The Bike That Saved Ducati

And It Wasn’t Always Called The Monster

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

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.’”

By the summer of 1990, Galluzzi was not overwhelmed by work at Cagiva. “I went back to Bordi and asked if I could start the Monster as a side project. He said okay. ‘You can go to Ducati and get some parts and see what you can do.’ But at the time, it was more important to create the next Paso. That’s where the energy was going.”

Galluzzi began the work alone but, after meeting with Cagiva boss Claudio Castiglioni, was given an assistant to develop the prototype Monster. “They gave me a guy who was used to hammering aluminum. We were nearly done with the mockup, but we made a lot of little things out of aluminum, little covers and even the front fender. We worked in a small workshop, and eventually management wanted to see what I was doing. You know, they were worried that I was working on something, spending a lot of time, and all they had seen was a sketch.” Soon after, Cagiva brass gathered in the tiny workshop and saw the mockup of the Monster. “They looked at it,” says Galluzzi, “and said, ‘Is that it?’ I said yes, that’s all there is.”

Detailing was incredibly important to the Monster’s designer. “I wanted everything just so. That’s critical when you have so little body. You can’t hide anything. There is an interesting story on the headlight. I wanted a big look, a round, classic headlight. I knew a guy who collected old motorcycle parts and he let me into his shop. It was filled to the roof with old parts. I found an old headlight from a Laverda, made by Bosch. It was perfect.” It was meant to be. In later research for production, it emerged that this very headlight design had been used by Ducati before, on the Pantah. In fact, Ducati still had a few of the originals in stock. “I had no idea,” recalls Galluzzi. “But it was good luck.”

By the end of 1990, Galluzzi had finished the prototype. But Ducati, he says, “told us, ‘Thanks, but we don’t need it now.’ We were supposed to get some pictures taken and that was it.” For the moment, it appeared that the Monster was on hold. It would not be for long. “I convinced Castiglioni to bring the bike to Ducati during a big importers’ meeting. That was the first time we presented it.” At the end of the meeting, Castiglioni told the importers that he had one more thing to show them, and that if they liked it, maybe Ducati would consider building it. The response to the Monster was, Galluzzi recalls, overwhelming.

Ducati, recognizing a good thing, was then ready to push ahead with production. “But we had a lot of work to do,” recalls Galluzzi. “When we started, we didn’t know if the bike would go very far, so we used only existing parts. The frame was pure 851. We thought we could change the subframe to make it work, but that was all we did at the time. Many details were unresolved, and the bike would change quite a lot from the first mockup through prototypes and into production.”

Galluzzi was more than just the Monster’s original designer, he was the protector of the essential concept. “We had lots of discussions,” he says. “The engineers had different ideas, and I had to convince them to stay with the main concept. But it wasn’t that difficult. I think anyone who saw the prototype Monster understood what it meant without having to be told.”

In Galluzzi’s mind, a motorcycle with minimal bodywork needs to have precisely the right bodywork to pull it off. “But, you know,” he says, “I didn’t really do a lot of different sketches for the Monster. What we made just seemed right. We tried for some nice detail, like the raised edge around the fuel filler, but tried very hard just to keep it simple.”

As the Monster neared production, its name had not been settled. Galluzzi had casually named it for a popular toy in Italy: finger-high monsters that kids loved. “Every time I would come back to the U.S. from Italy, my sons would ask, ‘Did you get me a monster?’ It seemed right for the bike.” But the marketing department was not convinced; in fact, the staff was concerned that the name had a negative connotation in the U.S. Debate continued until after the bike was shown at the 1992 Cologne show, where it was called the M900. Galluzzi recalls a conversation at Cologne with an importer, who had seen the early mockup and had followed the bike’s development, knowing that it was called il mostro internally. He told Galluzzi, “Why don’t you just call it Monster? That’s perfect!”

And so it was. Immediate success in the press and in the marketplace at first, with strong sales lasting far longer than anyone dared predict. New versions arrived almost every year—different engine displacements and types (air- and liquid-cooled), a wide range of trim levels, different suspension and wheels and brakes—enough to make the purchasing department crazy. But even with sales still strong, Bologna realized the Monster had grown too long in tooth. In 2002 work began on a replacement, which had to be one of the toughest assignments in the company.

