FIRST RIDE: Ducati Monster 821

Ducati-Monster-821

Since its introduction in 1993, the Ducati Monster has been a great success. Everyone, from enthusiasts to journalists to consumers, have been enamored with the Monster range, which has, from its inception, been the Ducati for the road, rather than the track. That being said, it has always had an aggressive aspect to its personality, and for this reason it is considered by many to be the first ‘naked sport bike,’ as opposed to just another ‘standard.’ Concomitantly, it comes as no surprise that the exclusive Italian marque has sold more than 300,000 Monsters, since the range was introduced.

In the current Monster lineup, occupying the middle-tier, sits the Monster 821, which replaced the 796. Positioned between the 797 and the 1200, the Monster 821 averts the negative ‘entry’ stigma of the 797, whilst also lacking some of the intimidation and, for most, excessive power of the 1200. On paper, the weight, power and technology suggests that the 821 should be a perfect synergy. However, “should be” is the key word. Isn’t it?

Engine:

Some traditionalists have derided the 821 for being liquid-cooled, rather than air and oil cooled. In fact, a representative from Ducati North America told me that this very critique was a motivating factor for the manufacturer to introduce the 797. However, to most, it is absolutely irrelevant. Personally, I prefer a liquid-cooled motor, but to some that is blasphemy.

 

Traditionally, Monsters have been ‘unhappy’ at lower rpms, particularly at slow speeds. However, with the 821, this has been improved. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t buck and chug a little bit below 8 mph, but it certainly isn’t intolerable. This could certainly be a viable and pleasant option for someone who often rides in urban conditions. Power is ample through the vast majority of the rev range, giving the 821 a bit of a hooligan spirit. This is unsurprising, considering that the 821’s Testastretta 11 motor produces an excess of 100 horsepower. 109 hp, to be precise.

Something which is typically characteristic of all twins is vibration. Going into this review, it was something which I was anticipating, I was convinced it would be egregious. I’m happy to have been incorrect. The comfortable seat, handlebar grips and padded foot pegs really help to largely mitigate the vibration.

Technology:

The Monster 821 comes standard with Ducati’s suite of safety tech, called the Ducati Safety Pack. Of course, part of that is ABS. Another is traction control. The third being that you can select from 3 different riding modes, which alter the amount of interference from the ABS and traction control, as well as the throttle’s responsiveness. What is particularly striking is how easy one can switch through the different rider modes. You need only tap on the turn signal cancellation button, without having the turn signal on, until the mode you desire is flashing. After that, just hold that button in and roll off the throttle. It’s that simple. As you may or may not know, some bikes require you to come to a complete stop to select a different mode, and some feature even less simplistic interfaces.

The first of the three modes is Urban mode. Urban mode significantly reduces the bikes power, dropping it down to just 75 horsepower. A quick aside, the 796 that the 821 replaced had no modes and only had 87 horsepower. This mode’s name may seem rather self-explanatory, but it would also be suitable for riding in inclement weather. The second mode is Touring. Touring is the mode that I’d personally choose most often when riding the bike, as it balances well the bike’s safety functionality with the full extent of the bike’s power, though it does still retard responsiveness a bit. It’s ideal for real road conditions, where you encounter slippery surfaces like gravel or wet leaves, giving you peace of mind, but not intrusive to the extent that you’re constantly reminded of its nannying. Lastly, when the hooligan inside of you cannot be contained, when the devil on your shoulder has out-persuaded the angel on the other side, there is Sport mode. Sport gives you all of the power, and keeps the nannies in the servant’s quarters. The bike is obviously more lively, and it seems to even be louder in this particular mode.

Handling:

Power is only a part of the equation. If the power to weight ratio isn’t balanced, the result will be poor. Luckily, the 821 has a dry weight below 400 pounds. In tight spaces, in more precise maneuvering, the Monster feels very agile and nimble. In some instances, motorcycles of little weight feel a bit uneasy at higher speeds. Yet, due to the placement of the motor, at higher speeds and in sweeping turns it feels as if there is a magnet keeping the bike stable and rooted to the road. Turn in is phenomenally effortless, it was quite surprising.

The suspension manages to achieve the very elusive balance between firmness and softness that is both reassuring through the turns but also comfortable for longer rides. It copes easily with the pot hole laden roads that are quite common in the north-eastern United States. Yet, when pushing it a bit harder, it was very compliant. Though not a track oriented machine, you could certainly enjoy yourself on this bike on an occasional track day. That being said, you could just as easily take this bike for a 2 hour ride without feeling like your back and neck have become like brittle bacon.

Downsides:

There isn’t a lot wrong with this bike. In fact, I really need to nit pick here. However, a few things seem worthy of a brief mention. One is the heat. The heat from the left side of the bike is noticeable but certainly not too excessive, no worse than the BMW K 1200 S I had. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit while I was riding it, and at no point did I find it to be unbearable. During very aggressive riding, you may find the passenger foot peg mount to be obstructive to your foot positioning, if you place the balls of your feet on the pegs.

Other:

The 821 utilizes a wet, slipper style clutch, which negates wheel hop from aggressive downshifting. Certainly, that can be considered another safety feature, as it also enables you to more safely downshift while in turns, though shifting while turning should be generally avoided. Shifting through the gears is effortless, as clutch pull is pretty light and gear shifter travel is minimal. The exhaust, though unusually delightful stock, is intoxicating when Termignoni canisters are in installed. Engine braking is strong, just as I like it, though not too strong. It will certainly extend the life of your brakes, should you choose to engine brake first. However, when you need to brake quickly, the Brembo setup is more than sufficient for this bike. That is, the front brakes are. The rear brake when used alone is, in my opinion, less effective than the rear drum brake on my 1980 BMW R65. Still, 9.9 times out of 10, you’re using both brakes simultaneously and they work wonderfully together.

Conclusion:

Some person will inevitably ask me if I think that this bike is appropriate for a new rider. To that question, I exclaim NO! This is, however, a wonderful machine for intermediate and advanced riders who are looking for a distinctive motorcycle that offers a lot of versatility. If you want to do some light touring, you can buy a tall windshield and storage bags. If you want to do some light sport riding, you can rotate the handlebar forward to make the riding position more aggressive. If you want to have a wonderful bike, that is capable of being comfortable on a long ride out to the mountains, and that can then perform with great competence on the windy mountain roads when you get there, you can keep it exactly as it is.

Would I recommend this bike? Without hesitation. Also, it benefits from much further extended valve service intervals than the Monster 796, more than double the duration, so you can spend more money on gear, accessories or whatever you want, rather than padding the pockets of your local dealership. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy this motorcycle myself. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the greatest, the Monster 821 is a solid 9.2.

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