2003 Ducati Monster 1000
Hate-hate-hate this guy. Almost every morning as I ride my Guzzi into town and begin my survival war with the dense Milanese traffic, he pulls up from behind, gives two loud throttle blips and begins his little show. A barking downshift and he overtakes me doing 60 (when the traffic and me are crawling at 35), heading straight into the oncoming traffic in the opposite lane, avoiding a head on collision at the last nanosecond. Just two days ago he had a real close call with a car that innocently pulled out from the line. I swear I was almost sorry he didn't crash. What an idiot. Yet, every time this macho Italian passes me I can't avoid shouting inside my helmet: Shiite! That Monster looks cool! My morning nemesis rides a satin black Monster 900 with aftermarket high level Termignonis that endow his Duc's tail with an extra sexy look.
A full decade after the Monster's birth, this thing still looks the biz regardless of the IQ level of certain owners--a remarkable achievement in a time when companies are busy designing and redesigning their wares in cycles of three or four years or even less, seeking eternal young looks. You can bet your seating member that Ducati are well aware of the worth of their golden-egg laying chicken (must be an Italian thing--Ed.). More than 100,000 Monsters of varying displacements have been sold since `93--which isn't peanuts even by Japanese mass production standards--without any major design changes. It wouldn't be wrong to assume that without Miguel Galuzzi's master stroke (the Monster's designer), Ducati might not have survived the 90s.
Evergreen as the Monster has always been, time doesn't stand still. The naked class is growing fast, all the biggies have contenders now, a serious update for the good old Monster was due. At first sight it seems like nothing has changed much and it'll be hard to blame Ducati for not messing with a winning formula. Every tube of that unique and exposed trellis frame seems to create a perfect dialog with its neighbors, and moving one by even half an inch would be sacrilege. The brain-shaped fuel tank sits on top of the frame in perfect poise and balances with its softness the frame's rigid lines. The air-cooled power unit has gained classical sculpture status and keeps the last ties with Ducati's glorious past as it was originally penned by the one and only Fabio Taglioni, AKA Dr.T, the grandfather of all cool Ducatis. A frame, an engine and a fuel tank. Life can't be simpler than that.
So the big news about the new Monster is in the details. The major "detail" is of course the new Dual Spark 1000cc engine. Unlike a decade ago, there is serious money now in Ducati, serious enough to allow a total revamp of the trusty power unit. The myriad changes to the air-cooled mill have been exhaustively covered in the SuperSport 1000DS launch report.
The big growth in displacement, the deeply massaged head with enlarged valves, and above all the extra spark plug per pot are enough to justify an "all-new" heading. Like all Monsters for model year `03, the DS1000 also gets a strengthened frame, and a new swingarm and suspension linkage lifted from the 916-powered Monster S4. Ducati claims a 30-percent increase in overall stiffness for this frame and a comfier riding position--claims which felt justified when I tested the S4 a year and a half ago.
There are also plenty of smaller updates too, like a new and classy instrument cluster, a small fairing, a rear suspension with ride height adjustability, plenty of small carbon fiber covers and protectors, a fully adjustable Showa USD fork... Minimalist the Monster might well be but the bike I picked up from Ducati's parking lot looked way better finished and detailed than the old 900 ever was. Come to think of it, this Duc looks better finished than even the exotic S4 I sampled, a Monster that didn't quite know what to do with its exposed radiator and rubber hoses. Unlike the S4, which seemed like a quick effort to close the gap in front of powerful new naked models, the new DS1000 Monster is much more coherent while remaining faithful to the original spirit of the family. None of the flimsy brackets holding the S4's bikini fairing for instance. The only visual detriment I can point my finger at is the high-voltage cable for the extra spark plug of the front cylinder, which juts out from the timing belt cover like a sore thumb.
This little complaint is soon forgotten as I sample the huge change in oomph brought about by the new engine and its extra sparks. Throttle response is totally awesome! A light throttle blip and the front wheel paws the air effortlessly. Do the same in second, and those wheelies just get longer. Pro monowheelers more courageous than me should have a field day with this one. Ducati knows a thing or two about fuel injecting big lungs, and the DS1000 surges forward without any hesitation. With a light crankshaft and not much of a flywheel, the new mill pushes in strong and linear fashion from 3000 right into the rev limiter at 8,700 rpm: 84 horsepower might not sound like much, but with a torque curve that bulges up early and a relatively light weight of 416 pounds (wet), the M1000 supplies plenty of fun in roll-ons, feeling just as quick as the taller-geared S4 at medium speeds. Being also a full 40 pounds lighter than the similarly powered Multistrada and physically smaller, the Monster feels much livelier and responsive all around.
The cycle side of the equation leaves good early impressions too. A frame as stiff as a small steel bridge, sticky Pirellis, wide handlebars and a Ducati road tester on a Multistrada exiting the factory gate at the same time as me means I immediately go into attack mode. Seemingly inspired by my morning-ride idiot, the Ducati tester dives into a fast roundabout just outside the factory, all guns blazing, without giving much thought to the cold tires. Whatever. These guys know a thing or two `bout frames too. The M1000 is so confidence-inspiring from the word go, responds so sincerely to my inputs, that all thoughts of slowly learning its responses feel superfluous. Just ride the wheels off the thing. Soon enough we join the thick Bologna traffic--a good occasion to check the Monster's table manners.