2009 Ducati Monster 1100 Review

A "real" motorcycle


With some liter-sized hyper-sportsbikes pushing out 160 horsepower at the back wheel, some of you might wonder why we had so much giggle-inducing fun tilting horizons on a bike that would be gasping to produce 80 ponies.

An air-cooled, two-valve-per-cylinder V-Twin can’t compete with liquid-cooled, multi cylinder and valved supersports machines, but there’s a visceral charm to the latest version of the venerable Ducati Twin. Its simplistic design not only looks wonderful set inside Ducati’s freshest trellis frame, it produces bags of torque at accessible engine speeds that enables a rider to delve deep into its soulful delivery, exploding out of second-gear corners as well or better than anything else on the road.

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New engine cases are the fulcrum for the steel trellis main frame and the cast-aluminum subframe. Shown is the 1100S Monster with its Ohlins suspension.
While 95 crankshaft horsepower doesn’t sound like a lot, an eminently surfable torque curve proves to be quite engaging.
And what roads they were! The French Mediterranean is one of the most spectacular seaside areas in the world and, more to the point, has some truly stunning roadways that fall and climb alongside the bluer-than-blue water. With rarely an opportunity to get beyond fourth gear, Ducati’s newest Monster was perfectly in its element.

It’s not an easy task to be stylishly hip with ritzy locales such as Cannes and Nice nearby, but the Monster 1100 is up to job. It’s a minimalist design with a clean and tidy engine section; ancillary wiring and hoses are thankfully well hidden. The bike’s flat-silver paint is classy and tasteful, with the overall look punched up by the bold red frame rails. (The bike’s also available in red with a red frame or black with a black frame.)

The 1100 shares numerous styling elements with the Monster 696 launched five months ago in Barcelona, with its Desmosedici-derived shorty trellis frame sandwiching the injected V-Twin between a die-cast aluminum subframe. The 1100 also shares the split (and replaceable) fuel tank covers and electronic instrument panel with the 696. Setting it apart is an aluminum single-sided swingarm, different wheels and bigger tires (a 120/70-17 front instead of the 696’s 120/60; and a 180/55-17 rear rather than a 160/60).

The new 1100 has the same engine architecture as used in the Multistrada and Hypermotard, displacing 1078cc. What’s different is the Monster 1100’s crankcases are made from the Vacural (vacuum die-cast) method employed on the 848, making them about 6.5 lbs lighter than the outgoing S2R’s.

A new ECU controls the engine’s brains, including a lambda sensor for each cylinder to ensure optimum fueling and an exhaust valve that alters backpressure for best response at all rpm. Siemens 45mm throttle bodies replace the Marelli mixers on the S2R. A new oil cooler helps shed heat. With an extra 86cc and a boost in compression, the 1100’s mill gets a bump of 6.5 ft-lbs of torque to 79.5 ft-lbs at the same 6000 rpm. Rated horsepower remains constant at 95, though it now arrives 500 revs sooner at 7500 rpm.

The Monster 1100 fires up easily, now employing a stepper motor that automatically controls idle speeds. A tapered aluminum handlebar (rather than the 696’s steel item) reaches back further than the old S2R’s, providing a sporty but more comfortable riding position. There is nearly nothing visible to the rider except a peek of the tidy gauge pack that offers info such as oil and air temp, a lap timer and clock scrollable via a switch of the left handlebar. At 31.9 inches, the 1100’s seat is 10mm higher than the 696, opening up the rider triangle to make it more appropriate for larger humans.

The amount of force requited to pull the adjustable clutch lever proves to be surprisingly light for a Duc, even though Bologna Boys have opted to use its traditional dry clutch (“because Ducatistis like it”) rather than the wet design of the 696. A dry clutch can be irritatingly grabby when engaged, but this one is fairly well behaved. Only during high-rpm launches did I get a hint of grabbiness, but the Monster 1100’s grunty engine and short low gear requires only a whiff of revs to get underway smartly – just right for city riding (or trolling through Cannes, if you’re in the neighborhood!). Gearbox action isn’t as light as a Japanese bike, although my tester had just 400 miles on it and no shifts were missed.

The Monster exudes a classic roadster form, being both comfy and sporty.

Response from the twistgrip is immediate and direct, which an untrained wrist might feel as slightly abrupt but is reasonably manageable. It’s accompanied by a tuneful rumble and boom from the aluminum high-mount exhaust canisters that jut out provocatively when viewed from the rear. The tight roads on the southern French coast are a perfect canvas for this reactive instrument, and the Monster 1100 ably colors inside the lines of their diminutive dimensions.

Key to this streetfighter’s performance is a lack of mass. Ducati says it has a dry weight of just 373 lbs, which is a considerable 19 lbs lighter than the S2R and some 40 lbs less than Triumph’s appealing Speed Triple. The biggest Monster proves as easy to push around the garage as it does in snarled city traffic or on a serpentine seaside byway.

The lithe Monster was ideal for the coastal roads in the south of France.

"Riding around on the Monster 1100 is relatively painless for a machine with this much sporting potential."

