Gone is the signature trellis frame. Gone is the booming exhaust note. Ducati reinvents naked. The 2021 Ducati Monster is a lighter, different Monster. But boy oh boy, is it ever a meaner little monster!
For a small group of motorcycle brands, to which Ducati certainly belongs, tradition and progress can only coexist for so long. Up to 2020, the Monster 821 managed both pretty well by offering styling reminiscent and respectful of the original 1993 Monster 900 on the one hand, and up-to-date mechanical everything on the other. But 2020 was also the moment in time Ducati decided the Monster concept had to leave tradition behind and fully embrace the future. The result is the entirely rethought 2021 Ducati Monster.
One look at the new 2021 Ducati Monster tells it all. Of the previous model, literally nothing is left. Most shocking is the absence of the signature Ducati steel trellis frame. The Monster isn’t the first Ducati to abandon this profoundly traditional feature, but it’s probably the model on which its disappearance is the most blatant: on this most naked of Ducatis, that entirely exposed sculpture of welded tubes was an almost hypnotic centerpiece.
But just as interesting as the loss of the trellis frame is what replaces it: (almost) nothing. As first seen on the Panigale, there’s now a small cast aluminum structure tying the front suspension to the engine. The swingarm now directly bolts and pivots on the engine cases, making the new Monster essentially frameless. However, unlike the Panigale, the Monster doesn’t hide this new architecture behind bodywork and observing it is quite fascinating. It almost seems too neat to be true. Can a motorcycle really get simplified into being nothing more than a front and a back suspension bolted to an engine in the middle? It sure can in this case.
This architecture is responsible for many key features of the new Monster, the most obvious being its impressive slenderness. Like a fitness model on competition day, the Monster boasts an impossibly thin waist and just about zero per cent fat. The width of the bike between the rider’s knees is essentially the width of the rear cylinder head, while no matter how close the examination, not a hint of anything superfluous is found. The previous 821 revealed its entry-level nature by inelegantly exposing a bunch of wiring and hoses, but this one seems to have been cleaned up with OCD precision as every bit of plumbing and such has somehow been tucked away.
Combined with the artfully simple architecture, this tidiness not only rewards the Monster with a pleasantly refined look, but also drastically brings the weight down. Compared with the 821, which was already naked and certainly couldn’t be called overweight, the 2021 Monster is about 18 kg lighter.
That lightness, which is immediately felt, becomes an inherent part of every moment of the Monster’s riding experience. And it’s impressive. It isn’t that very light and narrow bikes don’t exist, they obviously do, but they’re normally found in other categories with much smaller displacements and probably a single instead of a twin for a motor. At almost a litre (937cc) and 188 kg ready to ride, the new Monster and its 111-hp Italian 90-degree V-Twin is definitely an unusual package. To put those specs in perspective, consider this: it weighs about the same as a 47-hp Honda CB500F.
The result isn’t just a predictably uber nimble naked, but also a motorcycle with two very distinct personalities, a fact intimately linked to the way Ducati programmed the Monster’s numerous electronic rider aids. The latter are the now fairly common ones: there are three ride modes (Urban, Touring and Sport), ABS, traction control, wheelie control and a quick shifter. Dial things down and the Monster accelerates modestly hard and in a very linear way. Turn the dial up a notch, say to Touring with full power, and performance becomes fun yet predictable as the Monster now goes through the gears pulling fairly hard. Up to this point, the light, agile and decently fast Ducati seems like a logical choice for riders ranging from beginner-ish to intermediate and even the not-too-power-hungry expert.
But there’s a monster hiding in the 2021 Ducati Monster and to let it out, switching off traction and wheelie controls and selecting Sport is all that’s needed. Until then, full acceleration had been fun but uneventful, with the front tire always on the ground and riding aids transparently doing their work in the background. With those controls off, things change considerably. Go for a full-throttle launch and within a couple of seconds, you’ll be vertical and at that point, you better know what you’re doing.
The way the “little” Monster aggressively stood on its rear tire completely took me by surprise; the average 110 horsepower naked simply doesn’t do that. But I repeated the exercise to make sure and the same thing happened every time: the tiny Ducati was trying to spit me off as soon as mid-revs were reached in first gear at full gas, then lifted the front again in second and finally stayed on the ground after that. Damn! I’m used to this, but on bikes with several dozen additional ponies, not on a midrange naked.
After a few repetitions to understand exactly what was happening, it became clear a few factors were at work here, mainly how light the bike is and how hard the torque hits at mid revs. It also became clear that in certain modes, the electronic aids suite does wonders to keep the monster inside locked up, if that’s what the rider wishes, but that in other modes, some aids struggle. For instance, reactivating traction and wheelie control in Sport, but choosing settings where they intervene lightly, creates, at full throttle from a stop, a bouncing effect that has the front end lifting, then being brought down, then lifting again and so on.
I blame the absence of an Internal Measurement Unit for that behaviour as I’ve tested other bikes equipped with an IMU that operate flawlessly in those situations, meaning they keep the front wheel precisely as high or low as the wheelie control was set. Considering its hard punching, front lifting torque, ideally, that technology should be part of the Monster’s package.
2021 Ducati Monster Conclusions
As much as I was somewhat bummed at first to see tradition be taken away from the Monster in the name of progress, the way the model actually evolves now makes it okay. I’m profoundly impressed how simple and especially uncluttered the bike’s architecture is. I’m truly amazed by the compactness of the thing and by the wonderful resulting nimbleness in everyday use where, as a bonus, I found the seat to be quite decent and the suspension to hit the right spot just between sport and comfort.
On the other hand, to my eyes something’s missing in terms of style. Up close, things are fine, with plenty of nice shapes, great finishes and cool details to make the bike feel like a $13,495 Ducati ($200 more for the matte grey colour, $300 on top of that for the Monster + edition equipped with a flyscreen and rear seat cover). But take a few steps back and the general shape becomes too generic and lacks that special Italian flair.
Also not as good as it could be, is sound in general. There too, tradition took a hit. Ducatis used to sing a glorious V-Twin boom boom, but on the 2021 Ducati Monster, the rider mostly hears the insides of the Testatretta Twin at work, with little exhaust or intake noise reaching the ears. It’s a very particular sound that isn’t unpleasant by any means, but if I were to have the choice, I’d favour the deep booming of past Ducatis. But hey, can’t stop progress, right?
By Bertrand Gahel Canadian Biker Issue#355