“Ohhhh. OK, I get it now,” I said aloud in my helmet, the 2018 Ducati Monster 1200 S not yet having even been pushed to fourth gear.
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Finally – within just two minutes of firing up the moto’s liquid-cooled 1198cc L-twin engine – I understood why some people are so stupid for Ducatis. It’s because the 90-year-old Italian company makes ridiculous bikes like this.
Hitherto, I’d held a doubting attitude toward the brand, partially built – I admit – on limited exposure. I crashed a friend’s 888 back in the late 1990s, and I had found the modern SuperSport to be disappointing in failing to live up to the expectations I had built up for it.
And as a result, I felt Ducati made expensive, sexy, finicky bikes for a niche percentage of riders. The Panigale V4, for example: 214 hp from a bike weighing less than 180 kg. That’s just insane. Impressive, yes, but utterly useless to… well… pretty much every road rider that’s not an experienced track racer screaming down a German autobahn on a traffic-free Sunday morning. From a road riding perspective, it’s excessive pointlessness for the sake of excessive pointlessness, like Ferraris.
This Monster 1200 S, though. I get it. I totally get it. And I love it.
Like all Ducatis, the Monster 1200S is a sexy motorcycle – the sort of thing you want to just sit and stare at – though, here that sexiness is brutish. It’s a Ronda Rousey, might-break-your-arm sexiness. The stout, muscular front end; those looping exhaust pipes; the large, spaceship-like headlight that dominates its front profile.
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Throw a leg over and the seating position is surprisingly comfortable for a 6-foot-1 rider. Feet are tucked a little further back than I might choose, but not uncomfortably so. Hands fall naturally to the relatively wide ‘bars. An adjustable seat height – running from 795 mm to 820 mm – means it can accommodate a decent range of riders. However, I’d suspect anyone under 5 feet 6 inches might feel a little overwhelmed, if not simply because they’ll be having to balance the bike’s roughly 200 kg wet weight.
Sitting on the bike and looking ahead, I personally felt the TFT instrument panel looked a little out of place, but TFT is the thing now for all bikes. I’ll have to learn to just get used to it.
Engine and Transmission
To paraphrase James Carville, it’s the engine, stupid. There are a lot of things to love about the Monster 1200 S and almost all of them start with that snarling metal box of explosions that serves as the bike’s heart and soul. Delivering 91 lb-ft of torque at peak (7750 rpm), the Ducati’s engine is capable of delivering cruiser-level punch alongside a sporty 148 hp.
Interestingly, the Monster 1200 S doesn’t feel as fast as the similarly powerful Triumph Speed Triple S (this, despite the fact peak horsepower on the Monster 1200 S is found almost 1,000 rpm sooner – 9250 for the Ducati vs 10500 for the Triumph), but it definitely wins in the “Inducing Maniacal Laughter” category. That’s assuming you’ve put the bike in Sport or Touring mode. In its third riding mode, “Urban,” the bike’s power output is reduced to 100 hp. Still a lot of fun, but a lot less crazy.
Although the Monster 1200 S is markedly more powerful than the BMW R nineT I rode not too long ago, I was reminded of that bike here: a twin engine that produces a delightfully raw experience that, if you try to describe it, sounds awful but is, in fact, quite the opposite. Related to that, the exhaust note is a hoot. Even at idle it’s a joy to listen to, but on the go you’ll have all kinds of fun letting off the throttle from high revs and listening to the “pop pop” of deceleration.
The engine is liquid-cooled but still manages to produce a fair bit of heat. Whereas the bike’s styling, power, and suspension all make the soul ache for summer I’m not sure how much fun you’d be having if stuck riding at city speeds on a hot day.
Meanwhile, whereas the unrefined growl and punch of the engine are most certainly selling points, I’m not so sure I’d say the same about the Monster 1200 S’s unpredictable six-speed transmission. False neutrals are to be found up and down the range.
I worked out that my riding style was playing a part in this, however. I’m used to blipping the throttle and tapping the clutch lever when accelerating aggressively – a kind of assisted clutchless upshift – but I think this behavior confuses the Ducati’s quick shifter. You need to either positively pull in the clutch all the way, or rely completely on the quick shifter – no in-between. Eventually I was able to train my left hand to stay away from the clutch lever and only use the quick shifter, but even then things weren’t 100-percent perfect.
