Ducati Monster M620ie first test

Published: 22 July 2001

HAS there ever been a bike that deserves its name less than the middleweight of the Monster family? Far from being " grotesque " or " gigantic " , which is how the dictionary defines the word, the new fuel-injected Monster M620ie, like the old M600, is a rider-friendly roadster, an entry-level V-twin whose gentle performance and modest size and price are intended to make it a hit with female riders.

There are plenty of the fair sex in evidence at this huge party thrown by Ducati at a beach near Rimini to celebrate the M620ie’s arrival. Some are local Monster owners, who’ve been invited to the bash. Others, judging by their unfeasible gorgeousness and well-filled Ducati T-shirts, are full-time babes hired to add glamour to tonight’s proceedings.

The party isn’t just to mark the launch of the new bike. It’s also an excuse to celebrate the production of the 100,000th Monster, a large proportion of which have been 600s.

Much of the smaller model’s success has been due to the way it gives its rider some of its big brothers’ street cred. Though the 600 hasn’t taken off in the UK, in the rest of Europe it has been the biggest contributor to the firm’s bank balance.

That’s unlikely to change, but now the mini-Monster has grown up, evolving into a more powerful, fuel-injected 620cc machine with a new chassis. More to the point, there’s also a 620S version with a handlebar fairing and a bunch of other mods.

The Monster Party came at the end of a long day, which began when our group of testers piled out of the Ducati bus to be greeted by an eye-catching group of M620s in most of the eight different colours in which the bike will be produced. At first glance it was hard to see what was new, apart from the fairings of the S models. But unlike the M600, these bikes had twin front discs. And the anoraks among us were already pointing out the S4-based frame, which has a wider steering head stem and is 30 per cent stiffer than its predecessor.

The most important changes are to the engine, which is fuel-injected for the first time. The sohc air-cooled V-twin also gets an extra 3.5mm on its stroke, upping capacity by 35cc from 583cc to 618cc. The other main internal change are bigger valves, which combine with the larger airbox and revised exhaust to give notably deeper breathing.

The 620 revs higher and harder, with a maximum output of 60bhp at 9500rpm compared to its predecessor’s best of 52bhp at 8000rpm.

The M620ie gains points even before its engine is started. There’s an immobiliser on the ignition switch, and when you turn the key you get a party trick as the needles of the new electronic analogue speedo and tacho swing to max and the warning lights flash on. There’s a clock in the digital console, the switchgear is new, and you can even adjust the brightness of the instrument backlighting.

As I pulled away, the M620’s injection system felt crisp, with little of the low-rev snatchiness for which carburated Monsters are known. That helped make the Ducati handy around town, where its light weight and taut chassis gave a firm ride.

I was itching to let those 60 horses loose on the open road, but it was not going to be as easy as I expected. Ducati had provided us with a detailed road book in a neat plastic folder, but I didn’t fancy stopping to check the route at every junction or sneaking a glance while on the move, so decided to follow someone else.

Predictably, we’d barely ridden a mile through the seaside traffic before it was clear my guides were hopelessly lost. The typically poor Monster steering lock made itself felt when we had to turn around and retrace our steps. At least the Monster’s seat is low enough to allow even short riders a quick dab if necessary, though this S bike’s perch is slightly taller than before. The faired model has a superbike-style ride height adjuster, and in standard form comes with the rear end lifted by 25mm to increase ground clearance. This raises seat height from 770 to 795mm, which is still manageable unless you’re pretty short.

As I’m the opposite of short, I was pleased the Ducati didn’t feel cramped, despite its compact size. The revised bars are almost flat, and the pegs gave my lanky legs a reasonable amount of room.

I was also glad to discover the S’s bikini fairing, though it looks as if it is lifted from the Monster S4, flapped about in the breeze notably less than that bike’s annoyingly flimsy item.

Inevitably, the M620S couldn’t approach the big 916cc S4’s throttle response when we finally found the right route and a stretch of open road. But the Ducati still felt lively when given a chance to stretch its legs. In typical V-twin fashion it was a bit juddery below 3000rpm, then smoothed out as the revs rose and those extra eight horses started earning their keep. This bike’s max power output is only 2bhp down on that of the M750, though its peak torque figure of 39ftlb at 6750rpm is much nearer the 600 than the bigger engine.

There was enough acceleration to send the Monster charging past the traffic at an entertaining rate, and it cruised effortlessly at 70 or 80mph. With a heavy hand on the throttle it didn’t take long to get the speedo indicating 100mph, with performance in hand to achieve a true top speed of about 115mph.

To make the most of the new-found power you’ve got to use plenty of revs. That meant frequent use of the unchanged five-speed gearbox, which was good by Ducati standards. At higher revs the hard-working engine started making a harsher, almost metallic sound, as well as kicking out some vibration through the seat and tank. But the Ducati still sounded and felt less like an angry lion than a kitten playing with a ball of wool.

It might turn out to have an appetite for clutches, though. After a few fast getaways my bike developed a slightly graunchy feel as I let out the reasonably light-feeling hydraulic lever.

Ducati’s road-book route was well worth following, as it led us on to some superb twisty roads in the hills around San Marino. Any new Duke should be in its element around here, and the Monster didn’t let the family down. The suspension had been a bit firm over urban potholes, but they gave the bike a well-controlled feel when the pace hotted up on the thrash up the hill to picturesque San Leo.

The mini-Monster felt as reassuringly stable in curves as it had on the straights. But despite its light weight, the Ducati wasn’t quite the flickable machine I’d expected on these roads, as it needed a fairly firm hand on the bars to get it down into a bend. At first I was disappointed, but a slightly more stable, less nervous feel will probably suit most owners.

Besides, the 620S could have been made to steer quicker by raising its ride height. The faired machine also has an aluminium swingarm, saving a little weight over the standard model’s steel unit (the fairing means total weight is unchanged), plus side panels and silencer guards made from carbon-fibre instead of plastic.

The rest of its chassis, like the engine, is identical to that of the unfaired model. There will also be a budget-priced Dark version with a single front disc and basic black finish.

Both the basic 620ie and the S model are fitted with the second front disc and I was glad of the extra power and feel of the excellent Brembos as I charged down the other side of the hill towards our rendezvous on the beach.

The S’s extra ground clearance was welcome, too, though a quick spin on the standard model had shown that even this bike was capable of making good use of the grip from its Dunlop Sportmax Touring tyres.

The only slight problem with my hack down the hillside was that, predictably enough, I missed a turn-off and got lost again, except this time I had nobody but myself to blame.

Ah well, there have long been plenty of far worse ways to spend an afternoon than riding a middleweight Monster around sunny Italy, and that’s now more true than ever.