2018 Ducati Ducati Monster 821 – First Ride
'New' middle Monster keeps a lot of its old traits
With a quarter-century's worth of skin in the game and 323,000 units sold, Ducati's Monster is an important figurehead in the world of naked street bikes. I'm a big, big fan of middleweight nakeds, as I reckon the recipe of around-about 100 horsepower (give or take 10), a capable and sprightly chassis, and a set of wide 'bars makes for some of the best fun there is to be had on two wheels. It's an extremely versatile and approachable recipe and that's why Ducati, and other manufacturers, has sold its own twist of the recipe in spades.
The Monster 821 was never one of my absolute favorites, though. While I (like everyone else) was a fan of its throaty bark and up-front power delivery, the rear end always looked a bit disappointing, and the single-unit foot peg arrangement was simply annoying both to use and to look at. So, my ears pricked up a fortnight ago when I heard whispers that Ducati was to imminently launch a "new" middle-weight naked, and it seemed like a no brainer to skip straight to the conclusion that the Monster 821 was about to evolve into a Monster 939. Ducati's 937cc Testastretta 11 - crucially Euro4 compliant - has found itself a home in a wide range of Ducati's bikes all the way from the Hypermotard and new Supersport range, to the baby Multistrada 950, so why wouldn't it find another home in a Monster? Turns out, upon receiving an invite to ride a Monster 821 in Rimini, that the Monster 821 is to stay as exactly that, with no extra 116 cc on the way.
The Monster 821 is the middle child in the Monster family and sits in between the entry-level and freshly launched 797, and the balls-out 1200. According to Stefano Tarabusi, product development manager at Ducati, the Monster 821 is suitable for everything from a gentle ride to the shops to a blast round your favorite country road or track, or even crossing a country or two. Therefore, it's the most rounded Monster and really doesn't need changing all that much. Instead, this update would be about making the 821 "more beautiful and more sophisticated," which goes some way towards explaining the lack of change in engine capacity.
What's actually new?
Just like the Monster 797, the 821 now finds itself sporting the tank and headlight from its bigger sister, the 1200. And yes, that means it has the entirely pointless but unique and distinctive tank "catch" as a nod back to Monsters from yesteryear. The pillion seat has been remodeled to be much pointier and aggressive, and the exhaust silencer has been updated to look exactly like the 1200's asymmetric design (presumably it also allows it to house a larger and more durable catalyst, too). This means all three Monsters share a closer design language and therefore look convincingly like siblings rather than a mix of friends and family. It's also worth noting that the 821 Stripe (launched in 2015 with riding modes and adjustable forks) was exiled, and no longer finds itself in the family photo album.
By far the biggest change, though, is to the electronics, and this comes in two parts. First the old, letterbox-esque LCD dashboard has been consigned to the trash can in favor of a thoroughly modern color TFT display. Second, Ducati have thrown a full-on electronics package as standard at the 821 and that means full ride-by-wire with 8-level configurable traction control, three-level configurable ABS, and three engine maps. and Sadly, the best bit – an up-down quickshifter – is only available as an option. All of this electronic wizardry is clearly aimed at bringing the Monster 821 much closer to its biggest rival - Triumph's Street Triple 765 - and is exactly what Stefano meant by making the Monster 821 more sophisticated.
READ MORE: 2017 Triumph Street Triple RS – First Ride
There are a few other important changes too: the seat height is now adjustable between 810 mm and 785 mm (there's a low seat option, too, at 765mm), and the rear tire is now a much more commonly found 180/55 rather than a very choice-limiting 180/60 of old. With the change to the tank from the 1200, it loses a litre (0.26 US Gal.) of capacity, and it's a kilo heavier when dry, which we'll blame on Euro4. On that note, due to Euro4, the 821cc motor is down 3 hp on the outgoing Euro3 model and 3.5 Nm less torque, meaning the output is now 109 hp and 86 Nm (63 lb-ft) of torque respectively. (Man, one of these days we should decide whether to run with all metric or all imperial –CC) The rest - bore, stroke, compression ratio, brakes, rake, trail, suspension, wheelbase, gearing, sprockets, chain-size, you name it - remain completely identical to the previous 821.
Riding the thing
When I think of riding in Europe I think of fantastic asphalt, corners seemingly lifted from race tracks and and a delightful absence of other traffic (and, er, law enforcement). Alas that wouldn't be the case for the test ride, as Ducati chose to launch the 821 on Rimini's rather rutted and ruinous roads. In our favor, at least, was the weather, which was wall-to-wall sunshine in the mid 70s (24C), a solid guarantee that we'd be able to ride this naked middleweight as Ducati intended (unlike the rained-out Monster 797 launch earlier in the year)
At idle the 821 still has a fruity, "blappy" exhaust note. Thank goodness; I was worried that Euro 4 would have done its usual thing and neutered the Monster's bark. It's not quite as loud as the outgoing model, but there's still plenty of unmistakeable Ducati L-twin noise.
