It's never easy to reinvent an iconic model in your product lineup, especially one that underpins the entire profitability of your company. Just ask Porsche about the 911. Or BMW about the Boxer. Or better still, ask Ducati, which has already been through this before with the introduction of its dynamically superior but controversially styled 999. Not easy, is it?
The 999 experience probably explains why Ducati has hesitated for so long to refresh the Monster, the most crucial member in its family of models. Unveiled at the Milan Show last November and now entering production, the nuova Monster 696 is inevitably the same as, only different from, its 695 predecessor. That's a paradox reinforced after a day spent riding the new model during the recent Barcelona press launch based right next door to the Montjuc circuit, where Ducati V-twins scored so many legendary victories in the 24 Hours race held there.
Ducati's in-house designer Bartholomeus Janssen Groesbeek had a tight wire to walk in penning the born-again Monster styling for the 696. "We told him you must be able to spot that it's a Monster from 200 meters away," declares project leader Giulio Malagoli. "We knew the concept needed to be refreshed, but our overriding objective was to retain the spirit, the core appeal of the old one, while improving the dynamic riding experience. So it's still a streetfighter, still an urban warrior, but now it's become housetrained and just a little bit sexy."
The 88 x 57.2mm dimensions of the 695.8cc engine are unchanged, as are the crankcases and crankshaft, but the pistons are revised to deliver a higher 10.7:1 compression ratio, and the cylinder heads are all-new, incorporating the same improvements embodied in the bigger 1100cc desmodue motor powering the Hypermotard and Multistrada. These include a revised combustion chamber and bigger valves set at a flatter included angle, operated by new higher-lift camshafts that now run directly in the heads-saving crucial weight by eliminating the bearings used on the previous motor. And thanks to a new aluminum-casting technique, there are additional cooling fins on each cylinder and head even with an unchanged stroke. All this delivers an extra seven horsepower with output up to 80 horsepower at 9000 rpm and torque up 11 percent to 50.9 ft-lb at 7750 rpm, while weighing 2.2 pounds less than the old engine.
Radial-mount/four-pot Brembo calipers clamping on big 320mm discs provide superb stopping power for the new Monster 696.
This revised engine is mounted in a new trellis frame that employs much larger-diameter 34mm steel tubing, the same as on the 1098R frame. A nonadjustable 43mm Showa inverted fork replaces the previous Marzocchi unit set at the same 24-degree rake with 102mm of trail, but the wheelbase has been extended slightly to 57 inches via an all-new cast-aluminum swingarm. A Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping is offset to the left in a cantilevered arrangement to provide space for the new exhaust system and its Euro 3 catalyst. Brakes and wheels on the new Monster are upgraded as well, with radial-mount calipers and twin 320mm Brembo front discs upsized from the 695's 300mm rotors, riding on three-spoke cast-aluminum Marchesini wheels.
Slinging a leg over the new bike reveals a different riding position that's more comfortable than before. You're sitting farther forward in the wheelbase without such a reach to the older model's flat handlebar, and although the fuel tank seems quite a bit bigger than before, it still allows your knees to tuck in tight. The tank is actually no more than a shroud; beneath it is the larger four-gallon fuel tank and ahead of this a larger 10-liter airbox. Intake slots on either side of the cover permit cool air inside, and between the airbox and fuel tank are the battery, coils, Siemens ECU, and assorted wiring, all of it tucked out of sight.