First Ride: 2002 Ducati Monster 620 i.e.


San Diego, California, February 11, 2002
We like to think of California, the southern portion in particular, as the epicenter of the two-wheeled world. The United States market is a huge target for manufacturers, and sales in California make up a significant portion of sales here.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Ducati's Monster 600 has gone relatively unnoticed here. Being the little sibling to larger bikes like the Monster 750 or even the S4 with its 996-derived motor, is not an easy job. So despite the fact that it's the best-selling Ducati in the world, with over 10,000 units having left dealer's floors already, it's hardly been seen on anybody's must-have list.

In spite of the fact that the smallest of the Monster line has been the best seller, Ducati has seen fit to introduce to the world a brand new small-displacement Monster -- this one with even more power, better handling, stronger brakes and fuel-injection. Ducati hopes the American market takes notice of its new baby, too. And by sticking to a smaller version of the same formula that gave us the S4, they think we won't mind robbing the cradle this time.

Changing the Monster

Starting with the obvious, the 620's motor now displaces nearly the amount of cubic centimeters its name would suggest, falling just two shy at 618 cc. The motor has grown from 583 cc to its current displacement thanks to a three-millimeter increase in each cylinder's stroke (now 61.5 mm) while the bore has remained the same at 80 mm. In addition to the increase in displacement, the motor now sports larger valves that work through the familiar Desmo valve train.

At a glance, you'd be hard-pressed to spot the difference between the Monster 620 i.e. and one of its larger displacement brothers. The new motor sits between the Trellis frame's rails in classic Ducati style.

To match the larger motor's needs and up the number of horses that live at the top end of the rev range, the cams now feature more aggressive lift and duration. This all adds up to a claimed 60 horses at 9,500 rpm and 53.3 foot-pounds of torque at 6,750 rpm. This is a solid improvement over the old motor's figures of 51 horsepower and 50 foot-pounds. And, in addition to the increase in outright power figures, the new motor now revs 1,500 rpm higher than its predecessor, with a rev limit set at 9,500 rpm.

Getting air into the motor is the job of a new, larger airbox that feeds into 45 mm throttle bodies where the incoming air mixes with fuel, thanks to a Magneti Marelli fuel-injection system. Once through the motor, spent gases exit through a new exhaust system that features a catalytic converter just upstream of the familiar dual mufflers. The new system is supposed to provide cleaner emissions and around-town drivability as well as enough flow so as not to kill any hard work that's been done inside the motor.

Wrapped around the new motor is the familiar Trellis-style frame Ducati has used for what seems like forever. The S4-derived frame is very similar to the unit it replaces, except for a three millimeter increase in the diameter of the tubing. At the front of the frame is a new cast steering head that sets the rake out at 24 degrees. The steering spindle's diameter has been increased from 25 to 40 mm and the torsional rigidity of the whole chassis is said to be up 30 percent.

Coming out of corners, the 618 cc motor produces enough thrust to entertain experienced pilots while its docile nature allows lesser riders to feel confident.

Keeping tabs on the asphalt below you is a new set of 43 mm inverted forks that allow 130 mm of wheel travel and feature new damping characteristics to better match the 620's sporting character. Out back resides a similarly inclined Sachs shock absorber that allows 148 millimeters of travel at the wheel. The fork features no external adjusters, though the rear shock provides provisions for tweaking pre-load and rebound damping.

Riding the mini-MonsterThe problem with taking a theory that worked at its intended full-strength application and applying it to a smaller situation is that, frequently, you often lose more than you intended. Thankfully for Ducati, and us, that's simply not the case here.

Leaving the seaside town of La Jolla, headed up into the mountains of San Diego county, it was obvious that we were still riding something that's every bit a Ducati Monster, Never mind the "620 i.e." lettering adorning the bike, it didn't feel at all like we expected.

Pulling in the clutch, precisely clunking into the first of five well-spaced cogs, we were greeted with a pull that was no lighter than what we can recall of any of the larger Monsters we've recently sampled. Thankfully, engagement of the clutch is the only part about the bike that may be considered difficult by some. Once under way, however, we found ourselves pleased with the adequate power on tap and the clean way it pulled across the rev range.

On the brakes, we were surprised to find the dual discs mounted on the 620 Standard's binder to be only slightly stronger than the single disc mounted to the 620 Dark.

With its wide bars and non-threatening power, the herd of 30 Monsters wound out of town and onto some interesting bits of twisty two-lane. Under way, each of us was needlessly chucking the little bikes about beneath us. There was no reason for the aggressive side-to-side antics, other than the simple fact that the bike felt planted and light beneath us -- so why not?

Climbing up through the mountains, our first stint was aboard the single-braked Monster dark. Even with a rather large (some would say oafish) 6'2" tall tester on board, the little bike handled the chores set before it quite well. Hauling all 195 pounds of rider up a hill, immediately out of a tricky low-rpm 180-degree turn, the motor never missed a beat. The pull out of such corners was enough to get us going, though the bike's front end never got light enough to even threaten an unwanted departure from terra firma.

Through the mid-range the 618 cc motor pulls quite well, if not better than we expected. Though we could easily and often rev the bike up to its rev-limiter if we chose to, we found the most efficient approach was to keep it singing between 4,000 and 8,000 rpm. That kept us out of the motor's basement where it's vibes were often chunky and mildly intrusive, and out of the motor's extreme upper revs.

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