The Bike That Saved Ducati

And It Wasn’t Always Called The Monster

By Marc Cook, Photography by Kevin Wing, Motorcyclist Archives, Ducati

It’s customary to praise Ducati for developing the sexiest, best-performing, and most-memorable superbikes on the planet—iconic shapes like the 851 and its smooth brother, the 888; dramatic leaps from the mundane like the 916; radical departures from orthodoxy like the controversial 999; and in-your-face technological feats like the Panigale. To name just the more recent efforts. But Ducati is more than a purveyor of dream machines, it’s also a business. And for the men who clack away on adding machines or toil in the virtual hell that is an Excel spreadsheet, one Ducati motorcycle stands far above the rest: the Monster.

Without the Monster, now celebrating 20 years at the head of the naked-bike class, Ducati as a company might have been far less successful. In serious jeopardy, even. It’s true that superbikes spur the imagination and earn magazine covers, but they’re expensive to design and build, and so they’re expensive to sell, a natural throttle on sales volume. What the dealers needed, even if they didn’t know they wanted it, was a motorcycle that traded on Ducati’s storied past, embraced its future, and appealed to a broad section of riders for wholly different reasons. Sporting types saw the first Monster’s superbike-based frame and top-notch running gear. New riders recognized a low seat and a docile engine. And a completely different sort of human found intrinsic beauty in this stripped-down machine. As in Field of Dreams, buyers arrived at the Monster not knowing exactly why they were there. They just were.

Perhaps it’s elemental. The Ducati Monster appears to be so very simple because, well, it is. Two wheels. An engine. A place for the rider. A shapely fuel tank tying a minimalist headlight/instrument cluster to an equally minimalist tail. In one motion, the M900—not yet called, officially, the Monster—cast off the styling affectations of the early 1990s and established a new (old) style, the naked bike. Remember, this was a period when bikes were becoming fully clothed—think plastic-clad bikes like the Honda Hurricane and Ducati Paso.

“This was an interesting time,” notes Miguel Galluzzi, the Monster’s creator. “I was at Honda (Europe) and we were working on the second generation of fully covered CBRs. We used to get these Japanese motorcycle magazines, the kind that had a big photo of a bike without any body, just the engine and chassis. One day I saw a Ducati 851 photo and immediately began a sketch over the top. It was simple, just a tank and a seat. I knew we would never do it at Honda, so I put the idea away. It’s funny, the first sketch of the Monster was done on Honda time.” Galluzzi smiles broadly and holds his palms up, a gesture to say that the statute of limitations on shirking must surely have expired.

Galluzzi eventually moved from Honda to Cagiva in Varese, then the owners of Ducati. “In the first week I was there, I met with [Massimo] Bordi, who was my boss. I showed him the sketch. He only said, ‘Sure, sure, some day.’ I knew that we had bigger projects. But every time I would see him, I would show him the sketch. I was like a hammer, pounding and pounding.”

One of Galluzzi’s first projects at Cagiva was a version of the 750 SuperSport with a truncated fairing. “I like that idea, to show the Ducati engine. And we did build one mockup. But the marketing people did not like it. They said, ‘It will not sell.’ I was allowed to pursue the project but I had to make a full-faired version for the Cologne show. We had four days to complete it. That bike [the 750SS] was shown with the fairing but we later produced the one without the lower fairing. When I cut the fairing off the bike, I went to Bordi and said, ‘This is the way it should be done.’”

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