First Ride: 2016 Ducati Monster 1200R

A Monster For the Sporty Set

They say: For those that make performance their lifestyle. We say: Another impressive R model for the Ducati history books.

When Ducati introduced the totally redesigned Monster 1200 in early 2014, the bike represented a paradigm shift for the 21-year-old model line. It was larger, more comfortable, and more usable than any of the compact and feisty machines that had come before. All good things for sure, but in becoming a more mature and practical Monster the 1200 and up-spec 1200S sacrificed some sporting prowess.

Meet the 2016 Monster 1200R, the latest addition to the Monster family and a bike designed and built for those who want a little more athleticism from their iconic Italian naked bike. The R sits on new Öhlins suspension that's 15mm longer, raising the bike's stance for some much-needed cornering clearance. Ducati also blessed the R with more power—a claimed 160 hp and 97 pound-feet of torque compared to the S-bike's 145 hp and 91.8 pound-feet—by way of a higher compression ratio, bigger throttle bodies, and a redesigned exhaust. It's also rolling on lightweight forged-aluminum Marchesini wheels shod with the same track-ready Pirelli Supercorsa SP tires as the 1299 Panigale superbike.

2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R©Motorcyclist

Other notable additions and improvements include an adjustable Öhlins steering damper that resides behind a new mini-fairing, a carbon-fiber front fender, separate rider and passenger footpeg assemblies with new knurled footpegs, a higher seat, and a totally redesigned and attractively compact tail section. Ducati says the bike is 5 pounds lighter than the 1200S, weighing in at a claimed 456 pounds with a full tank of fuel.

Since the 1200R is tuned for performance, Ducati invited journalists to the beautiful 3.4-mile Ascari circuit in southern Spain to put the new machine through its paces. Ducati isn’t presenting the 1200R as a track bike, but rather as a sporty naked that is as at home on the track as it is on a twisty back road. And Ascari represents those two environments beautifully, combining the tight features of the best Alpine pass with fast turn combinations plucked from the finest racetracks in the world. It’s a stunning facility, and the Monster 1200R was a fantastic bike on which to enjoy it.

2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R©Motorcyclist
A full-color TFT dash changes the display based on the ride mode selected, and it now features a gear-position indicator! (We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Every bike should have a gear-position indicator.) The Monster’s many systems (engine mode, traction control, ABS, etc.) are all highly tunable, though the interface can be frustrating until you master the menu systems.©Motorcyclist

The R’s handlebar is the same wide, comfortably high setup as on the other bikes, but the taller seat puts you further over the front of the bike in a satisfyingly aggressive yet still fairly upright riding position. Your feet now rest on grippy textured-aluminum racing-style footpegs instead of rubber-clad pieces, and there’s ample room for your boot heels now that the passenger footpegs hang from their own separate brackets. The new mufflers don’t crowd your right foot like they do on the 1200S, either, but the baritone beat coming from the dual cans sounds as exciting as ever.

Cornering clearance is greatly improved on the 1200R—we ground the heck out of the footpegs and the servo-controlled exhaust valve on the low-riding 1200S we tested at the Streets of Willow circuit during our 2014 naked-bike shootout—but as the pace picked up the sidestand and footpegs occasionally kissed the ground. That’s not to say bike has low-hanging parts, rather, it’s a testament to the Pirellis’ grip and the bike’s rock-solid feel at full lean.

As with the base 1200 and more powerful 1200 S, the 1200 R is powered by a version of the 11° Testastretta engine found in the Diavel and the previous-generation Multistrada. The R-bike’s engine benefits from a higher compression ratio (13.0:1 vs. 12.5:1 for the 1200 S) larger oval throttle bodies (up 3mm, from 53mm to 56mm), and fatter header pipes measuring a full 58mm, up 8mm from the tubes used on the 1200 S.©Motorcyclist

The 11° Testastretta engine has always been a performer, but this latest version feels even better. Power is strong off the bottom, kicks in hard in the midrange, and carries through to the 10,500-rpm redline without losing much intensity. I was downshifting to second for some of the hairpins, but later discovered that the bike pulled just as hard in 3rd, leaving more revs to drive out of the corner before having to shift. And unlike the last few Ducatis we’ve ridden, throttle response is excellent even in Sport mode, the most aggressive of the three available engine modes.

New Marchesini wheels are forged from aluminum and then machined to exacting tolerances to save weight. The Monster now runs the same Pirellis as the 1299 Panigale superbike. That means a huge 200-series rear tire for optimum traction. The brake package is the same as the superbike’s too. That means Brembo M50 calipers and 330mm rotors.©Motorcyclist

Ducati’s eight-level traction control is at the ready when you get greedy with the throttle at full lean, as I did numerous times while savoring the nirvana that is Ascari. The Monster turns surprisingly quickly considering its long wheelbase (lighter wheels and a higher center of gravity surely help) and it has great front-end feel that encourages you to trail brake all the way to the apex. Braking from the superbike-spec Brembo setup is gentler than expected but plenty powerful. The rear brake is particularly soft; I prefer it that way but others might not like how far the lever travels and how little braking it yields.

