Review: 2021 Ducati Monster 1200 S

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Sam Smith

Monster: /ˈmänstər/ (noun): An imaginary creature, typically large, ugly, and frightening.

By that definition, the 2021 Ducati Monster does not earn its name. Sure, it looks aggressive, and there’s definitely that exhaust note. But the fastest version of Ducati’s most famous naked bike isn’t terrifying. And that’s not exactly a bad thing.

The Monster name was born in the 1990s, an attractive and quick parts-bin special built of components from various existing Ducatis. It was aimed at city use and entry riders. When the model sold better than anyone expected, however, it was largely because the model distilled the company’s heritage and performance into compact and essential form. Monsters have long offered big character and healthy performance, emphasizing the emotion of motorcycling in a sleek and classically styled package. The visuals of our test bike stay faithful to the lineage, with that trellis frame, the simple headlight, and the exposed V-twin. The steel gas tank is once again held down with a snap-on clip. (When this feature disappeared for a few years, Ducatista called for it back.)

2021 Ducati Monster 1200 S front three-quarter

The point here isn’t so much track speed as real-world enjoyment with a performance flair. Since most motorcyclists enjoy their machines solely on the road, we decided a Monster would be perfect to help kick off our new dedicated motorcycle coverage and two-wheeled review department.

The bike we took to the California canyons was the top-trim, 150-hp Monster S ($17,595), arguably the most user-friendly fast Ducati now in showrooms. This spec upgrades the base Kayaba/Sachs suspension of the Monster 1200 to adjustable Ohlins components front and rear. It also gives a ten-millimeter bump in front rotor size and upgrades the Brembo monobloc calipers from M4.32 units to the more desirable M50. Riders can choose from three riding modes (sport, touring, and urban), each of which alters throttle response, traction control, and antilock-braking intervention.

2021 Ducati Monster 1200 S piping side detail
Sam Smith

That throttle is hooked up to a revised, four-valve Testastretta DS V-twin whose two cylinders pump out 92 lb-ft of torque. The torque curve is relatively flat, but even so, the bike doesn’t really doesn’t come to life until 5500 rpm. This is not the pop-low-speed-wheelies-at-a-whim hooligan machine the Monster once was, but it’s still fast. You monitor that speed atop a reasonably comfortable seat, with wide and relatively flat bars and a commanding view of the road. The TFT dash is easy to read and varies its display quickly, tach and road-speed changing size and position with riding mode. Navigating the menus and options required some futzing and learning, but the screen’s clarity and readability, especially in bright sunlight, make up for the clunks. The switchgear has a positive feel that generally matches the rest of the bike, and the Rizoma mirrors and fluid reservoirs on the bars are nice and attractive touches, intended to keep buyers from swiping a credit card for aftermarket bits immediately after purchase.

This is a bike happiest with a rider who moves around a bit, levering on the grips, and you’re generally most comfortable that way, too. Long freeway slogs aren’t intolerable, but the Ducati’s ergonomics constantly remind you that it wasn’t designed for that kind of use. The rider triangle fit our small cadre of roughly six-foot-tall riders well, but long-legged folks might want for lower pegs, even with the adjustable seat in its highest position.

Out on the canyon roads of Southern California, the Monster felt right at home dipping in and out of apexes. The stock quickshifter made keeping the big V-twin in the power a simple toe-tapping affair, and the brakes are linear and predictable all the way to ABS engagement. The wide bars and sharp handling are confidence-inspiring in traffic and at speed. Downsides were a frustrating lack of suspension travel, even for a Monster—the rough pavement in the canyons near Malibu had a habit of sending the bike off-line at unpleasant times—and exceedingly long legs. The 1200’s gearing feels almost superbike-tall, more suited to high-speed use than road work, and the lack of low-rpm punch can take some getting used to. Leaving an intersection without a stall often takes a surprising amount of clutch slip and throttle. Once into the middle of the tach, however, the engine comes alive and pulls hard, then harder, to its 9250-rpm power peak.

Finally, the Monster feels smaller than it looks. Ducati claims the 1200 S weighs just over 400 pounds dry, and the bike carries its weight low, making the 31-inch seat height feel even shorter. The sum package is an incredibly entertaining street bike that rewards a great rider but also nudges a good one to grow better. It just makes you want to go out and carve corners until every single one is right.

None of this is cheap. That $17,595 price is a lot of cash for a naked bike, and it’s also the greatest sticking point. Buyers have been paying a premium for fast Monsters for years, but the current crop of Japanese twins and triples makes the name a tough sell if you’re not already convinced. If you need to have the flashiest bike at the coffee shop, this is your machine. Want a handlebar bike that can hold its own at track days? This is still your bike. If you simply want to log lots of canyon miles with a grin on your face, a more affordable machine will likely capture the same riding experience while leaving cash in the bank for gas, tires, and oil. 

2021 Ducati Monster 1200 S cornering action
Sam Smith

As with any motorcycle, spec matters. In this trim, the Monster is less streetfighter ready to throw hands and more a superbike that’s lost its fairing. It’s a highly capable package easily enjoyed by riders of all skill levels—but it’s also most rewarding for those with above-average experience. The question is, if you buy a beast like this, do you want to tame a frightening creature, or merely tolerate its character?

 

***

2021 Ducati Monster 1200 S

Highs: Ducati styling is always a showstopper, and the pull and noise of an Italian V-twin at high rpm is delightful and addictive.

Lows: More low-end punch would be nice, and we’d sacrifice some top end to get it. Similarly, the bike’s driveline and suspension seem to straddle a line between track and road without being wholly suited for either.

Summary: Overkill as a street machine in many ways, but who doesn’t love a little excess from time to time?

Note: At test time (Spring 2021), the 2021 1200 S was the newest Monster offered by Ducati for media evaluation. Confusingly, the redesigned and less powerful base Monster is also a 2021 model, though the two machines are quite different. If none of this makes sense, just know that while both bikes are currently on sale, the older one shown here is on the way out. —Ed.

2021 Ducati Monster 1200 S rear rider mounted
Sam Smith
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