2004 Ducati S4R Monster
Quick: what're the crucial elements of naked-bike greatness, the factors that define the class?
Can I get some answers from the MO Crew?
"Minimal bodywork, of course," sez peppy Alphonse. "An upright riding position and dirtbike-style bars," Ms. Ashley coos while painting her nails. "Loads of torque all around, the better for wheelie-ing," states D-Lo. Good, good. "A shiny bald head and a huge throbbing attitude!" Ebass shouts from the back corner. Wrong! We're talking bikes here, not your fashion sense, thilly. Go to the principal's orifice immediately! Kids these days, I tell ya. No respect.
Ducati claims the S4R is the most powerful Monster ever. You'll get no argument from me on that point. Ease out the clutch and it practically pulls your arms off, right off idle. The big twin, rattly and noisy in that unique Ducati way, has a sweet, flat torque curve that just begs to be abused, at any speed, again and again, until you go to jail....
I've never cared much for the look of the Monster bikes, which have been with us for ten years now (wow!) and could be considered one of the first production "streetfighter"-style naked bikes. Just didn't like the stubby tail section, really. However, the S4R is a real eye-catcher and has made me a convert.
"It's nice to know that Ducatis come in other colors than red," said a friend of mine. The S4R (also available in a cool metallic grey with red frame, black, yellow, and yes, red) is tastefully appointed in dark blue with a cool offset racing stripe...totally reminiscent of the 60s Shelby Cobras, to my eye...and a few others.
If there were a category for Sexiest Pipes, the S4R's would win hands down (next to myself, of course). The dual right-side high-mount mufflers look like some tasty Euro aftermarket accessory and make appropriately roarty sounds, especially on trailing throttle...HUMMMMmmmmm.. The under-bike exhaust collector, unfortunately, resembles an aluminum cow stomach...but luckily it's pretty much out of sight.
Also extremely sexy is the MH-style single-sided aluminum swingarm, a real piece of Italian art fit for display on a plinth right next to Michelangelo's David, I'd say. Not sure though about its weight, as SS swingarms are usually heavier than conventional swingarms.
The S4R has decent suspension bits as well, including the trendy gold titanium nitride-coated tubes on its fully-adjustable Showa front fork, and a Showa rear shock. Not quite the Ohlins one would expect on a bike of this caliber, but they work fine so only poseurs (or serious racers) will care. The white Marchesini magnesium wheels are gorgeous, but as always questions remain about their durability, as magnesium is very brittle...not to mention very expensive.
Up top, the Duc's new instrument panel is pretty but the LCD panels, which show the tripmeter, temperature, and clock, are difficult to read. The new-style mirrors, however, are vibe-free and give a great view of approaching cop lights instead of your elbows, a real departure from the Italian norm. Trick carbon fiber bits abound, including the front fender, side panels, radiator cover, and cam belt covers. The small flyscreen above the headlight does a decent job of breaking the wind (almost as good as Ebass) considering its size, and the matching rear seat cowl effectively discourages any potential passengers from begging a ride, while looking damn cool at the same time.
The variable-section aluminum handlebar, in the obligatory Streetfighter flat motocross bend, is perfect most of the time...good width with a drop angle, which positions the rider in a slight forward cant. However it's thin and rigid and while this is good for ultimate road feel at the front end, it transmits every little jolt right to the hands, which can quickly get tiring on a bumpy freeway.
But, what the hell was Ducati thinking when they mounted the emissions canister right out in the open, under the left side of the radiator?? Absolutely fugly. They should go ahead and put a "Remove and Discard" sticker on it because I predict that will be one of the first mods S4R owners will make. And what's up with all those rubber hoses in the engine bay? I know folks who like naked bikes like to see the engine in all its complex mechanical glory, but a snakepit? C'mon Ducati, take the lead...cover those ugly tubes with some braided steel, fer chrissakes. No one who spends the $13,500 asking price of the S4R is gonna mind the extra $100 or so....
Riding the Duc on MO's tight `n twisty top-secret mountain road, I found it an absolute flickable joy...light and powerful and totally in control. This is unusual for Ducati sporty bikes, which usually thrive in the big sweepers and suffer in the tight stuff due to heavy steering and limited steering lock. No need to use more than two gears in most situations as the 996 engine's healthy torque and precise fuel injection kept the power perfect; just point and shoot.
Go naked, young rider...and be happy
The Michelin Pilot Sport skins gave excellent feel and stickiness too, and the Brembo binders were, well, monstrous in their whoa-power. Shifting action is quick-snick sweet, with a short lever throw that pretty much eliminates false neutrals. Clonking into first from neutral, however, makes a solid "thunk" which takes a bit of getting used to after riding Japanese machines.
So, can you tell I'm pretty much smitten by the S4R? It's true. The Ducati combines drop-dead gorgeous looks with a solid, kick-ass engine and suspension package. Who needs a 999 (which sells for like $4000 more) when you can go fast AND be reasonably comfortable in the real world? .