Given equal amounts of beauty, power, and grace, the new Monster 1200S represents a true evolution of the “modern naked” genre.
No matter how beautifully a motorcycle evolves, there comes a time when a major rethink is inevitable. Dare I say, in the particular case of Ducati’s Monster 1100EVO, regrettably so?
After steadily evolving over a couple of decades from what is widely considered the first modern naked, the big air-cooled Ducati had become one of motorcycling’s most beloved members. Although producing only around 100 horsepower, the torquey Italian V-Twin trembled and boomed in a way that was simply addictive. What this engine had is the very definition of character. If you have one of the last EVOs, you might want to think twice before parting with it. They were that good. Perhaps, therein lies the problem. How do you improve on a machine that works in such a polished way, especially one that’s pushing the boundaries of what air-cooling allows?
Ducati’s answer to this riddle is the 2014 Monster 1200. Powered by a liquid-cooled, dual spark, 11-degree Testastretta L-Twin, it is the first fundamentally new Monster in the model’s 21-year history. Do not look for shared parts or even common specs with the outgoing 1100EVO, none can be found. However, the “modern naked” philosophy, although executed very differently, is alive and well on the new Monster.
The first indication is styling. The bike is gorgeous to the point of clichés, like “masterpiece of design.” Shame on whoever let the bike go to production with all the exposed plumbing on the left side, but aside from that gaffe, the Ducati Monster 1200 is one of those rare bikes you keep examining and ever more appreciating. You’d think there could be only so much you could do to rejuvenate a design essentially based on an exposed engine and frame, but Ducati has all but reinvented that approach by digging into—of all places— the Panigale’s bag of tricks.
The centrepiece of the new Monster 1200 design is the same frameless architecture found on the company’s Superbike models. Everything is basically bolted to the engine: the magnificent single-side swingarm and its shock, the seat support and the compact structure holding the front suspension. Looking at it, you feel like, literally, there cannot be a purer way to assemble a motorcycle, especially one claiming to define nakedness.
But architecture is only partly to credit for the new Monster’s looks—the other part of the equation simply being shapes and proportions. Just as with the Panigale, it’s difficult to point out one aspect of the bike that defines the styling or even really stands out. The art of the Ducati stylists is far more subtle and refined.
Instead, you just gaze and wonder what exactly makes this object before you so special and attractive, as you would when contemplating a famous painting or sculpture.
On the tight and winding roads of the Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, where Ducati gathered the world press to throw a leg over the next generation Monster, the 1200 shined. The lowdown on the standard, 135-hp model will have to wait because only the 145-hp “S” version with Öhlins suspension, high-end Brembo brakes, and sporty three-spoke wheels, was available at the launch. But one thing is clear: we’re talking about a very different machine than the outgoing 1100. With close to 50 per cent more horsepower, the new Monster’s performance is simply in another league. Acceleration from the Testastretta is strong and amusing without being overly aggressive. It’s an engine that is fast becoming the go-to powerplant at Ducati, and with good reason. Originally developed for the 1198 Superbike, it was adapted to the Multistrada and Diavel.
In the Duacti Monster 1200, it still coughs when solicited from under 2,000 rpm in higher gears, but other than that, it works beautifully. Generous throttle openings at lower revs will have the whole bike trembling to the big V-Twin’s rhythm, while Ducati-like mechanical noises mixed with a deep exhaust note and a very pleasant intake snarl create a particularly charming riding experience.
Big power comes on around 5,000 rpm and, from there to redline, explodes in a way that has the front wheel readily clawing skyward in both the first and second ratios. The Ducati Safety Pack (DSP) electronic suite comes standard and nicely keeps things in check without neutering the bike. It includes ABS, traction control and Urban, Touring, and Sport ride modes.
Chassis-wise, the Öhlins-equipped $17,295 Monster 1200S—$2,700 over the $14,595 base model—is tough to fault. Steering is very light though not to the point of being nervous, thanks to the handlebar’s generous width, and it’s precise enough that the bike can be ridden fast with pleasant exactitude on twisty roads.
Ducati claims the S is the brand’s hardest braking model ever, which seems credible: it’s longer and lower than a Panigale, yet uses basically the same components to slow it down
Although its sporty side is always part of the experience, the new Monster never feels like a track bike adapted to the street, but rather like a streetbike with serious sporting credentials.
This street-oriented nature is also evident in the riding position that only slightly angles the torso forward without putting any weight on the wrists. Because the seat is relatively low and the pegs are set high enough to allow decent ground clearance, the pilot’s legs are cramped and taller riders will definitely want to position the seat in its highest setting.
As for the oddly positioned passenger footpegs (the rider’s heels are always bumping into them) all riders will immediately notice them.
The new Ducati Monster 1200 has morphed from a fun but slightly awkward model mostly understood and sought after by committed Ducatisti to a magnificently styled, charismatic and powerful naked no buyer looking at the high-end spectrum of the category can ignore.
by Bertrand Gahel, Canadian Biker July 2014