Earlier this year we sampled the 2014 Ducati Monster 1200 S and found it to be the best Monster yet. The water-cooled Testastretta 11 engine, Brembo brakes and Ohlins suspension made for a package that blew our Italian loafers off. Now I’m in the home of Ducati (Bolonga, Italy) to take a spin on the logical next chapter in the Monster story – the 2015 Monster 821. The spec sheet isn’t quite as lofty as the 1200 but there is plenty to like about the 821. In fact, the Monster 821 is my favorite naked Ducati thus far.
Ducati followed the formula used for the larger 1200cc Monster, fitting a liquid-cooled engine, a longer wheelbase and a more comfortable perch for both rider and passenger. While the biggest Monster targets more experienced riders, Ducati claims the intended customer for the 821 is existing Monsteristi, brand-switchers and new riders. Women fit the demo for the Monster 821 as well. After a day on the bike I would say that this new mid-sized Monster is a great fit for just about anyone.
Starting with the chassis, the 821 gets a small trellis frame that bolts to the cylinder heads of the Testastretta. Ducati’s numbers show the new chassis is 99% stiffer than the outgoing Monster 796’s unit while being 2.71 pounds lighter. The steel trellis subframe is also 2.43 pounds less than the 796’s rear frame. Even so, the 821’s wet weight of 453 pounds is 38 pounds above the 796. Some of that additional weight comes from the additional 1.02 gallons of fuel capacity. The rest we assume is the radiator, cooling system components and the physically larger engine.
Although every dimension of the 821 is larger it feels light and small, especially once underway. Handling in the city is nimble and fleet-footed, changing direction with an ease and quickness that the larger 1200 just can’t match.
During the first half of our day on the 821, the rain kept our speeds and aggression in check, and the only impression I was able to get was how light the medium Monster felt. Not really a complete review. Luckily later in the day the skies cleared, the pavement dried up and I was able to flog the 821. Turn-in is light, tipping in with a just a little body English and the rest of the corner is just as good – as long as the road is smooth.
The non-adjustable 43mm Kayaba front fork and Sachs cantilever rear shock are sprung softly and damped to match. In the city the ride is comfortable, but when hustling through bumpy corners the chassis can become upset. This makes it more difficult to hold a line at breakneck speed, but at 85 to 90% speed it is perfectly acceptable. While this may seem like a serious dig on the 821, I still feel the 821 is easier to handle at almost any speed than the larger Monster. It made me grin ear to ear even when it was bucking around in the rough sections of pavement.
(Above) Ducati followed the formula used for the larger 1200cc Monster, fitting a liquid-cooled Testastretta engine to the Monster 821. (Middle) Toggling through the riding modes is simple on the Monster’s LCD dash, but making changes to traction control and ABS settings is more cumbersome than the TFT displays on the Monster 1200. (Below) Crack the throttle to the stop in Sport mode in first and second gear and the front wheel will rise, but without the snap of larger displacement naked bikes.
The 821.1cc, 112-horsepower Testastretta 11 is lively yet easy to handle. Crack the throttle to the stop in Sport mode in first and second gear and the front wheel will rise, but without the snap of larger displacement naked bikes. The engine torques off the bottom with a satisfying grunt that is also very easy to reign in. The mid-range is healthy while the top-end tapers off as you reach the 11,000 rpm limit.
In Touring the power is slightly tempered with a less sharp throttle response. The Ducati Safety Pack’s traction control is also raised to level 4 from the Sport setting of 2. ABS is also increased from Level 1 (which will allow to the rear wheel to lift) to Level 2, which prevents the rear wheel from lifting too high. The third riding mode, Urban, is docile with 75hp, Level 6 traction control and Level 3 ABS. This setting worked well on the rain-slick roads in the mountains above Bologna. The engine character of the 821 is just sporty enough to entertain the most hardcore riders but also less-threatening to new or less experienced riders. Very few powerplants span such a wide range.
Toggling through the riding modes is simple on the Monster’s LCD dash, but making changes to traction control and ABS settings is more cumbersome than the TFT displays on the Monster 1200, Panigale and Diavel. Once you figure out the system, it is fairly straightforward but still more tedious.
The seating position of the Monster 821 is fairly upright with just a slight bend forward to the bars, which have been moved back 40mm and up 40mm for a more relaxed reach. The new seat mirrors the 1200’s unit with more padding and an adjustable height of 30.9” to 31.9” that makes for an easy reach to the pavement. Everything feels solid and placed perfectly for all day comfort. The only criticisms of the rider area would be that the rubber footpegs become unnervingly slick when wet and a slit in the rear fender allows for water to fling all over the rider’s back.
Braking performance from the M83 Monbloc front calipers and radial mount master cylinder is less refined that we have come to expect from Ducati. The initial lever movement would vary from soft and mushy to grabby depending on the speed of your trigger finger. Once you adapted to the lever the power was there to stop you with authority and never let me down. The rear brake offers a mushy feel as well.
So why with its flaws would I say the Monster 821 is the best example yet? At $11,495 the 821 is more affordable while still offering up plenty of power, a nimble chassis and all-day long comfort. Yes, the suspension may be a touch soft and the brakes may not be as stellar as the Monster 1200’s, but for the price you can’t beat the fun-per-dollar ratio from the 821. Not to mention, it is easier to ride 95% of the time. It’s everything Monsters have been from the start – a sum much greater than its less exotic parts that puts a smile on your face every time you crack the throttle.