A welcome return to liquid-cooled performance
Ah, the Monster S4R, what an immaculate motorcycle it was. The collective gasp of discovering its disappearance from Ducati’s model lineup in 2009 still echoes. For those who continue lamenting the loss of the S4R (like me), its phoenix has arisen in the 2014 Monster 1200 and Monster 1200 S.
The new Monster 1200 invokes the S4R’s styling with a single-sided swingarm and dual, stacked mufflers, but any real similarities end there. The new liquid-cooled, high-performance Monster is powered by a revised version of Ducati’s Testastretta 11° DS engine that’s modulated by a Ride-by-Wire throttle and characterized by customizable Riding Modes. The Monster 1200 also comes adorned with technologies unavailable in stock trim on the S4R including a slipper clutch, ABS and a TFT color display.
Pricing has, of course, increased over the S4R and 1100 EVO with the standard Monster 1200 coming in at $13,495 and the S model at $15,995. The $2,500 price increase buys you a claimed 10 additional horsepower and 5.2 ft-lbs of torque: 135 vs 145, both at 8750 rpm, and 86.8 vs 92 ft-lbs, both at 7250 rpm. The bigger numbers of the S coming from different ECU settings and nothing more.
There’s also fully adjustable Ohlins suspenders, front (48mm stanchions) and rear on the S, vs a fully adjustable 43mm Kayaba fork, and Sachs monoshock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping on the standard model.
A minimal trellis frame bolts directly to the Testastretta’s cylinder heads as does the subframe and shock. The 11° DS (dual spark plug) engine boasts new spray targeting of fuel into the air/fuel mixture and larger, 53mm throttle bodies. The 1200 Monster’s version of the same engine used in the Multistrada has a higher compression ratio (12.5:1 vs 11.5:1) via taller piston crowns, and round throttle bodies whereas the Multi’s are elliptical.
The Multistrada, however, claims slightly higher hp and torque figures at higher revs.
The front 120/70-17 and rear 190/55-17 tires rotate on 10-spoke wheels on the standard model and 3-spoke Y-shaped wheels on the S. The S also boasts Brembo’s top-of-the-line Monobloc M50 4-piston calipers, while the base model makes do with Brembo’s lesser – but still excellent – Monobloc M4-32 four-piston calipers. And lastly, the S wears a carbon fiber front fender and black exhaust covers where the standard’s front fender is painted plastic and has bare aluminum exhaust covers.
Similar yet different, the S is distinguished by its wheels, gold stanchions and black exhaust covers. Both are available in red, but only the S comes in white. The passenger seat cowl comes standard on both models.
Knowing the numbers is one thing, but to demonstrate the new Monster’s performance, Ducati invited the world’s moto-press to the volcanic island of Tenerife (largest island in the Canary chain of islands) to ride the Monster 1200 S. No standards were available for comparison, so for now, we’ll have to focus on the performance of the up-spec model followed by a later review of the standard Monster 1200 when press bikes become available.
Where to begin? Well, as the poster child for the Monster 1200’s target audience – a socially active, married, 40-45, professional, urbanite – I’ll speak on behalf of the demographic and attest to Ducati pretty much shooting a bullseye. The balance between performance, comfort and style is shared equally which should translate to desirability among middle-age motorcyclists shopping for a new performance naked.
Increased wheelbase, 59.5 inches for the Monster 1200 vs 57.1 inches for the 1100 EVO, translates to increased cornering stability but slower transitioning. With the extra amount of hp and torque of the 1200 over the 1100, the extra two inches helps mitigate power wheelies – but not by much.
We’ve been loving the performance of the Testastretta 11° engine since its arrival in the Multistrada, and the second generation DS version powering the Monster 1200 is a wonderful combination. There’s plenty of mid-range power on tap to pull power wheelies just about anywhere (except higher elevations), pass slower moving vehicles or embarrass unskilled racer replica riders in the canyons.
