AS GOOD AS THEY SAY – BUT …..
Ducati claims that the Monster range, “Perfectly balances sports performance, riding pleasure and stunning looks.” It’s what they term a “less is more” philosophy that employs a slim waist and wide handlebars to make the new Monster “The ideal bike for all styles.” They go on to say, “With frame technology derived from the Desmosedici and flexible power delivered from the legendary L-Twin engine, the Monster is able to perform both in the busiest of city streets and the most exhilarating of open roads.” Sound good? Well, there’s no denying that the “less is more” philosophy is part of what naked bikes are all about. And Ducati do nakeds pretty well. So how about we take the top-shelf Monster 1100S for a spin? To quote Ducati again, they claim the 1100S to be “A pure concentrate of lightness, power, design and exclusivity.” And I suppose it is really. When you sit on the bike it immediately feels small and light; because it is small and light! This is no big muscle-bike, as the name might suggest; it feels more like a mid-size bike. But a mid-size bike with a big-bore donk squeezed in. (There’s the “concentrate” bit!). That “legendary L-Twin engine” is far from the most powerful one-litre bike around, but with almost 100 horsepower pulling a dry weight of just under 170kg, there’s power aplenty. (Yep, tick off “power” too!). When it comes to “design”, well, it’s Italian! There is the iconic trellis frame, the purposeful look of those two big exhausts swooping up beside the minimalist rear bodywork and small blinkers, the MotoGP-inspired instruments … Yep, this baby has “design” and style! It also has enough top-shelf componentry to justify the “exclusivity” claim too. Things like fully adjustable titanium-nitride coated Ohlins forks and a rising rate Ohlins rear mono-shock. Matching the gold coloured Ohlins are a pair of beautiful gold 5-spoke wheels. There are other things too, including lashings of carbon-fibre on things like the front mudgaurd, can-belt covers and so on, which not only look special, but shave an extra kilo off the weight.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
Getting back to sitting on it, I have to say that it felt a bit like crouching down on the edge of a cliff! Yes, the seat is fairly high and the bars fairly low, and you lean forward to reach them; but it’s not the leaning forward that’s the problem especially. The problem is that you can’t see anything in front of the instrument binnacle; just road. And if you’re tall, your head seems to be leaning out right over the front of the bike. The suspension and front wheel seem like they’re tucked in underneath you somewhere. Put another way, it’s like lying on the roof of your house with your head hanging over the side. You’ve got a good grip on the guttering, and you’re quite secure; but you don’t feel secure because of where your head is. That’s the feeling I got riding the Monster. Shorter people, who would have their head further back relative to the whole bike, probably wouldn’t get this feeling. For me though, it was a bit disconcerting; I felt like I was about to do a barrel-roll over the front of it! The pegs are quite high too; which accentuates this tumbling-forward feeling. On the positive side, the bars are wide, which helps give you some sense of control. The seat is surprisingly comfortable. I say “surprisingly” because this is a bike with a definite sports-focus; but this is no plank-like sports seat. This is nice. The mirrors are very stylish and are adjusted by pushing on the glass. The plastic housing doesn’t move, just the glass. The instrument binnacle continues the minimalist look, although the information it contains is anything but minimalist. Along the top is a big tacho, in the style of a MotoGP bike. It covers the entire width of the display. It's numbered to 12, with actual numbers occurring only every 2,000rpm, (there’s no 1, 3, 5 etc). There’s a moving band of LCD blocks acting as the “needle”. Yep, very MotoGP! Underneath the big wide tacho is a panel containing a small digital speedo, plus a host of other information. I didn’t try looking for it all, but apparently there are read-outs for odo, trip-meter, scheduled maintenance, fuel, oil temperature, air temperature, lap time, and a clock. Plus you get warning lights for low oil pressure, low fuel level, being on reserve, and over-rev, plus the usual lights for neutral, blinkers and immobiliser. That’s a lot of information! Too much, probably. Especially as it’s all a bit small and hard to read. That big wide tacho commands your attention and the speedo takes a more determined gaze to check. Oh one little grip before we fire it up, the side-stand is hard to find.
