2005 Ducati Monster

Shades of the nasty-boy S4R for a lot less dosh

The Monster S4R revitalized Ducati's naked lineup in 2003 with its racy looks and potent eight-valve, liquid-cooled engine. But not everyone who fancies the S4R's cute bikini fairing and high-mount pipes needs a 150-mph rocketship with a price tag to match.Enter Ducati's '05 Monster S2R, a less-pricey ($8495) 803cc, four-valve air-cooled V-twin that combines the bigger model's bling-factor with a softer chassis package based on the Monster 800's. Ducati regards this bike as more of an entry-level machine for younger riders and middle-agers returning to motorcycling. Hence its launch in Monte Carlo on the Mediterranean coast.

For posing around Monte Carlo's harbor and famous casinos, the S2R is ace. The bike looks fabulous--even better than the S4R due to the finned cylinders and lack of radiator. There are also three fat-striped paint options to choose from--black/tangerine, red/white and yellow/black--plus a less-expensive ($7995) matte-black Dark version, which comes without a fairing or seat cowl.

The S2R maintained its feel-good factor when we headed into the nearby Alpine foothills, thanks partly to its gentle power delivery and rider-friendly personality. The new S4R-style single-sided exhaust system adds a little midrange plus a couple of top-end horsepower for a claimed total of 77 bhp. But the SOHC two-valve-per-cylinder Vee is still one softly tuned, flexible motor, so the S2R is more cuddly than scary. Even the exhaust note is a restrained chuffing rather than a bark.

Instead of the S4R's raw aggression you get a broad spread of power and a pleasant surge of acceleration toward the 9000-rpm limit. The fuel injection works crisply from below 3000 rpm, the new APTC clutch has a light lever feel (and incorporates a slipper clutch effect) and the six-speed gearbox shifts cleanly. Shame about the limp-wristed mirrors and lack of steering lock. Longer-travel suspension means the seat is also higher, but the Monster is still quite manageable in traffic.

The S2R might not have explosive acceleration, but it copes with high speeds better than many naked bikes. Its 803cc motor is smooth throughout the rev range, and the bikini fairing diverts a good chunk of breeze. Heading back to Monte Carlo on the autoroute, the S2R cruised effortlessly at 100 mph, with its top speed right around 135 mph.Chassis performance is well-matched to the engine. The traditional steel trellis frame is almost identical to the Monster 800's. The gorgeous aluminum single-sided swingarm, borrowed from the S4R, saves a couple pounds of weight over the old twin-sider and is equally rigid. The wide aluminum Magura handlebar--another S4R carryover, though it's omitted on the Dark model--gives plenty of leverage, and the Ducati can be flicked around quite easily. At a claimed 380.6 pounds dry it's a respectably light machine, which helps. But despite that and its nominally steep geometry (rake is 24 degrees), handling at normal speeds is stable and very neutral rather than super-agile. That will doubtless be just fine for the riders at whom this bike is aimed.

When the pace heats up, the S2R copes well enough without living up to that R-for-Racing in its name. The Marzocchi 43mm inverted fork lacks the adjustability of the old Monster 800's unit. Both the fork and the Sachs shock do a reasonable job, but the ride is jarring over some bumps and makes the hillside roads feel slightly rougher than they really are.

Although the S2R is a fairly basic model, it was up for some cornering fun. The five-spoke rear Marchesini wheel has a 5.50-inch rim wearing respectably wide 180-section rubber. And there are heaps of cornering clearance to exploit the grippy Pirelli Diablos. Ducati's cost-cutting shows up most obviously in the front brake, which uses 300mm discs and humble twin-piston Brembo calipers (remember them?) in place of the Monster 800's familiar 320mm rotors and four-pots. The S2R can stop hard, but it needs a firm squeeze on the lever. In these days of radial calipers, fitting the old-style calipers seems like a dubious step even on an entry-level bike.

Ducati's response is that it had to save on some chassis parts to include all the neat styling touches while keeping the price competitive. Whether it's a good value depends on what you want from a naked V-twin. If it's fierce acceleration, ultra-sharp handling and two-finger stoppies, look elsewhere. If it's sporty Italian style and solid all-around performance at a sensible price, your most difficult decision is which S2R color to choose.--Roland Brown

Ducati Monster S2R
MSRP $8495
Type a-c V-twin
Valve arrangement sohc, 2v desmo
Displacement 803cc
Transmission 6-speed
Weight 395 lb. (claimed dry)
Fuel capacity 3.7 gal.
Wheelbase 56.7 in.
Seat height 31.5 in.
"We chose the 800cc engine because it's simple and has enough power to be enjoyable," says Giulio Malagoli, Monster S2R project engineer. Roland Brown concurs.