2009 Monster 1100

Ducati updates an old flame

I’ll start this by saying that from the moment I saw the new Monster, I had a feeling it was all wrong for me. A test ride about a year ago on the 696 version of the bike seemed to confirm that. Since then, I’ve read repeatedly that the 1100 is a really great bike, so I guess I was hoping when I finally rode it I’d be proven wrong. Unfortunately, a recent test ride on the newest beast in the Monster family only confirmed what I already knew.

It’s not that the new Ducati Monster 1100 is a bad bike. Quite the contrary. As far as bikes go, I’d call it a very good motorcycle. Good brakes, great motor, fine suspension and decent (for a Monster) ergos. From the saddle, it even kinda feels like a Monster (except for the steering lock–which is waaaaaaay better than any Monster I’ve sampled). The motor even has character. Unfortunately the bike seems to be lacking soul. It’s as if, in Ducati’s quest for more power and less weight, they forgot to add that one little piece that can make or break a bike for riders like me.

The soul of a bike is one part looks, two parts engine, one part function and a healthy dose of fun. The new Monster falls down completely on the first part. I just don’t like to look at the bike at all. Sure there are a few nice bits–the wheels, single-sided swingarm and what’s left of the trellis frame–but those few goodies are overshadowed by the ugly things.

First, there’s the headlight that seems much too small (as if the designer resented having to put one there at all). Then there’s the bolt-on aluminum part of the frame that looks so completely out of place. Gone is the sexy steel trellis I’ve always loved, replaced with something that looks like it belongs on a Korean budget bike. Finally, there’s the “fuel tank.” Split down the middle with weird notches cut into the front (paving the way for the increased steering lock). The new tank looks like something that should be on a toy–not a $12,000 dollar bike. And actually, while I’m griping, I may as well say that I’m not a fan of the exhaust cans either–too big and stubby. After the beautiful rear ends on the Hypermotard, Superbikes and–more recently–the Streetfighter, there’s really no excuse for this.

At least Ducati got the engine right on this Monster, though. It has serious punch without being crazy (for that, you’ll want to take a spin on the Streetfighter). It makes beautiful noises through the stock exhaust–although for the really nice deep rumble, you’ll need after-market cans. And, best of all, it still feels like a motor when you’re underway with enough commotion between your legs to let you know there’s real fossil fuel being burned just for your delight (fortunately this motor is available in another bike in Ducati’s lineup–the Hypermotard). Just twist the throttle and go. Fast.

Function-wise, the bike is probably on par with other Monsters. I found the riding position instantly familiar with a similar reach to the handlebar (notice I said reach instead of stretch–which is how you do it on the older Monsters). The new bike feels a little taller than older Monsters, but that could be the difference in weight from having the pipes mounted under the tail rather than down low. As on older Monsters, the suspension is set up in a way that quickly inspires confidence. Even the mirrors that I didn’t like during my ride on the 696 worked fairly well.

My biggest complaints functionally are gearing and seat. I read in a magazine once that all Ducatis are geared for maximum top speed, but after riding the Streetfighter, I’m not sure I buy it. At a highway-legal 65 mph, the Monster barely turns 3200 rpms in 6th gear. This puts it just past the point where it feels like the engine is lugging, but still low enough to make the bike vibrate considerably when you get on the gas. Passing with any kind of zest at 65 mph requires a quick downshift. This Monster would definitley benefit from a tooth extraction on the front sprocket.

As for the seat, while being comfortable for a ride to the nearest cafe or scrape on the racetrack, I quickly grew tired of being

locked into one position while riding in town. Having bench seats on both of my current bikes, I’ve grown accustomed to (and become quite fond of) being able to move back and forward on the seat as I ride. I also found it difficult to move from side to side underway, though that would probably get a little better with practice.

Fun-wise, I found the new Monster just didn’t deliver as much as I’d hoped. I was too cramped, my wrists were in a bit too much pain and I was having to work too hard to read the digital instruments (due to them being partly in shade most of the time thanks to the tiny windscreen above the miniscule headlight) to focus on having fun. Yes the motor responded quickly and with authority when I fed in some throttle, yes the brakes stopped the bike right away when I gave them a good firm squeeze and yes there was a great racket coming from the engine bay and exhaust. Those pieces didn’t add up to fun.

I agree with reviews I’ve read about the all-new Monster–this is a great bike. The problem is that it just doesn’t seem to have whatever it was that gave the old Monsters soul. I’m not sure if it’s the looks or the fun factor–or the combination of the two. Riding the bike felt like Ducati tried so hard to make a great bike that they left somthing out. I guess this new Monster doesn’t have the same soul and I just like “that old time rock and roll.”