Ducati 1200S Monster

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After years of shoving water-cooled engines into whichever chassis Ducati had lying around,sometimes with dubious results, Ducati has finally built an all-new, water-cooled four-valve Monster from the ground up.The resulting Monster 1200, tested here in the upmarket S trim, combines Ducati’s tried and true Monster formula with its own unique styling cues and a full 1198cc of roaring Italian V-twin. It is, without a doubt, the ultimate Monster.

Engine

The original water-cooled Monsters—the S4, S4R and S4RS—all packed detuned versions of Ducati’s existing Desmodromic superbike motors. However, the 1200S engine is slightly different; while it, too, is derived from the four-valve Testastretta mill found in the 1098/1198 Super-bikes, it is actually a variant developed from the Multistrada.

Like the Multistrada, the Monster 1200S engine measures 106.0mmx 67.9mm and features a raft of changes designed to improve driveability and refinement at lower engine speeds, including the reduced valve overlap (from 41° to the namesake 11°), twin plug heads, secondary air injection, narrower intake and exhaust tracts and throttle bodies tuned to deliver increased low-end torque. It also features an extra point of compression ratio, bumped up to 12.5:1. Like the Multistrada, the Monster 1200S makes use of an exhaust pipe valve to regulate both back pressure and noise along with paired lambda probes. And that exhaust makes an impression, with massive diameters and unusual routing to maintain equal length headers on its way to the vertically-stacked mufflers.

We confirmed that Ducati’s efforts to boost useable power worked as advertised, as the Monster loses about four hp com-pared to the MTS, from 131.1 to 127.3 hp, but boosts torque a full four lb.-ft. higher, from 77.8 to 81.8 lb.-ft. Peak power and torque also shift about 500 rpm lower as well. The big V-twin overflows with low-end torque but still delivers a cammy rush around 6000 rpm. With a good launch, the 1200S engine pushes the compact Monster through a 10.53 sec. quarter-mile at 128.76mph. Zero-60 mph happens in 3.08 sec., 100 mph in just 6.39sec., and the Monster is good for just under 150 mph. Impressive numbers for a sport bike, let alone a naked roadster. Interestingly,the base 1200 is restricted by 10 hp compared to the S.But more important than peak power is the revised engine’s driveability.

This is the best Testastretta 11° we’ve tested yet. The ride-by-wire throttle is finally predictably mapped, and exhibits few of the strange behaviors we’ve encountered on other late model Ducs. Low-rpm fueling is now good enough to provide controllable response below 3000 rpm. The three riding modes—full power with sharp response, full power with a progressive delivery, and a91.75-hp soft response—all give distinct characteristics (although Rain strangles the motor too much), but we settled on the middle Touring setting as the best match for both the engine’s torque and the flowing riding style the Monster seems to encourage.

With the standard Ducati Safety Pack, you also get 8-step adjustable traction control, configurable at a stop for each of the three riding modes,which provides a commendably high intervention level.Despite the improvements, the Monster’s engine package is not perfect, but our complaints are few: vibration can be bother-some, we’d still prefer a more natural RbW response with a bitless dead-zone in the throttle and better fuel economy (merely okay at 35.9 mpg average). But despite the beefy exhaust system,engine heat is well-controlled—and the booming sound from those shotgun exhausts is addictive.

Clutch & Transmission

We’ve been highly critical of the slip-and-assist, self-servo clutches. Low and behold, Ducati has listened… sort of. It seems the solution was to reduce the servo effect with stiffer clutch springs—as we predicted. This reduces the variance we felt at the lever when modulating power for a much more predictable response. Unfortunately, we’ve gotten spoiled by all these light clutch lever pulls,and the stiff Monster lever has us remembering big-bore Ducatis from days long since past.

Finally, although it’s predictable, the engagement range is very narrow, requiring precise control to slip the clutch for hard launches or sneaking through traffic. Until you get used to the clutch, expect some lurchy starts or even a stall or two. The slipper effect is also a bit harsh in use as well.As for the transmission, the Ducati offers minimal drive train lash and six widely-spaced ratios that allow for very low rpm during highway cruising. But like other Ducatis, the shift lever is very stiff, and we found false neutrals anytime we failed to kick the lever hard enough. Neutral is hard to engage and the neutral light and sensor often failed to operate correctly.

