First Ride Review
Few motorcycles have been as successful, iconic and diverse as the Ducati Monster. Over its 23-year history, Il Mostro has come in a range of sizes, from the diminutive 398cc M400 available only in certain license-restricted markets to the 145-horsepower, 1,198cc Monster 1200 S that debuted for 2014. The 1200 S was the most powerful Monster ever to emerge from the Bologna factory, but with big-bore naked bikes from Aprilia, BMW and KTM making anywhere from 160 to 175 horsepower, Ducati had to step up its game.
The “R” designation on certain Ducatis has always meant something special. More power. Exclusive components. Lighter weight. Compared to the 1200 S, the new-for-2016 Monster 1200 R makes 10-percent more horsepower (now 160) and 5-percent more torque (97 lb-ft). It features a taller chassis to allow deeper lean angles (up to 50 degrees), an adjustable Öhlins steering damper, a flyscreen, machined-from-billet footpegs and aluminum radiator shrouds with a sandblasted “R” graphic. Claimed weight is down by nearly five pounds thanks to a sleeker tail section, a carbon fiber front fender and three-spoke forged aluminum Marchesini wheels.
Because “R” models are suitable for track riding, Ducati hosted the Monster 1200 R press launch at the Ascari Race Resort, a 3.4-mile private circuit in southern Spain. Overnight rains left the track damp, but by late morning on a sunny, bluebird day we were scrubbing in the sticky, dual-compound Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires. After some familiarization laps in Touring mode, which softens throttle response and raises the sensitivity of the ABS and traction control, I switched over to Sport mode and picked up the pace.
We’ve tested different versions of Ducati’s liquid-cooled, 1,198cc Testastretta 11˚ L-twin in the Diavel, Multistrada and Monster 1200 S, and the engine has consistently impressed us with its broad spread of torque and rich, pulsing character. More power was squeezed out of the Monster 1200 S powerplant by replacing the 53mm round throttle bodies with 56mm oval units, bumping up the compression ratio from 12.5:1 to 13.0:1 and installing a new, higher-performance 2-1-2 exhaust system with larger-diameter tubing. The 1200 R’s big twin is eager to rev and the throttle-by-wire provides crisp, precise response, allowing me to feed in just the right amount of power and easily adjust speed when leaned over. With plentiful but manageable grunt everywhere, Ascari’s hairpins and curb-jumping chicanes became opportunities rather than obstacles and its banked corners, fast sweepers and straightaways were exhilarating.
The Testastretta may play the leading role, but it’s supported by a strong cast. The light-but-strong tubular-steel trellis main frame and subframe are bolted directly to the engine, and the spec sheet is full of premium components. For increased cornering clearance, the 1200 R’s fully adjustable Öhlins suspension—an upside-down, titanium nitride-coated 48mm fork and a rear shock with progressive linkage—is 0.6-inch longer than that found on the 1200 S. With settings dialed in by Ducati’s technicians, the suspension performed flawlessly, creating a fluid, well-controlled connection between bike and ground. With the increased chassis height, the non-adjustable seat is likewise taller at 32.7 inches (compared to 30.9-31.8 inches on the 1200 S), but the ergonomic triangle remains geared toward comfort, with a modest reach to the bars and sensible footpeg placement.
Slowing the Monster are the same Brembo M50 Monobloc radial, 4-piston front calipers and 330mm discs found on Ducati’s 1299 Panigale superbike, and they deliver the goods—outstanding power with refined, subtle feel at the lever. Out back, a single 245mm disc is squeezed by a 2-piston Brembo caliper. The Ducati Safety Pack comes standard and includes 3-mode ABS and 8-level Ducati Traction Control, both of which are adjusted automatically with each Riding Mode (Sport, Touring and Urban).
As someone who rides about 25,000 miles a year on the street and maybe 100 miles a year on the track, testing a bike on the track feels strange to me. I feel more comfortable on unfamiliar roads with blind corners, guard rails and unpredictable traffic than I do on a closed circuit with clean pavement, plenty of run-off and everyone traveling in the same direction. Therein lies the magic of the Monster 1200 R. It proved to be so easy to ride, so intuitive in its controls and power delivery, so confidence-inspiring in its handling and braking, that my usual track-riding anxiety melted away and I felt right at home.
With its wide, upright handlebar and neutral riding position, the 1200 R feels like a street bike, and no doubt that’s where the majority of them will be ridden. Ample steering leverage and sporty front-end geometry give it light steering while a long wheelbase provides plenty of stability. The powerband is wide and forgiving, the suspension and brakes are truly superb, and the ultra-grippy Pirelli tires felt glued to Ascari’s F1-caliber tarmac. The Monster 1200 R delivered the sort of exciting, game-elevating experience that I want from a sportbike: the ability to ride faster with more fun and confidence.
How the Monster 1200 R will perform on the street remains an open question. The only slow, low-rpm riding we did was on pit lane, which is hardly the same thing as stop-and-go traffic. The taller seat height will be an issue for some, but the ergonomics are otherwise as agreeable as those on the Monster 1200/S. If there’s a drawback to the more powerful, exclusive and lighter Monster 1200 R, it’s the price, which at $18,695 for Ducati Red and $18,895 for Thrilling Black, is higher than that of the competition.