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2011 Ducati Monster 796 Project Bike Part I

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Monster 796 is perfect for jetting around town.
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 anti-lock brakes that help ensure safe slide-free stops. The feature can also be disabled electronic if the rider chooses.
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.

Standing at 62 tall Gauger is a tall guy but claims the mid-level Monster 796 is fairly comfortable to ride around town.
Standing at 6’5” the 796 is fairly comfortable for our test rider's tall dimensions.
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!
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dognights   March 3, 2012 01:06 PM
I think this is a nice starter bike myself. Low seat height, air cooled, and it even looks nice to boot. If you pay close attention you can see the tester is six foot five and im sure more then 100 pounds. Something like a Ninja 250 is just impractical in every respect for a real sized adult. The Ninja 250 is perfect if you are 14 in Europe and want to learn how to ride on a street and look cool while doing it. You put a 200 pound full grown adult on a ninja 250 then try to get on a highway and you are likely to get run over by a prius flipping you off. Something like the Ninja 650 or SV 650 might be another good option but they are also quite a bit heavier as well. Anyway I think this bike is pretty nice and would make a nice bike for guests in my garage.
ridingdirtymaui   February 22, 2011 01:56 PM
A beginner bike should be something inexpensive to get you into the sport that will not break the bank. To my friends, I almost always recommend going used unless it’s going to be your only mode of transportation. That way you can drop it and not be out a lot, you can learn how to maintain it and you get that sense of pride of making it your own. If you total that Duc, God forbid, you might not be able to pay the rest of that loan and scrape up enough money to get something else to get your behind to work. Not everyone lives near mass transit.

Again, I've valued this site for years. I would like to see M-USA have someone on their staff start at the bottom like the majority of us did and blog their way up. It would be beneficial to your readers. And to the guys who say it’s too expensive to start at the bottom and trade up, you can get a starter bike, albeit nothing amazing, for what it takes to make that down payment on the Duc.

Papa Whiskey   February 21, 2011 12:46 PM
@Biopsidy I agree. I never understood the whole concept of trying to label bikes as "beginner" other than to promote future sales. I learned to ride on a '79 Honda CBX1000 at age 14, not exactly a "beginner" bike but it served its purpose. My wife just recently learned on a Buell Blast, which I guess I consider an entry level bike (at 492cc). My sister in law learned on a Triumph Daytona 675. And then you have all those individuals who consider H-D Sportsters as "beginner" bikes. I think when it comes to a persons first bike it all comes down to what they like, what they are going to use it for, how does it fit, and how does it feel. 250cc or 1200cc a person needs to learn how to handle their chosen bike. I for one couldn't afford to purchase a "beginner" bike and trade up. Just my 2 cents. =)
Devil Machine   February 21, 2011 10:01 AM
i never said that Ducatis were unreliable. i did say that i've got over 54000 miles on mine and it's been completely reliable.

reliability is DIRECTLY related to regular servicing of the bike. Ducati's desmo valve gear is inherently more sensitive to valve clearances. if they're not set right, they can cause some rather expensive damage to cams, rocker arms, valves, pistons, and anything else inside the motor.

and then there's the timing belts that need to be changed as well. snap one or both of those because you didn't bother to change them at the required interval, and you're similarly looking at a new motor.

ducati's new service intervals say all this needs to be done every 12000 miles the last time i checked. this all costs money, and quite a lot of it. a beginner shouldn't get something that requires this amount of TLC every year, or every other year depending on how much they ride it. newbie riders generally don't have the funds stashed away to pay for it.

