Ducati has taken the wraps off the first of five new machines for the 2018 model year in the Monster 821 and we flew to Italy to check it out.
There’s no other machine so intrinsically valuable to one brand as the Monster is to Ducati. A timeless classic, the Monster is largely responsible for reviving the heartbeat of the legendary Italian marque in the early ’90s and has gone on to become by far Ducati’s most popular motorcycle, selling a whopping 353,000 units up to August, 2017.
Over the past 25 years, the Monster has gone full circle from being a bare-bones street bike to the naked superbike of 10 years ago and back, returning what made the iconic, original Monster 900 such a hit worldwide.
Photography by Milagro
The $11,995 MSRP 821 is thus the closest motorcycle in the company’s lineup to that 1993 machine, sitting right in the middle of the capacity range between the base 797 and 797+ and the three-pronged attack of the Monster 1200, 1200 S and 1200 R.
And for 2018, the 821 is more a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That means refining what is already there versus cranking out an entirely new machine, with a few thoughtful add-ons to keep it up to date with the latest competition from Japan, Britain and at home in Italy.
There’s a direct link with the 821 and the original 900 due to the new yellow paint job. That yellow was first seen on Miguel Galuzzi’s masterpiece at the Cologne Motor Show in 1992 and has been used on various models like the 916, 748 and 749 before gradually fading into the past. Ducati has thus bought the color back and made it exclusive to the 821, and they wanted the press to know about it, as the only bikes available for us to ride were yellow ones.
The new color brings attention to the new tank design, which is slightly reduced from 4.6 gallon to 4.36 gallon with a ski boot-style buckle just behind the key for quick access to the airbox.
“The tank is the essential element of the Monster,” says Stefano Tarabusi, Project Manager for the Monster line up. “From the tank, you can see the design lines that helps draw a very muscular profile, one that makes the Monster shape unmistakable. The Monster is our most iconic motorcycle, so it was extremely important to keep the look of the bike and make it instantly recognizable, regardless of the engine size.”
In doing so, the 821 also gets the same rectangular muffler as found on the 1200 range, replacing the smaller circular muffler of the 2015-‘17 model, as well as new passenger footpegs that sit on a separate bracket to the rider’s.
The biggest addition to the new 821 is the TFT display digital dash which has allowed the mid-size Monster access to the Ducati Multimedia system, so you can pair your phone to the bike and receive calls, messages, play music, etc via your connected Bluetooth headset and the Ducati Multimedia app. The dash itself is one of the easier digital units out there and a massive step up from the 2015-17 version, which had graphics that looked like they were swiped from the first-generation Nintendo Gameboy. The indicator switch doubles as the access link to the various modes within the ECU, allowing on-the-fly changing of the three preset engine modes of Sport Touring and Urban. Sport mode will give the rider the full hit of a claimed 109 horsepower at 9250 rpm and 63 lb-ft of torque at 7600 rpm; Touring will also allow full access to the 11° Testastretta V-twin motor’s power but with a more subdued throttle response, with Urban really dumbing down the available throttle response and engine output.
Two more additions for the TFT dash are a gear position meter and thankfully a fuel-level meter.
Look further into the electronics and you’ll find the three-level Bosch ABS system and eight stage traction control, while up front sits a new LED headlight and LED taillight at the rear.
I was happy for the addition of the traction control as we navigated a 100-mile loop from the Rimini beachfront to the breathtaking castle city of San Leo and back, dicing over patchwork tarmac that bordered on an enduro track at times. “Sadly, we don’t like to put money into our roads,” one Ducati employee said to me after the ride.
Starting out in Touring mode, the Monster was an absolute delight as we navigated our way out of the city located about 25 miles south of the Misano MotoGP venue. The Ducati engineers have worked tirelessly over the last few years to improve the bottom-end throttle response, and the 821 is proof their efforts are paying off. In Touring mode, the engine is a delight to experience, so much so I end up using the middle mode for the first 30 miles of the ride without feeling the need to up it to Sport mode until we really start increase the pace and attack the route. Changing to Sport mode gives a little more snatch from closed throttle, especially in the many tight hairpins we encountered, yet the ride is still miles better than Ducatis of only a few years back.
The Monster is one of the best traffic-chopping steeds you can buy thanks to the slim chassis and an engine that will encourage you to squeeze more out if it rather than intimidate you into shutting off. The motor loves to rev, and oddly for a V-twin is more than happy sitting at the higher ends of the rev range of 8-9000 rpm. The 11° V-twin is certainly an engine of two halves, with excellent table manners below 5000 rpm with a penchant for partying above 8K. At that engine speed, you’ll be gently lofting the front in the first two gears and maybe the third if you get on it hard enough, although if you’re either the second or third ABS mode the ECU will cut the fun quickly indeed. For the record, if you want to carry the one-wheeled salute you can do it in ABS mode one, but you didn’t hear that from me.
