First Ride: 2002 Ducati Monster 620 i.e.

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Up top, towards the red portion of the gray-faced tachometer, the motor makes little more power than it does a few hundred rpm south. Keeping things a little less frenetic inside the motor keeps the vibes and noise down, too. About the only time we'd really run the bike up that high was through a series of corners taken at what would be gladly referred to as a spirited pace. Holding onto that gear avoided the need to make a quick upshift, followed by an even quicker downshift before the next bend.

At this accelerated pace, however, we began to uncover one of the little Monster's shortcomings. The first thing we wished for was a slightly stiffer rear end. In quick transitions or over a series of pavement undulations, the back would move about beneath us more than we usually care for. Thankfully, help is only a few turns of a threaded pre-load collar away. The non-adjustable front end, meanwhile, felt remarkably well dialed in for just about everybody who had the pleasure to ride the new Monster.

The gray background provides a neutral setting for the instrument cluster. Mileage, road speed, engine speed and the usual array of warning lights are nicely layed out before you. Before you what? Before you ride, of course...

Once accustomed to the way the 620 i.e. felt beneath us, we were confident enough to repeatedly chuck it onto the sides of its tires. The only problem with such easily attainable lean angles like this is the placement of the mufflers.

You see, there is no warning before they touch down. You throw the bike on its side, from one bend to the next, and the first thing to touch down is the leading edge of the pre-beveled muffler. On occasion, the hard-mounted muffler would lighten up the rear tire enough to get it moving out a bit. Nothing frightening, of course, and totally predictable. This shouldn't be considered a flaw, really, as much as it's attributable to the little bike's solid handling traits that inspire confidence in nearly all levels of riders.

Back through a few more bends for some photo passes, we swapped off our Monster Dark for one of the red-colored Standard versions that feature dual front discs, rubber-coated footpegs and an aluminum swingarm in place of the Dark's steel unit. Immediately, we were unimpressed by the Standard model's dual disc set-up. We had, frankly, expected more stopping power.

In addition to dual front disc brakes, the Monster 620 Standard comes with rubber-covered footpegs and an aluminum swingarm. The mufflers on both bikes, however, come pre-beveled from the Bologna factory -- which is a good thing.

The Monster Dark's binders felt nearly as strong and unflappable as the Standard model's, right up to the last few percent of lever pressure. It was only here that the dual discs seemed to offer any advantage over the single set-up. Back on the Dark version, we also noticed that the single discs lack of reciprocating mass made it a tad easier to chuck about through the same series of bends.

At the end of the day, we had a stretch of roughly 40 miles of freeway to drone home on. Though we weren't looking forward to it, we were quite impressed how good the 620 is as an all-around bike. It's no sport-tourer, of course, but its behavior was perfectly acceptable on the super-slab, its motor ticking away beneath us at a leisurely pace even at super-legal speeds.

A Mighty (little) Monster?

After a day spent flogging (and we really do mean flogging Ducati's newest Monster, we can say, without a doubt, it's a much better bike than we'd expected. It's power is plentiful, though not over-powering, with enough boost on tap to entertain even the usually power-hungry adrenaline junkies in the group. And, as you'd expect, the 620's handling and its looks are, without question, classic Ducati.

In the twisty bits, the leverage afforded by the wide bars and the feedback well-planted suspension made tossing the bike back-and-forth a breeze. The tighter the road, the more we loved the new baby Monster.

So would we own one? In a heartbeat. And with the Monster Dark coming in with a suggested retail price some $500 US dollars south of the Standard model, we'd be hard-pressed to justify the cost of the high-dollar model which, at $6,995 US dollars, isn't really all that high at all -- especially for a Ducati.

Engine: L (90°) twin, 2 valve/cylinder Desmodromic; air cooled Displacement: 618 cc BorexStroke: 80x61.5 mm Compression Ratio: 10.7:1 Power: 60 HP @ 9500 rpm Torque: 53.3 lbs/ft @ 6750 rpm Fuel injection: Marelli electronic fi, 45 mm throttle body Exhaust: 2 aluminum mufflers with catalytic converter Emissions: Euro 2 Gearbox: 5 speed Ratios: 1st 40/16, 2nd 36/21, 3rd 32/24, 4th 29/27, 5th 28/29 Primary drive: Straight cut gears; Ratio 1.85 Final drive: Chain; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket 46 Clutch: Wet multiplate with hydraulic control Frame: Tubular steel trellis Wheelbase: 1440 mm - 56.7 in Rake: 24° Front suspension: 43 mm upside-down fork Front wheel travel: 130 mm/5.1 in Front brake: 2 x 320 mm discs, 4-piston caliper Front wheel: 3-spoke light alloy 3.50x17 Front tire: 120/60 ZR 17 Rear suspension: Progressive linkage with Sachs adjustable monoshock; aluminium swing-arm (on the Standard) Rear wheel travel: 148 mm/5.8 in Rear brake: 245 mm disc, 2-piston caliper Rear wheel: 3-spoke light alloy 4.50x17 Rear tire: 160/60 ZR 17 Fuel tank capacity: 15 l (including 3.5 l reserve) Weight: 177 kg/389 lbs Seat height: 795 mm/31.3 in Instruments: Electronic dashboard: Speedometer, rev counter, warning light for neutral, low oil pressure, indicators for high beam, turn signals, immobilizer, LCD clock, LCD oil temperature Warranty: 2 years unlimited mileage Colors: Red, yellow, blue, silver, black, metallic blue, metallic grey (In the US, red, yellow, black for standard, and matte black for Dark)

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