The PB100: 4 - Ducati Monster S4RS

Published: 05 November 2008

The 100 bikes to ride before you die, brought to you by the guys at MCN's sister title, Performance Bikes.

The  missing link between 916 and 1098...

It’s easy to think of this bike as being the preserve of London luvvies. While the rest of us live in the sideways clamping of the credit crunch, the rich buy fast and slightly pretentious motorcycles.

This bike stands against everything we stand for. This is a needless, cynical upgrade of a bike that didn’t need upgrading. Putting sportsbike engine, sportsbike suspension, brakes and wheels on a 15-year-old naked doesn’t make it a sportsbike.

In fact, it makes it little more than folly.

Fat Öhlins forks, Marchesinis, and world-stopping Brembo brakes are the fodder of label watchers when they aren’t on a sportsbike. It’s all trying too hard. Radiators, oil coolers and exhausts hang from the chassis like dangleberries on a bullock.

Tricolour paintjob smacks of desperation. When PB tested the bike at the Nürburgring, it wasn’t even very fast. Form before function – I should hate this bike.
But I can’t. Ducati have made more powerful, more usable engines, but they haven’t made an engine as evocative as the 998cc Testastretta motor. Opening the throttle reminds you of a time when Ducatis were naturally beautiful and World Superbikes actually mattered – this bike is the missing link between modern-day Ducatis and the 916 family that ruled the world.

It makes an average bike intoxicating. Wind on the throttle and the bike changes as it hits 7000rpm. It’s the sound. It shakes the bike to the core, the revs rise faster, the bars wobbling, bike rhythmically weaving, writhing beneath you. And it’s so familiar – accidental acoustic engineering at its best.

This is the perfect engine for medium-fast road riding and sunny days. Not too much power, but enough for you to respect. Enough torque to float wheels over crests, and ruck tarmac out of bends, front wheel light, arms braced. There’s no jacket and jeans cliché here; with a claimed 130bhp this is a serious motorcycle. It’s way, way faster than the original 916 and demands full leathers and respect.

Properly adjustable, the suspension is set for the road as standard – and is the better for it. At fast, but not excessive, speeds there’s a quality to the ride that’s rare in a mass-produced Japanese bike.

Ride one on the right road, on the kind of day when you can forgive a bike its wrongs and ignore its baggage, and the S4RS comes close to being perfect. Pretty, flawed, fast and slightly affected – this is a reminder of how Ducatis used to be.