Italian motorcycle manufacturer, Ducati has released its first new model of the season: the 2011 Ducati Monster 796. This mid-range street bike fills the void between the entry-level personality of the Monster 696 and the advanced road performance of the Monster 1100. With a base price of $9995, the 796 is a sensible choice for motorcyclists looking for an amusing and easy-to-maneuver motorbike that’s ideal for jaunting in-or-around the city.
The beauty of the Monster line is that the basic architecture of the bikes, including the chassis, air/oil-cooled V-Twin engine configuration, and sleek minimalist body panels are shared between models. However a closer look reveals there are some key differences between this one and its siblings.
The primary difference that distinguishes the mid-level Monster is its use of a 4-valve, 803cc V-Twin, identical to the unit employed in the Hypermotard 796 street bike. Compared to the other Monsters this engine is in a higher state of tune, employing an 11.1:1 compression ratio (versus the Monster 696/1100’s 10.7:1 ratio) courtesy of pistons with a different crown shape.
(Above) The Monster 796’s handlebar is positioned nearly an inch higher than the Monster 696/1100 which contributes to a more upright riding position. (Center) The Monster 796 gets a beautifully crafted single sided aluminum swingarm. (Below) The 2011 Ducati Monster 796 uses an air/oil-cooled 803cc L-Twin engine as used in the Hypermotard 796.
Fuel is received from a 3.8-gallon fuel tank through 45mm throttle bodies, each equipped with a single fuel-injector. Exhaust is piped through a 2-1-2 stainless-steel configuration that terminates with twin shorty-style under-tail mufflers. Each header pipe is fitted with an oxygen sensor which ensures optimum engine running conditions.
A six-speed transmission and a hydraulically-operated APTC clutch control the engine’s power through a chain drive. Furthermore the clutch is bathed within the engine’s oil supply enhancing reliability and reducing noise as compared to the racing-style ’dry’ clutches used on the 1198 Superbike. The clutch also incorporates a slipper/back torque limiting functionality which helps prevent the rear wheel instability during downshifts at high rpm.
The engine is cradled in a lipstick-red steel trellis frame. It attaches to a reworked subframe which is compatible with passenger grab handles that are available as a Ducati accessory ($129). The 796 also gets the same well-crafted single-sided aluminum swingarm as used on the more expensive 1100 model.
Suspension is comprised of a Showa inverted fork and an Sachs hydraulic shock that is mounted directly between the frame and swingarm without a linkage. Although the fork doesn’t offer any damping adjustment, the shock provides spring preload and rebound tuning abilities.
The 796 rolls on a pair of beautiful black 5-spoke cast-aluminum wheels featuring a small red pin stripe around the edge to draw attention to them when in motion. Attached to the front wheel is a pair of 320mm brake discs clamped by a radial-mount four-piston Brembo calipers. Rear brake consists of a solo 245mm disc pinched by a twin-piston caliper. Both brake systems are powered hydraulically through stainless-steel lines. Anti-lock brakes are also available as an option on the new machine however pricing is TBD. Lastly, the wheels are shod with Pirelli Diablo Rosso tires in sizes 120/70-17 front and 180/55-17 rear.
Hop into the seat and the first thing you’ll notice is how similar it feels to the smaller 696 model. The bike feels short and skinny, which makes it easy to manhandle on the road. The seat height measures 31.5 in. above the ground which is 0.4 in. lower than the 1100, and 1.2 in. taller than the 696. Grabbing a hold of the aluminum handlebar isn’t as much of a stretch compared to other Monsters courtesy of the bar risers that elevate the bar position by nearly an inch.
Thumb the starter button and the new Ducati fires to life with deep, thumping exhaust note. Surprisingly, the 796 doesn’t get the same sleek slimline switch gear as used on some of the Italian manufacturer’s other new street bikes, including the Streetfighter. Instrumentation is comprised of a small, yet functional, white-backlit LCD display that is both easy to read and quickly operated via the switchgear on the left handlebar.
The engine in the 796 is peppy and can satisfy the needs of both novice and experience riders alike.
Clutch lever pull is light and offers 4-way lever position adjustment to accommodate different sized hands. The clutch also delivers an ample level of feel for riders who might not have a lot of experience launching a motorcycle. The lower first gear ratio only adds to its user-friendly demeanor when pulling away from a stop. Switching between the remaining five gears was smooth and trouble-free, though we wish the gearbox felt tighter.
Twist the throttle and this Monster delivers a much more robust spread of power compared to the smaller 696. Sure, it won’t win any drag races against a modern liquid-cooled sportbike, yet it will still surprise you with just how much torque it cranks out at low-to-mid rpm. The engine has plenty of juice to loft the front wheel in first gear and is capable of bursts of speed whenever it’s revved out to redline. While the engine delivers a bit of vibration, it never becomes annoying, even at freeway speeds.
In terms of handling the 796 feels every bit as nimble as its smaller sibling. Direction changes can be accomplished with a light touch of the handlebar. The center of gravity also feels low which aids in steering and railing around corners. Though suspension spring rates are calibrated for lighter riders, when pushed this Monster still delivers enough grin-inducing performance for even an experienced, sport-oriented pilot.
Regardless of where you’re from or your background rolling around a Monster is your entry into its exclusive two-wheeled fraternity.
The bike we rode came equipped with the optional ABS system. By default the system is always on, but you can disable it easily by navigating through the menu system on the instrument display. Braking power and feel is adequate and we appreciated the added confidence provided by the ABS. But we were more impressed by the fact that you can quickly turn it off with a few clicks of a button if you‘re feeling mischievous. We also appreciated that the position of the brake lever could be moved based on rider preference.
If you’re a motorcyclist who covers a lot of ground in the city then the $9995 Monster 796 is a bike you need to consider. It’s an easy machine to ride, looks awesome, and is compact enough to slice through any urban gridlock. Its peppy air-cooled engine not only delivers punchy acceleration but a level of charisma that is sadly missing from many other street bikes in this same price point segment.