A 24.0-degree rake and a scant 87mm of trail combine with a wide handlebar to create dexterous scalpel for carving up a road, even if its 57.1-inch wheelbase is 0.4 inch longer than the S2R. The Bridgestone BT016 tires are sticky and offer pleasingly neutral steering characteristics, likely aided by the wise choice to use a 180mm rear tire instead of something fatter and bulkier. The M1100, when cornering, keeps turning while trail braking.

Higher speeds were achieved when our ride turned inland, which then put a greater emphasis on braking performance. The maxi Monster has a pair of radial-mount 4-piston Brembo calipers and 320mm rotors similar to the 696, but it adds a radial-pump master cylinder to send fluid through its braided-steel lines, which Ducati says offers the same stopping power with 17% less lever pressure. In actual use, the binders are strong but not touchy like the 1098’s, which prove to be optimum for street use.

Compared to 696, the 1100 has a 40mm higher “vehicle body” for better ground clearance, according to Ducati. Part of that is due to a 10mm greater stroke in the longer Showa fork which offered excellent composure, so there was no need to take advantage of is full adjustability. The Sachs shock is cantilevered for progressive action without a linkage and provides a generous 5.8 inches of travel. Rear-wheel response was better than I had expected from a non-linkage type suspension, tripping up only on large, sharp-edged bumps. The shock also has a progressively wound design and has preload and rebound-damping adjustments but no compression provisions.

Riding around on the Monster 1100 is relatively painless for a machine with this much sporting potential. A slight reach to the bars puts its rider into a comfy attack mode, and the narrower (but one-liter larger) 3.8-gallon fuel tank allows knees to tuck in tightly. The seat feels well-padded and is sloped forward less than the 696, although hard braking can still induce what I’ll call Monster balls. Perhaps an optional tank with a pair of oval recesses at its seat junction would be a desirable addition to the accessory line!

"As functional as the new Monster is, it also offers real charisma with its honest but visceral motorcycle charm."

The M1100’s steering sweep has been extended a very practical 10 degrees over the S2R. Wind is deflected only by the triple-parabola headlight and instruments on our Euro test bikes, but a mini flyscreen will be standard equipment on U.S. models when they begin arriving late this year. Stylish mirrors mounted on smoothly contoured stalks give a useful view rearward if you pick the right angle.

As functional as the new Monster is, it also offers real charisma with its honest but visceral motorcycle charm. It’s simply an engine with a couple of wheels as part of a stylishly cohesive package. Two-wheel cognoscenti know it’s cool, naturally, but so do the bike-unaware general public who often paused their perusal of the Mediterranean to visually inhale the beauty of this elemental and attractive roadster.

And for those who might believe 95 crankshaft horsepower is unacceptable for a liter-size sportbike, you owe it to yourself to grab a handful of this Monster. Brawny power is produced from as low as 3000 revs, and second-gear throttle wheelies prove to be endlessly entertaining. Just as important to a rider is feedback from Ducati’s V-Twin: rumbly and cool. And it produces a luscious song that is deep and mean, throwing in pops and burbles from the exhaust on the overrun. This is a surprisingly lovely soundtrack for an EPA-legal exhaust.

Lots to like, obviously, but despite the free-flowing wine and magnificent scenery thrust upon us, we can still point out a few nits to pick. As improved as the riding position is, the handlebar seems to have a slightly odd bend and feel about an inch too wide. The instruments pay a price for their compactness by being difficult to read at a glance. On a related note, the red shift light at the top of the gauges gets illuminated often because of the engine’s low 8000-rpm rev limit. Finally, those sweet-sounding mufflers are set wide, even though it appears there’s room to bring them in closer together, creating hot spots for any passenger willing to sit on the reasonably accommodating pillion pad.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to broadband sales success is its $11,995 MSRP. While a well-heeled Ital-ophile won’t blink at that price, budget-minded shoppers might be looking elsewhere. Even though it’s only $500 more than the S2R, it’s a whopping $3000 more than the strong-selling 696. More to the point, Triumph’s enticing Speed Triple retails for just $10,299. Making the ownership experience a little more palatable are service intervals stretched to 7500 miles and a standard two-year warranty.

Deep-pocketed Monster fans will likely throw down for the higher-spec 1100S version. The appeal of Ohlins suspension and a smattering of carbon fiber is irresistible for some. Bike-spotters can also identify the S model by its gold wheels and aluminum brake disc carriers that are said to be 1.4 lbs lighter for a 10% reduction in inertia. What you won’t find are forged aluminum wheels that are present on some other Ducati S models.

The Perfect Bike For...
An aficionado of Italian style, versatility, sporting intent and a musical exhaust note.
 Highs:     Sighs:
  • An honest but captivating ride
  • Soulful and responsive engine
  • Classy, contemporary style
  • Lofty price tag
  • Relatively modest power output
  • No gear indicator
Duke's Duds
  • Lid: Fulmer
  • Skin: Shift SR1 jacket and Torque pants
  • Gloves: Shift
  • Boots: Icon

Related Reading:
2009 Ducati Monster 696 Review
2005 Ducati Monster S2R Review
2006 Ducati S4Rs Review
2008 Triumph Speed Triple Review

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