They say: “The essential Monster”
We say: “Who needs 1,200cc?”
The mighty Monster is evolving. Earlier this year we pitted the new Monster 1200 against a bright crop of new-for-2014 naked bikes for our July cover story, and it acted more refined and mature than ever. A standard liquid-cooled engine, along with a longer wheelbase and more room for a passenger highlighted the flagship Monster's lean toward sensibility.
Now, Ducati's steady phasing-out of air-cooled motors is trickling down.
For 2015, the Monster 796 will step down from its post in the middle of Ducati's Monster lineup, replaced by the new 821 (the air-cooled 696 will remain for sale as the littlest sibling). And in the same fashion that the 1200 replaced the Monster 1100 EVO, the 821 takes over from the 796 with a longer wheelbase, more room for rider and passenger, and more power from a liquid-cooled motor. If the number 821 sounds familiar, you have probably read a review of a Hypermotard recently. The four-valve, 821cc engine now slides into a new version of Ducati's classic trellis frame, with a larger airbox than the Hyper, updated ECU software, and a different version of the troublesome slip/grip clutch assembly.
Navigating out of the city of Bologna on our press ride, the new clutch was immediately noticeable, and welcome. Designed with a lighter pull for the 821's presumed less-experienced clientele, it is much easier to use and suffers from none of the harsh engagement or cold-blooded temperament of the Hyper's clutch. Another standout in the Monster platform is the low seat height, something Ducati managed to retain while providing more padding than the outgoing 796 had. Perhaps unexpectedly, the 821's saddle adjusts to the same two heights as the 1200 version—30.9 inches and 31.9 inches. Regardless of height you'll have trouble evading the heat wafting up from the head pipes on a warm day.
Despite being low and long, the 821 feels light to the touch even at slow speeds. The simple, near-flat handlebar looks a tad cheap, but puts you in a commanding riding position and makes this new Monster confident in an urban environment. Taller riders (or ones with delicate knees) might wish the seat was higher, or the pegs lower, as the seating is a little cramped. A linkless Sachs shock and 43mm KYB fork soak up blemishes in the road, but are surprisingly harsh over sharp bumps (especially the fork) considering the 821 is sprung softly. And the adjustments will have to do, because damping is not changeable at either end, only preload in the shock.
In typical Ducati fashion, three ride modes are available to suit your needs; in this case Sport, Touring, and Urban. Sport delivers the full claimed 112 hp with particularly rambunctious attitude, while Touring allows all of the horses to gallop but with much less immediacy. Urban cuts horsepower to a claimed 75, and suited carving through Bologna traffic nicely. As with other Ducatis, changing the throttle map alters power delivery drastically, but the 821's throttle response is always smooth and easy to control. Regardless of ride mode, we found ourselves blipping the throttle gratuitously just to hear the lovely, 90-degree V-twin bark from the new, asymmetrical, over-under muffler—it might even sound better than the 1200 (gasp!).
Free of the city and into the mountains we found thundershowers and miles of wet roads; a good time to have the standard Ducati Safety Pack, with Bosch three-level 9MP ABS (the same hardware as the 1200) and eight levels of traction control. We found Touring mode the best for conquering a soaked run through the famous Futa Pass, but Urban surely would have stood in nicely as a rain mode. Wet conditions exposed a few quirks in the new Monster though; one is that the smooth rubber footpeg treads get slick in the rain, and a stylish slit in the rear fender that allows spray to land on the tail section and rider.
Ducati made a point to say the 821's brakes are more powerful than the outgoing 796's, meaning the same pressure on the lever commands more stopping force. Unfortunately our test bike offered pretty poor brake feel, especially the rear. It sapped a little confidence, but we adapted and truthfully it didn't take away from the enjoyment of the ride. The new middleweight Monster carried its urban agility nicely into the hills, carving through wet corners with plenty of poise. It definitely acts lighter than the 453-pound curb weight might suggest, and feels like a bike from a premium brand should. Minimal driveline lash, crisp fueling, and a comfortable seat.
Our return through the twists and turns of the mountains surrounding Borgo Panigale saw sunshine and mostly dry roads. Finally, a chance to let the Monster loose in Sport mode, and we found the 821 transforms well into a rowdy canyon carver when asked. We also learned that ABS and traction control settings remain adjusted within the riding modes. That is, if the ABS and/or TC parameters are altered within one ride mode (say, Sport), the mode will retain those settings for the next time you use Sport mode. A nice trick, and one which some of the competition has not learned. The suspension calibration is a little too soft for truly aggressive riding, but it's great fun and will quench the thirst of anyone other than a racer or track-day enthusiast. It will even wheelie if prodded, and if it doesn't you'll still love what you hear—we can't get enough of that exhaust note!
If Ducati's goal was to take the best part of the Hypermotard (the motor) and dress it up like the iconic flagship Monster, that's exactly what they have accomplished. It's a pleasing bike; tame enough for entry-level riders who want the Ducati name but also boisterous enough to satisfy enthusiasts. As with most Ducatis, it doesn't come cheap. The standard model we tested will go on sale for $11,495, while a matte-black Dark version will sell for $10,995 without glossy paint or a color-matched seat cowl.
Some Monster purists might lament losing touch with the model's air-cooled roots, and whether they like it or not the Monster is growing up. But keep in mind that the Monster is more versatile than ever, too. This is absolutely the bike that we expected from Ducati; the combination of a successful engine with a tried-and-true chassis package to create more flavor and market penetration in the Monster line. And it's not a bad thing. If anything it offers outstanding value compared to its big brother.
DUCATI MONSTER 821
||l-c 90° V-twin
|Bore x stroke
||88.0 x 67.5mm
||EFI, ride by wire
||Wet, multi-plate slipper
||KYB 43mm fork
||Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload
||Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
||Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm with ABS
||120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
||180/60ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
|Claimed curb weight
||112 hp @ 9250 rpm
||66 ft.-lb. @ 7750
||Ducati Red, Star White
||24 mo., unlimited mi.
A surprisingly capable little brother to the premium Monster 1200.