Most well respected motorcycle journalists can agree that at least once in your lifetime you should own a Ducati. I concur, though I think I’d raise the number to two. While which specific models are still up for debate among journalists, my dream bike has always been a 916. To this day, I’m still in search of a very well kept specimen with low miles in need of a loving home. I’d strictly use it to carve out twisty back roads and burn through race tires at my local track. The likelihood that I’d ever let any of my friends test it out is small, and I’d never ride more than a few miles in a straight line if I could help it. While some might consider this snobbish, I’m sure you could find more than a few owners that would agree with me. Clearly, the 916 is not what you would call an everyday bike. Which is why the second Ducati, without a doubt, would have to be a Monster.
When the original Ducati Monster was shown to the public back in 1992, not even Ducati’s top brass could have foreseen that this basic naked machine would become their best selling model. Easily one of the most recognizable bikes on the planet, the Monster has become iconic within and outside of the motorcycle industry. It’s not the most expensive or fastest Ducati out there, but there’s just something about the bike that time and again has proven you don’t need much besides an engine and two wheels to have an insane amount of fun.
This year the new Monster is the 821 and is currently the smaller of the two engine sizes in the Monster family, the other being the 1200cc version. But if you think that makes this smaller Monster a pushover, guess again. Ducati’s Testastretta Twin engine, which powers the bike, makes a hefty 112hp and 65.8 lb ft of torque. When you consider the bike weighs just 453 lbs, that means this naked hooligan has the ability to slap any rider silly with more power than is necessary. Now usually this is where I jump in and say, “so this probably shouldn’t be your first bike and only experienced riders should try one out.” But Ducati has been hard at work coming up with a game plan that makes this beast so easy to ride, you can comfortably take it right off the show room floor and into your garage. But trust me, it won’t stay in there for long.
Now more than ever, one of the key factors to selling a bike is user friendliness. While in the past Ducatis haven’t enjoyed a reputation of being the most easy-going bikes, this new 821 Monster does everything but curl up next to you by the fire.
Let’s start with the cushion. Adjustable from 30.9 to 31.9 inches, the stock seat is extremely comfortable for both rider and passenger, and if you need an even lower pillion, one is available through the accessory catalog.
To keep you from wobbling about the road the bike’s frame is classically a trellis, while the swing arm is double sided rather than single. This Monster’s tank size has been increased to 4.6 gallons, and as first generation Monster riders will tell you, this allows for much longer rides before having to stop for gas. This of course means that Ducati is counting on you putting a lot of miles on your tires. Cue Pirelli and their Diablo Rosso II. Specifically designed for this bike, these tires allow you to confidently throw the Monster into corners and reassuringly give you plenty of feel and grip. Even while maintaining high speeds for long periods of time, they wear evenly and provide a solid edge on road surfaces of varying degrees of pavement.
As mentioned earlier, Ducati has really stepped up their game in trying to make the 821 as easy to ride as possible. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the tech and safety department. Starting off, you have a Ride-by-Wire throttle system that is connected to multiple levels of ABS, and traction control. There’s also a choice of cruising in Sport, Touring, or Urban mode. All of which can be dialed in to give you the exact feel you want, even if you’ve been caught in the pouring rain or you’re just making a quick run to the grocery store.
For an even smoother ride, the throttle bodies have been reengineered to help match whatever mode you’re riding in, and there’s also the default factory setting so you can start over from scratch if desired. Never before has it been so easy to get out of trouble before you really get into any aboard an Italian thrill machine.
Let’s get Naked
Without getting too graphic, trying to accurately describe to you what it’s like to ride a naked Italian twin-engine bike without actually having you ride one is a lot like explaining sex to a virgin. Sure I can show you text, diagrams, pictures, even videos, and yes, on a basic level you could understand the point. But until you’ve done it for yourself with a partner like the 821, you’re really not getting the full experience.
This Monster is intoxicating to ride for a number of reasons. Leading the way are some bang-on ergonomics coupled with that amazingly supple seat, which, short of running out of road or gas, there’s no real reason to get off of. The usable power and loads of deep torque will keep you entertained for hours whether you’re up-shifting onto the freeway, or trying to decide between 3rd or 4th gear on an empty two lane road. The intoxicating sound from the Desmo liquid-cooled engine further heightens the experience, and from startup through redline ferociously lets all bystanders know you are coming. A staple for Ducatis has always been their unique sound and the 821’s tone does not disappoint. The 2-1-2 vertically stacked cannon exhaust is both a symphony for the ears, and in check with the latest Euro 3 emission standards.
In its Sport mode, it’s easy to become aggressive with all the power this Monster puts out, and on more than one occasion its extremely sharp handling surprised me to the point of eye widening. Tackling your favorite long sweeping turns at 80+mph in 3rd gear versus your usual 60 in 4th because the bike is easily capable is a rider’s high that’s hard to beat. And while there were plenty of scenarios when legions of bugs were massacred on my helmet due to “above average speeds,” this Monster doesn’t have to be a high velocity psychopath to be enjoyed.
In truth, the 821 is most enjoyable when going out for an everyday cruise. The feel of comfortable ergonomics, incredible engine sound, and a motor that just begs to be opened up is a large part of what makes this bike so enjoyable. But without overlooking the obvious, perhaps the reason why this bike is so good is because of its simplicity.
Over the past two decades the Monster has seen its share of changes. Debuting as a 900cc model, the engine sizes around the world have ranged from 400 to 1200. It’s gone from being air-cooled to liquid- and back again, and from carbureted to fuel injection. With performance upgrades, and reshaped and modernized looks, this basic motorcycle has helped to invite a whole new generation of riders into the Ducati and motorcycling family. Monsters have been described by legions of fans around the world as extremely fun, artistically sexy, and hard to get tired of. And when you take into account the sales numbers since its launch, it’s easy to see the truth in such statements.
But throughout all its classifications and transformations, the Monster has never strayed far from being what it was always intended to be: a stripped down, amazingly fun, essentials-only naked bike. As its designer Miguel Galluzzi said, “All you need is a saddle, tank, engine, two wheels, and handlebars.”
All Day Fun
Sexy Sounding Engine Note
High gas tank causes some small wind buffeting above highway speeds in a straight line when your legs don’t grip the tank
Mirrors are useless after 2nd gear.
With a starting price of $12,000, potential naked bike customers might head over to Yamaha’s FZ-09. With horsepower numbers that are very similar and costing $4000.00 less, the Japanese triple might steal some serious green from Ducati.