Climbing west out of the resort town of Rimini on the Adriatic coast, the rough and narrow pavement twists and turns through the Apennine mountains where vineyards in neat squares look pasted to the land like stamps on an envelope and columns of cypress trees point skywards in perfect rows. I’m riding the updated 2018 Ducati Monster 821, and it complements the timeless beauty of the place as much as its modern lines and burbling 90-degree twin contrast the bucolic vistas. Italy, it seems to me, is a land of symmetry and disorder—a place where the new must contend with the old, and where the quaint and the majestic go hand in hand.
In many ways, such is the case with the middle sibling of Ducati’s Monster lineup. The flagship Monster 1200 casts a long shadow, but where it can be brash and imposing, the 821 takes the ingredients that make the 1200 so enticing and presents them in a more measured way. That includes the price, which at $11,995 is $3,000 less than the 1200.
Introduced to the Monster lineup for 2015, the 821cc 11-degree Testastretta motor is unchanged for 2018, as is the chassis. It receives the same bodywork as the 2017 Monster 1200, featuring a new headlight, a slimmer tank more reminiscent of the original M900, and a redesigned tail section. It also gets a full-color TFT dash, a top-shelf piece that suggests this bike isn’t merely made to a price point, but is an alternative to any rider looking for a sensory experience that isn’t dominated by prodigious power and asphalt-rippling torque.
With a claimed 109 horsepower and 63 lb.-ft. of torque (virtually the same numbers as last year’s model, in spite of a new Euro4-compliant exhaust), the 821’s quick-revving motor pulls from down low with an exhilarating, front wheel-lofting midrange punch all the way up to peak horsepower at 9,250 rpm. Throttle response is excellent, and I didn’t experience any jerkiness or drivetrain lash, so riding through town was a pleasure regardless of riding mode—even if the Italian traffic was more chaotic than it is in my small New York town, where “rush hour” lasts from about 5:00 to 5:15 and there are more tractors than cars.
On our route through the Apennines, the narrow roads were dominated by blind, off camber 180-degree hairpins and third-gear sweepers across scarred and uneven pavement. While this checked outright speed, it put the 821 through its paces. For my 150-lb. frame, the suspension was not overly soft at the pace I was running, though rough surfaces could make the ride harsh as the suspension struggled to cope. I suspect riders over 180 lbs. may find the 821 too softly sprung, and with limited adjustability on tap, there’s not much for it. The handling was confidence-inspiring and I was surprised that the front end felt so planted, providing ample feedback as I wound on the throttle coming out of corners, the burble of the exhaust note transforming into a charismatic, though somewhat muted howl.
With the new bodywork, the 821’s ergos have changed slightly. The slender tank made it easy to move around on the bike and the plush, rounded seat was comfortable all day. Wide bars set the rider somewhat forward, placing weight over the front wheel. Journalists of varying heights tended to agree that the rider triangle was roomy for such a physically compact machine. I only scraped hard parts once on the left side (the side stand, I think), so cornering clearance, at least for someone my weight, is mostly adequate on the road.
Stylish yet utilitarian, practical yet exciting, thoroughly modern but consciously linked to its glorious past, the 821, like Italy itself, blends opposing forces in a harmonious whole, forging its own identity in the process. The 821 isn’t just the Monster 1200’s little sibling. It’s a user-friendly package suitable for less experienced riders, but it’s also competent and engaging in ways that appeal to riders looking for a motorcycle distinguished, not by a single dominant sensation, but by the parity of its parts in pursuit of motorcycling bliss.
|ENGINE TYPE||821cc liquid-cooled 90° V-Twin|
|SEAT HEIGHT||30.9/31.9 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||4.4 gal.|
|CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT||398 lb.|