Using some connections we join a MSF class that allows larger bikes to participate. Taking the RiderCourse on a live helicopter base was both challenging and exciting.
For the second part of our Project Ducati Monster 796, Motorcycle USA wanted to continue to test the bikes feasibility as an entry level bike. However, my learner’s permit was about to expire, so I needed to graduate to an M1 license if I was to keep scrutinizing the Monster. I had two choices: take the “pass or fail” DMV skills test, or enroll in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCourse to bypass the test altogether. Even though I relish every chance I get to visit the California DMV, I opted for the latter. Along with earning my license, the RiderCourse’s practical exercises would give us the opportunity to further test the Ducati.
Unfortunately, most MSF courses require that your motorcycle be under 500cc if you plan on using it for the class, the only exception being the MSF courses held for military service members on base. Lucky for us, MotoUSA has some friends in high places and we were granted clearance to take the MSF course at the San Diego Naval Base, NAS Imperial Beach. The class has the exact same curriculum as civilian classes, it just carries the special exception that allowed us to use our 803cc Monster 796 as a training bike.
The MSF course turned out to be a lot more fun and rewarding then I initially thought. The curriculum is comprised of both classroom time and on-bike training. Thankfully, in the classroom, bookwork was kept to minimum. All the quizzes were done aloud in groups and all of the written information was backed up by a series of professionally produced video clips. It is obvious that the MSF riding coaches work very hard to keep the class fun and loose while still being informative. Much of the info is common sense to a novice rider, but it’s always good to brush up on some of the finer points like accident avoidance strategies and riding in adverse weather conditions.
After a few hours in the classroom, it was time to put in some seat time. The on-bike training encompasses all the basic skills a new rider needs to master. We started with just balancing the bike from a stand-still, and worked our way up to hard-braking, tight u-turns and swerving. If like me, you’ve ridden street bikes or dirt bikes in the past, the beginning of the class can feel a little slow. You’ll review rudimentary skills like bike controls, slow turning and breaking. The real fun begins as the speeds increase and you work on swerving, weaving in between tightly spaced cones, and coming to a hard stop from higher speeds. I had the most fun challenging myself to nail the maneuvers perfectly, while increasing my speed and precision each time.
We would definitely recommend the MSF RiderCourse to every new motorcycle rider and even novice riders looking to sharpen their skills. You might be able to learn some of these skills in an empty parking lot with your buddies, but the RiderCourse gives you a well-trained, enthusiastic staff and a safe environment to practice with little risk involved when making mistakes. Even with my experience, I learned more than enough from the class to justify the time and money spent, while new riders will get a much higher return on their investment. If you are interested in taking the class, visit their website: online2.msf-usa.org/msf/Default.aspx
Throughout all of the hands-on training, the Monster 796 performed like a champ. The hard braking exercises were effortless with the Ducati’s ABS and the nimble handling make the swerving and weaving maneuvers a breeze. We had the biggest issue in the tight “figure 8” test. The Ducati’s tall gearing and clunky low end power made it difficult to keep smooth and consistent while creeping below 5 mph. Overall, the Monster 796 passed with flying colors, showing that it was not too powerful or quirky of bike to complete the most basic riding exercises in the hands of a novice. Luckily, we passed the RiderCourse with flying colors as well, and with license in hand, we were ready to log some more miles on the 796.
On the freeway, our biggest gripe with the 796 is the stiffness of the suspension. While the firm set-up can be great for the track, it became torturous on long stretches of bumpy freeway. To try and counteract the stiff valving, we reduced the tire pressure from 42 psi to 34 psi and took 2 turns out of the preload. This seemed to take a little of the edge off, but if you plan on using the Monster as a daily driver, a trip to the suspension shop for some softer valving should be on your must-do list.
After about 500 in-town and highway miles, we averaged about 38 mpg – though I am admittedly very easy on the throttle. A more aggressive rider will probably end up around 35 mpg, as we found out in our Ducati Monster 796 Comparison. The Monster’s fuel economy is respectable for a performance bike, but it’s no match for other entry level bikes like the Suzuki Gladius which gets around 44 mpg.
For the second part of our project, Ducati sent us one of its Monster Art body kits. The body kit allows you to quickly and easily change the look and feel of your Monster 696, 796, 1100, and 1100S. The kits come in almost a dozen different styles, ranging from retro Ducati “Logomania” designs to Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi replicas. Ducati hooked us up with the “Ducati Corse” logomania kit, designed to resemble the 1198 R and S special edition models released in 2009.
(Top)The now truly naked Monster 796, ready for the new Logo Mania bodywork. (Bottom) Ducati’s Monster Art kits look great, and have the exact same build quality as the factory fairings.
The Monster Art kit includes a tank cover, seat cover, front fender and fairing. No cheap knock-offs here; the Monster Art livery is painted on factory Ducati bodywork, so you don’t have to worry about sub-par bolt-on pieces. The installation is quick and relatively painless as well. Armed with a few Allen wrenches, it only took us about 20 minutes to do the swap. The Monster Art Kits range from $599 to $849 and you can pick one up from your local Ducati dealer. They are a little pricey, but if you want to give your Monster a personal touch, the Monster Art kits are one of the most simple and best looking options.
Is the Monster 796 the perfect entry-level bike? Of course not. It’s too loud, too expensive, too quirky, too powerful, blah, blah, blah…But those traits make it pretty awesome too. While we can’t suggest it for someone who’s never been on two wheels before, if you’ve spent some time on dirtbikes and are just new to the street, the Monster 796 doesn’t have anything you can’t handle.
As a new rider you just have to get your priorities straight. If money is tight, and you just want a bike that will get you from A to B, then by all means, skip the Monster. But if you put a high value on style, performance, and visceral experience (and you don’t mind paying for it) you could do a lot worse than the Monster 796.
Special thanks to the rider coaches Andrew, Pat and Bob from Cape Fox Professional Services for all of their help in making this review possible.