The Monster’s electronic rider aids of DTC, ABS and Ride Modes seem to work as well as similar packages on other Ducati models, but the R-b-W doesn’t feel as connected as on the 899 Panigale we just rode, exhibiting the slightest of hesitations between throttle twist and engine response.
The M50 Brembos up front don’t bite overly hard initially but provide humbling stopping power that’s easy to modulate. At the rear of the Monster, Ducati claims an 18% increase in deceleration performance from an increased rearward weight distribution, 47.5% front and 52.5% rear on the 1200 vs 50/50 on the 1100. Leading us through a combination of uphill and downhill 180-degree switchbacks, however, proved the rear brake to be minimally effective.
A different brake pad material might easily rectify the problem.
The three Riding Modes, the screen layout and their default settings are apparent in the image above. Both screen layout and settings can be customized to individual preferences.
The Ohlins suspension is taut without being harsh, exhibiting remarkable composure when ridden fast or slow on either smooth or bumpy pavement. From our experience, paying for an upgrade to Ohlins suspension is usually worth the cost of admission, but with no standard model outfitted with Kayaba and Sachs units to compare, we can’t say for sure.
Legroom, reach to the bars, and seat shape conspire to lend all-day comfort to this new naked. The muscles holding my 5-foot-11 stature together weren’t complaining at the end of the day, and the couple lumberjack-size Canadian journos I spoke with also commented on the bike’s comfy ergos.
Outfitted with an arsenal of go-fast, electronic rider enhancements, the new Monster 1200 – unlike the S4R of old and the 1100 EVO it’s replacing – is meant for a more discerning crowd in the 40- to 45-year-old range. To attract this clientele, bike dimensions were relaxed, and ergonomics made more comfortable, compared to the 1100 EVO.
Taller and more rearward handlebars provide more rider verticality while maintaining a sporty forward lean, and the distance between seat and footpegs went unnoticed, meaning I wasn’t cramped enough to complain. Seat padding is thick, providing comfortable support without being squishy, and the seat is dimensionally larger for both rider and passenger compared to the 1100 EVO.
More importantly, the seat is adjustable from its 31.9-inch height to a lower 30.9-inch by way of four easily removable plastic caps. For those requiring further seat height reductions Ducati offers two accessory seats, the first providing an additional 0.8-inch reduction and the second a 1.6-inch reduction.
No cramped ergos here. Dimensionally, the Monster 1200 is a bigger, more comfortable bike than either the 1100 EVO or S4R.
The attractive passenger grab handles come stock, and beneath the seat resides four extendable straps for attaching items to the rear of the bike with a bungee net.
The Monster 1200 retains all the traits that have made the previous Monsters such a successful lineage. Its new level of performance advances the paradigm without detracting from its core values, and in true Ducati fashion, the bike looks good whether in motion or parked outside the local java stop.
To the inexperienced eye, the standard and S might as well be twins, and if some flashier wheels, blacked out exhaust, a little extra power, and Ohlins suspenders don’t mean much, save the $2,500 and buy the standard. Either way, you’re purchasing an attractive Italian steed with equal parts comfort and performance.
Behold a man of passion, business sense and motorcycle riding skills. It’s not often the CEO of a motorcycle company joins the journos for a press ride and photo shoot, but Claudio Domenicali sure did. The man’s fast too… but even if he were slow, you don’t pass the top brass unless you’re trying to get disinvited to the next launch.
Does the Monster 1200 signal the end of the Streetfighter as the liter-plus-sized performance naked in Ducati’s model lineup? With the larger displacement Fighter already fazed out, leaving the 848 model as the only representative of breed, it seems that way. But the Streetfighter was a sharper blade than the new Monster 1200, and the competition (Super Duke R, Tuono V4R, BMW S1000R) is growing fiercer with each model year.
So, maybe we’ll see a Monster 1200 SP, or a reimagined Streetfighter. Or maybe Ducati is forging a different naked bike path. Only a future shootout will tell.
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