Ducati’s Monster 821 (MSRP $13,395 CDN) was a controversial pivot for the Bologna brand, as it moved the Monster line away from their iconic 2 valve-per-cylinder air cooled motors (the latest contingent were the 696, 796 and 1100 variants which were later brought back in the Scrambler and later, the Monster 797). So, what did Ducati achieve in creating a liquid cooled middleweight Monster and how does it stack up against its modern day middleweight competition?
Ducati’s move to liquid cooling its middleweight Monster wasn’t entirely their own doing. Making competitive power from air cooled motors has become increasingly difficult with today’s emission compliance legislation and as such, Ducati’s hand was forced in this direction. Introduced in 2015, the Monster 821 shares its motor with the Hypermotard 821 (now replaced by the Hypermotard 939). The motor is of the tried and true Testastretta 11 degree lineage and produces about 95HP and 56 lb-ft of torque at the wheel. It features an increased valve service interval of 30,000 kms which is in line with Ducati’s prerogative of reducing cost of ownership when matched with a 2 year, unlimited mileage warranty.
In terms of real-world performance, the motor feels equally torque-rich, if a little less rev-happy than the outgoing air-cooled mills of yore. As evidenced by the dyno chart, there’s relatively abundant torque from 4,500 RPM and little reward to be found by revving the motor beyond 9,000 RPM to it 10,250 RPM redline. The result is a bike that is easy to ride in most street riding scenarios and prefers being short-shifted when the pace picks up.
Fueling is good-to-very-good (by stock Ducati twin standards) and the exhaust note is, well, of note. If there were an award for “Best Sounding Stock Motorcycle Exhaust of 2016”, then we would give it hands down to the Monster 821. The overrun popping on decel is intoxicating and the on-throttle burble is pure desmo joy. Someone at Ducati must have an “in” with the EPA sound regulation people as the stock exhaust sounds louder that what should be legal -a good thing if you like to hear what the motor is doing.
Controls and electronics follow Ducati’s standard “Ducati Safety Pack” convention, with ABS, traction control and 3 selectable and configurable ride modes at your disposal. We appreciate Ducati’s attention to detail on the electronics side, allowing users to configure parameters of the “Rain”, “Road” and Sport” modes to their liking. More experienced riders can chose the most aggressive throttle response and turn traction control off, allowing for the most direct connection to the bike without electronic intervention. It’s also worth noting that, as with all of Ducati’s configurable electronics systems, that the system retains all programmed settings when the bike is turned off, so you don’t need to reset or re-select the ride mode and parameters (the same cannot be said of other manufacturer’s electronics systems…*cough* KTM, *cough*cough* Yamaha…).
These basic parameters are displaced on the LCD dash with is easy to read in most situations but is sometimes prone to glare (as seen above). Our only beef about the display is that there is no gear position indicator (this was added for the 2018 model year update along with a full color TFT display).
Seating position is classic Ducati Monster with an “in charge” view of the road and a more forward, aggressive riding position than most other middleweight contenders. The bars feel wide and provide great control for steering inputs and hustling the bike around at a brisk pace. Mirrors are large and actually provide quite good rearward visibility.
Our main gripe with the ergonomics are with the rider’s triangle, specifically the distance from the pegs to the seat which made it impossible for our 2 test riders to achieve a comfortable sport riding position (casual riding was less of an issue).
Our tallest rider, at 6′ and a 32″ inseam could not get his knees to the tank, even when riding on the balls of his feet, forcing him to squeeze the bike below the tank at the frame. The issue is that the frame has rubber grommets which protrude and provide an uncomfortable surface with which to grip the bike. A higher seat and higher pegs would likely correct this, but we found it to be a noteworthy oversight on a premium-priced bike.
Brakes on the 821 are, as always (for Ducati) of the Brembo variety, featuring dual M4-32 calipers up front pinching semi floating disc. The package is more than capable of stopping the middleweight Monster in any situation and feel at the lever is 2 finger good. Stock tires are Pirelli’s Diablo Rosso II’s which are well matched to the Monster 821’s intentions -to say, commuting, spirited street riding and short-distance touring. On the suspension side, the Monster 821 features a non-adjustable fork and preload-adjustable shock. The bike is relatively well sprung for an average weight North American rider but an advanced rider will quickly blow through the fork and shock’s non-adjustable stroke when the pace quickens. A track day bike, the Monster 821 is not but that’s not to say it isn’t sporty, as its chassis geometry offers quick turn in and good mid-corner stability.
At the time of writing this, the middleweight segment is perhaps the most competitive in all of motorcycling. At an MSRP of $13,395 CDN, the Monster 821 sits at the top of the middleweight price range. For anyone on the market, here are a few of the bikes that it competes with directly:
Yamaha FZ-09 (aka MT-09), MSRP: $9,749 CDN
A prospective buyer wanting to spend less could arguably get more from the imperfect, yet raucous inline 3 powered FZ-09 (reviewed here) which is a very close match for the Duc on paper. What would make someone spend $3K more on the Ducati over this less expensive rival? Perhaps the Italian charm or the quality components and finishes of the Monster but make no mistake: the FZ edges out the Monster 821 in the performance department, with the 2017 FZ model update adding a quickshifter (also available on the Duc for 2018), slipper clutch and LED lighting as standard equipment.
Kawasaki 900, MSRP: $9,299 CDN
If you’re considering the FZ-09, then its main rival from Japan is also worth a look, in the form of the new (completely redesigned for 2017) Z900. The bike has moved to a tubular frame and has shed a lot of weight which, combined with a revised motor, makes for class-leading horsepower in this company.
Ducati Hypermotard 939, MSRP: $14,995 CDN
Although this bike offers something altogether different than the Monster 821, we’ve included it in this comparison as it’s similarly priced ($1,000 more for the base Hypermotard). The major draw here (other than a more upright riding position and different styling) is the updated motor. As of 2016, Ducati updated the Hypermotard line from the 821 motor to a new 939 version of the Testastretta mill which offers better midrange torque and top end grunt. Our review of the extensively-ridden 2016 Hypermotard 939 SP can be found here.
Triumph Street Triple 765: MSRP: $11,200 CDN
After nearly a decade, Triumph has updated it’s middleweight, 3 cylinder naked bike platform with a new motor (among other updates) and now offers a range of 3 models that start from the very competent Street Triple S ($11,200) all the way through a fully kitted up Street Triple RS ($14,000). TFT displays, Brembo brakes and trick Ohlins suspension parts are all available as you work your way up the range. As an alternative to the Duc that still retains high quality finishes and some European flare (this time, by way of the Brits), this is a bike worth cross-shopping and test riding.
The Monster is an iconic pillar of the Ducati brand and for some people, that alone justifies the price of admission. It isn’t best-in-class at anything but does everything well and has character that (subjectively) can’t be rivaled. Beauty, they say is in the eye on the beholder and if you have fallen in love with a Monster, then nothing else will do.
Trying to read the digital display at speed during a sunny day is impossible.. C’mon, Ducati. Give us at least analog speedo/ rpm .