2018 Ducati Monster 821 Review - First Ride

Sean Alexander
by Sean Alexander

Ducati puts the previous Monster 821 in a blender with a Monster 1200

In the fall of 1992 Ducati introduced its first ever Monster, the M900. It was a bike aimed outside of the company’s typical sportbike targets, a simple roadster that blended the frame from an 851 superbike with the air-cooled 904cc motor from the Super Sport series.

2018 Ducati Monster 821

Editor Score: 84.5%
Engine 17.5/20
Suspension/Handling 14/15
Transmission/Clutch 7.5/10
Brakes 9.25/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 7.5/10
Appearance/Quality 8.75/10
Desirability 8.0/10
Value 7.5/10
Overall Score84.5/100

2018 Ducati Monster 821 Reveal
2017 Ducati Monster 797 First Ride
2017 Ducati Monster 1200S First Ride

Designer Miguel Galluzzi draped that first Monster in a bare minimum of bodywork to create an elemental “naked” roadster. It was a smashing success that some people even claim financially saved a struggling Ducati. Now, after 25 years and more than 320,000 Monsters produced, a financially secure and seriously competitive Ducati has assembled the world’s moto press in Rimini, Italy, to test the new 2018 Monster 821.

More of a cosmetic refresh than a whole “new” motorcycle, the 2018 Monster 821 is a well-integrated blend of components from last year’s Monster 821 and 1200 models. It basically uses the frame, brakes, Euro-4 silencer, fuel tank, headlight, color TFT instrument display, footpegs, bodywork, and miscellaneous hardware from the Monster 1200 as desirable upgrades to the Monster 821 for 2018. It combines that extensive list of borrowed Monster 1200 hardware with the existing 821cc Testastretta 11° engine, 43mm inverted fork, and spring preload and rebound damping adjustable rear shock connected to a double-sided swingarm from last year’s 821. There you have it, a new Ducati is born!

The bike that started it all, this is Miguel Galluzzi’s original M900 Monster now residing in the museum at Ducati’s factory, as originally introduced in the fall of 1992.

With a clear eye on the past, the new 821 features retro original M900 touches like its cool exposed gas tank latch and the exact same shade of yellow paint. Obviously, it looks a whole lot like a Monster 1200, and that’s not a bad thing, seeing as that bike in particular really does a nice job of simplifying the somewhat busy aesthetic we’ve seen in recent liquid-cooled Monsters. I say Ducati was wise to hoist that M900-inspired styling direction upon the 1200 and new 821cc versions.

Clean and purposeful, the new Monster 821 follows the Monster 1200 in a return to basic Monster goodness.

If a yellow bike with a black frame ain’t your bag, then the 821 is also available in red with a red frame, or black with a black frame. All three 2018 Monster 821 color schemes come with black wheels.

Everybody loves a little mechanical porn from time to time.

Following a quick technical briefing and a long meal, we retired for the night with visions of strafed apexes dancing in our heads. Snuggle the pillow, then splash some water on your face in the morning, and poof it’s time to ride…. Sunny, damp and chilly. Following the pragmatic application of two turns of extra rear spring preload to suit my weight and a pinch more rebound damping for the shock, I thumbed the Monster 821 to life and dutifully followed my designated group out into the still sleeping city of Rimini.

The test route was about 100 miles in length, with only about 10 of them being within Rimini’s city limits, proper. It doesn’t take much city riding to discover that the 821, like all Monsters, is a fine platform on which to negotiate a city’s streets. It also didn’t take but a moment to observe that the gearbox can be particularly notchy when cold, and that the exhaust headers’ heat shield intrudes a bit into the space that the rider’s right shin might otherwise occupy. That was a minor annoyance for a few minutes, until a modified – more bow-legged – riding position somewhat alleviated the issue.

My mama always told me to look through the corner! Note bow-legged stance required to keep right shin from pressing against headers’ heat shield.

Slightly more problematic is the fact that the new peg brackets aren’t entirely successful at relieving the boot interference problems that were such an annoyance with the old one-piece units. It’s much improved, but the leading edge of the right rear passenger peg bracket is close enough to the rider’s peg that a large boot and a balls of the feet foot position frequently results in contact with the back of the right boot heel, which really is an unnecessary inconvenience.

The bulk of the ride is medium-speed twisty stuff, which is of course ideal for an Italian Monster. The pace picked up a bit as soon as we were out of town, and the Monster 821 proceeded to reveal itself as a friendly and amenable bike that suits a wide range of riding styles. That is mostly thanks to its stable chassis coupled with wide high-leverage handlebars. It’s a bike that manages to be both stable and nimble at the same time – and, dare I say, almost SV650-like in its accessibility. That’s a real compliment.