CHASSIS AND SUSPENSION Featuring the engine as a central component, subframes bolt directly to the motor to attach front suspension, the tail unit and swing arm, with a steel trellis front and a combination of tubes and cast aluminum brackets at the rear. With the minimal frame sections, the Monster 1200S keeps weight down to 469.5 lbs.Unlike previous trellis-framed Monsters, the new “frameless”design feels like it gives this Monster more balanced chassis flexibility for better feedback. New geometry also smooths the Monster’s handling feel. Compared to the old S4RS, the new Monster 1200S features 0.3° more rake (but 3mm less trail) and 2.8″longer wheelbase, much of which is in the longer single-sided swing arm.

Whereas the Monster S4RS never felt confident enough to truly handle its powerful 998cc motor, the new Monster provides a much greater sense of control despite the extra 200cc. The 1200S includes wonderfully supple Öhlins suspension front and rear, a 48mm male-slider fork and a piggyback shock,both fully adjustable. Öhlins parts are the gold standard for a reason, but they still need to be properly tuned to the application.We found ourselves reaching for the rear compression damping dial for faster back road riding or freeway droning, but this could be done on the fly, which is nice.

We also maxed out the front rebound damping trying to slow the fork’s response, although to little effect, but we figure Ducati wanted the front wheel to stay on the ground as much as possible, as the Monster lifts the front end very easily. Apart from a slight tendency to under steer as the front wheel gets light, the Monster 1200S gives excellent feedback, steers accurately, and oozes road feel.

Taller bars, a compact headlight and that sweet gold Öhlins fork make a good first impression. The headlight uses LED marker
lights and a “super white” headlight bulb for excellent lighting. Braking power and ABS response are ideal. Fork action is very good, but rebound damping was a bit light even with the adjuster at maximum.

Wheels, Brakes & Tires

Another highzoot Italian motorcycle, another set of Brembos. But sometimes status quo can be a good thing. The Monster 1200S uses radial-pump master cylinders for excellent feel, pushing fluid to Brembo’s awesome M50 “Evo” Monobloc radially-mounted front calipers clamping 330mm discs for fantastic stopping power.The brake pads offer an ideal combination of bite and grip with-out too much of either. Out back, a 245mm disc is clamped by a two-piston caliper, but rear braking power was quite weak—ideal for track riding perhaps, but we’d prefer more power.

Connecting these two systems is Bosch’s 9MP ABS, an adjustable system tied into the Ducati’s riding modes. As on other bikes, the 9MP ABS provides the rider with the ability to maintain chassis stability with rear wheel lift prevention, or select more aggressive braking as appropriate. Our test numbers back up our love affair with these brakes, with an ABS stop from 60 mph in 123.65′ and non-ABS stops as short as 119.66’—both excellent numbers.Wheels are lightweight machined aluminum, three-spoke,Y-pattern designs shod with Pirelli Diablo Rosso II rubber, a120/70ZR17 front and a 190/55ZR17 rear. Grip was flawless during our street riding.

Ergonomics

We’re not sure where Ducati finds its Monster development riders, but we think they must have extra knee or ankle joints. As with previous water-cooled Monsters, the 1200S forces the rider’s heels wide around the muffler and passenger peg brackets—the larger the boot size, the bigger the resulting knock-kneed angle.This proves uncomfortable instantly, and can’t be avoided with toes on the foot pegs, making the only solution to ride with your arches on the pegs and your toes dragging very early.

Furthermore, your right calf hugs the rear exhaust heat shield, and both knees clamp onto frame mounting bosses, making lower body ergonomics a bit of a mess. Upper body ergos are better, with a wide, well-angled handlebar and a decently padded saddle adjustable for two angles.The saddle still slopes too aggressively, however, crowding your crotch area against the tall fuel tank. Ignoring the lower body issues,the Monster 1200S features a moderately aggressive riding stance that is good for freeways or sport riding, but less happy in stop-and-go traffic. Combined with the loping engine and larger 4.6gal. fuel tank, it’s still quite passable for longer days in the saddle.

Even with the big motor, the Monster is very narrow, but check out both the passenger foot peg brackets and exhaust routing both conspire to contort the rider’s lower body for awkward sport riding ergonomics.

Riding Impression

Even compared to KTM’s 1290 Super Duke, the Monster 1200S is pure torque, thanks to the Monster’s wheelie-prone chassis. The Duke is faster, of course, but the Ducati’s less refined driveability and snarling engine character make it feel just as wild, making the Monster the most character-rich machine in the class. Individually, the minor flaws of the Ducati—its coarse low-end driveability, the awkward ergos, the slightly odd suspension tuning—can easily detract from the ride, but as a whole, the Monster rider is too busy giggling from the huge rush of sound and power from the Desmo V-twin.

Still, the new Monster isvery fast and doesn’t get out of shape like older desmoquattro Monsters. The 1200S offers decent commuting manners, carves corners like a surgeon and can even hit the highway for longer trips. There are better mounts for doing all of those tasks, but none of them look or sound like a Monster while doing so.

Instruments & Controls

As mentioned, the clutch and shifter on the Monster are very stiff, but brake action is very good. The 1200S shares switch gear with the Multistrada, with the same complaints—too many buttons serve multiple functions, requiring the rider to learn the button presses to control the riding modes and dash functions. The instrument panel on the Monster is quite distinctive, however, with a full color graphical display showing a bar-graph tachometer and a large speed readout. While we like the color display and its concise messages, the unit lacks contrast and is too dim in direct sunlight,especially thanks to the metallic gray background of the display.

Attention to Detail

The electronic subsystems don’t get in the way of the riding experience, preserving the classic Monster formula well. Clever passenger grab rails blend into the bike’s styling, and bungee loops are bolted to the underside of the adjustable saddle. The bike includes a standard rear cowl and the “super-white”-style headlight uses LED marker lighting. In other ways, the Monsteris a bit spartan, lacking a gear position indicator or fuel gauge.Mirrors are well-placed but vibrations blur the images. Overall detailing and styling is excellent, with quality castings, sculpted chassis parts and good paintwork.

Value and Conclusion

For $15,995, the Monster is a compelling and charismatic ride, but it’s hard to call it a strong value, especially when the KTM Super Duke is only $1000 more, and the faster, if slightly anodyne, S1000R can be had for a $1000 less. However, the base Monster 1200 retails for a huge $2500 less than the S, and although you’ll lose the Öhlins suspension, some carbon fiber bits and 10 hp, you’ll still get the style, noise and electronics of this latest Monster. Both are worthy of a test ride.


Tester’s Log

As alluded to in the review, I’ve never really enjoyed previous water-cooled Monsters. To me, they’ve been mediocre chassis forced to swallow big superbike motors, resulting in wayward handling. Ducati went back to the drawing board here and created a big-engine Monster finally capable of delivering balanced handling in addition to big, controllable power.

Of course, it seems Ducati can’t make a Monster without forcing the rider to contort in weird ways, and if I owned this machine, I’d take a hacksaw to the footpeg brackets in order to fix it permanently. But everything else is better, with a decent seat and humane bars. Styling-wise, there’s a bunch of Diavel hiding in this latest Monster, but it all still works wonderfully. What doesn’t work is the price: $16,000 is knocking on KTM’s door, and the KTM smokes this thing. Hell, Kawasaki’s fiesty Z1000 is right with this 1200S. The  latest “Super Monster” is definitely a good machine, but I’d recommend folks test ride the base 1200 first before biting on the S. —Bruce Steever

Not so far-removed from the first water-cooled desmo-quattro Monsters, the new 11° 4-valve motor still doesn’t like low speed running, with a cantankerous attitude below 3000 rpm or about 45 mph, although its APTC clutch is now better behaved, probably as a result of stiffer springs. However, when opened up, its sound is fierce and its acceleration is thrilling. But it also has very noticeable vibration, which can easily tire your hands as the grips are so hard and thin.

On the freeway, the ride is only average, and the windblast gets tiring at 75 mph, but once in the canyons, the Öhlins suspension is magic, giving great poise while the sticky Pirellis supply what feel like endless traction, so the sensation is a big step above what ordinarily passes for good handling. Although the S-model’s M50 Brembo front calipers are almost too powerful, the excellent radial-pump master cylinder allows subtle modulation. The transmission is stiff, and a quick-shifter would be a good addition, but the seat is very nice. And compared to the BMW R nineT, it’s almost a bargain! —Dave Searle

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