Beat them off with a filthy stick

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IT’S important to look good in the city. For those who frequent the best bars and restaurants, a battered old CX500 is a bit of a no-no.

The Ducati badge says all the right things to the Mercedes-driving minxes to your left and right in London’s most chic districts. The Monster has a city cool other bikes find hard to beat. But if you want to go the whole impressive hog, consider the upgraded art that can be created from the newly-available range of sumptuous parts made by Italian firm Road Racing. What could go better with your Psion and WAP mobile?

While the average Bollinger drinker won’t always recognise the " look-at-me " standing of bikes like R1s, Ducati’s Monster has a special place on the cityscape.

It’s good-looking and alternative. There’s no plastic covering its well-crafted and styled metalwork. And the badge has that understated kudos so appreciated down the King’s Road.

The only problem with them is that in certain places they’re a little bit, well... common. With Cagiva’s new rival, the Raptor, soon to be cutting a dash on our streets, there’s a danger the Monster may be pushed into the shadows.

That’s where the new range of ready-to-bolt-on parts comes in. If you don’t want the hassle of doing your own upgrade, dealers such as GR Ducati will sell you a complete bike much like the one we’ve tested – or as much or as little like it as you want.

There’s a huge range of bits from mirrors and mudguards to tanks and tail sections. You can alter your bike enough to give it a very alternative look, while retaining the classic Monster shape and style.

If you aren’t currently raking it in on the Stock Exchange, you can at least buy a bit at a time. The complete makeover in one fell swoop is a hefty outlay. But the Monster we picked up from GR has just about every Road Racing bolt-on in the catalogue.

Would it be enough to put the Monster back at the top of the cool tree? We went looking for the Gucci-clad to find out.

And when we tracked them down it drew so much attention it actually started to get on my nerves. I guess I’m more of a shy and retiring petal than I thought. This bike will make you more friends and get you more useful introductions than a lottery win. Your everyday progress will be limited by their insistence on chatting to you to find out more about it. Everyone notices the Monster. I couldn’t even get beyond the car park security man without having to give him chapter and verse.

Then virtually every minute after that the same kinds of questions about its cost, background and performance kept coming from every direction.

Even taking the requisite pictures proved difficult. No sooner was a shot lined up than a fresh crowd of onlookers would be gathering in the frame. At times I wanted to trade the Duke for something less noticeable, like Victoria Beckham.

The stock bike is good-looking enough but, given the Road Racing treatment, the Monster is in a different league. The spoked wheels and alloy tank set it apart straight away. The Road Racing forks, polished alloy front sprocket cover and brake master cylinder guards play a part. And the dinky mirrors and indicators, carbon-fibre mudguards and the headlight fairing all impress.

Even before you make visual contact, people are given notice of your impending arrival by the roar from the virtually unrestricted underslung exhaust. I started to enjoy the Monster but I had to be a bit nasty to do it. Ignoring and spurning the visual inspections, and faking deafness to the constant barrage of questions, was the only way to get moving.

Once you’re rolling, the Ducati’s original virtues are all still in place to do that. The engine is standard and the carb jetting is unchanged, despite the freer-flowing pipe which lets the motor spin up more easily.

And that means tons of useful torque and excellent throttle response. A fair turn of speed lies at the end of the throttle cable whatever the gear and engine speed. There’s not a huge amount of power on tap, but what there is is readily available.

It’s a bit unrefined, snatchy and vibey under 3000rpm. You can keep your eye on the engine speed on the cool Road Racing tacho. It’s tempting to thrash the engine just to hear the gorgeous roar from the pipes – though blipping the throttle at a standstill will give a bit of wind and warmth to your left foot as the exhaust gases score a direct hit. This style of exhaust solves the ground clearance problem the stock cans cause.

Picking your way through London’s headache-inducing traffic is easy. The instant-access acceleration is useful in this and the light weight and agile handling play their parts. The Road Racing forks are a little more supple than the harsh standard items, so they deal with rutted roads better and make the ride a little more comfortable.

But the tiny mirrors don’t exactly make life easy. The view is about as good as the one you would get looking down a straw. The last time I saw any this small they were accompanied by the sound of a drill and the smell of Novocain.

The brakes are completely standard. They could do with some braided hoses or softer pads to give them a bit more initial bite. That would be preferable rather than essential as this bike is more about its sensational look than its adequate performance.

The Road Racing Monster stands out so much that if you would rather slink by unnoticed, you should avoid this bike like the plague. The overwhelming demands from those it constantly impresses can wear you down.

Failing that, riding only at night with your leathers marked with DO NOT DISTURB seems to be the only way to make any cross-town progress. After testing this Ducati (and only for a single day) I reckon I know how famous people must feel when they’re out in public.

If you like the idea of being the centre of attention you could spend the next few years playing in an up-and-coming band in a succession of northern toilets. Alternatively, you could just get yourself the cash together for a Monster and a makeover. I know which I’d prefer.

THEY EVEN DO A CUSTOM NUMBERPLATE BRACKET

ITALIAN firm Road Racing make every imaginable kind of custom replacement part for the Monster, from the wheels up to the mirrors.

Most items will fit not only the latest M900s, but also the 600 and 750cc ranges. GR Ducati in London can get their hands on most parts within a week. Contact them on 020-8947-7555. Other selected Ducati dealers will also be stocking them. Here’s a small selection of what is available:

•Alloy headlight fairing – £180

•Alloy painted fuel tank – £845

•Alloy and carbon-fibre seat cowl – £130

•Alloy side panels – £150

•Alloy mini-belly pan – £135

•Front mudguard – £126

•Rear mudguard – £140

•Tacho conversion kit – £240

•Stainless steel exhaust system – £580

•Set of forks – £1035

•Alloy fork yokes – £360

•Pair of spoked wheels – £1620

•Pair of alloy mirrors – £126

•Alloy numberplate bracket – £55

•Front sprocket cover – £25

•Alloy mini-indicator kit – £100

•Alloy clutch and brake master cylinder protectors – £25

•Front disc scoop – £50

•Racing clutch cover – £80

GR DUCATI M900

Cost: £12,500

Colours: Yellow, red, black

SPECIFICATION

Engine: Air-cooled, 904cc (92mm x 68mm) 4v sohc four-stroke 90° V-twin. 2 x 36mm Mikuni carbs. 6 gears

Chassis: Tubular steel trellis

Front suspension: 43mm Road Racing telescopic forks, adjustment for pre-load

Rear suspension: Monoshock with rising rate linkage, adjustments for pre-load, compression and rebound damping

Tyres: Dunlop Sportmax II; 120/70 x 17 front, 170/70 x 17 rear

Brakes: Brembo; 2 x 320mm front discs with 4-piston calipers, 245mm rear disc with 2-piston caliper

PERFORMANCE

Claimed power and torque: 75bhp, 52ftlb

Weight/power to weight ratio: 180kg (397lb), 0.42bhp/kg

Standing 1/4-mile time/terminal speed: 11.4s, 120mph

Top speed: 131mph (claimed)

Geometry (Rake/trail/wheelbase): 25°, 10.3cm, 143cm

Average mpg/tank capacity/range: 41mpg, 16.5 litres, 150 miles

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MCN Staff

By MCN Staff