Motorcycle USA’s photographer and video ace is learning how to master street bikes with the 2011 Ducati Monster 796.
Sport or standard? 600 or 1000? Flat Black or Daytona Red? Picking out your first motorcycle is a daunting task, and if you’re like me, you would probably lean toward the more sensible option for a first set of wheels. But what if you had the chance to throw caution to the wind and go with the louder, more expensive and slightly irresponsible option? Would you take it? I sure as hell would. That’s why I picked out the new Ducati Monster 796 for my beginner long-term test.
The Monster 796 is the big brother to Ducati’s baseline Monster 696, but still within the realm of an entry-level machine. As such, I wanted to see what it would be like starting a motorcycle lifestyle aboard this decidedly more charismatic beginner bike. Is it worth shelling out the extra $3000 compared to Suzuki’s Gladius or Kawasaki’s ER-6N? We’ve already reviewed this new Ducati in the 2011 Ducati Monster 796 First Ride but in this long-term test we’ll put it in the hands of a true beginner (me) to see if this naked Italian is too much for a newbie to handle.
As a new rider, I plan on using a motorcycle mostly for commuting with the occasional canyon ride for kicks. As such, my first course of action was to log a few hundred commuter miles to see how the 796 holds up. The 20-mile commute to the MotoUSA office was the perfect daily jaunt.
The Monster 796 comes standard with ABS. The newbie-friendly safety feature can also be disabled if the rider chooses.
Firing up the engine, the first thing I noticed was the awesome raspy, throaty sound of the 803cc L-Twin. Pulling out of the driveway and cracking open the throttle, the 796 is noticeably faster than other Japanese 650-class bikes I’ve ridden, but the smooth torque curve keeps it from being too intimidating. However, for a street machine, the gearing feels a little on the tall side. In the parking lot, the bike won’t roll at less than 10 mph unless you feather the clutch. Conversely, you can hit freeways speeds in third or fourth gear, with top gear only needed for triple-digit cruising.
In our previous reviews test riders complained about the clunky transmission engagement, but after riding the Monster for about a month, it didn’t really annoy me and I actually like the Duc’s quirks. The gearbox resists slotting into neutral when stopped, but it will hit it every time if you click it while still rolling as you come to a stop. I have yet to miss a shift or hit a false neutral either. So while the 796’s transmission isn’t perfect, it’s far from being a deal-breaker.
While it’s much more fun to talk about the engine, the brakes are a more crucial asset to the beginner rider. Luckily, the Monster 796 has an exceptional set of binders for an entry-level ride. With dual four-piston Brembos up front and a single dual-piston out back, the 796 has plenty of stopping power. On the frequent occasion where I would grab too much, the Monster’s standard anti-lock braking system made sure the tires didn’t break loose. While there was some pulsing feedback at the lever, the 796’s ABS brought me to a smooth stop no matter how hard I mashed the brakes.
Although smaller test riders usually feel more comfortable in the 796’s cockpit, it wasn’t too cramped for my lanky 6’5” frame. The concave sides of the fuel tank leave room for long legs and knees, and the aggressive riding position is far from torturous like its big brother the Ducati 1198 Superbike. Overall, the ergonomics are well within the range to be acceptable for a new rider.
So far the Ducati Monster 796 has been an exceptional bike to learn the ropes. Is it worth the extra cash? If you’re looking for a slightly more advanced entry-level bike that you can grow into, and don’t mind turning a few heads in the process, the charismatic 796 seems worthwhile investment. But we’ve still got more testing to do. In the future installments of this long-term project, we’ll be taking the 796 through the MSF safety course to see how it fares in a classroom setting. Then we might even bolt on some upgrades and make some tweaks to the suspension and gearing, so stay tuned!