight glass for oil level. The swing arm also sports pre-threaded mounts for stand bobbins.

Service intervals, after the 1,000km running-in inspection and oil-change, are a generous 15,000km, with the first valve check and adjustment at 30,000km. So it’s not in need of constant pampering.

Dash looks comprehensive but lacks useful functions like fuel level and gear ind

Dash looks comprehensive but lacks useful functions like fuel level and gear indicator

Verdict

Ducati have pitched the new Monster perfectly. It has enough Monster cues to be authentic, appealing to owners of previous models. But its greater all-round ability and approachable nature will put the bike on more shortlists than ever.

The pricing will help, too. With the 821 ‘Dark’ starting at $19,490 +ORCs, having a shiny new Ducati in the garage is far from out of reach. That’s less than the outgoing, air-cooled 796. With significantly higher performance, ability and appeal, this bike just might be as much of a breakthrough as the original Monster back in 1993.

Specifications

Models: Ducati Monster 821, Monster 1200 and Monster 1200S
Cost: 821 ‘Dark’ $19,490; 821 $19,990; 1200 $24,990; 1200S $29,990
Engine: 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, Desmodromic L-Twin
Power: 82.4kW@9,250rpm (821); 99.3kW@8,750rpm (1200); 106.6kW@8,750rpm (1200S)
Torque: 89.4Nm@7,750rpm (821); 118Nm@7,250rpm (1200); 124.5Nm@7,250rpm (1200S)
Capacity:  821cc, 1198cc
Fuel System: EFI
Transmission: 6-speed, chain drive, slipper clutch
Seat Height: 785-810mm adjustable
Dry weight: 179.5kg (821); 182kg (1200/1200S)
Fuel capacity: 17.5L

Pros

Sound, looks, image
Sorted chassis
Practical and approachable
Customisable DTC and ABS

Cons

Annoying mirrors and footpegs
821’s limited suspension adjustment

Demonstration machine courtesy of Cyclespot Italia