Ducati Monster 1200 and 1200 S - First Ride

Bigger, more refined and increasingly electronic, is this the most accessible Monster ever?

2014 Ducati Monster 1200 S action shot

For more than two decades, the Monster family of models has lured fresh blood into Ducati dealerships. By default, Monsters have filled an entry-level role at the Bologna-based company. But over the years, even seasoned Ducatisti have embraced flagship versions of this Italian naked, recognizing it as a practical alternative to Ducati's hard core sportbike offerings.

The new Monster 1200, a third-generation bike, continues that tradition, especially the S model with its upgraded suspension, brakes, and electronic mapping that unleashes 10 additional peak horsepower. Both new Monsters, though, deliver a fresh take on the model’s iconic styling while delivering a higher level of engine and chassis performance that’s complemented by a refinement that showcases Ducati’s commitment to leveraging the latest technologies. Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali, on hand at the Monster’s international press introduction in the Canary Islands, explained: “We are working very hard on the combination of mechanics and the electronic systems to make the engine and the bike able to cope with many different situations. When we entered into the Audi family, they pushed us even more because they want the company to be a technological leader.”

While liquid-cooling has been a feature of select Monsters in the past, the 2009 introduction of the 1098-based Streetfighter also ushered in a new chapter of the Monster story with the air-cooled Monster 1100 and more recent 1100 EVO. Now, with the liter-class Streetfighter no longer being built, a large-displacement liquid-cooled Monster makes perfect business sense.

At the heart of the new model is the same liquid-cooled 1198cc Testastretta 11-degree dual-spark V-twin used in the current Multistrada. The engine’s 11 degrees of valve overlap (some 30 degrees less than is found in the 1198 superbike from which it’s derived) is key to its street-centric state of tune, which offers much greater low-to-midrange torque and smoother, more linear delivery. The new Monster takes this even a step further via smaller 53mm round throttle bodies and a higher 12.5:1 compression ratio (compared with the Multistrada’s 56mm oval throttle bodies and 11.5:1). Peak output, a claimed 145 hp, is traded for a substantial gain in torque between 5,000 and 7,000 rpm.

I rode a 125-mile test loop that incorporated a mix of urban and back roads through Tenerife’s spectacular volcanic landscape. The Monster is physically larger and roomier, allowing me to immediately settle in. The taper-type aluminum handlebar, with a more natural bend, sits 40mm higher and 40mm closer to the rider, further improves comfort. A nicely contoured seat with deep padding (3.1 inches at its thickest point) offers a choice of two height positions that vary by nearly an inch. The added legroom of the 31.8-inch high position best suited my 32-inch inseam, while also giving me a firm footing at stops. There’s a less cushy accessory seat available, which lowers the saddle height to 29.3 inches, the lowest Ducati has ever offered.

The view from the Monster’s saddle is predominantly road, barely obstructed by a compact instrument pod featuring a Thin Film Transfer (TFT) color display. Besides sequential shift lights and the usual array of indicator and warning lights, the dash offers three distinct display layouts that present information tailored for each of the bike’s three riding modes: Sport, Touring, and Urban. Sport, for example, features a Panigale-inspired tachometer display while Urban has a larger, more prominent digital speedometer. An option in the setup menu allows the rider to choose a preferred layout to be used globally across the riding modes.

Ducati Monster 1200 S static 3/4 view

I toggled among modes on the fly several times during my ride, finding each useful in its own way. At factory default settings, Urban provides the softest ride-by-wire throttle response and restricts peak power to 100 hp, presumably for safety in the rain or ultra smooth two-up riding. Touring offers medium throttle response and unleashes the full claimed 145 hp, while Sport mode further quickens response. Each mode also stores Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and ABS settings. The levels of intervention go down as you step up through the modes.

With the Monster stationary, you gain access to a menu for altering any mode’s DTC, ABS, throttle response and peak power output settings. It’s possible to make all three modes identical in every parameter if you wish; a practical example of doing so would be to then assign a unique DTC or ABS level to each mode so that switching modes while riding only alters the traction control or antilock. While the eight-level DTC and Brembo braking system’s three-level Bosch ABS 9MP can both be turned off, these “Ducati Safety Pack” features are standard on all Monster 1200 and 1200 S models sold in the US.

An early adopter of fuel injection and more recently traction control, Ducati does not shy away from bringing the latest technology to the mass market. “We use the technology as an enabler to get the bike much more rounded, safer, and available even for the not super experienced rider,” remarked Domenicali, himself an accomplished rider. “The technology is moving forward very quickly,” he added, “but in the end we’re not forgetting the enjoyment of riding motorcycles.”

A testament to the Monster’s seamless integration of its electronic aids was this fact: At times I forgot I was riding anything other than a highly refined analog machine. Details (such as Ducati’s “e-Grip” throttle having twist spring tension that’s spot-on) make the difference.

The engine has linear power delivery, low vibration levels and a feeling of refinement. Engine surge and excessive drivetrain lash are evident only if you hunt for it, by, say, keeping it under 2,500 rpm in top gear. But that’s not a problem because 3,500 rpm nets an indicated 60 mph in sixth gear.

“Typically, five years ago you had to decide if you had a sporty engine or a comfortable engine, and there was a mechanical tradeoff,” remarked Domenicali, who explained that electronics play a significant role in achieving this refinement. “It’s important for having different type riders on Ducati to offer them an experience which is easier to access,” he added.

The S model’s top-grade 48mm Öhlins fork and shock delivered a ride on the firm side of comfortable. What’s more, with a stubby trellis frame mounted Panigale-style to the cylinder heads and the engine serving as a stressed member, the new Monster exhibited excellent stability and control on Tenerife’s roughest roads. The brakes, snatched from the Panigale parts bin, offered plenty of stopping power, thanks to Brembo Monobloc M50 4-piston front calipers pinching 330mm semi-floating discs. Ducati says the new Monster S, with its 59.5-inch wheelbase and no-compromise brake components, stops in less distance than any other bike in its entire model line.

It’s this heightened level of performance, together with a more user-friendly nature, that makes the all-new Monster 1200 and Monster 1200 S poised to snare an even broader audience.

ENGINE TYPE|1198cc liquid-cooled L-twin
BORE & STROKE|106.0mm x 67.9mm
INDUCTION|EFI with 53mm throttle bodies
VALVE TRAIN|Desmodromic; four valves per cylinder
FRONT SUSPENSION|43mm fork; 5.1 inches travel (Öhlins 48mm on S)
REAR SUSPENSION|Single shock; 5.9 inches travel (Öhlins on S)
FRONT BRAKE|Dual radial-mount four-piston calipers with full-floating 320mm discs (330mm discs on S)
REAR BRAKE|Single 245mm disc
FRONT TIRE|Pirelli Diablo Rosso II, 120/70ZR-17
REAR TIRE|Pirelli Diablo Rosso II, 190/55ZR-17
TRAIL|3.7 in.
WHEELBASE|59.5 in.
SEAT HEIGHT|30.9/31.9 in.
DRY WEIGHT|401 lb.
MSRP|$13,495 (1200), $15,995 (1200 S)