Ducati's classic Monster model line receives a beefed-up motor and racing bits, and continues to live up to the Monster legacy.
– Los Angeles, California
The Ducati Monster has produced a very unique and consistent riding experience ever since being introduced nearly 25 years ago. Ducati set this trend of naked sportbikes (aka “streetfighters”) back in 1993 and other manufacturers have been following suit ever since. The highly popular Triumph Speed and Street Triple, recently released Suzuki GSX-S1000, and the highly anticipated Yamaha MT-10 and FZ-10 are all testament to the timeless Ducati Monster product line. The MV Agusta Brutale and Aprilia Tuono further represent Italy in promotion of the naked segment.
Throwing a leg over the 2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R feels very similar to most of these other naked sportbikes out there, but firing up the 1,200 cc engine instantly sets the Monster apart. Like most Ducatis, attempting to gently open up the throttle, ease out the clutch and roll away from a stop is an action that is difficult to execute smoothly. The big bore V-twin does not like to operate in the lower rev range and will chatter and rumble to urge you to increase the spins. Instead, the bike is much more comfortable launching off of the line with as much throttle as the front wheel will allow.
The full Ohlins suspension package included in the R model is definitely overkill for daily commuting through city streets and rough highways. Soaking up road imperfections and providing feedback while performing casual maneuvers at docile speeds is below the pay grade of these racetrack-derived suspension components. Then again, this gear was never intended to handle that sort of light workload. Once the pace is elevated, tires are warmed up, and riding duties switch from city commuting to canyon shredding, the Ohlins package really starts to wake up.
The Monster’s sweet spot is definitely at an aggressive riding pace through favorite roads. The large Brembo brakes shed speed in a hurry with minimal lever input, suspension provides excellent feedback and support in the corners, the motor digs out of the turns and pulls smoothly all the way to the top of the tach. The chassis feels light, flicks into corners and transitions through switchbacks then holds a line very accurately. ABS interaction is a little distracting when entering a corner extra hot, but the traction control system is very discreet on the way out.
The 1,198 cc V-twin in the Monster 1200 model is the largest motor Ducati has ever offered in the Monster product line. The Testastretta DS motor is similar to that of the renowned Multistrada but without the DVT variable valve timing. Instead, the “DS” stands for Dual Spark as each cylinder has two spark plugs. This is to help burn all of the fuel in the combustion chamber more effectively, smoothing out engine operation and reducing emissions. The compression ratio is also bumped up to an impressive 13:1 value.
The valves in this Testastretta DS motor are actuated by a desmodromic valvetrain system. Valves are actively pushed open by cam lobes like a traditional overhead cam system, but also actively closed by a separate set of lobes. Instead of a spring closing the valve in a traditional system, a lever forces the valve shut precisely when designed to do so. This eliminates variability due to spring performance and reduces slop in the valve train, increasing timing precision. This also eliminates the possibility of “floating the valves,” a phenomenon that occurs when engine speeds are so high that the springs cannot shut the valves quickly enough before the next cycle of the camshaft.
The result is 160 horsepower at 9,250 rpm, just short of the of the 10,000-rpm redline. Peak torque of 97 pound-feet is achieved at 7,750 rpm, but what’s most impressive is that 75 percent of this figure (or nearly 75 lb-ft) is on tap at only 3,500 rpm. That’s roughly 15 percent more torque than the little brother Monster 821’s peak number. However, the ramp-up to this performance level is rather steep as anything below 3,000 rpm feels like the engine is hardly running at all.
The long legs of fifth and sixth gear are much better suited for the final stretches of straightaways on the race track than any open highway governed by a speed limit.
Mated to this power plant is a stout six-speed transmission. In fact, this gearbox seems too stout at times. Shifting up and down requires a heavy and deliberate action. Even assisting gear changes with throttle blips does not produce a sensation that would qualify as “smooth.” False neutrals were encountered between fifth and sixth gears, and true neutral is tough to find when at a stop. Perhaps this is all a byproduct of a gearbox designed to tolerate the abuse of the massive and torquey V-twin motor.
The transmission also has very tall gear ratios. First gear seems to pull forever and there is no real need for fifth or sixth on public roads. The motor sits nicely at 5,500 rpm in fourth gear at 130 kilometres per hour down the highway, with plenty of power on tap for passing while not vibrating or feeling too wound up. The long legs of fifth and sixth gear are much better suited for the final stretches of straightaways on the race track than any open highway governed by a speed limit.
The 24-month/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty for the entire package, 12-month/15,000 km service interval and 30,000 km valve adjustment spec for the Monster 1200 R are all rather impressive, especially for a Ducati.
Chassis and Suspension
The backbone of the Monster is actually the Testastretta V-twin motor itself. The Monster chassis transfers loads through the motor with attachment points on the cylinder heads and engine casing. The forward portion of the chassis structure is a tubular steel trellis frame like any true Ducati chassis. A second frame structure makes up the rear portion and connects the forward frame to the motor, swingarm, and subframe. From the swingarm, the upper connection point of the rear shock absorber is to the rear engine head. This is also where the subframe is supported.
The full package feels large and suspiciously heavy when sitting on the bike at a standstill and when riding at low speeds. However, the wet weight of just over 200 kilograms is relatively light for this bike class. When up to speed, making quick maneuvers on canyon roads or a race track, this chassis definitely shows its lean figure. The bike is able to be thrown into corners precisely and with minimal effort, settles instantly, and snaps back upright when redirected in switchbacks.