I GOT TO RIDE THE MONSTER THANKS TO THESE GUYS: Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II – Tire Review
Side thought: the accepted moto metanarrative is that quick shifters are cool, whereas we’re skeptical toward automatic transmissions like Honda’s DCT, despite the fact the two systems are philosophically quite similar. Does the metanarrative dislike DCT simply because it is controlled by the left hand rather than the left foot? Discuss.
Brakes and Ride Quality
Dual Brembo brakes up front and a single in the rear mean the Monster 1200 S has all the stop necessary for its mighty levels of go. Additionally, cornering ABS means you have a better chance of keeping the rubber side down if forced to hit the brakes mid-turn. I’ve ridden a number of bikes with cornering ABS (including my own) and have never once had the guts to grab a handful of whoa mid-lean, but wet and muddy roads on my ride of the Monster 1200 S did give me a chance to test the brakes when upright. As you would expect from a sportbike-obsessed company like Ducati, they worked flawlessly.
Despite its sexy thug appearance, the bike handles with a confidence-inducing lightness. The suspension is fully adjustable, so it should be possible to suit every rider’s tastes. In its stock set-up I was perfectly happy, never really wanting for any more or less. When equipped with Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II tires, it holds to the road beautifully.
Those wide ‘bars make the bike easy to guide through corners, as well as comfortable. With the usual caveats that go along with any naked bike, I felt the riding position was capable of supporting an all-day jaunt. The seat, too, is big and comfortable over long stretches. However, I’m not sure the same thing could be said of the passenger accommodation, which is hidden beneath a removable seat cowl.
Bells and Whistles
The Monster 1200 S is loaded with nifty tech, lots of it mentioned above: three riding modes, a quick shifter, traction control, cornering ABS, and wheelie control. The bike may have a raw edge, but its electronics package is testament to the fact this is intentional craziness.
There’s also that TFT screen. As I say, I’m not a huge fan of it from an aesthetic point of view but there’s no arguing that it’s easy to read and offers a shedload of useful information. The nature of its being TFT means you get a certain amount of choice in how all that information is displayed.
Ironically, the most annoying feature on the bike is one of the most low-tech: the mirrors. They’re pretty much useless. They shake too much to let you know any more than the simple fact that something exists behind you. Perhaps the mindset here is to follow the first rule of Italian driving: “What’s behind me is not important.”
One of the reasons I always held a suspicious view of Ducatis before riding the Monster 1200 S was the fact that just about every review I ever read of the company’s bikes included some light admission of the bike’s foibles.
“The 1299 Panigale doesn’t appear to have been designed to be ridden by actual human beings,” the reviewer might say. “But, golly, isn’t it fun to try?”
This sort of thing annoyed me. I couldn’t understand how they could be falling over themselves with affection for such an imperfect and costly motorcycle. But, as I say, I get it now. The Monster 1200 S has its foibles – it runs hot, its transmission ain’t great, and its mirrors might as well not be there at all – but, golly, it’s a hell of a bike.
Comfortable, nimble, and hilariously fun to ride it’s a package with enough awesomeness to cancel out my gripes – including its not inconsiderable asking price of £14,695. Although, if you’re a road rider who keeps his or her speed out of license ban territory, it’s a good bet you don’t need the fancy shmancy suspension of the S and can save money by getting the standard Monster 1200 for £11,795. Either way, you get a fantastic naked bike that will remind you why motorcycles are great.
The Three Questions
Does the Ducati Monster 1200 S fit my current lifestyle?
Well, uh, sorta but not really. I don’t own a car and ride year ’round. From a mechanical and chassis standpoint I have no doubt the bike could tolerate all-the-time use. And with the addition of some Kriega luggage, it could haul me from here to there – wherever “there” is – with minimal fuss. But it’s still a naked bike, and that sort of thing would probably lose its charm in January; I like to be able to hide behind fairing.
Does the Ducati Monster 1200 S put a grin on my face?
Hell yes, it does. I loved this thing so much that my emotional side still has daydreams about trading in my bike and getting one – practicality and current finances be damned. The bike sounds great and it performs with a gut-punching wallop that fits its sound perfectly. If you don’t laugh and shout, “YEAH!” while riding this thing, you may be suffering from mental health issues.
Is the Ducati Monster 1200 S better than my current bike, a 2017 Triumph Tiger Explorer XRx?
That’s a tough one. I’d say the Triumph wins because it is better suited to my individual needs. But – as much as I absolutely love my Triumph’s triple – I’d say the lunacy of the Monster’s twin engine provides more smiles per mile. Riding it has made me desperate to check out the Multistrada series. Could there be a bike as fun as the Monster 1200 S that’s as practical as my Triumph?
Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch