2015 DUCATI MONSTER 821 – FIRST RIDEA Monster 1200 fitted with the 821cc Testastretta engine. No baloney!
Spare a thought for the long-suffering souls in Ducati’s PR department whose job it is to dream up clever ideas for the many new model launches. Especially when the new model in question isn’t so much new as an addition to an existing family.
And so the tagline for the launch of the 2015 Monster 821 was “Ducati is Bologna.” Which, depending on how you pronounce it, is what rival bike owners (and makers) have been saying all along! But in this case it’s not baloney, but Bologna—a.k.a. Ducati’s hometown, as the factory is located in a suburb called Borgo Panigale. That’s where the name of their latest top-shelf superbike comes from.
Ducati made a big deal out of this association, too, with a welcome speech by the mayor followed by a ride to dinner. This was a bit of a first, as there was a cocktail reception without any cocktails and dinner without any wine—unheard of in Italy! But we got to go on a police-escorted tour of the city and dine in the old mayor’s residence in the city center, parking all 40 of our blood-red bikes in a line and stopping traffic in all directions. It wasn’t quite as grand an affair as when Ducati took over the square to celebrate Casey Stoner’s 2007 MotoGP World Championship, but it was a privilege to be part of nonetheless. When it comes to hosting parties, Ducati does it right.
They do a pretty good job making motorcycles, too, as we discovered the following day when we headed into the Apennine Mountains south of Bologna for a test ride.
At its essence, this latest Monster is the 1200 fitted with the 821cc Testastretta 11º engine from the 2014 Hypermotard. But there’s more to it than that. For starters, there’s a more efficient exhaust system that boosts horsepower by 2 to a claimed 112. And the 1200′s sexy single-sided swingarm was replaced by a double-sided setup in the interest of cost. That change entailed a different rear wheel, shod with a Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tire in a new 180/60 size derived from World Supersport racing.
Like the 1200, the 821 boasts three ride modes, each of which tailors settings for the ride-by-wire throttle, traction control, and anti-lock brakes. Living up to their billing, Urban mode (which reduces power to just 75 hp) did in fact work very well in city traffic, while Touring was wonderful on wet mountain roads. And Sport was even better yet when those roads dried out. Those who remember when the Ducati 851 was a fire-breathing Superbike will have a hard time thinking of the 821 as an “entry-level” machine, but between the variable ride modes and the low, adjustable seat, it actually fits the bill.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise: The liquid-cooled, four-valve-per-cylinder, dohc engine proved every bit as flexible as the air-cooled, two-valve, sohc lump it replaces. It’s also much smoother, and mechanically quieter, though how the raucous exhaust passes noise standards is anyone’s guess. Its rapid-fire staccato idle is reminiscent of a top-fuel dragster, and it sounds even more glorious under deceleration. Another pleasant surprise is the six-speed gearbox, which in conjunction with the cable-actuated wet slipper clutch shifts better than any Ducati in recent memory.
Handling is no less praiseworthy, as the bike steers perfectly neutral and flicks from edge to edge with little effort. The Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial front brakes are exemplary, with excellent feel and stopping power. The only fly in the ointment is the non-adjustable 43mm fork, which provides excellent feedback from the front tire but deflects over bumps. Chalk that up to cost as well.
We only have three real complaints. First, heat radiating off the right-side exhaust headers bakes your thigh and calf at a standstill. Second, the passenger footpeg brackets force your heels out at an awkward angle if you try to ride on the balls of your feet. And third, the rubber-covered footpegs are slippery when wet.
Those nits aside, the 821 is a winner. The Italian engineers have done a fine job of producing a modern mid-size Monster that possesses all the qualities of its forebears while meeting tough Euro 3 emissions standards.