Ducati have now dropped the Streetfighter S from their range, leaving the new Monster 1200 R as the firm’s naughtiest naked. But does it have enough fire to excite? We pitch it against Aprilia’s Tuono V4 1100 Factory, the king of the super nakeds, to find out.
Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory £14,635
The V4 Tuono has been at the top of super naked tree since it arrived in 2011. It offers a blend of superbike performance and electronics with everyday comfort. This year’s bigger 1100 version is even further ahead of its rivals. Factory model is the ultimate version.
Engine 1077cc 16v V4
Dry weight 184kg
Suspension Fully adjustable Öhlins 43mm forks and shock
Brakes 2 x 320mm discs with four-piston Brembo radial monobloc calipers.
Seat height 825mm
Electronics Traction, wheelie and launch control, quickshifter, riding modes.
Ducati Monster 1200 R £15,250
Launched this year, this is the ultimate evolution of the Monster 1200. Like the S model it comes with Brembos and Öhlins, but the R sits 15mm taller for improved ground clearance and agility. It also has 15bhp more power, is 2kg lighter, and has Pirelli Supercorsa SP rubber with a 200-section rear.
Engine 1198cc 8v L-twin
Dry weight 180kg
Suspension Fully adjustable Öhlins 48mm forks and shock
Brakes 2 x 330mm discs with four-piston Brembo radial monobloc calipers.
Seat height 830mm
Electronics Traction and wheelie and control, riding modes.
MCN Senior Road Tester
Rode the new Tuono V4 1100 at its launch
MCN Senior Road Tester
Height 5ft 6in
Took the Monster 1200 R around Ascari last month
Ducati’s old 1098-engined Streetfighter was about as extreme as super-nakeds ever got. It was every inch the slim, aggressive, unrobed superbike with straight bars. It pummelled you with thrills and speed, and without the backache.
But perched forward over the bars like a supermoto, with its clocks wedged under your chin, the riding position was extreme. It would pull vertical wheelies at the merest thought and the bars shimmied and shook in your hands when you got a lick-on.
For some it was the bike they’d always dreamed of, but for most it was too nervous, shouty and intense. It wasn’t the big seller Ducati hoped it would be and now it’s gone from their range.
But now Ducati has produced the Streetfighter’s spiritual successor. The new Monster 1200 R produces a superbike-like 160bhp (5bhp more than the old Streetfighter), wears Öhlins front and rear, has brakes strong enough to stop the planet turning, and comes with sticky Pirelli Supercorsa SP tyres featuring a 200-section rear.
To ram the Monster 1200 R’s sporty pretensions home, Ducati launched it to the world’s press last month not on the road but at the gloriously twisty Ascari racetrack in southern Spain. Fellow road tester Chad rode it and was impressed, but we couldn’t wait to see what it’s like on the road.
This current-generation Monster 1200 was released last year in standard and S versions, but for many it had lost its much-loved Monster genes. The original 1993 Monster 900 and the versions that followed were more affordable, nippy, jump-on-and-ride Ducatis.
The brilliant little Scrambler has taken up that role now, so the current Monster has moved to become more like a mini-Diavel cruiser. It is long, low and powerful, but too lazy to be classed a super-naked and too serious to be the cheerful little Monster it used to be.
But Ducati has transformed the Monster with this R model. It now has those old Ducati Streetfighter genes, but without the anxiety. Performance spills from its shiny red flanks and it’s perky around town, too, just like the original.
That evocative R badge is usually the preserve of high-end, limited-edition homologation special Ducati superbikes, but the Monster 1200 R is humbler. It isn’t a world away from the £1700-cheaper S model, but its detail differences add up to give it a complete change in character.
Both the S and R are bejewelled with Öhlins suspension (the R also has an Öhlins steering damper), forged ally wheels and superbike-spec Brembos, but the R sits 15mm higher, improving ground clearance and allowing it to turn faster. It’s also 2kg lighter, and could’ve weighed even less if it wasn’t for the extra weight imposed by the modifications required by new Euro4 noise and emission requirements.
The R’s bombastic L-twin motor is 15bhp more powerful than the S, and a quick way to tell the difference between the Monsters at a glance is the R’s sleeker, higher tail unit and subframe. And now, thankfully, you can ride with your toes on the pegs. Ducati have redesigned the awkward pillion footrest hanger, which used to get in the way of your heels forcing you to ride like Daffy Duck.
With these perfectly judged upgrades the Monster 1200 R now has gold membership into the super-naked club. It can comfortably rub shoulders with the KTM 1290 Super Duke, the BMW S1000R and the best of them all: the new Aprilia Tuono V4 1100. And just to prove the point we’ve brought the top-spec Factory version along, to see just how far the Monster has come.
A glance of the spec sheet shows the Aprilia and Ducati to be similarly impressive. Both boast big power outputs, superbike brakes, race suspension, lightweight wheels, electronic rider aids, have paint finishes deep enough to drown in, and bristle with top quality cycle parts.
Both bellow out their own characterful, sensual soundtracks, too. In the Bologna corner there’s the deep, sensual roar of the twin-cylinder Ducati and in the Noale corner the haunting V4 MotoGP wail of the Aprilia.
