(Bloomberg) — Before we start, I should tell you: I am biased.
The first motorcycle I ever rode was a Ducati Monster 796. It was a decade ago when I was learning to ride in the parking lot of an abandoned shopping mall in Dutchess County, N.Y.
It was a great experience, despite the fact that a smaller, less powerful bike would have been a more conventional option for a complete novice. At the time, I wrote that the Monster’s smooth power delivery, good handlebar leverage, taller-than-some seat height, and general user-friendliness made riding it a thrilling, memorable experience, even for a beginner like me.
Ten years on, I have yet to buy a Ducati. But I also have yet to be let down by the brand. What I wrote then is true of the latest iteration of the family line. If I were in the market for a motorcycle, I’d buy the Ducati Monster that I recently rode for a week around Los Angeles. It’s the evolution of Ducati’s bread-and-butter seller, the peak of Italian design, and the first model in the Monster family to ditch the signature trellis chassis since the range debuted in 1993. (That’s a metal cage that covers the engines of some sport bikes.)
For those looking for an affordable, fast, powerful, and seamlessly easy bike this summer—your ticket to cruising your favorite road on warm dog days—the 2021 Ducati Monster is the choice for you. Call it the perfect antidote to having been cooped up for a year dealing with a viral pandemic.
The Two-Wheeled Pride of Italy
Born in 1993, the Monster is the best-selling Ducati ever. (More than 350,000 have sold worldwide, according to the company.) It is beloved by everyone from Lewis Hamilton to Orlando Bloom. If you’re reading this, you probably already know its esteemed history: Designer Miguel Angel Galluzzi conceived it as something that would be easy to ride but quick and powerful enough for daily use. It was important to Ducati brass that it remain affordable, so they borrowed components from some of the brand’s other, highly tuned motorcycles. The Monster quickly became the signature muscle bike that defined Ducati; by the early 2000s, it made up two-thirds of all Ducatis sold worldwide.
The flaming red (naturally) $11,895 Monster I rode around downtown and East Los Angeles looks like a fresher, more modern interpretation of the recipe that birthed the Naked bike segment—a moniker that refers to the fact that this iteration lacks the metal trellis cage that covers the engine of some sport bikes. (The “Plus” version adds an aerodynamic windscreen and passenger seat cover to the standard fitting; it costs $12,195).
The muscular tank is shaped in Ducati’s unmistakable “bison back” form, while the single headlight at the front feels fresh, while close to the solo round shape that Monster lovers have long known. The compact rear swoops in sinuous waves supported by a lightweight glass-fiber reinforced polymer subframe. Everything from the swingarm to that rear frame has been lightened and elegantly streamlined to further emphasize the heaving front of the bike; it looks as if it’s in motion even when it’s parked.
Thrumming inside the Ducati Monster is a 937 cc L-twin Testastretta engine, which has 111 horsepower (two more hp than the previous Monster 821) and 68.5 pound-feet of torque (six more than previously). Ducati famously and officially does not share zero-60 mph or top speed numbers, though the fact that launch control and wheelie control—the one that allows you to wind the throttle to fully accelerate from a standstill without, you know, popping a wheelie—come standard should tell you plenty. (Yes, it’s stinking fast.) I did not try those options; I’m taking Ducati’s word. Otherwise, the Monster felt gloriously, impeccably nimble as I ducked through graffiti-littered alleys and abandoned loading zones. As before, its steering agility totally charmed me. The smoothness of the gears and acceleration—without feeling like a hair-trigger had been set by a mad scientist—felt liberating.
But the most significant part of this year’s bike is that it’s 40 pounds lighter than the prior version. That’s a massive asset, considering the entire thing weights just 166 kg (365 pounds) in total. Thank the new front setup for that; inspired by racing bikes, it attaches the short aluminum frame directly to engine heads. The trellis chassis of steel that previously surrounded it has totally been ditched.
The bike is not only lighter than its predecessor but also more compact, with very narrow sides that allow better maneuvering through traffic. The seat height here is 820 mm (2.7 feet) off the ground, with an 800 mm low seat available as an option and a possible 775 mm ride height if you choose a special suspension-lowering kit. (Truly, this is a bike suitable for every rider.)
I loved the simplicity of the control panel, which at front acts as a well-placed central command. Multiple riding modes (sport, touring, and urban) allowed me to change the style of the new Monster to accord with street conditions and mood; it’s all managed via handlebar controls and the 4.3-inch front screen with clear, crisp graphics. A standard quick shifter ensures prompt and smooth shifting for both upshifting and downshifting in true, sporty adventure and urban-style riding. The new full-LED lighting system adds swiping technology indicators, and the newly enlarged rev counter and gear indicator at the center were easy to read as I rode.
This, to me, is the stuff that conjures the perfect all-around motorcycle for most riders. The new Ducati Monster is an everyday companion that is light, easy to handle, responsive, fast, and distinctly beautiful.
Having ridden some inferior products from other brands in the past year, I found riding the Monster again a distinct, refreshing pleasure. They say your first car or motorcycle will always hold a special place in your heart, and the same applies for the latest iteration of this icon: I didn’t want to let it go.