Ducati Love is Never Quixotic | Man of LaMonsta

By Ed Milich, Photography by Ed Milich

Ducati Monsters. I’ve owned more than 50 of ‘em. I buy them to ride, fix, flip, part out, and stash spares. I get them from disinterested, cash-strapped, and crash-damaged owners. I hunt them down via classified ads and harvest them from the backs of garages and under sun-faded tarps in disheveled backyards. Many of my Monsters were neglected, crashed, or worse. A few were even famous.

Four weeks ago, I bought a 2004 M620 for $400. It sat for 2 years after being totaled by a U-turning taxi in downtown San Francisco. The owner showed me his resulting scar. The trail of stitches ran from his groin to his neck. He, understandably, promised his family “no more bikes.” Everything forward of the steering head went into my metal recycling pile. The engine and rearward parts were still good, though.

I just picked up an early yellow 1994 M900 in Long Beach, CA, with 3300 original miles for $1200. It showed $2500 in aftermarket wheels and brakes. Score. It was lightly crashed and had current registration. I was in LA for a few days and needed a ride. So I slid an old fork tube around the bent handlebar and muscled it back into shape. I replaced the shattered right side footpeg mount with a spare from my stash. Hours later, I jumped on and followed former Motorcyclist Editor-in-Chief Brian Catterson to an event featuring the Monster’s creator, Miguel Galluzzi. My comment to Mr. Galluzzi: “We are at opposite ends of the product life cycle.” He chuckled.

Years ago, I found an M750 in Santa Monica on Craigslist for $900. The owners had a baby coming and priced it for a quick sale. I handed them cash within 3 hours of their Craigslist ad appearing. That little Monster was a keeper—it was my daily driver for years. I eventually added a second brake disc and caliper, and dyno-tuned it to crisp-throttled perfection. The 750s are underappreciated.

One semi-famous, purple-painted, star-spangled M750 named Fred was featured in the Ducati People book. Fred showed 40K on the clock when I put him down. It was time. His frame and engine mounts were cracked from years of urban pothole-hammering. His purple fuel tank remains atop my kitchen refrigerator.

Play with damaged bikes and you see the same things over and over. Monster tanks dent instantly when they’re dropped—the handlebar switches hit first, on the front of the tank. Footpeg mounts fragment instantly in a crash. Kokusan ignition modules sometimes fail. Early frames can crack at the steering-head gusset. Clutch slave cylinders leak and then blow out regularly. Dry clutch hubs and baskets notch. Early cylinder studs are brittle and can break, causing poor running.

Curiously, the fork is almost infallible. I’ve seen frames completely detached from the steering head after a frontal impact, triple clamps bent up badly and axles tweaked so hard I had to cut them off. But the fork legs were still straight.

Monsters work just fine stock, but an aftermarket Arrow, Remus, or Termignoni exhaust will give the beast a harsher snarl and boost performance. To tune a fuel-injected bike, you’ll have to hack the ECU or add a Power Commander. On a carbed bike, install a jet kit or, even better, bolt on Keihin FCR flatslide carbs. The stock CV carbs are comparatively slow in response. I’ve seen Monsters with clips-ons and aftermarket rearsets. My advice? Leave ‘em stock.

Two-valve Ducs are pretty tame. I’ve seen them still running strong after 100,000 miles. And even the 55-horsepower M620 is capable and fun. Regular maintenance is essential, though; never ignore the cam belts. For the brave, the 100-plus-bhp, 916-engined S4 is a clear Alpha Monster. S4R and S4RS models, even more so. Just watch out for S4 maintenance costs—up to $1200 for a full service with valve adjust.

You might argue that the Monster is a victim of its own success, and its ubiquity detracts from its appeal. If so, climb down from your high horse and ride one. These are undeniably good, multi-talented bikes—fine for commuting, sport riding, or even touring. The low seat and pullback handlebars balance comfort and sport. And nothing puts the machismo in your gizmo like a growling cold startup on a Monster with performance pipes.

In the designer’s own words, the Monster was intended as little more than “…a saddle, tank, engine, two wheels and handlebars.” I’m privileged to have spent so much time with my many Monsters. Two decades later, Galluzzi’s beast has truly left its mark.

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