The latest generation of Ducati Monsters started life with the entry-level 696cc version in 2009. The engine powering the li’l Monster was a huge step forward compared to the previous sohc, air-cooled, two-valve 695cc desmo, the new version making a claimed 80 horsepower. Also joining the lineup at the time was the much beefier and richer Monster 1100. But since then, Ducati has realized that the gap between the bookends needed to be filled.
Enter the midsized Monster 796. In reality, its engine displaces 803cc (88 x 66mm bore and stroke), as it is essentially the same engine as found in the Hypermotard 796. It retains the ‘Motard’s 11.1:1 compression ratio, the 45mm throttle bodies and the Siemens fuel-injection system. Mated to a highly elaborate exhaust system and much larger Monster-sized airbox, the updated mill is rated at 87 hp at 8250 rpm and 58 ft.-lb. of torque at 6250 rpm. Power is transferred to the rear wheel through an oil-bath slipper clutch and six-speed gearbox. Compared to the Hypermotard, the 796 Monster has two fewer teeth on the rear sprocket (39 vs. 41) to turn that extra power into the highest theoretical top speed while also improving fuel consumption while cruising.
Always looking to reduce weight, engineers used a proprietary “vacural” casting process for the crankcase, which lightened the engine by 2.6 pounds compared to that of the 696. Overall, Ducati claims the 796 weighs 363 lb., which is 4.5 pounds less than its smaller sibling. Adoption of a single-sided swingarm is largely responsible for the remainder of the difference and gives the 796 an added touch of refinement. The Sachs shock has provisions for adjustability, but the 43mm Showa fork does not. Braking is handled by a pair of radial-mount, four-piston Brembos up front with 320mm discs and optional ABS ($1000); the latter is offered to give urban commuters (a large percentage of Monster owners) the added safety benefits it provides. Compared to the 1100, the 796 has a seat that, at 31.5 in., is almost half an inch lower, and the handlebar was raised three-quarters of an inch for a less-stretched-out ride.
Ducati’s arranged test ride for the 796 took us to the top of the hills surrounding Bologna, Italy. We threaded our way along some secluded, narrow backroads where the long, hard winter had carved mean potholes that smartly teamed with pine-tree roots under the asphalt in the curves to make the ride more challenging for both chassis and rider.
That made us all thankful that the 796 feels very light and is blessed by a comfortable riding posture. Although the suspension wasn’t ideal on those root-strewn corners, once back on more civilized (smooth) and twisty mountain roads, the Monster 796 was right at home, agile, surefooted and capable of seriously cranked-over lean angles. The engine progresses eagerly through the gears but definitely needs all of them, given the rather tall final gearing. For a shudder-free response, revs need to be kept above 3500 rpm in any gear above second, but from that point all the way to 9000 rpm, it pulls very strongly. The torque curve feels flat, with no dips or sudden surges—a positive virtue that makes the Monster 796 a friendly mount. The hydraulically actuated slipper clutch is beautifully light to operate and very precise and progressive in its action.
Though I missed the precious Öhlins suspenders of the 1100S, for $9995, the 796 is a nice overall package. Standard colors include black, white and Ducati red; but with Ducati’s “Logomania” Art Body Kits ($600), 10 other color schemes, including many historic and iconic looks from the past, are available to dress up any Monster in the line.