Outbound from the beach-side hotel we had 6 miles or so of urban roads to battle traffic before reaching the roads that lead out into the foothills of the Apennines. With this first stretch in mind before the twisties, Ducati had thoughtfully set the bikes into Touring mode, but I opted to switch into Urban mode, which Ducati claims delivers a progressive throttle response and 75 hp. I lasted barely a mile before switching back into Touring mode, which offers the full 109 hp (and a progressive throttle response). Thankfully it only takes a few clicks with your left hand to switch between modes on the ultra clear TFT screen while on the move. I couldn't really see the need for Urban mode (which also ditches information like RPM from the dashboard) in anything but the most inclement conditions, especially when the Monster 821 has sophisticated Bosch traction control. And anyway, with enthusiastic Italian drivers driving as Italians do, having a bit more power on tap to dart out of the way of danger was a good thing.
As usual with Ducati, applying the first fraction of the throttle uncovers jerky fueling, but beyond that it's smooth and progressive. Neutral is dead easy to find and you can ride around town completely on autopilot: everything is where you'd expect to find it (indicators on the Panigale I'm looking at you) and the clutch lever is light in its action with the bite point in a predictable place.
With town out of the way and the roads getting narrower and twistier, and the pace faster, the Pirelli Diablo Rosso IIIs, wide 'bars, and Brembo M4.32s started to come into their own, but I decided to leave Sport mode until a little later on. The front brakes are so overbearingly powerful that they expose the 43mm Kayaba forks as the only weak point. They're very easily overwhelmed with the weight transfer under medium to heavy braking, of which there's plenty on these kinds of roads. Frustratingly, you can't dial this behavior out due to their non-adjustable nature (the Sachs rear shock, however, is adjustable, but there was little complaint there). Despite the over-sprung forks, the Monster 821 will generally go exactly where you point it once you've settled it into a corner. That's an ability helped by the 'bars, decent riding position, and ground clearance of the foot pegs. You certainly won't be grinding the pegs without also grinding other parts of the bike. My pre-ride notes observed the fact the pegs are coated in rubber, but this didn't seem to detract from the grip available to boots (I assume the rubber coating is for vibration damping, which also wasn't an issue).
As mentioned earlier, the ace in the sleeve of the electronics package is its ability to work with an up-down quickshifter (an accessory that will cost you about US $200, or £160). I can't get my head around why Ducati didn't fit this option as standard given how utterly brilliant they are. A shifter/blipper combination would have helped no end on Rimini's bumpy roads by freeing up valuable thinking space to allow me to try to pick a line between the potholes and ruts in the road, and deal with the shortcomings of the fork. I'd imagine dealers could be tempted into throwing them in for free to secure sales.
Switching to Sport mode really sharpens up the throttle response, enough that firing out of tight corners in 1st or 2nd gear will see the front wheel lift easily. In fact, with its relatively short rotation, spirited riding will see you twisting the throttle to the stop regularly. With traction control set to its lowest setting I had the rear spinning up numerous times when overtaking traffic over white painted lines (before being caught neatly by the traction control system). The 'bars get a little flighty when applying gobs of power, so I can't help but think a steering damper would make a nice addition. But it's not available as an option. Peak power comes in at 9,250 rpm and the red line is at 10,500 rpm, with peak torque at 7,750 rpm. When the engine is really singing its heart out there isn't much in the way of induction or airbox noise, just lots of valve-train noise instead - the polar opposite of Yamaha's MT-09 and Triumph's Street Triple. It does, however, emit the odd nice pop and bang from the exhaust and the slipper clutch works very well on super enthusiastic downshifts.
Regarding comfort, I was comfy all day with no leg stretching or wrist wringing required. My only complaint is that the frame-stops under the tank stick out a fair bit, and I caught the armor in my jeans on them regularly when moving around on the bike between corners. Others complained of the same thing. Build quality and packaging is exactly as you'd expect from the Bolognan outfit: top quality, no complaints at all. The adjuster on the brake lever is particularly premium and makes others (with those big spinny chrome discs) look horribly tacky by comparison. It's the small things, right? I think the pipe work from the radiator to the engine on the left-hand side is a bit messy, but that's probably just me.
On our return to the hotel I found myself doing two things: first noting that I'd managed 42.2 mpg (35.2 mpg US) over 110 miles (52.3 mpg / 43.5 mpg US claimed); and second, wondering what I'd look back on in 6 months and remember about the Monster 821. The answer is: I'm not really sure.
It's a good bike, but not a great one. There's just nothing remarkable about it. There is no one killer feature, but plenty of smaller nice ones. I like the looks, I like the level of kit (forks aside), I like its punch in 3rd gear and its farty exhaust. But none of us got off the bikes grinning from ear to ear, begging Mr Ducati for another spin. I think the quick-shifter/blipper (Ducati DQS) as standard would have made a difference, as would more airbox noise for a more intoxicating riding experience. In a world where Triumph's Street Triple 765 R or RS comes with an even more fancy dashboard, an absolute blinder of an engine and a fantastic (and adjustable) suspension package, the Monster 821, for more or less the same money (£9,999 / US $11,995), seems to come up a bit short. But if you're after a twin, then the 821 is your only good choice - everything else in its peer group is either a triple (MT-09, Street Triple) or a 4-pot (Kawasaki's Z900).
I think, ultimately, if you buy a Monster 821 it's because you want a Monster 821. It's the only naked middleweight that gets to wear that badge, sport that yellow paint (it does also come in red and matte black) and make that noise. It is, simply, the easiest Monster 821 to live with yet - especially with its crazy big service and valve check intervals - and that's no bad thing.
Randle's real name: Eric Blair
Height: 5 feet 9 inches
Build: Slim but fit (lots of cycling)