The digital Digitek LCD dashboard...
The digital Digitek LCD dashboard is essentially the same as the one on the 1098, although the tach numbers and bars are thankfully much larger. No fuel gauge, though.
You still have to use a manual choke to start the engine cold; the ECU surprisingly doesn't have a cold-start program. The engine is much quieter than before, with less mechanical noise, and also extremely smooth-there are no balancer weights in the handlebar ends. This means the smartly designed mirrors don't vibrate; they look nice and work well. The good-looking digital dash is essentially the same one as fitted to the 1098R; however, adapting this MotoGP-derived dash to a simple bike like the Monster means you also get a host of functions ranging from a 99-lap chronometer down to a battery-condition monitor-but no fuel gauge, which is a strange misplacement of priorities. The headlamp is the most distinctive element of the new bike's updated styling, with a strip riding light bisecting it in half, leaving the upper section for low beam and the lower for high beam.
The clean-shifting gearbox has the same ratios as the 695, meaning it has Ducati's traditional very tall top gear that you end up rarely using except on the freeway. Third gear is a faithful friend for the engine's broad spread of power and extra hit of midrange torque most of the time in the canyons. The engine pulls pretty well from 3500 rpm onwards, but pickup from a closed throttle is a little abrupt, though not as bad on some other bikes. There's some transmission snatch until 5000 rpm, when everything smooths out. The Monster 696's sweet spot is between 5000 and 9000 rpm, but even if you hold a gear and hit the 9500-rpm rev limiter accidentally, there's no warning you're about to do so.
The slightly peakier engine tuning caused me to use the clutch quite a bit riding through city traffic, and its light action-especially by Ducati standards-meant my hand didn't cramp up. However, it needs little more than a brush of the lever with your fingers to work it; all the actuation is concentrated in a small range at the end of the lever travel. But the desmodue engine is extremely clean in its pickup off the line and midrange roll-ons.
The Monster 696's handling is likewise a step up from before. You have more confidence in maintaining turn speed on the new bike, even if the old-generation Bridgestone BT-56 rubber puts a damper on that increased speed. Too bad, because the new high-rise exhaust delivers a considerable amount of extra ground clearance compared with the old one. The 696 easily lets you make corrections midturn, and the slim 160/60 rear tire surely helps in speeding up the steering of what is already a pretty light bike scaling in at a claimed 356 pounds dry-more than 15 pounds less than the 695. You feel it in the way it flicks so easily from side to side, and this would be another factor in the stellar braking performance, too.
But perhaps the biggest surprise is the ride quality and the suspension compliance of the new 696. Where the previous 695 would come undone over any pavement irregularities, the 696 works brilliantly, eating up bumps without breaking a sweat. The steep mounting angle of the Sachs shock helps in this regard by giving a more progressive action. The 696 suspension seems slightly stiffer at both ends than on the 695, delivering tauter handling but not at the expense of overall performance; the new Monster is ultraprecise on turn-in and holds a line well even if you brake midcorner. It's a very forgiving, friendly bike to ride. -Alan Cathcart
Ducati Monster 696
Type: Liquid-Cooled, 4-Stroke, Sohc, L-Twin
Bore x stroke: 8ens EFI, 45mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
Front tire: 120/60ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-56
Rear tire: 160/60ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-56
Rake/trail: 24 deg./4.7 in. (120mm)
Wheelbase: 57.1 in. (1450mm)
Claimed dry weight: 355 lb. (161kg)
Seat height: 30.3 in. (770mm)
Fuel capacity: 3.8 gal. (15L)