Indefinitely Wild

Want a Sporty Motorcycle for the Road? Get This Ducati.

Ducati's updated Monster 1200 S is as fast as it gets away from the track

Justin rode the Monster 1200 S in the mountains above Monaco. Those rides are tight and bumpy, delivering a real challenge to the sport motorcyclist. (Ducati)

Ducati’s latest motorcycle is literally a Monster. For 2017, the iconic brand has comprehensively upgraded its premier bike with a host of small changes that might not look like much on paper but add up to a much improved, much faster riding experience. If you want a fast Italian motorcycle and don’t want to keep it on a racetrack, make it this one.

What Is It?

Ducati’s Monster range has been around since 1993, morphing from simple, accessible, affordable bikes to models that are extremely fast, incredibly sophisticated, and very expensive.

The Monsters nevertheless remain targeted at road riders, working equally well in city traffic as they do on winding mountain roads. “Naked” bikes, they forego plastic fairings and windscreens for a raw, wind-in-your face riding experience and comfortable, upright ergonomics. They emphasize fun, rather than outright speed (such as superbikes like Ducati’s Panigale range), while still being lose-your-license fast.

In 2014, Ducati launched a new generation of Monsters, complete with a “frameless” chassis that apes that of the Panigale, as well as the company’s new Testastretta motor, which emphasizes low-down torque over top-end power. It was a fast, character-rich, surprisingly fast motorcycle that was nevertheless marred by ergonomic flaws and rough fueling, which limited its outright pace and comfort.

Three years later, Ducati has fixed all that while updating the looks to be more in line with those of Miguel Galluzzi’s original 1993 masterpiece. The wheelbase is shorter and the forks steeper for faster handling. The incredibly irritating rearsets have been replaced by designs that are now capable of fitting human feet, and a host of new rider-assisting electronics have been fitted in the hopes of making the Monster’s potential pace more accessible.

It’s a much better bike, even if it is a very familiar one.

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For 2017, the design has been tweaked into something simpler, slimmer, and more handsome. (Ducati)

Who’s It For?

Superbikes like the Ducati 1299 Panigale exist to break racetrack records. You’ll see people trying to ride them on the road, but they’re simply too much bike for that terrain, with engines that deliver their incredible performance only when revved to maximum RPMs, suspension so stiff it spits riders off at the merest hint of a bump, and ergonomics better suited to a torture chamber than anything designed to support the human body in anything approaching comfort.

On the road, even if you want to go fast, you’re better off with an upright riding position that facilitates vision through traffic and around corners, more compliant suspension that keeps the tires in contact with rough roads, and an engine that delivers useful torque rather than top-end power. Lacking wind-deflecting plastics, riders of naked bikes also experience an enhanced sense of speed, meaning they’ll enjoy the ride more without going quite as fast.

Don’t get me wrong: Ducati’s Monster is still a sport-focused motorcycle designed to deliver Sunday morning thrills over outright practicality. Unlike the Panigale, however, you can get away with commuting on one of these things. And you’ll have a blast doing it.

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Justin wears: Schuberth C3 Pro helmet, Sena 10S Bluetooth headset, Rev'It Airstream leather jacket, Rev'It Sand Pro gloves, Tellason Ankara jeans, Danner USMC RAT boots. (Ducati)

Design

Where the 2014 model was designed to look like nothing but a naked Panigale, this 2017 refresh returns the motorcycle to the simple, smooth shapes of the 1993 original. Galluzzi penned the tank to resemble a flexed bicep and left the mechanical components on display. The idea is simple, purposeful function.

The Monster 1200 S I’m riding here is a very expensive, $17,000 motorcycle. Where that money was spent couldn’t be more evident. High-end Ohlins suspension is exposed on both ends. Up front, there are top-shelf Brembo M50 radial brake calipers.

The design also exposes Ducati’s oddly named frameless chassis, which ditches the old perimeter frame in favor of front and rear subframes connected by the engine. That configuration is said to save some weight, and its visual appeal is maximized by the use of steel trellis tubes.

For 2017, Ducati has also returned to the simple, round headlight, now complete with LED running lights.

It’s a shape that will feel familiar to any motorcyclist yet is also contemporary and high-tech.

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Simplified looks make the most of the Ducati's handsome mechanical components. This is a motorcycle, not a styling exercise. (Ducati)

Using It

It’s a little crazy that in 2016 we’re talking about practicality and accessibility in a V-twin that delivers 150 horsepower, right? The Monster 1200 is faster and better handling than Ducati’s own superbikes were just ten or 15 years ago.

A big reason why that insane performance level seems so reasonable is the way it’s constantly managed by Ducati’s sophisticated suite of electronic rider aids. The ride-by-wire throttle allows you to choose from three different riding modes—Sport, Touring, and Urban—which alter everything from the outright horsepower to how quickly the throttle responds to the intervention thresholds of the traction control, wheelie control, and the sophisticated Bosch cornering ABS. An inertial measurement unit measures lean angle and how the motorcycle is pitched front and rear, equipping those safety nets with even more information. In operation, they work seamlessly.

That high-tech approach couldn’t be more at odds with the simple appeal of the original Monster, but it means that bike’s raucous riding experience can now be translated into a much faster machine. Riding it, you don’t think about electronic safety measures, but they leave you free to revel in the engine’s 93 pound-feet as you roll on the throttle while exiting a corner. Just dial in how afraid you want to be and the Monster will deliver that thrill.

To put its performance into perspective, Ducati’s first modern superbike, the 916, launched around the same time as the original Monster, delivered just 114 horsepower and 67 pound-feet and weighed 429 pounds (dry). This new Monster weighs 412 pounds and is fitted with superior suspension and brakes. This naked motorcycle, in stock form, could have won a World Superbike race right up until the early 2000s.

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There's no better way to enjoy a winding mountain road than aboard a fast motorcycle. (Ducati)

Likes

  • New rearsets and a revised exhaust canister finally make room for your right foot.
  • Revised tank, round headlight, and narrower seat unit make this Monster feel like a Monster, not a naked Panigale.
  • Handlebars are just the right height for comfort at low speeds and control at high speeds.
  • New Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires are excellent—the perfect road-performance tire.
  • Faster in real-world conditions than any superbike.
  • Remarkably easy to ride, given the performance.
  • Ducatis still have character.
  • Best brakes and suspension in the business.

Dislikes

  • Hanging off in corners can feel precarious due to the slippery foot pegs (a Ducati hallmark) and the lack of a defined knee cutout.
  • Fueling remains too abrupt in Sport mode, reducing confidence.
  • Stock pipes are loud, but engine note through them isn’t deep enough.

Should You Buy One?

At $17,000, the Monster 1200’s biggest problem remains the $11,700 Monster 821. That bike delivers nearly all the thrills and sophistication for much less money. Trust us: The novelty of the additional 38 horsepower quickly wears off. Spend the money you save on advanced rider training and you’ll actually be able to go faster on the cheaper bike.

Miss the simplicity of the original Monster? Ducati just launched a new air-cooled version called the Monster 797, and its Scrambler range might appeal if you’re into something a little more retro.

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