i do ALL my own service, so it costs me virtually nothing to keep the bike running in top shape. but for the first couple of services after i bought it, i took it to the dealer and paid out the ass. that 75-100 bucks an hour for shop labor adds up fast. that's why i see used Ducatis at the dealer with 11984 miles on them. people find out what they cost to service and trade them in.
RFM   February 21, 2011 09:10 AM
Lol, ducati's reliability in recent years is on par if not better than jap counterparts. Service should be the least of your worrys if your buying a brand new 2011 bike...
Devil Machine   February 20, 2011 08:30 AM
i agree with you guys. this is not a beginner's bike by any means. first off, my first bike was a 1975 honda cb200. beginner bikes are less than 300cc PERIOD. do you see MSF courses being taught with cbr600s or hayabusas?

i am the original owner of a 1999 750 monster. although the bike has been absolutely reliable over the many years and 54000 miles that i've owned it, and the seat is a reasonable height, and from the factory the power wasn't going to take on any GSXR 750s, there's one extremely important concept that keeps ANY Ducati from being a beginner's bike.

Ducatis require servicing.

even with their extended maintenance intervals they've been advertising in recent years, Ducatis are still maintenance hogs compared to your run of the mill japanese bike. new riders don't understand the concept of regularly servicing a motorcycle. i didn't when i was 16 and on my cb200. the new japanese motorcycles are still recommended to be serviced every 20000-30000 miles, but for the most part you can pour gas and oil in them once in a while and they'll run forever.

that's why whenever some kid looks at my bike and says he wants to get one, i tell him to forget about it if it's his first bike and tell him to buy something japanese and 250cc instead.
Biopsidy   February 18, 2011 10:20 PM
@motousa_adam "it is light" > aren't all sportbikes trying to get lighter? "it is low seat height > since when does seat height determine difficulty? I guess all BMW Motorcycle's are advanced bikes then with their 33+ inch seat height. "it has mellow engine power > I'm coming from a supersport 600cc and have also ridden the 796 and the 796 has more low end torque than the 600cc class. Keeping in mind that majority of riders will never max out top end on the street unless you're illegally blasting down the highway then low end power usually is where people find themselves in trouble. In fact, most 600cc owners typically change the teeth on their bike just to give them more low end grunt for this very reason. I think I just have to stop reading MotoUSA Bravo @ridingdirtymaul pointing out that you guys apparently consider a 250cc and an 803cc bike both as beginner.
motousa_adam   February 18, 2011 05:59 PM
this ducati is most def. a beginner bike. it is light, low seat height, and mellow engine power. if that isn't beginner i dont know what is.
ridingdirtymaui   February 18, 2011 12:52 PM
While a few riders will be able to tame this bike, most will not. I would really like M-USA take to a look at what they are selling. One article focuses in on the CBR250 as a beginner bike and this one is looking into a Duc Monster. They are not even close in comparison. I'd rather see how a new rider is taking to the streets on the little Ninja, CBR or one of the Cleveland CycleWerks bikes. That would make a great long term project. Then have that same rider move up to another bike. Otherwise you are just feeding into the American psychological thought that bigger is always better.
Biopsidy   February 17, 2011 06:16 PM
For the life of me, I cannot understand why MotoUSA and several others consider an 803CC machine to be a beginner bike. Actually, let me rephrase that: I do not understand how anyone considers "anything" to be beginner, intermediate, expert, etc. It doesn't exist. You buy what you like and what serves its purpose. Moreover, just because a bike has more CC's doesn't mean a new rider can't ride it. That's really just up to how responsible the person is. This is why so many people buy liter bikes irresponsibly and get themselves killed because they just don't want to own a "beginner" bike. If you own a car that's not a V12 spewing out 800 horsepower and 500lb of torque I guess that's a beginner car then, right? Can we end this madness of labeling bikes. Maybe then people won't feel so peer pressured into getting liter bikes just to "fit in" and actually will buy what they like. I honestly think this is a MAJOR reason why standard/naked bikes don't sell well in the US because unlike other countries we stereotypically label our bikes as beginner to advanced simply based off CC to make ourselves feel better - in other places a bike is just a bike.
mchale2020   February 17, 2011 04:41 PM
Good luck on the Monster and happy trails!