The Tuono V4 1100 Factory appears better value for money. Not only is it £615 cheaper than the Monster 1200 R, it’s 15bhp more powerful, has a quickshifter, and traction control that you can adjust on the move. It has launch control, too, but whoever really uses that in the real world?
The Ducati might be more expensive and less powerful, but it fights back with more torque, chunkier 48mm Öhlins forks, 10mm bigger front brake discs (330mm) and one of the coolest badges in motorcycling.
But away from the glittering spec sheet and into the real world, the new Monster 1200 R is simply magnificent. The big old Streetfighter would strain at its leash at low speeds and clatter with indignation, but the Monster 1200 R is a joy around town. It’s low, comfortable, has a flat, laid back riding position and is thoroughly non-threatening. Wide motocross-style bars help you waltz through traffic with minimal stress, and the plush Öhlins suspension, set for road-work, treats you to the perfect magic carpet ride. The Ducati L-twin’s low rpm, on/off throttle response is creamy perfection and the spread of power and torque is immaculate. This is without doubt Ducati’s most evocative big twin-cylinder powerplant.
OK, it doesn’t have the top end power of the 1299 Panigale Superquadro engine, or the smoother bottom end of the Multistrada’s VVT, but the R’s motor is a glorious mash-up of seamless power, gut-wrenching torque and cheeky charm draped over a driving, bass-heavy soundtrack. And the cherry on top of this mechanical perfection is the electronics: three perfectly judged riding modes, which give you varying levels of power, throttle response, ABS and traction control.
If you were to jump off the Monster 1200 R and on to the old 999cc Tuono V4 now, you’d expect a slightly rougher ride, peakier motor and a snatchier throttle, but Aprilia’s new 1100 version manages to be as smooth as the Ducati. It too has one of biking’s most impressive engines; yes, you wait for one to turn up and two arrive at once.
Like the Ducati, the V4 Aprilia has a beautifully well-damped throttle response and oceanic torque. But it’s more Streetfighter in its demeanour: taller, slimmer and more supermoto-like than the Monster 1200 R. It’s altogether racier and more track-focused, with a firmer Öhlins set-up and sharper Brembos.
Unlike the Ducati, the Aprilia has a quickshifter, which makes life as easy short-shifting as it does pinging the needle to the redline. It’s surprising that Ducati doesn’t have one for the price and it feels clumsier without it.
Around town and at normal speeds the svelte Ducati is the easiest and more enjoyable of these two naked Italian beauties. But what happens when you want to have some fun? Well, the Monster R keeps on impressing.
With its geometry tweaks, it steers crisply, like no Monster before, and actually darts in and out of corners easier than the Aprilia. The Ducati’s ideal playground is mile after mile of relentless tight, twisty corners, separated by short straights it can calmly wheelie between, just like the old Streetfighter. But crucially the R does so without dancing on the edge of instability.
Hunkering low in the bends, the Ducati equips you with a complete sense of control and you feel the grip of those Supercorsa SPs digging deep into the tarmac, safe in the knowledge that the Ducati’s equally superb traction control and ABS will bail you out if you overstep the mark.
When those beefy Brembos bite into the R’s twin 330mm discs the feel and power is astonishing. The brake set-up would put any of the current top superbikes to shame, except Ducati’s own 1299 Panigale.
But as spellbinding as the new Monster 1200 R is, the Aprilia sticks to the Ducati’s sexy new tail unit like glue.
The V4 1100 Tuono is the ultimate straight-barred, naked superbike. So while the Ducati rolls through tight corners, curving perfect arcs, the Aprilia loves to fly in on the V-line, hard on the brakes, turn and fire out the other side like a demented MotoGP bike.
When tight corners blend into fast sweepers the Tuono really comes into its own. The V4 motor is longer-revving and more powerful. That exquisite, polished aluminium superbike chassis gives you the confidence to push hard, while its Supercorsas gnaw deeper into the road surface.
With such a smooth quickshifter, upshifts are barley noticeable, and all the time you’ve got one of the best traction control systems primed and ready, waiting to catch you if things get squirrely. The Aprilia’s anti-wheelie system is just as good, but it’s a crime to switch it on when you’ve got a machine as magical as this. Super-nakeds were never designed to run on both wheels…
There’s little to separate the Ducati and Aprilia on the road. Both are mesmerizing, have flawless, characterful engines, perfect electronics, eye-popping brakes, are superbly crafted and are beautiful to behold.
The Monster 1200 R is the calmer of the two super-nakeds, but still delivers foaming-at-the-mouth thrills when you’re in the mood. The racier, more powerful Aprilia still has so much more left in reserve on the road, so is the one to pick if you plan to do lots of trackdays, where it will ruffle the feathers of the fastest superbikes.
But Ducati have done it. They’re back in the super-naked gang and given us the successor to the mad, bad Streetfighter. Thankfully, it’s not as wild, but it still has what it takes to get the blood gushing through your veins.
We were left wondering what the point of a hot Monster was when we rode it last month at its Ascari track launch, but here on the road it makes perfect sense. It’s a hooligan machine, like the old Streetfighter, but it’s also suave, refined and calm when you want to ride normally. But the Aprilia, with its equally perfect, smooth V4 motor is still the ultimate super-naked and it’s cheaper, too. It has that little bit more performance, racetrack handling and more electronic toys.
Photos: Alberto Cervetti