Of course, the 821 would peel the skin off an SV650 in any real contest of speed, thanks to more power and torque as well as the far superior quality and tuning of Ducati’s suspension components. No, this is a European roadster through and through. Aside from a slightly notchy gearbox on the low-mileage example in the test ride and a very slight tendency to steer a bit wide on corner exits, I’d say it’s just about perfect for navigating twisty countryside.

Although it is an easy bike to ride, the Monster 821 is also capable of blurring the scenery just fine, thank you.

The seating isn’t quite as cramped as on some other Monsters I’ve ridden over the past couple decades and is partially helped by the fact the stock seat can be adjusted to one of two heights. It’s 31.9” tall in the high mounting position, and about an inch shorter in the low position. Thankfully MO’s test unit was in the high position and my long legs and old knees were pretty comfortable throughout the relatively short ride.

Although the 821 seems very friendly and accessible in general, there are two spots where its dynamic performance might catch new riders out: Its monoblock Brembo M4.32 front calipers squeeze aggressive sets of front brake pads that provide very good stopping power with a strong initial bite on the dual 320mm front rotors that is quite similar to what you’d expect to find on a supersport or superbike. That’s great for experienced sport riders, but perhaps not so great for ham-fisted newbies. Likewise, when ridden in Sport mode, the 821’s throttle response is extremely aggressive right off idle and it requires a calm and smooth wrist to cleanly accelerate an 821 out of a tight first-gear hairpin in Sport mode. So, newer or less-confident riders would be best served by riding it in the noticeably less aggressive Urban or Touring modes and only using Sport mode to train throttle smoothness in less stressful settings away from tight hairpins or parked cars.

In contrast to the somewhat touchy front brakes, the Monster 821’s awesome rear brake (245mm rotor, two-piston caliper) is blessed with a nice and progressive rear master cylinder and rear brake pads. It was easily one of the best rear brake setups I’ve had the pleasure of using in a series of tight hairpins. Of course, I loved the fronts, too, and they do provide the vast majority of raw stopping power, but the rear really shines in mid-corner finesse situations or as a stabilizing influence around the apex of a hairpin. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

San Leo has been called the most beautiful city in Italy. It makes a mighty fine mid-ride lunch stop.

Perched in the middle of the Marecchia Valley, in Romagna between the Marche region and the Republic of San Marino, San Leo is the capital of the principality of Montefeltro and has been called the most beautiful city in Italy. We spent an extended lunch stop there, which provided plenty of time for us to admire the bright yellow Monsters scattered around the church square in the center of town.

2018 Ducati Monster 821

+ Highs

  • Looks Better, Nice Instruments
  • Manageable and Easy to Ride but Not Boring
  • Handles Very Well

– Sighs

  • Header Cover Hits Right Shin
  • Footpeg Brackets Still Interfere
  • Seat-to-Peg a Little Tight

The new 821’s overall styling is sporty and muscular, keying in on iconic Monster styling queues. I really like the round headlight and the slightly more retro looking new tank with the funky-retro clip behind the ignition key compared to the droopy-eyed and boring-tanked 2017 Monster 821. In general the overall restyle was fairly gentle. It still looks a lot like, uh, a Monster. Ducati’s official position on it is that the restyle was “only what was needed, nothing more.”

The 821’s new full color TFT display offered good readability in all lighting conditions and showed a reasonable amount of data like speed, rpm, current ride mode, TC and ABS levels, as well as a bar graph fuel gauge. Although there is a clock display in Urban and Touring modes, it does not appear on the bright TFT screen when in Sport mode. That’s a real bummer for the more obnoxious riders among us who would otherwise commute in Sport mode. Aside from superior daylight legibility, another nice benefit to using the 1200’s entire TFT display assembly is that it makes the 2018 Monster 821 fully compatible with Bluetooth integration through the optional Ducati Multimedia Interface.

If your eyes were located just below your nipples, this would be your view of the Monster’s new color TFT display screen. Although this is a real picture, the TFT screen in the photo is probably simulated… the good news is that the real thing really was that easy to read during our 100-mile test ride.

In the end, I think the new Monster would make a fantastic and stylish first Ducati for any rider with more than six months of riding experience under their belt. Ducati wasn’t B.S.-ing when it claimed the new 821 is the “Best Balanced Monster.” The new Monster 821 will be arriving at U.S. Ducati dealerships in December with a suggested base MSRP of $11,995 just in time for Christmas!

