2015 Ducati Monster 821: Fast Fun in the Apennines!

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Milagro

Ducati has taken the recently introduced Monster 1200 chassis and slipped in an 821cc Testastretta 11º engine, sourced from the 2014 Hypermotard, to create this fun new model. At the world press launch, the mayor of Ducati’s home town of Bologna, Italy, welcomed us with a speech followed by a huge police-escorted group ride to dinner in the central city square. As we dined in the grand old mayor’s palace, which was built circa 1025 A.D., hundreds of onlookers flocked around the long line of dozens of parked red Ducs in a row.

Powertrain and Performance

Essentially the new Monster 821 was created from a 1200 model, by slipping in the 821cc Testastretta 11º engine, which is used in Ducati’s 2014 Hypermotard. The new Monster’s liquid-cooled 821 Testastretta 11° engine claims 112 horsepower at 9,250 rpm and 65.8 lb-ft torque at 7,750 revs. A more efficient exhaust adds two horsepower compared to the Hypermotard, but unlike the 1200cc version of the Monster, there’s no external oil cooler.

The 90-degree L-twin DOHC four-valve-per-cylinder engine is a definite improvement over the air-cooled, two-valve engine it replaces. Out on the road it is smoother and more flexible, with a nice wide power band. The staccato exhaust sound is intoxicating and had me getting on and off the throttle just to hear and enjoy it.

Ducati’s engineers have apparently been busy developing the six-speed transmission, which along with the cable-actuated wet slipper clutch, works better than any Ducati I recall. Gear changes are fast and precise, neutral is easy to find, and clutch action is smooth.

The Monster 821 shares ride-by-wire with its bigger new 1200 sibling. Electronic goodies include eight-level traction control, three-level ABS, and three riding modes. The three ride modes each have unique settings for the rate of throttle opening, aggressiveness of traction control, and sensitivity of anti-lock brakes. Urban mode, which softens throttle response and cuts power to 75 hp, worked well in pouring rain. Touring mode allows the full horsepower, but throttle opening is less abrupt than sport mode. Select sport mode on dry roads when it’s time to play a little.

Our test route took us on a loop south of Bologna, through the historic Apennine Mountains toward Florence, and back. Performance was excellent and there was plenty of power on tap for thrilling acceleration and passing power. The potent, flexible engine and slick gearbox make this Monster truly a fun machine.

Chassis and Handling

Ducati employs its signature tubular steel trellis frame, using the engine as a fully-stressed member, to provide chassis rigidity with light weight. Unlike its sibling Monster 1200, which has a single-sided swingarm, the 821 gets a double-sided setup (with a single shock) to cut costs. Despite being non-adjustable, the 43mm inverted fork offers direct feedback and precise handling. However, the lower-priced (compared to the 1200) suspension passes a lot of road jolts and bumps on to the rider.

A different rear wheel is used than on the 1200, wrapped with a Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tire that’s in an unusual 180/60-17 profile. The tires gripped and tracked well, even in heavy rain. The Duc turns in nicely with little effort and holds a line like a champ. High-speed stability is good, and the bike is confidence inspiring.

Steering is pleasantly neutral, and the bike can be flicked from side to side almost effortlessly. Twin Brembo Monobloc four-piston radial front calipers are low effort but deliver great feel along with strong stopping power.

Features and Ergonomics

There’s no wind protection, but an accessory windscreen can be fitted. A new compact gauge unit includes a wrap-around bar graph tach, digital speedometer, and indicator lamps. Engine coolant temperature is displayed along with a clock and rider-selectable groupings of odometers, fuel reserve, trip time, lap time, and more.

The wide, nearly flat handlebar provides plenty of leverage, and the bike has light, quick steering. Riding posture requires a moderate forward lean, something that could also be changed with an aftermarket bar if extended travel is anticipated.

Saddle height is adjustable from 30.9 to 31.9 inches, which should accommodate the majority of riders, and higher and lower accessory seats are available. The seat is fairly comfortable but slopes forward too much and pushes the rider into the gas tank under braking. A removable rear seat cover gives the bike a “monoposto” look (not included on the Dark version) when there’s no pillion rider. Passenger grab handles are there when needed. Passenger seating accommodations are fairly stark and cramped due to the compact size of the bike.

Several gripes came up on the test ride. In traffic, radiant heat from the right-side exhaust made my leg uncomfortable. The rubber-covered footpegs can become very slippery when they’re wet. In fact, my low-side foot slipped off in a corner. They also have an awkward location and tend to splay your feet.

Many accessories can be had, including a tankbag, semi-hard panniers, and a windscreen, which can turn the Monster into a light-duty touring machine.

Final Thoughts

This sporty machine is a blast to ride on the backroads. It has quick handling, great brakes, and a lively, potent engine. And oh, that sound! If you are in the market for a mid-sized naked bike, be sure to consider this one.