2009 Ducati Monster 1100 First Ride

October 20, 2008
Steve Atlas
Steve Atlas
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Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas is the new blood at MotoUSA. Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.

2009 Ducati Monster 1100
The Italians know a thing or two about mating function and form. The 2009 Ducati Monster 1100 is almost as fun to admire as it is to ride.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say. So what’s beauty in the eye of this beholder, you might ask? Floating one wheel in the air, completely effortlessly, while soaking in a breathtaking view of the French Rivera. Hard to argue with that! And the perfect bike for such an act: Ducati’s new 2009 Monster 1100. It’s just that easy. It’s just plain beautiful.

Now Boarding

As expected, Ducati hasn’t gone and reinvented the wheel with their new Monster 1100. But why would they? It would almost be sacrilegious to completely deface the motorcycle which singlehandedly kept the Italian manufacturer in business through the tough early-90s. So rather than re-invent, they re-vamped. Smart move, if you ask us.

Designed to be the big brother to the very successful Monster 696 released last year, the 1100 changes start from the outside and work their way in. Most noticeably, it now features a single-sided swingarm, similar in design to which the 1098 has reverted back to, mated to their patented steel trellis-type frame. Only now that frame features new, more aggressive geometry (different steering head angle) and connects to an integrated cast aluminum subframe, similar in design to the one first seen on the Desmosedici D16, though not expensive carbon fiber.

Suspension sees its share of tweaks, now longer in length both front and rear, the front featuring an all-new, fully adjustable 43mm Showa fork. This, plus new 120/70-17 front and 180/55-17 rear sized tires, means the entire motorcycle sits much higher, some 40mm (1.57 inches) above that of the Monster 696. Keeping rotating mass to a minimum are lighter, Y-shaped 5-spoke cast aluminum wheels. A reshaped, 10mm wider seat rounds things out with improved ergonomics in mind.

The improved chassis and single-sided swingarm inspired a ton of confidence while cornering.
The improved chassis and single-sided swingarm inspired a ton of confidence while cornering.

Sitting atop the updated chassis is a reshaped, larger volume tank that is more aggressively styled and far more sloped than the previous unit, now featuring mesh-covered side inlets that feed cool air into a larger volume airbox. A new, more aggressive “triple parabola” headlamp design compliments this, as well as updated instruments, mirrors, turn signals and an LED taillight. Hello 21st century. Think the old Monster but now more metro sexual, as only the kings of style (Ducati) could do.

Equally as noticeable to the naked eye are new twin-can mufflers resting on either side of the reshaped seat cover, sitting at the end of an electronic-valve-controlled 2-1-2 system that begins at their tried and true 2-valve, air-cooled V-Twin engine; the same from the previous incarnation, only put on Jenny Craig and massaged for some added torque. As if lofting the front end wasn’t easy enough already?

This reduced mass is a result of new, thin-walled crankcases that tip the scales 3 kg sub those on the previous big-bore Monster. This is the first time the vacuum die-casting process responsible for the reduced weight has been use in one of Ducati’s 2-valve engines. Other updates include a stepper motor for easier cold-weather starting/automatic idling, and an oil-cooler. The result is longer service intervals – now every 12,000 km (7440 miles), like the rest of their lineup.

Price and colors, you ask? The ‘S’ will be available in either pearl white or red with a red frame and gold wheels. The three options are: Silver with a red frame; gloss black with a matte black frame; and the traditional red-on-red livery Ducati is famous for. The standard models come with silver wheels, will be available at dealers come late December, and retail for $11,995.

As has become customary for much of the Ducati brotherhood, an “S” model will be available for an addition $2K, receiving the customary Ohlins suspension treatment front and rear, a dashing of carbon fiber (belt covers, front fender, muffler heat shields) and aluminum front brake disc carriers. It’s available only in traditional Ducati red with gold wheels, but unfortunately, no such model was available for our thrash… err, testing.

Wheels Up

One wheel up in the air  an Italian twin vibrating beneath you  and the deep blue of the Mediterranean over your shoulder. Is this nirvana  or what
One wheel up in the air, an Italian twin vibrating beneath you, and the deep blue of the Mediterranean over your shoulder. Is this nirvana, or what?

Throw a leg over, thumb the starter button, and instantly she purrs to life with a muffled roar. The sound is very familiar, not too far off the Monster of yesteryear; too be expected considering how little of the engine was changed. But drop it in gear and the differences become much more apparent the second you start moving.

First and foremost, it’s lighter in every way, shape and form (they claim a dry weight of only 371 lbs, easily the lightest in class). From picking it up off the sidestand to parking lot turnarounds to high-speed switchbacks, it does it all with what seems like half the effort as before. The wide-spread handlebars and this agility equals one easy-to-ride, very small feeling motorcycle. One would think the price to pay for this is undoubtedly high-speed stability. But one would be wrong.

No matter the speed, 20 mph to 120 mph, not so much as the slightest chassis wobble or suspension shimmy greeted us during our spirited ride along France’s Southern Coast. The lack of wind protection caused for some interesting direction changes at triple-digit speeds, but this had little to do with the bike’s chassis and more to do with the human sail my body was making. We humans are not very aerodynamic by nature, ya know. Can we say “arm pump?” Only a small price to pay for the loads of fun generated at those speeds, though.

Once set into the corner, handling is vastly improved over the previous model, the new suspension and chassis translating the contours of the road directly to the rider’s hands as if he or she were physically skimming the road with their palms. You’d have to kneel down and lick the pavement to get more detail.

Equally as impressive are the brakes, the result of new Brembo radial-mount front calipers that grip 320mm dual front discs, fed via a new Brembo radial front master cylinder. A tough combination to beat on any two wheeler, but mated with the feather weight of the Duc, things come to a screeching halt with rapid haste and very little lever effort. Be careful though; a bit too much lever pressure and the rear wheel will be dancing with the devil as unwanted stoppies are easily attained.

The claimed “added torque” from the engine isn’t nearly as noticeable as the reduced weight, but that’s not to say it lacks in any way. Could they have given the engine a total revamp (for the first time in 15 years) with loads more power and torque? Sure. Did they need to? Not really. For the job at hand it does very well, quite easily lofting the front end in any of the first few gears with nothing more than a quick stab at the right grip (due as much to the light weight as the added low-end). Plus, if they gave it too much power what would all those old Ducati tuning shops be used for?

Our only complaints: Fuel injection is still a little rough down low, burbling below 3000 rpm like its fellow Ducati family members, and once up in the rpm is still slightly jerky, requiring a well-trained hand to maintain one’s desired speed. Nothing a quick stop at the local dyno and a Power Commander couldn’t fix, though noticeable nonetheless. The seat isn’t exactly made for the IronButt Rally, either, but then again, neither am I.

Final Approach

The tagline of Ducati’s press presentation was “less is more – less is Monster,” and as cliche as it may sound, it really does fit. Weight Watchers and a Glamour Shots Makeover did wonders for the new, more aggressive Ducati Monster 1100, and in the process may have just set a new standard for the naked bike world.

What I really love about this bike is it looks brutally scary, but it won’t eat you alive. It’s what you might call, a rare breed.

Can you say Hooligan Shootout ’09? The planning has already begun, so stay tuned.

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