First Impression: The 1998 Ducati M900S

Ducati's New Age Monster

After the separation of Ducati from the Cagiva group, Ducati fans all over the world had high expectations. Then, after a few difficult years, the American investment banking firm Texas Pacific Group provided a much-needed cash infusion.

Once more Ducati fans held their breath. In the States, the most noticeable difference was the presence of the M750, Ducati's "entry-level" motorcycle in the North American. So far, so good. Next, Ducati unveiled their new logo. Oops. Traditional, old-school Ducatisti were less than thrilled.

Still, Ducati made strides improving and expanding their product line. They recently introduced their first new model in a number of years, the ST2 Sport Turismo. Currently, as this is posted, journalists are at Laguna Seca for North American introduction of the all-new 900SS. Earlier this year Ducati has taken steps to improve upon their popular M900 Monster line.

The M900, dubbed Il Monstro by a Ducati employee, debuted in 1993. Five years later, the M900S (the 'S' stands for 'Special') is, basically, the same motorcycle but with improvements. Already a very attractive bike, carbon fiber pieces and a new color scheme heighten its sex appeal. The front and rear mudguards, the side panels and the muffler-protectors are carbon fiber. Also, the M900S is blacked-out: The bikini fairing, the multi-tubular trellis frame, the fuel tank, the three-spoked alloy Brembo rims are all dressed in black. Unfortunately, the instrument panel remains the same. A plain, white-faced speedometer greets the rider along with the standard assortment of indicators: neutral, lights, fuel, highbeam, turn signals, sidestand light and oil pressure. There is still no standard tach.

The M900S's engine is the same 904cc, air-and-liquid cooled, two-valves per cylinder, 90-degree Desmodromic V-twin designed by the late Fabio Taglioni that has powered earlier Monster 900s. Essentially this is the same powerplant in the 900SS but with with shorter gears and larger valves and a few horses taken off. The engine is also equipped with an oil cooler. A pair of Mikuni 38mm carburetors feed the engine. The clutch is a hydraulic master-cylinder clutch with separate tanks. The six-speed gearbox is pleasant and precise, although sometimes shifts are missed between 5th and 6th gear. Maximum speed is a little over 120 mph. Power delivery is very linear while the torque spread is relatively flat. While the engine hasn't changed, the M900S weighs less than the standard Monster. With the liberal use of carbon fiber parts its claimed dry weight is down to 403 lbs from 407 lbs.

The most significant improvement the Monster Special offers is a brand new, fully adjustable 41mm Showa front fork and a single Sachs-Boge shock with spring preload and rebound damping adjustment. The stock settings are a bit mushy. The rims are shod with a pair of excellent and sticky Michelin Hi-Sport front 120/70 ZR 17 and rear 170/60 ZR 17 tires. Wheelbase and seat height remains identical throughout the entire Monster family.

The handling of the M900S is identical to the standard Monster: Excellent in city traffic, decent in the twisties, and poor at high speeds. As it has been since its inception, it is easy to wheelie. When you are cornering above 80 mph, the stock suspension settings are a touch mumshy, but, as apposed to previous models which tended to wallow, you can tighten the front end on the M900S. The ergonomics are good in spite of a hard seat and the poor aerodynamics. The M900S is very easy motorcycle to ride, efficient in bendy roads, with a friendly powerband that allows you to forget frequent shifting when you're in the corners. However, the footpegs are low and during spirited rides you will drag the toes of your boots for time to time.

More improvements for the M900 line-up? For starters, how about a centerstand for maintenance, a tach, and an authentic, comfortable passenger seat. Oh yeah, lose the chinsy, spring-loaded sidestand. It's interesting that all the Italian marques equip their beautiful and expensive motorcycles with cheap, flimsy spring-loaded sidestands. Bikes as nice as these deserve better than the afterthoughts with which they are offered.


Manufacturer: Ducati
Model: 1998 Monster 900 S.
Engine:  Air-and-liquid cooled, 2-valve, 90 degree V-twin, 4-stroke
Bore x stroke: 92 x 68 mm
Displacement: 904 cc
Carburetion: 2 Mikuni BDST 38 mm
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed power: 70 bhp @ 8000 rpm)
Claimed torque: 57 ft-lbs (7.9 kgm @ 5000 rpm)
Wheelbase: 56.3 in. (1430 mm)
Rear Tire: 170/60 - 17 Tubeless Radial
Front Tire: 120/70 - 17 Tubeless Radial
Fuel Capacity: 4.3 gal (16.5 L)
Claimed Dry Weight: 403 lbs (183 kg)
Max. Speed (as indicated): 130 mph (210 km/h)
Color Schemes: Black

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