You don't want to mess with success. Especially a motorcycling icon like the Monster, a model that not only started a new market segment, but also was almost single-handedly responsible for keeping Ducati out of financial disaster in the late '90s before its TPG takeover. Ever since its debut at the '93 Cologne show, the Monster has consistently been the Bologna factory's top seller, at one point becoming 50 percent of the company's total motorcycle production and even reaching the top of the motorcycle sales charts in the home Italian market in '99 with the M600, a first for Ducati.
Thus, while the Monster has undergone many upgrades in its 16-year existence, those changes--especially to the styling--have been made carefully. All it takes is one design miscue (a certain model with three identical digit designation comes to mind) and your prom queen can quickly transform into the local crack whore.
So when Ducati's designers were faced with upgrading the biggest Monster's aging 904cc desmodue powerplant for '09, they had to tread lightly. Luckily, much of the styling and chassis development work had already been unveiled with the introduction of the Monster 696 last year. And in this age of model integration, wouldn't you know it,--the Hypermotard and Multistrada both utilize a new 1078cc version of the venerable air-cooled two-valve powerplant. All the detail differences were covered in our previous issue (Late Braking, January '09).
Firing up the 1078cc air-cooled engine in the morning is a quick and easy affair, although our test unit was occasionally a recalcitrant starter, only lighting up after turning the ignition key off and then on again. The desmodue powerplant quickly settles into the familiar loping V-twin idle, although the exhaust note is definitely muted much more than in years past; even though the twin side-mount mufflers are larger for more flow volume, it's easy to notice how the latest EPA sound regulations have forced the manufacturers to keep a lid on noise while maintaining increased performance. We're sure the first accessory on any Monster owner's list will be aftermarket exhaust cans.
The engine is basically identical to the unit in the Hypermotard (save for the much lighter Vacural casting method for the crankcases and engine covers that saves seven pounds), so it still has the typical tall first gear ratio that requires some clutch slippage to get off the line smartly. Thankfully, the dry clutch pack appears to be much more robust than the previously fragile Hypermotard unit, exhibiting none of the jerkiness and screeching sounds that would plague the older version's action with only the slightest aggression on takeoff. Clutch pull is also much lighter than in years past, with revised clutch spring rates ensuring that your left hand and forearm muscles don't cramp up after long stints in traffic.
Another pleasant design upgrade is the increased 34-degree steering lock that allows a much tighter turning radius in tight urban confines. The previous Monster's short steering lock would often catch you off guard when pulling U-turns and the like, forcing some deft clutch and throttle work to keep from tipping over. The intake screens flanking the front of the fuel tank cover are a nice styling exercise, but in reality their primary function is to allow clearance for the handlebar switchgear at full lock.
Speaking of the handlebar, the Monster 1100 retains the customary flat, straight bend of previous models (partially to assist with the switchgear clearance at full lock). The fuel tank/seat junction is thankfully less harsh than before, with the higher saddle and less-sloped tank permitting a slight shorter reach to the handlebar. Seat padding feels much more supportive than before, and there's adequate legroom to provide ergos that don't pretzel the rider's lower joints that would shorten riding stints abnormally. Mirrors are much more functional, although the small Digitek dash's position in relation to the riding position forces the rider to look down (and away from the path of travel) more than we'd like. The bar graph tachometer's numbering is thankfully larger than the 1098's for easier recognition, although with the Monster's friendlier engine character and less serious intent, you really don't need to look at it much. Fuel mileage is decent, averaging about 38 mpg, although you won't be going too far with the smallish 3.8-gallon tank; the low fuel warning comes on around 125 miles.
The larger engine is much more enjoyable to work with, with plenty of grunt available from as low as 2500 rpm that will launch you past traffic with ease (although it's better to wait until 4000 rpm in the higher gears, otherwise there's some chain snatch from the big V-twin's power pulses that becomes disconcerting). The biggest advantage is in the midrange however, with the 1078cc mill offering quicker acceleration and a smoother spread of power that really pays dividends in the canyons. The old S2R engine suffered a couple of dips in its powerband that could sometimes be annoying, but the new two-valver fills them in and then some, making the powerband seem wider even though rev limits are the same. The new engine just feels smoother and less frenetic overall, yet still retains the soulful Ducati desmo feel and sound that has been the brand's hallmark for decades.
Born To Run
Where the new Monster 1100 really shines though, is in the chassis and handling department. It was easy to see that the old S2R's chassis wasn't up to the rigors imposed by its 992cc engine, with the bike beginning to come unwound as the pace ramped up. The Monster 1100 shares the same beefed-up chassis as the new generation 696, and it's pretty obvious the upgrade was really meant for the bigger models.
Ordinarily, you'd think that decreasing trail on a bike more powerful than the S2R would be a recipe for instability, but the key here is the all-new die-cast aluminum swingarm that is both longer and stronger than the old unit. By extending the wheelbase a little less than half an inch, the new swingarm alters the 1100's weight distribution significantly, placing more weight on the front. Thus the 1100 not only steers easier and quicker into corners, but it also doesn't become unruly when encountering bumps while charging out of the bend under a heavy throttle hand like the S2R would. The Monster's wide, flat handlebar not only hangs the rider's torso out like a sail, but also offers a lot of leverage, both of which tend to accentuate the front-end flightiness under acceleration if the rider isn't careful; regardless, the 1100 handles this scenario much better.
