Ducati Monster 1100 EVO Vs. Triumph Speed Triple | Tough Love

From Europe with Attitude!

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

Naked bikes exude an attitude all their own. One look at the Ducati Monster 1100 EVO and Triumph Speed Triple and you know they pack a punch. They don’t use sleek bodywork to broadcast their intentions. The aggression is wrought in the metal itself.

Designer Miguel Galluzzi envisioned it first. His Mostro brainchild was born as we all are: naked. The trend-setting M900 wheelied out of Ducati’s Bologna factory in 1993, sending a shockwave through the industry. The following year in England, Triumph unleashed the Speed Triple: 855cc of stripped-down streetfighter badness.

Sportbike performance coupled with upright ergonomics made these mad machines a hit from day one. Stronger, lighter and more nimble than their pre-decessors, the latest Monster and Speed Triple were built to evoke excitement.

As soon as it showed up at the MC M.C., the Speed Triple’s keys were in high demand. The previous model was the bike on which to prowl the concrete jungle, and the long list of updates for 2011 promised to make it better still. The bike’s biggest draw is its 1050cc three-cylinder engine—a magnificent powerplant that produces gobs of buttery torque everywhere in the rev range. The long-stroke triple needed nothing, but Triumph went ahead and enlarged the air filter, tweaked the fueling and altered the exhaust to improve fuel economy and power.

Chassis updates are extensive and include an all-new frame and lighter, longer swingarm. The tank, fender and tail are reshaped, and small cowls now reside on either side of the radiator. In an effort to improve handling, Triumph’s engineers steepened the steering geometry and shifted the engine forward. Pulling the bars back, sliding the footpegs forward and simultaneously lowering, lengthening and narrowing the seat compressed the cockpit to yield a more upright riding position. New, restyled wheels cut a combined 6.4 lbs. of unsprung weight, despite a wider rear shod with a 190mm Metzeler. Last but not least, the Triumph’s iconic, bug-eye round headlights were replaced with angular units to “avoid stagnation.”

The only thing that distracted staffers from the Speed Triple was Ducati’s new Monster 1100 EVO. Few bikes match the Monster’s character, and that EVO suffix guaranteed more of everything. The engine is the same as that introduced on the 2010 Hypermotard 1100 EVO and features high-compression pistons, more aggressive cams and reshaped ports said to improve midrange performance and peak power. The chassis boasts a new Marzocchi fork, a touch less trail and a slightly taller handlebar.

As with all Monsters the 1100 is raw and exposed, yet the EVO is more refined than ever. A new flank-mounted shotgun muffler replaces the previous dual underseat cans and the rider and passenger footpegs are now separate entities instead of one incongruous casting. The bike is also blessed with anti-lock brakes and traction control, all while maintaining the price of the Monster 1100 it replaces.

Warming up these two bikes filled the garage with a rousing sound. The Triumph’s noise is more unusual: an arresting mix of high-pitch intake whir played over a monotonous, deep exhaust note. The Ducati idles at a relaxed lope, its mufflers emitting a thumping beat overlaid with a sharp mechanical din emanating from its air-cooled cylinders. Twisting the Monster’s throttle adds intake blare to the melody as the 90-degree V-twin spins up.

Throw a leg over the EVO and it feels compact yet spacious. A longer reach to a lower handlebar combined with lower, more rearset footpegs make for a slightly more crouched riding position than on the Triumph. Despite its purposeful ergonomics the EVO is quite comfortable, primarily because the flatter, softer seat no longer forces the “family jewels” into the back of the gas tank.

The Speed Triple feels bigger in all respects. A higher, wider bar located closer to the seat places the rider bolt-upright in the saddle. The Triumph offers a little less legroom than the Ducati, but feels narrower at the waist. Fully fueled, the liquid-cooled Speed Triple is 54 lbs. heavier than the air-cooled Monster. That difference is more significant on paper than it is on the road.

Maneuverable and quick with liberal steering sweep, both of these bikes are adept at threading through the traffic that stands between twisty two-lane backroads and us. Loads of torque put the Triumph in motion in a hurry, and its omnipresence is a constant temptation for anti-social behavior. Shifting is crisp but largely unnecessary in the city, and the wide-spaced mirrors remain clear as the counterbalanced engine thrums away beneath you. Softer suspension does a fine job of absorbing vertical deflections while the radiator shrouds effectively channel hot air away from the rider.

As refined as this umpteenth iteration is, the Monster maintains its identity as a machine. It sounds raw, shakes considerably and has a rough-edged feel. First gear is stiff and the hydraulic clutch has a narrow engagement zone, so smooth getaways require finesse. Once underway the Monster is nimble and balanced, although firmer suspension makes for a jarring ride on rough roads. Like most Ducatis the mirrors blur the moment you touch the starter button, and in slow-moving traffic heat from the header pipes warms your right leg. It’s an idiosyncratic machine, but its quirks are endearing. More pragmatic riders will prefer the Triumph’s taller stance, shifting-is-optional engine and softer suspension, but riding either bike will transform your commute from frustrating to fun.

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