Aside from the motor, the suspension components are the other highlight of the 1200 R variant. The fully-adjustable 48-millimeter Ohlins forks on the R model are five millimeters larger than the forks on the base model. The Ohlins shock in the rear is also fully adjustable and definitely developed for racetrack use. Ohlins even provides an upper triple-mounted steering stabilizer that works very well with the chassis geometry to tame any threats of headshake (another item the Hypermotard SP missed out on). As expected, the package performs extremely well when commissioned for heavy lifting, but is a bit much for daily commuter use.
Rider aides make up the majority of the tech package on the Monster 1200 R. Multi-level ABS and traction control (DTC) settings accompany three main riding modes: Sport, Touring, and Urban. Like most OEM riding mode systems on the market, each mode has preset ABS and DTC levels, but each can be fine-tuned through the main menu on the instrument panel. The main instrument panel is very sharp and detailed, capable of displaying an overwhelming amount of information and graphically representing data through a high-resolution TFT screen.
Riding modes can be quickly selected through the turn signal cancellation button, but this led to the most annoying aspect of the bike: once the riding mode selection menu is open, the system does not return to the main display of tachometer, gear position, etc., until after three seconds of inactivity. Only the vehicle speed is displayed when this menu is open. This means an accidental push of the button or verifying turn signal cancellation results in the riding mode menu displaying until timed out. This forced disorientation without critical system vitals becomes very distracting and could be remedied with a quick exit option.
The bike is able to be thrown into corners precisely and with minimal effort, settles instantly, and snaps back upright when redirected in switchbacks.
Throttle communication from the twist grip to the ECU is channeled through a ride-by-wire system. In the past, these systems have proven to be finicky, unresponsive and/or numb. However, the system on the Monster performs very well. Throttle response is immediate, precise and action feels just like a cable-operated system. Throttle transition is also handled in excellent fashion by the electronic controls system. Smoothly transitioning from closed to open throttle around a corner or modulating down the freeway has been a challenge with the large Ducati V-twins, but the system on the Monster does a great job at smoothing this out even with abrupt inputs.
The TFT instrument display panel is a very capable unit. Data is displayed in vibrant color and sharp detail with cool graphic menus. The display layout changes depending on the riding mode selected (for example, only critical info such as engine rpm, gear position, and speed are boldly displayed in Sport mode) and the background changes from bright white in daytime conditions to a dark silver when low-light situations are sensed. However, even this bright TFT display becomes difficult to see on sunny days, especially with the sun at your back. This may be a result of the angle of the display mount, as other models with the same technology do not suffer from this adverse side effect.
One piece of technology the Monster (even the 1200 R) is missing is a quick shifter unit. For some reason, Ducati has been depriving us of this incredibly useful tool on many of the bikes in its product line. A quick shifter would definitely add to the aggressive riding performance and might alleviate the transmission shifting issues as well.
Like other naked sportbikes, the ergonomics of the Monster offer the greatest benefit over full-on sportbike cousins. Low seat, wide bars and planted chassis enable easy cruising and a high level of maneuverability. The Monster 1200 R meets all of this criteria and performs at its peak during aggressive riding, but could use some fine-tuning in the comfort department.
Though still relatively low to the ground at 830 mm (32.7 inches), the seat height of the “R” model is actually 15 millimeters taller than the base model to increase ground clearance at extreme lean angles on the track. The cushioning is plush, but the profile design of the saddle leads to a sore rear on longer rides.
The handle bars are nice and wide in true streetfighter fashion to provide great steering leverage, but not too wide to inhibit negotiation through congested traffic. However, the sweep angle could use a few extra degrees. This would further increase the comfort on extended rides by reducing some of the pressure felt on the outer palm and inner index finger areas.
The exhaust header and collection pipes leading to the muffler have a gnarly 58 mm diameter. Though aesthetically (and audibly) pleasing, these wide pipes intrude on the rider’s boot space. The exhaust guard routinely rubs against the shin portion of the boot and the muffler canister guard gets in the way of the heel portion. This is not really a nuisance nor distraction while riding, but a minor annoyance when at a stop.
The 2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R carries a US $20,395 sticker price. This is a hefty premium over the $11,995 Monster 821 Dark base model, but the vast differences in the packages of each makes that an unreasonable comparison. The 1,198cc big-bore V-twin, larger-diameter full Ohlins suspension package and signature single-sided swingarm – all bundled into a package that weighs just three pounds more the base model – definitely justify the increased spend.
However, one must truly appreciate the Ducati craftsmanship and support the exotic Italian brand when there are bikes like the $16,300 Triumph Speed Triple R and the $15,000 Suzuki GSX-S1000 out there. Even the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory ABS will run you a less salty $18,095.
Ducati is on its third decade perfecting the Monster and the 2016 1200 R definitely lets that show. The solid chassis, stout motor, dialed brakes and gnarly suspension bits make the “R” package one not to take lightly. Aside from the suspension feeling a bit much for the street, the rest of the bike makes for a capable commuter. The bike really hits its stride in the canyons, however, and there’s not much to complain about performance-wise when riding the 1200 R at an elevated pace.
Some tweaking to the instrument display, ABS, ergos and transmission dogs would round out the majority of the minor issues we experienced. Regardless, the Monster 1200 R is an excellent representation of the naked sportbike segment and definitely lives up to its name and legacy.
Photos: Sean Russell / RideApart