2009 Ducati Monster 696: A Monster by any other name…

A quick ride on Ducati’s 2009 Monster 696

Having owned a 1997 M900 Monster (that I loved/hated) several years ago, I was intrigued when I heard about the first real redesign of the bike since it was unveiled in the early 90s. The pictures I saw looked good and the specs looked great–totally in step with Ducati’s new design philosophy of building lighter, more powerful motorcycles. There was even the promise of increased comfort due to slightly less…Monstrous ergonomics.

My local shop, Bend Euro Moto, recently had an “official” Monster 696 launch weekend and, the weekend after that (due to the demo bike getting dropped by a test rider), I had the opportunity to ride the latest version of one of my all-time favorite motorcycles.

Before climbing aboard I took a moment to appreciate the details: the twin underseat silencers (upgraded to carbon fiber Termis on the demo bike), the radial front brakes, projector beam headlight, and very modern-looking mirrors (on plastic stalks). I liked the bike much better in person than in the photos, but I found myself wishing for the previous Monster’s old-school headlight and less plastic.

The 696 looked small and compact as I examined it, but once I climbed aboard, it felt positively tiny. As on the Hypermotard, virtually none of the bike is in your peripheral vision, so it really disappears underneath you–until you fire it up, that is. Once brought to life, the 696 engine feels much less smooth than the 695 engine (or the 600/620) it replaces. To me, this is part of the bike’s (and almost any twin’s) character.

I’ve read lots of complaints about the engagement of the clutch on the smaller Monsters over the last few years. Those same complainers will find more to grumble about on the 696 as virtually all of the clutch engagement happens in the last 10% of the range–which made it difficult for me to get the bike rolling out of the parking lot (one of my two bikes happens to be a Mutlistrada 620 with a similar clutch). After a few minutes in the saddle, though, the clutch was less noticeable.

Out on the road, I relished the newfound power and low weight of the 696, but was (unpleasently) surprised by how much the engine backfired, coughed, surged, and sputtered. I really expected a lot more from Ducati as the last few Ducs I’ve ridden had perfect fueling–even in stock form. Also didn’t care much for the sound coming from those beautiful Termi cans–more like a Japanese twin than what I’ve come to love and expect from a Ducati. Maybe the shop needed to readjust the fuel injection a bit, or like the salesman said, the ECU needed more time to “learn” the engine. Either way, I didn’t have much fun riding it in town.

Once out of town, though, things got more interesting. When I didn’t have to worry about maintaining a consistent speed, I forgot about the fuel injection issues and focused on the road. The bike flicks easily into corners, with plenty of power to pulling you all the way through. The first couple of sweepers were great fun–and then I tried to change position. No room forward or backward and little ability to even shift from side to side. I don’t remember other Monsters (including my old M900) limiting me to only one riding position.

Riding the 696 was enjoyable, but I found myself fixated on the salesman leading me through my demo ride on a Hypermotard 1100S–wishing that I was on the Hypermotard instead of the 696. Midway through the ride, we stopped and the salesman asked me what I thought. I muttered something about being underwhelmed. He admitted that he thought it was a great beginner’s or girl’s bike and then asked if I wanted to ride the Hypermotard back. I didn’t waste a second climbing aboard the object of my desire–which helped me finish my ride with a great big smile on my face.

After the ride, I made a mental note to stop by for another demo ride once the bike had a few more miles on it in the hopes they’ll get the fuel injection sorted. There’s a lot to like in the new 696, but not enough to make me think Bad Thoughts about new moto loans. My riding buddy put it all into perspective when he said, “this is the first motorcycle you’ve test ridden and not wanted to buy.”