With the introduction of the 821 Testastretta 11° into the mid-sized Monster, Ducati’s most successful model keeps getting better
Story by Alan Cathcart
The importance of the Monster to Ducati’s balance sheet can’t be overstated. Indeed, the Italian sportbike manufacturer only stayed in business long enough to eventually be acquired by the VW/Audi Group two years ago because back in 1990, designer Miguel Galluzzi converted a factory 888 Superbike into the ultimate, in-your-face streetfighter by stripping off the bodywork, hanging a light, horn and licence plate on it, and labelling it Il Mostro – the Monster.
The Monster has been hugely successful, representing over 50 percent of the company’s total production for the past 21 years. The debut of the all-new Monster 1200 at the EICMA trade show in Milan, Italy last November was, however, just the antipasto to the main course, which has now arrived in dealerships in the shape of the new Monster 821.
Think of the 821 as the Monster family’s equivalent of the Panigale 899 versus its 1199 big brother, complete with the same cost-cutting, twin-sided swingarm instead of its sibling’s single-sided design statement, but otherwise near-identical chassis layout. As its name suggests, the Monster 821 uses the new, liquid-cooled 821 cc Testastretta 11° engine, claiming 112 hp at 9250 rpm, which represents a massive 25 hp increase over the 796 Monster. To drop the price, there’s less high-spec hardware hung on it than on the 1200. At $11,990 for the Dark version, it’s only $295 more than the air-cooled Monster 796.
Pricing aside, first impressions are everything, and the big thing you notice first about the new Monster is that designer Gianandrea Fabbro has hit the bull’s eye with the styling, with Galluzzi’s original butch minimalism that made the original Monster so appealing now recaptured in both the 1200 and 821 versions, replacing the lardy-looking current models with the air intakes in the fuel tank.
Hop aboard and you discover the best riding position yet on any Monster, one that’s obviously been carefully thought out to provide a stance that’s both commanding and comfortable, yet also communicative. The 785 to 810 mm range of seat height adjustability delivers a posture that will suit many riders, but the stock 810 mm number was just fine for me, whether cutting corners through Bologna rush hour traffic or carving up canyons in the Apennine Mountains, where the bike’s intuitive handling really showed up well. That’s thanks not only to the subtly revised stance – with the rubber-mounted, tapered handlebar pulled 40 mm closer to the rider and 40 mm higher than on the Monster 796 – but also to the chassis packaging making it feel much lighter than it actually is. At 205 kg wet, the 821 is a good 17 kg heavier than the Monster 796, but it seems quite the reverse, given the way it changes direction so effortlessly, and is so inviting to flick through a series of mountain bends.
To begin with, our 220 km ride out of Ducati’s home city of Bologna proved to be strictly a matter of survival, as we unsuccessfully tried to dodge thunderstorms before the sky cleared and the roads dried. The heavens opened as we climbed the historic Futa Pass out of Bologna, where all Ducati streetbikes have been developed for the past 60 years. Imagine having one of the world’s great riding roads at your disposal, and a bike well suited to get the most from it, only to get hard rain after a long dry spell – the diesel-coated roads became ice-rink slippery. How unfair is that? However, the conditions underlined the effectiveness of the aptly named Ducati Safety Pack (DSP) fitted as standard to the bike. This incorporates three-level ABS and eight-stage traction control, both of which is switchable and customizable, if you prefer not to go with the default settings. There are also three ride modes, which you can readily select while on the move.
Dialling up a custom map later in the day took a bit of time and some head-scratching, though, but the good thing is that the settings are retained even when you switch off the engine. Ducati’s default modes provide a good cocktail of settings: Urban mode is great in the rain; use Touring in town for added zest away from lights while retaining a smooth and controllable pickup; Sport is strictly for, well, what it says on the label.
I found the Rain – sorry, Urban – mode kept me safe and sound in the Futa downpour, and when the ABS, set at level three, did kick in, it did so controllably and not too aggressively. Level seven of Ducati’s Traction Control (DTC) kept the wheels in line until the rain stopped and the roads started to dry, when normal service could be resumed. Really, the new Monster has a much broader, well-proven package of electronic rider aids than other bikes it’s competing against, and Ducati has so evolved the package that it’s practically flawless for a real-world road bike like this one.
Thumbing the starter on the Monster 821 signalled a concert performance from the 2-1-2 exhaust of the kind I thought was gone forever on a Euro 3-compliant, street-legal motorcycle. The 821 has to be one of the best-sounding production bikes in the marketplace today. It’s not excessively loud, just sufficiently so to be soulful and sensuous, with an old-school rumble at low rpm that transforms into a trademark twin-cylinder bark as revs mount. Magic. And that engine is also quick to gain revs, thanks to its muscular grunt from down low, which is rather more than you expect from a middleweight motorcycle, but is what makes the new Monster so ideal to use in town. Another feature is the light action of the wet slipper clutch, far removed from the ultra-stiff Ducati dry clutches of yore, which left your hand frozen in pain after a 60-minute rush hour workout.
Not here, for the new Monster is a superb traffic tool – but with three criticisms. The first is that neutral was invariably hard to find at rest, although that could be because my test bike had less than 500 km on the clock. Second, there should be a gear indicator on the rather plain-looking but readable dash (the 1200 Monster’s colour display has not been carried over on grounds of cost, says Ducati). But most concerning…