Ducati make big claims about their Monster range, saying that it “introduced a new way of motorcycling,” and describing it as, “the original ‘naked’ motorcycle”. Umm, sorry guys, but way before you introduced the Monster range, there was a time when all motorcycles were nakeds! Claiming it to be “an icon of Italian design”, which they also do, might be pretty close though. I’d previously ridden a couple of Monsters; the entry-level 620i and then the new entry-level 695. This time I went to the other end of the range and had a short test-ride on the top model, the S4RS Testastretta. (Actually it isn’t quite the top model; there’s a “Tri-colour model”, which differs only in paint, that costs an extra $1,000). I won’t go into all the details (if you’re that interested, grab a brochure from your nearest Duke dealer), but suffice to say there’s lots of high-tec stuff like carbon-fibre, and special-design components, in the whole package. Ducati say that it is designed “for the most experienced riders who expect the very best in technology.” Yep, this is the serious-man’s Monster! And there’s a suggestion (not from me - I'm not that sexist!) that it is a bloke’s bike. I was told (although I’m sure this isn’t the official line!) that the 695 is good for “beginners and ladies”, but the larger model Monsters are the bikes for the serious (male?) riders. And the S4RS is top of the Monster testosterone tree! They describe it as a “road-going application of our World Superbike Championship experience”. This is perhaps most evident in the engine, which is basically the engine out of last year’s (2007) Superbike. No, I’m sure it’s not the exact same engine that powered Troy Bayliss around the world’s racing circuits, but it’s basically the same. (Troy’s would have just a bit more power I reckon!). The engine is perhaps the big-ticket item of the bike, and is a 998cc twin with 4 valves per cylinder. Nothing too unusual about that, but what is unusual is the cylinder-head design. Ducati have long been innovative in their engine design, especially with regard to cylinder-head and valve-operation, and this engine goes further down that path. The design of the head allows for a reduced angle between the inlet and exhaust valves, resulting in a narrow combustion-chamber that they claim increases efficiency. The name reflects this. “Testa” means “narrow”, and “stretta” means “head”. So “narrow-head” is what that mouthful of a name really means. The engine runs a compression-ratio of 11.4:1 and produces just over 95kw at 9,500rpm, and 104Nm of torque at 7,500rpm. No, it’s not in R1 and GSX1000 territory, and some might even describe it as a “mild state-of-tune”, but it’s still a lot of power – especially in a naked street-fighter type bike! Looking at those specs, and factoring in the twin-design, you’d probably expect it to be fairly tractable low down, and it is. It pulls away from low revs quite well. From under 3,000rpm it shakes a bit, but there’s no snatching. Above that it’s just smooth and fast! About the only down-side to the engine (and this seems common to other models too), is that it doesn’t really sound like a Ducati! That lovely sound, the throaty-throb that we all love, was conspicuous by it’s absence. I suppose you need a different can on the end for that. It’s a pity though, because that sound is definitely a big part of the whole Ducati experience! But hang on, let’s get back to basics first. What’s it like to sit on? Well, actually, it’s pretty good! The seat is comfortable, and the riding-position is good too. The bars are wider than I would’ve expected on a bike like this, but they’re still okay. It might be a “sports-bike”, but it’s a lot more user-friendly than the super-sport type bikes! Instruments comprise an analogue speedo, numbered to 260kph; and an analogue tacho, numbered to 11, and with no red-line. And the usual bunch of warning-lights. There’s a couple of small LCD displays too, but I forget what they were. (One, being odometer, obviously!). All the other controls seemed easy to find and use. Like the rest of the bike, it's all well-finished too, with a quality look and feel to it all. The clutch is quite heavy to operate. This was a bit odd, because I didn’t really notice it out on the ride; it was only when someone mentioned it later. Then I did a quick comparison with the GT1000 (which I’d complained about when I rode it) and it was just the same. The gearchange (yes, it’s a 6-speed) is smooth. Okay, enough of the basics, what’s it really like to ride? Well, very good, actually! Even for an old bloke! The suspension is pretty high-spec, comes from the house of Ohlins, and gives it a good ride. (Those gold-coloured forks look beautiful!). I didn’t get an opportunity to test it on rough roads, but it felt comfortable over the few bumps I was able to find. The suspension is fully adjustable too, of course. Handling is good too – as you’d expect! It wasn’t quick to turn in at slow speed, but it was still very easy to ride. The steering geometry was probably designed to eliminate any nervousness at high speed; which it certainly did, because the bike was always very stable. And it felt great accelerating out of corners! Acceleration is good, of course. Good enough to lift the front wheel off the deck without really trying. I turned out of a side-street onto a major suburban road, probably in 1st gear, and gave the throttle a good twist. It surged forward at an impressive rate; and then the ground dropped away! I rolled the throttle back and the front came down with a mild “thunk”. The wheel would’ve been a good 6 inches off the ground, but while it was in the air, and as it hit the road, it remained perfectly stable and straight. Unintentional, but good fun! For a moment there I felt like I was Troy Bayliss powering out of a slow turn, rather than an old bloke on a group test-ride! It felt great at speed! I didn’t get to do a lot of high-speed riding, but I did get it up to 140kph once; and it just felt great the faster it went. And totally under control. Even the wind wasn’t too bad – which, being a naked, you’d expect it to be. The little cowling / screen thing flapped around a bit at speed, but I don’t think it’d do much to keep the wind off. It cruises easily too, of course. It’s geared at a bit over 28kph per 1,000rpm; so at 110kph it’s just getting into it’s stride at 4,000rpm. Dry weight is just 177kg, which no doubt helps the performance and the handling. As well as making it easy to ride. This is a great bike! And it’s the most enjoyable Ducati I’ve ridden! At $23,995 (plus on-roads) it’s also the most expensive, so you might expect it to be the most enjoyable. But what really put it to the top of my list was that it didn’t do anything badly – at least nothing bad showed up in the relatively short ride I had on it. It was great fun, it was comfortable, it rode well, and it also performed well and handled well. What’s not to like? Well, the price-tag is one thing I suppose; it is pretty expensive! Ducati dismiss any comparison with non-European bikes though. The Ducati man described the marque as “a two-wheeled Ferrari”; so any comparison with the two-wheeled equivalent of Toyotas is irrelevant! Well, he might have a point I suppose, but I don’t think the general market-place sees it quite like that. So it’s expensive to buy, and probably expensive to maintain. Ducati, however, claim that they’ve cut servicing costs cut by 50%. I was told that prior to these latest models a full service could cost over $1500. A big cost was changing belts. They had to be changed often, and there was a lot of work getting at them. Now they’ve increased the service-life of the belts and made them easier to get to. But I reckon service-costs would still set you back more than your average Jap bike. And if you look closely enough, you’ll find a few things that might add to the cost of running the bike. Just take a look at the position of the oil-cooler. How long do you think it would be before you got a stone through that? But, it’s still a great bike! Now if only they’d give it back that lovely Ducati sound! P.S. Like the bike but not the price? Well, you can go for the standard S4R and save yourself $4,000. You miss out on the trick Ohlins suspension, but the rest of the bike, including the engine, is the same. Still too expensive? Well, there’s the S2R (2-valve head, air-cooled and 70kw) version at $16,995. And then one salesman I was talking to was singing the praises of the S2R 800. No, it’s not going to perform or handle anything like the one I rode (power now down to 56kw), but it’s basically (“basically” being the operative word!) the same bike, with the same frame, has “adequate” power and costs just $14,995. So you could save $10,000 and just pretend you’re on the top-spec one! Maybe. Although if I was buying a Monster, and if I had the money, the S4RS would definitely be my pick!
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