In 2013 Ducati redesigned the Hypermotard and inserted the Testastretta 11 engine inside its trellis frame, much to the dismay of some Hyper purists. This left only the everyman’s Ducati, the Monster, with an air-cooled Twin, but it was obvious to anyone paying attention to the development of recent offerings from the Italian marque that would soon change. And it has with the introduction of the 2014 Ducati Monster 1200 and 1200S. Grumblings from some Monsteristi mirrored the Hyperisti a year earlier. No need to fret Monster fans, change is a good thing.
We liked the Monster 1100 Evo, but we never loved it. The torquey engine and small size made for a rambunctious ride, but it was always lacking in power when compared to other large displacement machines in the same price range. Over the 22-year span of Monsters, 275,452 examples of the naked bike have been sold, so there is plenty to be said for its styling and likeable character.
For the new liquid-cooled Monster, Ducati aimed to raise the bar in both performance and usability. And at the heart of this goal is the Testastretta 11 engine that is based on the mill that resides in the Multistrada 1200. The standard Monster 1200 now produces 135 horsepower and 87 lb-ft of torque. The S model that we had the opportunity to test on the volcanic island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands gets an additional 10 hp and 5 lb-ft more torque. While the Multi 1200 is fed by 56mm throttle bodies the Monster is fitted with smaller, ride-by-wire 53mm units for better engine response and torque in the midrange over top-end pull. The compression ratio gets a bump to 12.5:1, and this engine also features the dual-spark arrangement that debuted on the Multistrada for increased smoothness and stability at low rpm.
It was a forgone conclusion that the new 1198cc motor would obliterate the outgoing Desmodue two-valve Twin, but not only does it have more power it is smoother and easier to ride at any speed. Right off the first crack of the throttle the Monster 1200S pulls like no Monster ever has. Even when lugged down to 2500 rpm the engine still responds and builds power with an unexpected smoothness. Get into the sweet spot from around 5500 to 8000 rpm and the front tire will be skimming the pavement if not leaving it all together. After that the power tapers off and not much is left to exploit up to the 10,500 rpm redline. Even without a serious HP rush on the top-end, there is more room to play with whereas before on the 1100, I constantly found myself bumping to the rev-limiter.
Along with the new engine comes the latest Ducati Safety Pack (DSP) that includes an eight-level Ducati Traction Control (DTC), three-level ABS and three riding modes. Toggling through the three modes is simple and not only changes the power character, ABS, and DTC settings but the TFT gauge display changes for each mode as well. It’s a cool feature that lets the rider know what mode they are in with just a glance. One feature missing on the beautiful display is a gear position indicator.
Tenerife’s roads vary wildly from pristine asphalt to sections of tarmac that are chock-full of potholes and cracks. Even so, the Monster 1200S handled every bit with poise.
And those three riding modes work well. In Sport, you get the full dose of 145hp and the most responsive throttle setting. The Bosch 9MP ABS system defaults to the least intrusive Level 1 in Sport, allowing maximum braking force and rear wheel lifting. This was my favorite setting when the road conditions were smooth and the corners weren’t too tight. Once the road surface and curves were less than perfect Touring was the way to go. Traction control is increased to Level 3 and the engine response is less direct and immediate. ABS is bumped up as well to prevent the rear wheel from leaving the tarmac under hard braking. Urban tempers the Monster’s attitude to 100 horsepower, Level 5 DTC and maximum ABS. In town it makes the Monster docile and well behaved and will work well as a rain setting.
On the brakes the ABS settings are well calibrated and we had more than a few opportunities to get the system to kick in. The Brembo M50 Monbloc calipers, 16mm radial front master cylinder and 330mm front discs are taken straight off the 1199 Panigale and have tremendous stopping power. Ducati claims the Monster 1200S stops 19% quicker than the standard Monster 1200, which itself stops 18% shorter than the outgoing 1100 Evo. Initial bite is strong and the feel is excellent, as we’ve come to expect from Brembo-equipped Ducatis. When the ABS intervenes you still feel connected to the front tire and lever kickback is not an issue. The rear brake is less stellar with too much pedal travel before the rear caliper begins to engage with authority.
Bolted to the Testatretta’s cylinder head is the Monster’s small steel trellis frame that is 2.8 pounds lighter and 99% stiffer torsionally than the 1100 Evo unit. Also bolted to the rear head and crankcase is the subframe that weighs in 2.4 pounds less than the outgoing model. A new cast single-sided swingarm strokes though 5.1 inches via a fully-adjustable Ohlins shock. The standard 1200 uses a Sachs unit with preload and rebound adjustment only. At the front 48mm Ohlins upside down forks feature full adjustment and Titanium Nitride coating on the 1200S, while the base model is fitted with 43mm fully-adjustable Kayaba forks.
Tenerife’s roads vary wildly from pristine asphalt to sections of tarmac that are chock-full of potholes and cracks. Even so, the Monster 1200S handled every bit with poise. On the smooth sections the suspension settings were spot on with a stiff feel that translated what the front and rear tire were doing exceptionally. When the road was at its worst the Ducati soaked up the imperfections with surprising stability, but the ride is undeniably taut.
The overall dimensions of the Monster have grown with the engine and the wheelbase is now longer at 59.48 inches, not to make the chassis more controlled with the extra power but to make the rider area more comfortable. And it is. The adjustable-height seat is generously padded and all-day comfortable. The low height is an easy 30.9-inch reach to the pavement, and the tall setting is still a low-ish 31.9 inches. I preferred the tall position as it gave my 5’10” frame more room, and I would even spring for the optional taller accessory seat for a bit more leg room. The reach to the bars is perfect naked bike positioning, with the tapered aluminum units being 40mm closer and 40mm up from the previous Monster. The rider’s triangle is now more relaxed, but still aggressive enough to put you in the proper position for spirited riding. My only criticism is the rear right passenger footpeg mount crowds the space your heel occupies when resting the balls of your feet on the rider pegs. It is more distracting than you would think, especially when setting up for fast right-handers.
Although the chassis is longer and heavier (461 pounds, full of fuel) the Monster character is not lost. Ducati has moved the weight distribution on the 1200 further to the rear (47.5/52.4 versus 50/50 for the 1100 EVO) and that keeps the front end light yet not so light the front is twitchy, even with the steep 24.3-degree rake and 3.66 inch trail. At slower speeds, the Monster feels like it pivots on the front tire with a slightly heavy feel. Once on the gas the handling is light and quick. In fact, I found myself cutting to the apex too soon at first as the Monster reacts quickly to rider inputs. Once in the corner, changing your line is effortless and the chassis is never nervous. The rearward bias also helps with weight transfer on the brakes, keeping everything calm even in panic stops.
Some of the things that made a Monster a Monster (light weight, simplicity) may have gone by the wayside with the 1200S, but in the first quarter-mile it was obvious that the rip-snorting character, for which the Monster is known and loved, has not been lost. Yes, the price has increased significantly, $13,495 for the 1200 and $15,995 for the S, but Ducati has improved every aspect of its naked bike, making it faster, more comfortable and better handling. I expect the existing and new Monstertisti will fall head over heels for the 2014 Monster 1200S in short order.