One of the aftermarket additions an 821 customer can now have is the Ducati Quick Shift system, which, I feel, should be made a standard fitment. The gearbox is nonetheless still good, but it’s not the smoothest out there and a DQS system should be at the top of any discerning 821 buyer’s list. Project Leader Giuseppe Caprara told me later that one of the reasons they didn’t fit the DQS as standard was because the higher-spec, more expensive Monster 1200 doesn’t come with it, either, and they didn’t want to spec the 821 higher than the 1200 for a cheaper price—which I guess is easy to understand.
The 821 is a physically small machine for someone like me at 6’1,” and even with the tallest seat height of 31.89 inches (the smallest seat height is 30.91 inches) I found the ride to be a little cramped when I wanted to really get moving. This is due to the seat shape in that instead of it being flat with a pad at the rear, it’s a continually upward curving design, so when I moved back on the seat to enable myself to slot into the tank indents with my knees I actually raised myself up and backwards, instead of just backwards. This problem shouldn’t manifest itself if you are under the six-foot mark, but was still worth noting for the taller riders out there.
Regardless of that little issue, the 821 is still plenty of fun when things get twisty, the un-adjustable 43mm Kayaba forks offering better handling character than their spec would lead you to believe. The ride is smooth for the most part, but you will begin to find the outer limits of the Kayabas if you really start pushing on rough roads. There’s only preload adjustment of the rear, carried out by the old-school ring and collar adjustment system, but it too is up to the task of providing good damping and ride quality for most of the ride conditions you’ll encounter.
One area that I would have liked better performance is the front brake, which consists of dual Brembo M4.32 four-piston calipers and a conventional Brembo master-cylinder. My personal preference is for the braking power to be immediate—I’ve never been a fan of set-ups that require a long lever pull before braking power is applied—but the 821 is lacking in this regard. There’s too much lever pull before power comes in, something that could be fixed with a higher-grade master-cylinder because I have ridden bikes with the M4.32 calipers and better master-cylinders that have far superior braking power than what the 821 has. Around town this problem is not as in your face as it is when riding hard through canyons and you want all the braking power you can get, and is surely a matter of price point over performance for a bike sitting square in the middle of the Monster family’s performance range.
Brake issues aside, the Monster 821 is one of those bread and butter bikes Ducati relies selling tones of to keep the Borgo Panigale concern cruising along. It’s a bike anyone of any skill level will be able to enjoy, and will be an especially good steed for riders under the six foot height barrier. The Monster’s importance to Ducati cannot be understated, and this 821 is as true to the original design ethos as that first Monster 900 of 1993, which is a very good thing indeed. CN
Here’s the video overview of the 2018 Ducati Monster 821.
Helmet: Arai DT-X
Jacket: Rev’It Gibson
Gloves: Dainese X-Strike
Pants: Alpinestars Oscar Charlie Denim
Boots: Sidi Speedride
Headset: Sena 30K
Five minutes with Ducati Project Leader Stefano Tarabusi
“The community of Monsteristi is one of the biggest communities in the world of motorcycle enthusiasts,” Tarabusi told Cycle News. “When we started thinking about the launch of this new Monster, we wanted to make a call to action to the communities of Monsteristi of the world, so we sent out a newsletter. The response was incredible—in less than two days we received more than 1000 responses. We received many, many stories, and it is incredible what the Monster means to people across the world.
“The Monster is 25 now—its 25th birthday was less than one month ago and at the end of August, we had sold 353,000 Monsters around the world. This is a huge number for us. It’s incredible to see 350,000 Monsters of all different models and variations riding around the world.
“For 2018, we wanted to create the most balanced Monster yet, because today the Monster family is quite wide—it ranges from the base bike of 797 up to a racetrack bike in the 1200 R. The 821 Monster is right in the middle and is a bike that is very easy, very enjoyable to experience.
“The Monster 821 is getting more beautiful because we have changed many elements of its design: the fuel tank, chain, headlight, footpegs, TFT display, and the addition of the yellow-paint scheme. This is a very traditional Ducati yellow. It is iconic, obviously, because the Monster is probably the most iconic bike of Ducati. There are many designs that make this Monster instantly recognizable—even if you don’t read the name on the fuel tank. How many bikes can you recognize without reading what’s written on the tank? The Monster is one of them, for sure.”
SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Ducati Monster 821
Testastretta 11°, L-Twin, 4 Desmodromically-actuated valves per
Bore x stroke:
80 x 67.5mm
Tubular steel trellis frame linked to cylinder heads
43mm Kayaba inverted fork, non-adjustable
Single Kayaba shock absorber, preload adjustable
320mm dual semi-floating discs, radially-mounted dual monobloc
Brembo M4-32 4-piston calipers, Bosch ABS as standard
245 mm disc, 2-piston caliper with Bosch ABS as standard
120/70 ZR 17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso III
180/55 ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso III
398 lbs. (dry, claimed)
Ducati Yellow, Red, Matte Black