Ducati Monster S4R
The S4R Testastretta is the latest update on Ducati's highly successful Monster line of naked sportsters. Depending on who you asked about its appearance, it's either a modern classic or due for a redesign.
It's been 14 years since the first Monster captivated us with its oddly compelling visage, and it began its long life powered by the air-cooled 903cc V-Twin from the 900SS. Its elemental nature and versatile platform appealed to riders around the world, spawning a class that would later be termed Streetfighters.
For 2007, the S4R Testastretta gets the burly motor from the S4RS but does without the Ohlins suspension and a $2000 higher price tag. Otherwise it's the same bike except for different wheels.
Appearance-wise, the S4R breaks no new styling ground from its iconic shape. The most riveting element is a nicely sculpted single-sided swingarm that exposes a lovely Y-spoked Marchesini wheel that is framed at its upper end by dual stacked mufflers. The only plain round headlight in the group is accented by a flyscreen that offers minimal but useful wind protection even if it flutters at speed.
If the Tuono makes distinct rat-a-tat-a-tat-a
sounds, the Duc purrs buhd-a-buhd-a-buhd-a
in a smoother cadence from the 90-degree V-Twin. Cracking the throttle open unleashes the traditional Ducati intake honk and a torrent of power that is plentiful regardless of the tach's display. This engine is even more impressive in the S4R than the 999, offering a liquid-like power delivery that was scored the highest in the test.
"The Testastretta engine is the highlight of the new S4R," BC proclaims. "It pulls hard off the bottom and continues to pull hard all the way to redline. Lots of torque down low makes it a wheelie monster, and the smooth throttle delivery gives you the confidence to roll on early during corner exits.
Note the poor form of the right foot forced by the exhaust system that keeps a rider from placing weight on the balls of his feet. If MCUSA owned an S4R, the stock exhaust would immediately get yarded into a dumpster.
"Stuffing a Testastretta mill into the Monster is such a great idea," exalts Kenny. "The Monster may be the grandfather of the group, but with this motor at the core it doesn't act like an old-timer. Arguably the best motor of the bunch, the S4R flat out gets it on."
The Ducati also out-points the Aprilia in the braking department, providing the outright strength of the Tuono's binders without the grabbyness that can catch a rider off guard. Hard to ask for more than this Brembo radial-mount 4-piston caliper/320mm disc/ braided-steel brake line combo that is super-stout yet nicely progressive.
If the Tuono feels tall, the Monster feels long. While that's partly due to the longest wheelbase in the quartet, it's also because of the longish reach for the tapered aluminum bar with a slightly odd bend. "It has a more aggressive riding position than the Tuono and Speed Triple," Kenny states. Chamberlain, our tallest tester at an even 6-foot, complained least. While we preferred a more upright stance for most of our seat time, the slight extra reach for the S4R's lower bars has its merits at higher speeds, such as on the freeway or the racetrack.
The Monster's cockpit is a functional environment but not one with any splash. It looks almost BMW-esque in its stark simplicity of black on white dual analog pods, and the tightly spaced numerals on the 160-mph speedo are too small to read quickly; the digital speedometers on the other bikes are much easier to see at a glance.
You can identify a Testastretta motor by the deep sump under the engine. The Monster's handlebar is lower and further forward than the Tuono's.
Ergonomically, the S4R impresses short riders with its lowest-in-class seat height, and the seat itself is actually fairly comfortable with room to reposition. We'd say the seat is comfy enough for the duration of a full tank, but at just 3.6 gallons, that's not saying much. Figure on about 100 miles before you get nervous for a gas station.
If asked to list which manufacturer build the best clutches and gearboxes, Ducati wouldn't pop immediately to mind. But the S4R has one of the better rated power transmission units we've tested from the Bologna brand. Its clutch was quite easy to modulate during performance testing, and its tranny - though not Gixxer slick - was praised for its positive feel.
The S4R drew high marks in the Suspension and Handling/Chassis categories, being the only bike to most closely challenge the Tuono's exemplary behavior in these critical categories. Suspension, like the Tuono, is by Showa up front and Sachs at the rear. But while the 43mm Showa fork is similar, the shock includes compression damping adjustability the Tuono doesn't.
"Like the Aprilia, the Ducati's suspension seemed to work well in all conditions without any major adjustments," says BC. "It was able to soak up the rough stuff on the back roads, yet was stiff enough for the faster and smoother track duties."
Okay, we hate to harp on it, but here's the alternative foot placement on the S4R, with the rider on the balls of his feet but only half on peg because of the exhaust pipes, which quickly wears out toe sliders.
In terms of handling qualities, the Monster's longer wheelbase is offset by a rake angle 1.0 degree steeper (24.0) than the Tuono's and 8mm less trail. Combined with the lower handlebar that doesn't yield as much leverage, the two Twins are fairly well matched.
"I'd say this bike felt the closest to a true sportbike," Donny B comments. "The Ducati's trellis frame does a great job transmitting feedback to the rider when cranked over on its side. Nothing ever gets out of shape or even sketchy."
"On the track the Ducati offered up the most sportbike-like performance," adds Kenny. "The riding position is conducive to hanging off, and the chassis was flawless throughout the track experience. If you're looking to take your streetfighter to the track, you can't do much better than this."
One obstacle to a smooth trackday experience is the routing of the shotgun exhaust pipes after they curl upward after the goiter of a resonator under the engine. The pipes stick out far enough to interfere with the foot of a rider on the balls of his feet, the correct position for sport riding. This wouldn't be a big deal on a Hyosung, but it's a definite faux pas on a Ducati. How did the usually astute Andrea Forni, Ducati's Motorcycle Test Dept. Director, miss this?
The S4R represents the Ducati stereotype well, proving to be not especially nimble but highly stable. The Testastretta motor is a perfect companion to this chassis.
The S4R makes a great case for itself, whether while running around town using its bountiful torque or when using legendary Ducati stability to scuff the edges of tires on a crinkly road. If the Monster's well-worn styling still makes you tingle, you'll adore having this modern classic in your garage.
"I've always liked riding the Monsters," admits BC, "And now with the big Testastretta motor it's even more of a blast. The riding position is comfortable enough to commute on yet aggressive enough for a track day. The motor provides plenty of power, and all the components work very well. Visually, I'm a little turned off by the same old styling, but functionally the bike is great.
"Style opinions aside, this is an awesome motorcycle."