As you might expect, the premium suspension components ensure that the tires follow the road and chassis movements remain smooth. (We did add some compression damping to the fork later in the day to offer more support while braking.) The gearbox (and gear spacing) is great, clutch action is smooth, there’s just enough engine braking, and the ABS is acceptably lenient for track work. Overall I was impressed with how well the bike’s systems are calibrated and how they work together to make the R-bike easy and really fun to ride. For the average sport rider, the Monster 1200R is going to be a treat at the track.

Ducati wanted to minimize the Monsters’s tail and give it the classic mono pisto look, and they nailed it. The R’s posterior is shorter front-to-back and visually much slimmer. The seat cowl comes stock and is removable, and some cowls removed themselves during the intro when their plastic mounts broke. The non-adjustable one-piece seat now rests 32.7 inches above the pavement, 0.8 inches higher than the S-model’s seat in the higher of its two positions.©Motorcyclist

All of the changes that make the 1200R what it is yield a positive outcome in terms of performance and fun. More cornering clearance is a big plus, the higher seat improves the riding position, the new footpeg layout allows greater range of movement, the mini fairing and reshaped tail look great, and who doesn’t like more power? None of the changes should impact the bike’s practicality, but we haven’t actually ridden it on the street yet. The only obvious downside is the price. The 1200R is $18,695 in red and $18,895 in black. That’s nearly $3,000 more than the 1200S, and that price slingshots this newest Monster past every other bike in the big-bore naked-bike class. That includes the current class leaders, the wickedly powerful $16,999 KTM Super Duke R and the ridiculously fast and ultra refined $14,950 BMW S1000R.

Can the Monster 1200R compete with the other brutes in the class? It’s not likely to perform as well as the category’s front runners in terms of outright performance (or price!), but this latest evolution of Ducati’s naked bike certainly keeps it in the race. And considering it’s not based on a superbike like many of its competitors, the new Monster 1200R is a pretty impressive track machine.

tech SPEC

EVOLUTION
The Monster 1200S, with more power, more ride height, and other upgrades aimed at improving its sporting prowess.
RIVALS
[Aprilia Tuono V4R][], [BMW S1000R][], [Honda][] CB1000R, [Kawasaki Z1000][], [KTM 1290 Super Duke R][], [MV Agusta][] Brutale, [Suzuki GSX-S1000][]
TECH
PRICE $18,695
ENGINE 1198cc, liquid-cooled 90° V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 160.0 rpm @ 9250 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 97.0 lb.-ft. @ 7,750 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Öhlins 48mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 5.1-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Öhlins shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 6.3-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 330mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 24.3°/3.5 in.
WHEELBASE 59.4 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.6 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 456 lb. wet
AVAILABLE NA
CONTACT [ducatiusa.com][]
VERDICT
A more nimble, more powerful Monster that’s ready to rip up your local twisties.
2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R©Motorcyclist
2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R©Motorcyclist
Longer Öhlins suspension adds cornering clearance, allowing riders to lean the bike to a claimed 50 degrees compared to the previous bike’s 48-degree limit. Spring rates are the same as those of the 1200 S, but damping is tuned specifically for the 1200 R. Rake remains the same with the added ride height, but trail decreases nearly a quarter of an inch from 3.7 to 3.5 inches and the wheelbase shrinks ever so slightly to 59.4 inches.©Motorcyclist
2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R©Motorcyclist
2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R©Motorcyclist
As with the base 1200 and more powerful 1200 S, the 1200 R is powered by a version of the 11° Testastretta engine found in the Diavel and the previous-generation Multistrada. The R-bike’s engine benefits from a higher compression ratio (13.0:1 vs. 12.5:1 for the 1200 S) larger oval throttle bodies (up 3mm, from 53mm to 56mm), and fatter header pipes measuring a full 58mm, up 8mm from the tubes used on the 1200 S.©Motorcyclist
A full-color TFT dash changes the display based on the ride mode selected, and it now features a gear-position indicator! (We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Every bike should have a gear-position indicator.) The Monster’s many systems (engine mode, traction control, ABS, etc.) are all highly tunable, though the interface can be frustrating until you master the menu systems.©Motorcyclist
New Marchesini wheels are forged from aluminum and then machined to exacting tolerances to save weight. The Monster now runs the same Pirellis as the 1299 Panigale superbike. That means a huge 200-series rear tire for optimum traction. The brake package is the same as the superbike’s too. That means Brembo M50 calipers and 330mm rotors.©Motorcyclist
Ducati wanted to minimize the Monsters’s tail and give it the classic mono pisto look, and they nailed it. The R’s posterior is shorter front-to-back and visually much slimmer. The seat cowl comes stock and is removable, and some cowls removed themselves during the intro when their plastic mounts broke. The non-adjustable one-piece seat now rests 32.7 inches above the pavement, 0.8 inches higher than the S-model’s seat in the higher of its two positions.©Motorcyclist
2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R©Motorcyclist
2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R©Motorcyclist