Whether you’re new to motorcycling or to the Ducati brand, there is no better way to get into either than with its Monster 696. From the look, feel, and sound of its air-cooled 696cc L-Twin engine cradled in the company’s legendary steel-trellis frame to its bold, curvaceous shape bathed in Ferrari Red paint, there’s no mistaking this bike for anything else other than a Ducati.
Although the Ducati Monster lacks some of the top-shelf technology as used on the Shiver, the basics are all here. A fixed 43mm Showa inverted fork along with Sachs hydraulic shock absorber cushioning the load out back. Equivalent-sized radial-mount front brakes, a friendly hydraulically-actuated clutch and a sharp looking Digitek digital display.
Climbing aboard the Monster 696 isn’t much of a climb at all, as it features a short 30.3-inch seat height. Its low seating position combined with its narrow width make it feel like you’re riding a minibike—that is if you’re six-foot-plus inches tall. Yet even for a tall rider the cockpit isn’t as crowed as you’d expect. The reach to the steel handlebars is equally as diminutive, which in turn creates a sportier riding position than the Shiver’s.
The only thing that limits how much fun you can have on the racetrack is the 696’s ground clearance.
Reach out and grab both the brake and clutch lever and you’ll notice just how ridiculously light clutch lever pull is. Conversely the reach to the brake lever is slightly stretched and it cannot be adjusted like the Shiver’s. Thumb the starter button and the Monster’s air-cooled engine fires right up settling into a lumpy idle. However, sometimes when cold, the engine would stall and require a bit of warm-up before it could idle on its own. Pump the throttle a couple times and the engine roars with that unmistakable Ducati “vroom”. Press down on the gear shift lever, and slip the clutch and you’re off and running.
Whereas the Aprilia’s liquid-cooled engine makes power literally everywhere, the Ducati’s air-cooled mill puts out a subdued spread of power. For a novice rider this translates into absolute confidence, but for an experienced rider it feels downright slow. As rpms slowly increase a decently snappy mid-range is exposed, but it’s cut-short almost as soon as it starts, necessitating an upshift.
The Monster’s engine power is far more docile than that of the Aprilia’s. Yet it’s still got some punch as Waheed demonstrates.
Even at freeway speeds, vibration from the engine never really disappears, which in-turn keeps the rearview mirrors from providing anything other than a blurred picture. But then again, this is a Ducati and it wouldn’t be one without a pulsating engine, thus ‘nuff said. But when combined together with its slightly anemic power output, taller final drive gearing and lack of wind protection, extended freeway jaunts can become downright boring. Nevertheless, as you dart off into that ultra-tight cloverleaf exit, be prepared to experience what could be the Monster’s finest attribute.
“I love the way it handles,” commented Atlas. “It feels almost like your invincible… you can totally man-handle the thing like you’re riding a play-bike, it changes direction effortlessly and you can carry a ridiculous amount of corner speed.”
In fact the only thing that limits the amount of cornering fun you can have on the Monster is its ground clearance or more specifically lack thereof. As opposed to the Aprilia the first thing to rub against the asphalt is the side stand. Continue to lean the bike over and you’ll start to feel footpegs and shift levers scrapping. Don’t worry though, because the Monster’s smaller Bridgestone Battlax tires continue to grip and will continue you to carry you until you hit a mid-corner bump and high center on a hard part. Consider yourself warned.
Similarly to the Shiver, adding a few turns of spring preload on the Sachs shock absorber nets added ground clearance, but still cannot provide enough to completely get rid of foreign part scrape-age. While the Monster’s chassis feels softer than the Shiver’s, it’s still flexible enough to accommodate even heavy riders, which could make the 696 perfect for sharing motorcycling with that special someone in your life.
Although on paper the 696’s brakes are almost the same as the Aprilia’s, braking performance isn’t quite as sharp as the Shiver’s. Sure, there’s plenty of power and feel to get you stopped, but pull back on the lever and you’ll experience soft initial bite followed by a consistent braking force that never really ramps up like the Aprilia’s. This feature in fact, can bode well for you if you have limited experience, but we preferred the Aprilia’s.
A multifunction Digitek display provides performance data and engine vitals including speed, horizontal bar graph style tachometer, clock, scheduled maintenance warning, engine oil and ambient air temperature, lap timer as well as associated warning lights. The system is also compatible with Ducati’s Data Analyzer (DDA) accessory system in which information can be downloaded and used to analyze riding data. While the Monster’s display is bright as well as legible, its functionality is quirky and more difficult to use than the Shiver’s.
In terms of build quality, usually motorcycles within in a certain price range are generally pretty similar. So we were surprised when we started to notice the difference in overall quality when comparing these two side-by-side. Where the Ducati utilizes cheaper looking plastic pieces, the Aprila uses more high-quality metal bits and appears to be much more solid looking than the at times flimsy-looking Monster.
So Which One Should I Bring Home?
Well that depends. Even though only $4 separates their MSRPs and on paper they look quite similar, these bikes are literally night and day different. For Ducati, they’ve definitely blended a suitable bike for a beginner. Its combination of friendly ergonomics, docile power delivery, and quick yet stable handling characteristics wrapped up in a pure, unfiltered package. If you’re looking to jump into the wonderful world of motorcycling and you’re small in stature than without a doubt the Ducati’s your machine.
But if you’re got some miles under your belt and are the type of person that outgrows their toys quick, than you’ll appreciate the added punch and technological refinement of the Aprilia. It’s not to say that newbie riders won’t enjoy the Aprilia, it’s just that the Aprilia is a sharper, more high-performance motorcycle that requires a bit more skill to master properly.
For My Money
Adam Waheed, Associate Editor: Both of these bikes really surprised me, especially the Monster. For some reason I had it in my imagination that the Ducati’s engine would have been a lot more powerful than it was. You’re probably not going to outrun many cops on the Monster, but still it’s got enough oomph to get the blood pumping, plus it’s ridiculous how sweet it handles on the racectrack. If it only had more ground clearance, I could bomb on it all-day—it’s that fun. But then again, I’m not exactly a newbie so I don’t really need the short seat height or mellow engine and brakes. What I need is a full sized motorcycle that looks sharp and that I can goof around on and that’s exactly what the Aprilia is.
Steve Atlas, Executive Editor: My own fiscal choice is a little tricky. Without a doubt, I’d take the Aprilia. Its motor’s got some punch, its handling is quick and easy, and it would be an easy motorcycle to live with everyday. But here’s the problem. The Misses is looking to get into motorcycling, and after spending some time with the Monster—I think I might have found her the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.