OUT ON THE ROAD
When you press the “go” button on a Ducati you expect something special, and the 1100S doesn’t disappoint. The big donk comes to life with an angry growl. Blip the throttle and it snarls like a watch-dog about to eat an intruder. “Get outta my way! Don’t come near! Grrr! Grrr!” The sounds you hear out on the road aren’t all quite as enjoyable though. The test-bike’s engine produced a rather alarming knocking sound under acceleration. Sounded like it’d blown a big-end bearing (although I’m sure it hadn’t!). The clutch is dry, and rattles loudly. You might expect it to self-destruct at any moment; but this is just typical Ducati. (I rode with a guy on a 1098 once and the clutch rattle was so loud it sounded like it actually had self-destructed!). I mentioned the engine’s power at the start. Putting almost 100 Italian stallions to work with a bike that weighs about the same as a mid-size commuter is going to produce some get-up-and-go. And it gets up and goes very well! This is the 2-valve version of the engine, and as you’ll see from the specs below, the power and torque figures come in at fairly low revs, so you don’t have to wring its neck to get it going. But it's not all good news. In the first couple of gears it’ll pull away from 2,000rpm without too much protest, but in the higher gears it really isn’t happy until it gets to around 4,000rpm. In fact, at anything under that it’s decidedly unhappy. Give the throttle a big twist at, say 3,000rpm, and it shudders violently. And even on a constant throttle it still vibrates, begging you to either go a lot faster, or change down a couple of gears. The gearing doesn’t help. It’s quite high-geared. Around town you’re riding in 1st and 2nd; while out on the highway, with top running at a touch over 30kph per 1,000rpm (and 5th just a touch under 30), you’ve really got to be doing around 120kph before it settles down. This is the same sort of combination of engine-characteristics and gearing that I complained about with the BMW R1200R. As I said there, this situation is just silly with a naked; even with a more overtly sporty naked like this one. Ducati obviously acknowledges the problem and has a solution; a front sprocket with one less tooth (14 instead of 15), or a rear sprocket with three extra (42 instead of 39). I’d recommend it. (Go for the smaller front – it’s much cheaper!). According to one senior sales staff, the reason Ducati gear them high is to meet the drive-by noise restrictions. I know I go on a bit about gearing, but it really does make a big difference to how a bike feels on the road. Such as, in this case, not being able to put it in top until you’re doing 120kph! Or alternatively, on most mid-size bikes, having the thing spinning like a top before it even reaches the highway speed-limit. So, as I said, this gearing stuff is important! Speaking of gears, the box is a bit clunky. It’s okay, but it’s not exactly slick. And changing without the clutch, even with an accompanying back-off of the throttle, is not something it takes kindly to. I also found the lever a bit hard on the foot. Don’t know why, but it felt kind of sharp. Perhaps the rubber is very thin. The footpegs don’t have any rubber at all – they’re plain serrated steel. Despite Ducati’s claim about it being for the “busiest of city streets” as well as “the most exhilarating of open roads”, it’s a lot better with the latter than it is the former. Around town it really isn’t very pleasant. I could feel my wrists and forearms taking the weight and starting to feel uncomfortable even after a short distance. It was also hot. Okay, the day was hot (over 30degrees), but riding two other bikes (a Ducati GT1000 over exactly the same course, and my own bike through not as much traffic) on the same day I wasn’t getting the heat that I got on this. The worst was a searing heat on my left leg. Out on the open road (and unfortunately I didn’t get to try it on any “exhilarating” ones!) it made a lot more sense. Cruising at 110kph (still happier in 5th than in top!), there was surprisingly little wind. And what there was helped ease the weight on the arms. So it was much more pleasant! I didn’t really get a chance to try out the handling very much; partly because this was a relatively short group-test type ride, but also because I was still getting used to the “crouching on the edge of a cliff” riding-position. There was a reasonable mix of low-speed corners, and it felt okay in those. The steering is quite quick; almost to the point of being nervous – or was that me who was nervous? Anyway, being a Ducati, and especially one with up-market suspension, it will handle well; you know that! What really impressed me was the ride! It was particularly impressive considering the bike’s main brief would be good handling rather than absorbing bumps. That Ohlins gear must really be good stuff! I mentioned above that I rode a Ducati GT1000 on the same day over the same route, and on that I was being bounced around on bumps that I was hardly even aware of on the Monster. Very impressive! Brakes? Well, yes, it had them, and they stopped the bike when and how I wanted, so I suppose that means they were good. Again, a short test-ride, so not a lot of opportunity to really try them out. But again, being a Ducati you know they’ll be good; Ducati brakes always are! The fact that I didn’t find them biting too hard shows that they are nicely progressive. And that’s a good thing, considering you already feel like you’re in danger of toppling forward off the thing! So there we have it – Ducati’s top Monster. It would appear that they don’t make the S4RS now. That’s a pity because I liked it a lot better than this. More power (good fun!), better gearing, and a better riding-position. A great bike! This is good too, but, unlike the S4RS, it’s not a bike that I think I could ever own or get comfortable with. It’s as good as Ducati say it is; but it’s not all good!
It's Italian, it's a Ducati, so it's got style and character by the bucket-load! It has good performance, but you've got to work at it. And it doesn't like going slow. Top gear isn't happy unless you're breaking the speed-limit; to me, that's a bit silly. It's full of contrasts. On one hand it's very sporty in its riding-position, enough to make your wrists ache and have your head poking out over the front; and yet the seat is comfortable and it rides well. Being a Ducati it has a wonderful sound from the exhaust; but the clutch rattles so badly you'd think it's about to fall apart. It's a pity they don't still make the S4RS; it was a much better bike in pretty much every area I reckon!
Engine: cylinder, cc. Power: 69.8kW at 7,500rpm. Torque: 103Nm at 6,000rpm.
Fuel capacity: 15 litres.
Weight: 168kg (dry)
Seat height: 810 mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 17, Rear: 180 X 17
Brakes: Front: Brembo, twin 320mm discs; Rear: Brembo, single 245mm disc.
Price: $24,490 (Inc. ORC).
The biggest Monster is now called the Monster 1100 Evo. But it’s basically the same machine.
There have been a few detail changes to bodywork and paint, but nothing major. The exhaust is different though, and features a twin-stacked system, rather than the round can on each side, of the model here. Power is quoted as being up a bit, at 73.5kW. Interestingly, fuel capacity is stated as being a bit less, at 13.5 litres.
I mentioned Ohlins suspension in the test, but the current version has the less exotic Marzocchi front fork and Sachs mono-shock up back.
Other specifications and dimensions appear to be the same. Price of this model is $17,990 (+ORC).
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