Will we be seeing an 821cc version of a Multistrada next, when Ducati pulls the wraps off the new Panigale V-4 and three or four other additional new 2018 models two nights before EICMA on November 5? A guy can hope!

2018 Electronics Highlights

Three Ride Modes

Sport = (Least restrictive ABS setting + least restrictive DTC setting + maximum throttle response coupled with full power output)

Tour = (Moderate ABS setting + moderate DTC setting + moderate throttle response coupled with full power output)

Urban = (Conservative ABS setting + conservative DTC setting + mild throttle response coupled with 75% of engine power output)

Three Power Modes

High = 109 hp with maximum throttle response (but occasionally a little abrupt off the bottom)

Medium = 109 hp with moderate throttle response

Low = 75 hp with gentle throttle response

Three-level Bosch ABS

Eight-level Ducati Traction Control (DTC)

Related Reading:
2018 Ducati Monster 821 Reveal
2017 Ducati Monster 797 First Ride
2017 Ducati Monster 1200S First Ride

2018 Ducati Monster 821 Specifications
Engine TypeTestastretta 11°, L-Twin, 4 Desmodromically actuated valves per cylinder, Water-cooled
Displacement821 cc (50.1 cu in)
Bore x Stroke88 x 67.5 mm (3.46 x 2.66 in)
Compression Ratio12.8:1
Power107 hp at 9250 rpm (claimed)
Torque63.4 lb-ft. at 7750 rpm (claimed)
Fuel InjectionElectronic fuel injection system, single 53 mm throttle body, Full Ride-by-Wire
Exhaust2-1-2 system, two lambda probes, stainless steel muffler with aluminum end cap
Primary DriveStraight cut gears, Ratio 1.85:1
Gear Ratios1=37/15, 2=30/17, 3=28/20, 4=26/22, 5=24/23, 6=23/24
Final DriveChain drive, Front sprocket Z15, Rear sprocket Z46
ClutchSlipper and self-servo wet multiplate clutch with mechanical control
FrameTubular steel trellis frame linked to cylinder heads
Front Suspension43 mm upside-down fork, 5.12 in travel
Rear SuspensionProgressive linkage with adjustable monoshock, Aluminum double-sided swingarm, 5.51 in travel
Front Wheel10-spoke light alloy, 3.5″ x 17″
Front Tire120/70 ZR 17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso III
Rear Wheel10-spoke light alloy, 5.5″ x 17″
Rear Tire180/55 ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso III
Front BrakeDual 320 mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted monobloc Brembo M4-32 calipers, 4-piston, axial pump with Bosch ABS as standard equipment
Rear BrakeSingle 245 mm disc, 2-piston caliper with Bosch ABS as standard equipment
InstrumentationTFT color display
Dry Weight180.5 kg / 398 lb (claimed)
Wet Weight (Kerb)206 kg / 454 lb (claimed)
Wet Weight (No Fuel)195 kg / 430 lb (claimed)
Seat HeightAdjustable 785 mm – 810 mm (30.91 in – 31.89 in)
Wheelbase1,480 mm (58.27 in)
Trail93.2 mm (3.67 in)
Fuel Tank Capacity16.5 l (4.36 US gal)
Number of Seats2
Warranty24 months, Unlimited mileage
Mainteinance service intervals15,000 km (9,000 mi) / 12 months
Valve clearance check30,000 km (18,000 mi)
Emissions StandardEuro 4
CO2 emissions125 g/km
Fuel Consumption5.4 l/100 km / 43.6 mpg(claimed)
Sean Alexander
Sean Alexander

I Exist.

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2 of 27 comments
  • Blake Newton Blake Newton on Nov 01, 2017

    I see no reason to go with a 2018 when my local dealer has a 2016 for thousands less. There is no way that the 2018 is that much better. Plus....I'm not enamored with the new paint. I liked the 2017 grey and the 2016 white a whole lot more and in person it is clinched. The biggest issue with the 821 has not been addressed though and will take either a new exhaust or different peg arrangements to improve it. Other issues are the awful mirrors and rear fender which apparently are mandated by the same charming folk who decided that the 1976 Maserati Khamsin needed a better bumper. (Look at U.S. vs euro masers to prove my point). I digress. It is easy to find parts that work. It takes ten seconds with a dremel to remove to chronically ugly cop bait aftermarket tags on most exhaust systems and a few minutes to go to bar ends.

  • Farb Sklarb Farb Sklarb on May 20, 2020

    "...iconic Monster styling queues..."

    That's CUES.