Ducati Monster 796 | First Ride

Best of Both Worlds

By Roland Brown, Photography by Milagro

When I rode the Hypermotard 796 a few months back I was impressed with the bike's new engine, and immediately thought how nice it would be to slip the 803cc mill into a Monster chassis. Barely six months later, the Monster 796 is here.

I'd assumed the larger engine would simply replace the 696 motor, giving an improved base-model Monster. After all, Ducati has used this tactic before, most notably when updating the Monster 600 to the 620 in 2001.

That solution would doubtless have made a good bike, but Ducati wanted a three-bike Monster range so opted to keep the 696 and fit the Hypermotard 796 engine into the Monster 1100's chassis to create a higher specification middleweight model. To show it's a bit upmarket, the Monster 796 is dressed up in bikini fairing and has the same single-sided swingarm as its big brother.

The 796 also borrows its larger sibling's wider wheels, which wear Pirelli's Diablo Rosso tires rather than the 696's narrower wheels and Angel ST rubber. The steel-trellis frame is identical on all three Monsters, but the 796's tubes get a bright-red finish. It also has a new steel rear subframe that has been beefed up to take Ducati's aftermarket grab handles.

The Monster looks striking in standard white, red or black paint, but the bike I rode at the introduction in Bologna featured the stunning Corse color scheme, which is one of seven styles available though Ducati's new Monster Art customization program.

The Monster's 803cc V-twin is mechanically identical to the Hypermotard's, but a larger airbox and less restrictive exhaust give the Monster a leg up on its supermoto brother. The Monster churns out a respectable 87 horsepower at 8250 rpm. That's 6 up on the Hyper and 7 up on the littlest Monster.

I'd have struggled to say which Monster I was on as I climbed aboard the bike outside the factory. One clue is a new handlebar riser that lifts the one-piece bar by about an inch. Feedback from Monster owners prompted that change, as well as lowering the seat by a quarter-inch. Ducati has made an effort to make the Monster rider-friendly, and they've done a fair job. The APTC slipper clutch's action is light and steering lock is generous enough to make U-turns easy. Most importantly, though, is the fact that both handlebar levers are now reach-adjustable. Although the digital instrument panel looks neat and the bar tach works well, the speedo is too small to be easily legible.

Heading through the urban Borgo Panigale district outside the Ducati factory's gates, the Monster felt right at home. At a claimed 370 pounds dry, it's very light, and it felt that way as I flicked it through the traffic gaps. The V-twin motor responds well, although there is a hint of abruptness to the delivery-nothing annoying, but enough to make me wonder whether the option of a softer fuel-injection mode for gentle riding, as Aprilia's Shiver has, would be a useful improvement.

The 796's real advantage became clear as soon as I got onto an open road and cracked the throttle open. From anywhere above 3000 rpm the Ducati leapt forward, growling through its airbox and accelerating with much more enthusiasm than the Monster 696, which is disappointingly feeble below 6000 rpm. The stronger midrange delivery made the 796 not only quicker and more fun, but also easier to ride, requiring less shifting.

Handling was as good as you'd expect of a light, well-suspended bike with fairly sporty geometry and a wide handlebar. There are some superb twisty roads in the hills near Monte San Pietro to the southwest of Bologna, and the Monster's blend of flexible power delivery and light, precise steering made it wonderfully agile in tight, blind bends.

The suspension did a good job when the pace heated up, too. It's identical to that of the Monster 696, with a non-adjustable 43mm Showa fork up front and a Sachs shock out back. Both ends were fairly firm and well damped for sport riding, but compliance suffered on rough pavement.

I had no complaints about the Pirelli Diablo Rosso rubber, which allowed me to experiment with the Monster's generous cornering clearance without concern. The brakes did a great job, too. Brembo radial four-pot calipers and big discs are more than enough for this bike. ABS, which costs an additional $1000 and adds 5 lbs., works flawlessly and is one option I would pay extra for without hesitation. On wet roads it will make the Monster quicker as well as safer.

Ducati looks to have plotted a skilful course with the Monster range, which is now back up to three models (though many more if you count the optional ABS and various color options). The entry-level 696 remains a good value for riders who want an inexpensive Monster with the full complement of signature Monster style. At the other end, the 1100's extra grunt and more refined front end make it unquestionably the best model for experienced riders, unless they're very small.

And the Monster 796 does a good job of filling the gap in between, offering more of the 1100's power and style at a price that's only $1000 more than that of 696. That might just make it Ducati's best value.

Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!

*Please enter your username

*Please enter your password

*Please enter your comments
Comments:
Not Registered?Signup Here
(1024 character limit)
Motorcyclist
  • Motorcyclist Online