Ducati Monster 620 - $1500 Streetbike Surgery - MC Garage

Making A Best-Seller Better

Ducati's Monster 620 is an enigma. To purists, it's a joke, a wannabe Ducati, something newbies and women ride. To those newbies and women, however, it's salvation-an affordable, beginner-friendly motorcycle that grants them admittance to the fraternity of Ducatisti. That's why it's the Italian company's best-selling model-or was, prior to the arrival of the 695.

If there's a problem with the M620, it's that owners tend to quickly outgrow it. Not literally-its low, 30.3-inch seat height is one of the prime attractions for shorter riders-but functionally. The softly sprung suspension lets the mufflers drag in corners. The low handlebar makes the rider feel as though he or she is about to row back on a set of oars. And the clutch is difficult to modulate, especially for riders with small hands.

Considering these issues and the parts needed to address them, we quickly realized it wouldn't take long to blow our $1500 budget. A set of Ducati Performance titanium high-mount slip-on mufflers costs $963, for example, while a pair of CycleCat multi-adjustable bars sells for $490-and requires the use of a $325 top triple clamp. That doesn't leave money for much else.

So we turned to the Internet, and with help from the great god Google soon found less-expensive alternatives. Italy's LeoVince (www.leovinceusa.com) makes some of the most beautiful exhaust systems on the planet, so it's a bonus their SBK Oval Aluminum slip-ons cost just $554. We opted for the EVOII versions, which are 101-decibel open racing cans with removable street inserts that reduce noise to a whisper-quiet (yet still throaty) alleged 85 dB. More important to our cause, the slip-ons are 4 inches shorter at the leading edge, which makes them unlikely to drag in corners. They also weigh less (8.5 pounds for the pair; half the weight of the stockers) and boost output slightly (56.9 horsepower and 36.4 pound-feet of torque vs. 54.9 bhp and 35.5 lb.-ft.). Interestingly, the slip-ons make the same peak power with or without the inserts, and make slightly more midrange power in quiet mode.

Naturally, we would like to have improved performance further (a 695cc kit would be a no-brainer), but with our budget in mind settled for lowering the final-drive ratio from a 15-tooth countershaft to a 14. Cost: just $40. This hastened the Monster's acceleration while only making it slightly buzzier at freeway speeds.

Improving the ergonomics proved to be simple. Eastern Cycle (www.easterncycleducati.com) sells risers that bolt between the stock clamps to raise the handlebar 1.25 inch, effectively bringing the grips .75-inch closer to the seat. Cost: just $64.95. GenMar Manufacturing (www.zianet.com/genmar/) sells a similar but slightly better finished set for $10 more. Both retain the stock brake and clutch hoses, though you have to swivel the banjos and reroute the clutch hose so there's sufficient free play. As an added benefit, the steering stops can be adjusted to give additional sweep and a tighter turning radius-no more hitting the stops and tipping over!

Solving the saggy suspension wasn't much of a problem for our target 130-pound female rider. We took our fork legs to Race Tech (www.racetech.com), where technicians slid in a set of straight-rate .85 kg-m springs and poured in medium-weight oil, setting the level at 120mm. Cost: $282.46 for parts and labor, or $147.46 for the parts alone. Out back, we dialed in some additional shock-spring preload until we had an inch of sag, and increased rebound damping to cope. (Heavier riders will want to hit up Race Tech for a stiffer spring.) Incidentally, the shock body and fork cartridges are sealed, so can't be revalved or rebuilt.

So set up, our Monster was less prone to dragging hard parts, but felt too high in the front. Ordinarily we would have pulled the fork tubes up through the triple clamps, but doing so would have reduced cornering clearance, in contrast to what we were trying to achieve. That meant raising the rear, but the M620 has a solid shock link rod that doesn't allow for ride-height adjustments. The solution is to install a threaded rod from a Monster 1000-except the parts have to be ordered individually at a cost of $233. Fortunately, Eastern Cycle offers a link rod meant to lower the M620 that can also be used to raise it. Cost: $109.95. We adjusted the ride height so the bike sat 5mm higher in the rear and presto: lighter steering and more precise handling.

Next up was the clutch, which in stock form engages when the non-adjustable lever is far from the handgrip-not what you want on an entry-level motorcycle aimed at short riders with small hands. Installing a set of adjustable levers should have been simple, but proved problematic when we couldn't find any that worked with the stock micro-switch that prevents the bike from starting in gear. We finally bolted on a set of 916 levers and replaced the banjo with a hydraulic switch made by K&S; Technologies. Cost: $109.20 for the levers, $21.95 for the switch.

The adjustable clutch lever let us move the point of engagement closer to the grip, but the range of engagement was still too narrow. So we hit up Ken Zeller at Evoluzione Cyclesports (www.evoluzione.net) for a billet-aluminum slave cylinder, which provides a 20 percent greater range of engagement and further reduces lever pressure. The Evoluzione kit is remarkably complete, including all the necessary parts and hardware, plus clear, concise instructions. Cost: $179.99.

So, if you'll allow us a little editorial license, our mods now totaled $1227.50. What to do with the remaining $272.50? We took a few steps back, took a long, hard look at Il Mostro and decided the rear fender had to go. Pro Italia Motors sells an $89.95 kit that does away with the black-plastic duckbill and everything beneath it, but installation requires trimming 6 inches off the subframe-which we would have done in a heartbeat had our bike not been on loan from Ducati. So we chose the more responsible-and, at $19.99, cheaper-option and installed a license plate relocater from Evoluzione Cyclesports. This black-anodized aluminum piece retains the stock duckbill but replaces everything below it for a cleaner look.

We then replaced the ungainly stock mirrors with a set of CRG Lane-Splitter bar-ends, which swivel 90 degrees to allow passage through tight quarters. These can be installed inside either end of the handlebar like we did or clamped to the outside. The latter entails moving the handgrips and controls inboard a tad, which means drilling new holes for the switch housings, but it's worth the hassle for small riders who find the stock bars too wide. Cost is $170 per pair.

That brought our total to $1417.49, and rather than squander the rest, we changed the oil and filter, bought a case of beer and spent the rest of the afternoon making cosmetic changes that didn't cost one red cent. Thanks to the new mufflers, we were able to pitch the aluminum heat shields that used to keep the rider's boots from melting. And while we were in that neck of the woods, we yanked off the charcoal canister and its cover (don't tell the EPA), plugging the lines leading to the intake manifolds with Allen bolts. Last, we peeled off the warning labels and binned the reflectors-lawyers be damned!

The end result is a Monster 620 that is more powerful, more comfortable, easier to operate, lighter in weight, better handling, better looking and better sounding. Not bad for a grand and a half, huh?