Ducati’s mid-sized Monster gets the next gen treatment


The Monster 821 has rolled into a class of motorcycles that is growing year by year. Bookended by Triumph’s 675R Street Triple and Yamaha’s thrilling, new MT-09 nakedbike, this middleweight class of 600-900cc motorcycles that fall into the broadly labelled nakedbike class is one of the biggest group of motorcycles in showrooms today. A handful of years ago this capacity bracket that was big in the 70s and early 80s started to see a resurgence in popularity. Popularity means sales and money talks, so it’s no surprise that the new middle class is as diverse as it is: there are exciting, exotic and dynamic machines, just as there are purely utilitarian ones. Why is this new world order happening? Sensible logic. In the whitewash of the GFC people are considering their choices a lot more. As such, the covenant of the new bike buyer — bigger is be er — is one that people aren’t adhering to, as economy and affordability have become more important considerations. Most punters have dropped the idea that you need a 200hp superbike to have fun on the road. The fact that Australians are coming to terms with satisfying needs rather than wants is reflected in the motorcycle sales from 2014: in the top 10 selling models there’s two Harleys amongst a 150 and 300cc sportsbike, 390cc nakedbike, 900cc triple and 500cc parallel twin. Sensibile logic is prevailing.

Constantly in production since the first 900cc model just over 20 years ago, the Monster range these days consists of three diff erent models: 659, 821 and 1200. The baby 659 is learner legal, and in the shape of the previous generation of Monsters. The 1200 was only introduced in 2014, and a lot of the engine, chassis and electronics of the new generation 1200 has been carried over to the 821. Like the 1200 and 1200S Monster, the 821 comes in two variants: the 821 and 821 Dark. The only difference between these two is the Dark has no seat cowl, black paint and frame, while the 821 is either red or grey with a red frame. A quick glance at the 821 in the showroom and you’d be forgiven for fi rst mistaking it as a 1200 — the design is close from bike to bike and only a few millimeters here and there separate the two bikes. But once you look past the bodywork and 11° Testastretta engine, the twin-sided swingarm and cable clutch are the big giveaways. Otherwise, the 821 looks every bit like the bigger 1200.

The 11° Testastre a engine is named as such for its valve overlap. The overlap is the amount of cranksha rotation with all valves open. With the exhaust valve open briefly when the inlet valve is open and receiving a charge, output is improved. Race engines have bigger amounts of overlap, and are powerful yet don’t run well at low rpm — not what you want on a roadbike. By changing the overlap from the superbike-bred Testastre a engine the outright power has dropped, but torque and low rpm control are much improved. Just what you want on a roadbike! This change in the cylinder head design of the 1200 gave it impeccable manners for a big V-twin. On the 821 the low rpm manners of the baby 11° Testastre a are superb. There’s very little inherent V-twin thumping at low revs: the power comes on velvety smooth and then strong into the midrange. You can ride the 821 off the throttle in low-speed situations and playing around with the gearbox and clutch to keep things moving productively isn’t something you’ll have to do.

Taking each gear through the rev range is rewarding with an abundance of torque to use. On the freeway it’s not buzzy or busy hunting for another gear. There’s more power than you need on the road and some: more power and as much torque as the Ducati 916. Yep, 20 years of evolution of the same engine has turned a revolutionary production superbike engine into one that makes sense on the street! Fuelling is done via the same twin 53mm Mikuni throttle bodies as the 1200 Monster, with obvious mapping changes to suit the engine.It’s a ride-bywire system that allows three different electronic modes to be used when riding: Sport, Touring and Urban. These three modes change the throttle response, traction-control and ABS intervention. Urban is so er in its initial power delivery, and the ABS and traction control activate noticeably sooner. This mode also restricts power to 56kW, but in the other two modes the full 84kW is delivered, just more aggressively in the Sport mode. In those two modes the 821 has more power than the 1200 in Urban mode!

Most of my riding was done in the Touring mode. On a fast cornering road it may have you wanting to flick to Sport mode, but you’ll be playing with your licence if you think it’s going to make a difference. In each mode the 821 is noticeably different, and if the mode is not to your liking you can roll in more traction or ABS around each of the three power curves. The smallest incarnation of the 11° Testastre a also carries the same 30,000km service intervals of the 1200 engine, and no doubt wouldn’t be stressed reaching those sorts of intervals.

The chassis takes a lot from the new 1200 and as such has the rear shock bolted to the rear head of the 11° Testastre a, but with a shorter twinsided swingarm and smaller rear wheel bring the wheelbase down 31mm to 1480mm. The rake and trail are the same, while the seating position is inherently Monster. It really feels like the 1200 in every respect. The frame is as minimalist as it comes. There’s a small front section carrying the headstock on two engine mounts and at the rear the swingarm hangs off the back of the crankcase. Aside from a small subframe, it’s minimalist and essential in the true essence of the original Monster.

From many angles the 821 — and the same styled 1200 — carry design elements of the first Monster, like the tiny seat cowl and sidecovers, angular, muscly tank, yellow shock spring and low, mean, roundish headlight. But it looks like more of an animal than the original 900 Monster ever was. Suspension is basic up front with nonadjustable forks; at the rear the Sachs shock is fully adjustable. And the 821 doesn’t need anything more. On bumpy backroads I’d want a little more finesse in the front end’s actuation, but they are the kind of roads I’d ride once in a blue moon and be glad to be off them. For the most, the 821’s suspension is more than you get out of many middleweight nakedbikes, but you’d expect that too for the premium price. And there are other things that start to add up to why this machine sits above a lot of the competition for price. The quality of finish is of no compromise from one end to another. Every drop of paint is perfectly finished, no weld scrappy and no plastic panel that doesn’t sit quite right. This machine is flawless from front to back.

There are a lot of small details like the cleverly height-adjustable single seat, fold-out luggage mounts, LED lights, and information-rich dash panel — the kinds of touches you don’t get often. The Monster 821 oozes value and, at the same time, is a machine with more performance than people know what to do with. It’s well-mannered and easy to ride and exciting when you want it to be. These characteristics are what make Ducati’s Monster 1200 such a great machine. It has great power, quality and handling. That said it’s got so much of all these attributes that they’ll never be fully explored on the road. And for the extra money you fork out for more performance, are you ever going to use all that potential? Are you really?

The 821 is as much motorcycle as you could ever need on the road, and some. A perfect balance of sporty handling, strong engine and bare bones simplicity, it’s a beautifully balanced roadbike that doesn’t need excess to impress.