2005 Ducati Monster S2R
Brothers & sisters, I feel your pain. You are enticed by the idea of a wet-and-wild supermoto, but you are not into racing a motocrosser with street tires in a parking lot, oh no. You're too old or meek for broken bones on a weekly basis. You are more into an open-road type of supermoto, something less focused. A bike that would let you cover 150 miles without shaking your fillings out on the way to that gnarly secret fantasy road, the one that's so curvy it gives you the goosebumps. Unfortunately, for you and me, such an animal doesn't really exist and it hurts. I feel your pain. I would be upset too if I had to do an hour-long highway drone on a track-oriented 450 SM with an ironing board for a seat. Yes I know that there are up-and-coming beasts such as the 950/990 KTM twins, but are you sure that the remedy for your pain lies with these high-horsepower, sub-400lb badass tools?
Well, I know I'm pushing the proverbial envelope with supermoto community members, but I think I've found the remedy in a rather unexpected mount. Look at the pictures and read my thoughts. A Ducati Monster... what the hell does that have to do with a supermoto? Am I high on inhaled race gas fumes? Well no, this divine revelation didn't land on me all of the sudden. After ten days with Ducati's S2R, I came to the conclusion that it's the "supermoto" of sorts that I would like to spend my day on. A day with a good mix of open highways in search of classy bends and then tearing, scratching and storming up and down gnarly passes. It's a bit surprising really, considering the fact that the S2R is not even the Monster's flagship. Higher up the ladder you'll find the powerful S4R and of course the classy M1000. On the face of it, the S2R is a poseur: macho S4R looks but with a "puny" 77 hp engine. So why do I allow myself to come out with such a bold statement? Read on. The 800cc mill is not that well known and needs some introduction. During the general upgrade of Ducati's air-cooled mills a few years ago, the 900 was bumped to 1000cc's, the 600 to 620 and the unpopular 750 to 800. Just like the other two engines, the 800 mill received heavy updates to its combustion chambers, head and lubrication system, but it doesn't have the twin spark DS system. This setup is more critical on big bore engines such as the 1000cc unit. The one important goodie that the 800 does have over big brother, is the new APTC clutch which reduces effort at the lever as well as supplying an antilock action. This is a welcome improvement, as Ducs have notoriously heavy clutches which can be a pain in stop and go traffic.
Design wise, you get the looks of the S4R with that racy off center color stripe running from the small shield to the back seat cover that looks, oh so Shelby Cobra 60's. When I went to pick my test ride, in Orange and Black trim, I found it parked between a red/white S4R and a yellow/black S2R and I must say that my mount's color scheme was the least appealing. The red/white, available also on the S2R is the bollocks, a true chick magnet. Fire it up and the twin Termignonis emit a very muted beat. Bummer. Luckily, their high placement -- closer to ears -- means that you get plenty of aural feedback while seated. On to the city streets, first thing to get noticed is the reduced effort at the clutch lever. Not down to oriental levels, but a serious improvement nevertheless. After your body settles down on the new triangle dictated by the handlebars, seat and pegs, you also notice that the somewhat strange riding position of old monsters has changed. There is less weight on the wrists and the footpegs are now in a much more proper position, so everything feels way more balanced. Mmmm... more supermoto I hear myself thinking... Additionally, I must add that the revised Duc is more rational and adapted to city dwelling.
On the short ride home, only two things bother me: stress at my wrists due to the handlebar angle and what feels like too light of a front-end. It's much lighter than I remember from the other Monsters I rode. A quick check with a tire pressure gauge reveals that the front is over inflated while the wrists issue is solved with a 6 mm Allen key and rotating the handlebars in the clamps. Perfect. There are test bikes which I have no problem leaving alone until I have time for a proper ride after bringing them home. Just the thought of taking a Supersport or Sport Tourer to do errands in the city makes me sweat. With this Monster, it's the other way round. The single-cylinder-like narrowness, the sporty yet erect seating position, the torquey engine and the newly lightened clutch, allure me to go back into town to play. I don my jet helmet, my cut finger gloves, vintage black jacket and I'm feeling all set for a hormone check in downtown bars. My feisty mood has an abrupt reality check though.
About a mile into my ride, I realize that I left my wallet at home. U-turn time in a double lane street and...Shiite! Mid turn, I realize that there's no way I am going to make it and I almost crash into a parked car's door. I'd forgotten the Monster line has a history of limited steering lock and this bike's maximum steering angle is simply pathetic!
Only at the very last second, do I put a steadying.foot down and save the bike from an embarrassing fall at 0 mph. Shaken, I turn back home, grab my wallet and head out again. Time to get more agro. Sure, clutch pull is light but now the lever is too short and the ball end digs annoyingly into my little finger in constant city traffic use. These two problems are double irritating since they could be easily solved. Otherwise, the M800 is such a peach for city riding/showing off. The pull from down low is nice and linear and by rolling the throttle just slightly quicker while sprinting out of lights, the front end comes up beautifully. No surprises here. Power is so controllable and un-intimidating that even a wheelie-challenged nerd like me can pretend to be Doug Domokos for at least a couple hundred yards at a time. The small overall bulk, stiff frame and wide handlebars tempt you to arrive at stop lights with the rear end either in the air or crossed up after a nice slide just for the heck of it. It is indeed impressive how this decade-old-plus design still feels so fresh and conveys those young and brash emotions. Just remember the limited steering lock and use three fingers rather than four on the clutch lever. The thing still has the innate ability to make you feel king of the 'hood whenever you throw a leg over it. Enough posing.
Saturday morning I hop on the Milan-Genoa highway and the M800 has no trouble at all keeping a steady 100 mph and for a short and furious stretch.I've seen 125 on the speedo. Obviously, as with any full on naked, regardless of cc's, droning at 80-90mph makes much more sense, and at those speeds the 90° twin is pumping out power in a relaxed and smooth fashion. Another relaxing trait is that the retouched riding position more evenly splits the load between legs and bum cheeks. The mildly redesigned bikini fairing does an OK job in deflecting windblast from your chest and has stronger attachments, but it still flexes and vibrates quite a lot, reminding you that this is a Ducati after all.
Kerouac had his highway 66, but the one road I call my own is the SS427, a winding leg between the village of Varzi and the Del Penice pass. Unlike Jack, I have no philosophical or existentialist motives here, just a simple adrenaline addiction. Most Milanese squids prefer the faster Trebbia road in the valley at the other side of the pass. I on the other hand, am a sucker for the 20 miles of mental zig-zagging that this road offers with hardly any straight bits to catch your breath. It's the kind of place where there's not much use for more than 80-90hp or less, but it demands solid handling, quick steering, good brakes, usable power and clear front end feedback. This Monster has such a nice mix of all the above, that I'm in full banshee mode within 30 seconds. Something feels different about this M800's setup, the front end feeling more reactive and the slight laziness while tipping old Monsters into bends has almost disappeared. This S2R just loves my futile attempts to twist the frame and reacts to my countersteering inputs with a quick and smooth stoop into bends. Weighing-in at 15 pounds less than the M1000 might help here too. In the long hairpins it's easier to dial in the last degrees of lean and the improved ground clearance ensures that there won't be any muffler grinding here, even while hitting mid-corner bumps.