Ducati Monster 821: 'Capable and fun to ride'

Published: 02 November 2017

Can you believe Ducati’s Monster is 25 years old? Yes, I’m feeling ancient too.

Back in 1992 I was on my first step of the motorcycling ladder, riding around on L-plates. For me and many other teenagers at the time the original Monster was a dreamy, desirable poster bike. It was simple, yet stylish.

For those who wanted Italian exotica but couldn’t stretch to a Ducati 888, Ducati’s leading sports bike at the time, the original Monster was even affordable, for some.

25 years later and the legend continues with the new 821. It’s still stylish, desirable and, compared to the sporty Ducati Panigale, affordable. The red 821 starts at £9895, with the yellow and black priced at £10,095.

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And in usual MCN fashion, we've celebrated the enduring brilliance of the Monster family more than once. Back in August 2016 we took four of the Italian firm's greatest naked V-Twins to Scotland for a Loch Ness adventure. Despite its age the original Monster still felt good and sounded great.

Back in June 2014, I travelled to Ducati’s HQ to ride their then new 821. At the time, the new machine used the water-cooled 821 V-twin from the Hypermotard, but with revised fuelling and different exhaust. 

The 2018 machine

For 2018 Ducati have played around with the styling, it’s slightly thinner than before, the fuel tank is smaller, down to 16.5 litres from 17.5, and now comes with a ski-boot style clasp on the tank - it’s a retro nod to the original M900.

There’s a new headlight and silencer, and they’ve revised the foot-peg assembly - pillion pegs are now separate and neater. The most noticeable difference is the new full-colour TFT dash, now on par with Triumph's Street Triple R/RS models. Each rider mode has a different display - just like Ducati’s 950 Multistrada and the Monster 1200 range.

The 2018 bike retains the same Euro 4 compliant liquid-cooled Testastretta 11° engine, producing 107bhp at 9250rpm, and 63.4lbft torque at 7750rpm. The old model was made Euro 4 compliant at the start of 2017.

The chassis also remains the same, with the same basic suspension – only preload adjustment on the rear and non-adjustable 43mm forks at the front. Brembo radial brakes at the front bite on two 310mm discs, the same as the 2017 model. The three rider modes, three-level Bosch ABS and eight-level traction control also remain unchanged.

The only minor handling change is the introduction of new Pirelli Rosso III rubber, which replaces the old Rosso II tyres on the old bike. The rear tyre size has been changed to a 180/55 section instead of the previous 180/60.

In the flesh the improvements in design are more obvious; it now has a closer resemblance to the top-level Monster 1200. Personally I like the new ski-boot style clamp and the reintroduction of yellow, but I’m old and remember the original Monster.

The new footpeg assembly no longer hinders your feet but the huge difference is the new TFT dash. The new clocks are neater, more in-line with the competition and now allow you to make full use of the three rider modes; Sport, Touring and Urban. Each mode changes the power characteristics, level of ABS and Traction Control, plus the display – which gives the illusion of three bikes in one. Furthermore you can personalise each mode, for example removing the TC in Sports mode.

It’s easy to flick between the modes on the move, changing the rider aids and engine character with ease.

As you’d expect on the road the 2018 model feels very much like the 2014 model, which is no bad thing. It’s easy to ride, steers naturally, isn’t intimidating and there’s progressive power throughout the rev-range. The long gearing gives the Duke a lazy feel - it’s certainly not lively.

The fuelling is a little lumpy low in the rpm, but otherwise impressive. Ridden in isolation the new 821 is an enjoyable experience, and there’s a booming exhaust tone which adds to the occasion. The Brembo radial brakes are sharp, and the rider aids aren’t intrusive - on the road I never felt I was being held back by the ABS or TC.

My only handling gripe was the lack of feel and confidence from the suspension and Pirelli tyres. Both were fine up to a point, but they never gave me the confidence to really push to peg-scraping levels of lean and the front had a tendency to understeer at times – possibly more ride height on the rear might have helped.

The road conditions weren't ideal, bumpy and poorly maintained, but I’d still expected a little more from a £10,000 Ducati. And while we talking money I’d also want a quickshifter as standard, not as an extra that costs £192.

Overall, the Duke is a manageable and fun bike. It looks stunning and has bags of character, but it’s not a massive leap over the old bike, just a little step forward. For £10,000 it’s still relatively basic, with limited adjustment on the suspension, no quickshifter and it isn’t rewarding when ridden hard.   

MCN Verdict

The 2014 Monster 821 was capable, easy-to-ride, un-intimidating, yet had a turn of speed which made it fun to ride; the very same can be said for the 2018 model. The new dash is an added bonus, as are the new colours and footpeg assembly. Ridden in isolation is scores a B across all areas – a good bike, but not brilliant.

It’s not a leap forward over the old model, which makes it an expensive step behind the competition. Triumph’s Street Triple RS won our bike of the year for 2017, it’s superior to the new Monster is almost every way and the high spec 765 RS (£10,100) is the same price and comes with a quickshifter and fully-adjustable suspension as standard.   

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