There's much better front-end feedback when entering corners, a result of both the larger tubing on the trademark trellis-style frame and the fully adjustable 43mm Showa inverted fork. Suspension action at both ends was remarkably plush yet with decent control, and even though the Sachs rear shock is adjustable only for spring preload and rebound damping, its performance overall was very good. The laydown cantilever positioning of the shock allows a degree of progressiveness to the shock travel that surely helps in this regard, and its longer length than the 696 unit adds 40mm of ride height that aids ground clearance significantly.
Another big contributor to the 1100's superior handling is surely the Bridgestone BT016 rubber fitted as standard. Nearly every bike we've tried these tires on has responded favorably, and the Monster is no exception. Steering is quick and precise while remaining delightfully neutral, bump absorption at all lean angles is superb, and overall grip is excellent. Even wear rates after extended canyon flogs seemed reasonable, considering the tire's traction.
Slowing all this performance is ably handled by the radial-mount/four-piston Brembo calipers actuated by a radial-pump master cylinder. We weren't too enthused with the S2R's brakes, but the 1100's are a completely different proposition. Power, feel, and progressiveness are worlds better with the new setup, although we did notice a slight tailing off in braking power when the brakes are really used hard; nothing terrible, mind you, but noticeable nonetheless. Interestingly, the rear brake seems fairly useless in all but the slowest riding situations, with no real power or feel to speak of.
A Better Monster?
As the large-displacement Monsters began to let their engines get ahead of chassis development with ensuing model years since the original, we were afraid that Ducati was perhaps getting a little carried away with the integration of its models' chassis componentry. With the new Monster 1100, that issue in the bloodline has been stopped. The new bigger Monster has the right balance of engine power and handling to offer up the type of performance that can satisfy a wide range of riding skills and usage scenarios. And wasn't that what it was meant to do originally?
Ducati Monster 1100
+ Stronger, smoother engine
+ Better chassis, brakes
+ More steering lock
- Tall first gear
- Small fuel tank
- Tight bar/fuel tank clearance at full lock
x A much better, stronger, more balanced Monster
SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGSFRONT** Spring preload: 9 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping: 1.5 turns out from full stiff; compression damping: 1.0 turns out from full stiff.
REAR Spring preload: 25mm of thread showing on shock body; rebound damping: 8 clicks out from full stiff.
'09 Ducati Monster 1100
Type: Air-cooled, 4-stroke, L-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, two valves/cyl., desmodromic actuation
Bore x stroke: 98.0 x 71.5mm
Compression ratio: 10.7:1
Induction: Siemens EFI, 45mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
Front suspension: Showa 43mm inverted cartridge fork, 5.1 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension: Sachs single shock, 5.8 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound damping
Front brake: Two, radial-mount/four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Two-piston caliper, 245mm disc
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum
Rear wheel: 5.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone BT016
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT016
Rake/trail: 24 deg./3.4 in. (87mm)
Wheelbase: 57.1 in. (1450mm)
Seat height: 31.9 in. (810mm)
Fuel capacity: 3.8 gal. (15L)
Weight: 412 lb. wet; 389.2 dry
Instruments: Digitek digital LCD dash with bar graph tachometer, digital readouts for speedometer, multi-function readout for clock, odometer/tripmeter, oil temperature, battery charge level, lap time; warning lights for neutral, high beam, low oil pressure, turn signal
Quarter-mile: 11.46 sec. @ 114.05 mph (corrected)Top speed: NARoll-ons: 60-80 mph/3.33 sec.; 80-100 mph/3.96 sec.Fuel consumption: 35 to 39 mpg, 38 mpg average
I've never been a big fan of the Monster line. Don't get me wrong--I've always been impressed by the looks (the air-cooled versions, anyway), but the seating position wasn't comfortable, the chassis never seemed in step with me and they've always been a pain to start in the morning.
So I was pleasantly surprised with the Monster 1100. I'm not splayed across the tank reaching for the bars, and I can actually flog it at a pretty good clip in the twisty bits without waiting for the chassis to catch up. It's still a pain to start in the morning--hey, two outta three ain't bad. That aside, the 1078cc Desmodue engine is a gem, especially when it's spinning past 4500 revs. I'd like a little more braking power, but a simple pad replacement could cure that. All in all, the Monster 1100 has done a good job swaying the mind of a long time critic.
As the smaller-displacement Monsters rapidly gained in popularity and sales back in the late '90s, there was a lot more attention spent on expanding that money-making portion of the lineup, and the original big-displacement Monster's development languished. Then there were continuing increases in power via engine upgrades, but it just seemed that the balance between chassis and power was lost in the transition. The Monster 1100 changes that progression. The 1078cc engine is the powerplant that the bike has been needing all these years, and the new generation chassis is the perfect compliment to that update. The bike not only performs better, it just seems more refined in function without losing that visceral desmo experience that made the original Monster such a hit. And that's a good thing.