“Changing the Monster was difficult,” says Andrea Ferraresi, who was head of Ducati’s design center for the Monster’s first major rework that debuted for the 2008 model year. “We modified the bike quite a lot over the years, but were careful not to lose sight of what the Monster was supposed to be.” It is fitting that the final iteration of the first-generation Monster—okay, you can say it was Version 1.5—reflected a lot of the initial hopes of its designer. Where Galluzzi hoped for a four-valve engine, the S4RS used the latest Testastretta powerplant. The high pipes had mufflers in a cross section not too dissimilar to those of the first Monster mockup. And, most important, the bodywork itself, what there was of it, could easily pass for that of the very first Monster’s.

Working to sketch a replacement for a legend might seem daunting, but designer Bart Janssen-Groesbeek says it was not. “I had a lot of fun doing the project, but as you can imagine, from the outside, it was seen with more trepidation. We blacked out the current bike, made just a profile view, a silhouette. That was our starting point. The Monster is unique. If you see it in a shadow, walk up to it from 20 meters, there’s only one bike it can be. That was, in essence, our starting point.”

The second-gen chassis would be all new, featuring a composite of steel-tube trellis architecture—so much a visual signature of the Monster—with cast-aluminum subsections made possible by then-new casting techniques. Janssen-Groesbeek reflects briefly on the benefits of this generation. “An important difference between now and when Galluzzi did the original Monster is that he had to use an existing chassis. Ducati was not in a position to design a new chassis for the Monster then. We approached it the other way around, designing an entirely new chassis. We were able to do a few things. For example, we could make the tail look higher without raising the seat height, which is important to the Monster customer. We could create a bit of daylight between the frame and the wheel, which increases the bike’s visual rake, without raising the seat.”

Ultimately, Ducati was able to refresh the Monster without losing any of its charm. In fact, the company correctly simplified the options, which once were vast, down to a pair of air-cooled, two-valve engines (a third was added later). For those who wanted a more serious Monster, there was the Hypermotard and the Streetfighter. With this lineup, the Monster could return to its role as elemental motorcycle.

For Ducati, the success of the Monster has been its lifeblood, making possible such machines as the Desmosedici and the Panigale, but also keeping its dealers afloat with relatively affordable, broad-reach motorcycles that welcome beginners and excite experienced riders. In the years since Galluzzi sketched over an 851 photo, the world has changed dramatically—fresh competition from European manufacturers, a few shots over the bow from Japanese brands—but the Monster prevails. When you consider that the basic concept of the Monster has not changed drastically in the last 20 years, and that the bike is still as relevant as ever, it’s all just a bit amazing. But logical, when you stop to think about it: This was too good an idea, too wisely executed, to drift quietly into history. Here’s to another 20 years of the Monster.

By the Numbers

4400 Number of Monsters built in the first year of production, 1993.

12,000 Number of 696 Monsters sold in 2009, the first Ducati model to sell more than 10,000 bikes in one year. 

35 Dry weight difference, in pounds, between the 1993 M900 (408 lbs.) and the 2013 Monster 1100 Evo (373 lbs.).

27 Claimed horsepower difference between the same bikes (M900: 73 bhp; Monster 1100 Evo: 100 bhp).

300 Number of “Foggy Edition” Monster S4s made in 2002, to honor British Superbike racer Carl Fogarty.

405 Number of Monsters gathered on Sept. 21, 2008, in Hamme-Moerzeke, Belgium, breaking the Guinness Record for the “largest parade of motorcycles of the same brand and type.”

The Forever Brute
Today’s Monster isn’t all that different from the original, even as it shares almost no parts, has been visually refreshed a couple of times, and sells into a motorcycling culture two decades removed from those heady days of 1993. It remains potent—especially in 1100 Evo form—and charismatic, with a prominent intake honk and just enough mechanical presence so you’d never mistake it for a Honda. Firm riding and agile, the ’13 Monster is, as was the original, a true sportbike that just happens to be naked. It’s this combination that made it a legend.

Monsters Through the Years

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