Ducati has a lot to thank its Monster line of motorcycles for, not least of which is the fact that it single-handedly kept the company afloat during its financial struggles of the '90s. What's surprising is that, despite the fanfare the company gives its Superbikes, the Monster is still Ducati's best-selling model worldwide, selling more than 225,000 to date. In fact, according to Mario Alvisi, Ducati Brand Manager, the 696 was the first Monster to reach five-figure sales in one year. While nobody stateside seemed to mind the fact that there were only two offerings of the latest Monster-the 1100 and 696 versions-in Europe and abroad there was a disconnect between the two as licensing restrictions on engine size and power output practically force riders toward the baby Monster even if their hearts desire something more.
Seeing this disconnect, Ducati saw fit to introduce a "middleweight" Monster, mating the existing 1100 chassis to the existing 796cc Desmodue engine originally designed for the smaller Hypermotard 796. Throw in a slightly upgraded suspension, better brakes and some minor finishing touches and you have a motorcycle with all the appeal of the Monster 1100 that our friends across the pond can enjoy, despite their licensing regulations.
It's In The Details
Don't mistake the 796 as just a smaller 1100, however. Ducati listened to rider feedback when designing the latest Monster and though the changes are small, they are nonetheless significant. For starters, the rider triangle has been tweaked slightly for more comfort. Bars are lifted 20mm via risers, while a new seat shape (that now comes standard on all Monster models) lowers the seat height 10mm to 800mm (31.5 inches). Despite these changes, the 796 still gains 30mm more ground clearance compared to the 696, the former capable of 46 degrees of lean. Brakes are the same 320mm disc/radial-mount four-piston caliper pair that graces the 696, only these are mated to adjustable levers which are a nice touch over the little Monster.
The engine bay reveals more subtle changes. Displacement actually climbs to 803cc despite the name. Bore remains the same (88mm) while stroke increases to 66mm (from 57.2mm). Pistons get a redesigned crown shape, bumping compression up to 11:1 (from 10.7:1) and a lighter, 848-style flywheel is mated to the crankshaft. These little changes result in a claimed seven-horsepower increase (87 vs. 80), as well as seven more foot-pounds of torque (58 vs. 51). All while maintaining a 7500-mile service interval.
Carving A Name For Itself
Due to a pesky volcano that interrupted European travel, the original launch of the Monster 796 was missing a few people, SR included. I finally got a chance to ride the middleweight Monster near the Ducati factory in Bologna, Italy on my way to World Ducati Week 2010 (which you can read about later in this issue). Before even starting the bike, the ergonomic changes are evident. Instead of the hunched-over riding position of old, now the rider sits further upright with an easy reach to the ground. Motoring to the convenient backroads near the factory the engine never feels anemic like the 696, but also doesn't have the pull of the 1100. It's simply a perfect middle ground with just enough zip to scoot around town. Keep the revs over 3000 (you'll have to slip the clutch a lot if you don't) and there's plenty of grunt to get one in trouble in the canyons as well.
For the majority of riding I found the tall, widely spaced gears adequate for the job, though the 796 can get caught in between gears when really pushing it hard. Thankfully the clutch is feather light and minimally fatiguing. The non-adjustable 43mm Showa fork and Sachs shock, adjustable for preload and rebound, do a respectable job of absorbing bumps. Both units react harshly and progressively get softer throughout the stroke. The tall handlebars provide ample leverage to hurl the bike seemingly anywhere and the Pirelli Diablo Rosso tires come to temperature quickly and provide plenty of grip for a street tire. The Brembo brakes stop the bike with no fuss-our particular model coming equipped with optional ABS, which would activate only while stopping over bumps in the road.
Without a doubt the Monster 796 is what the 696 should have been from the start. The writing is on the wall for the 696 Stateside, especially since the 796 is just $1000 more than its younger brother at $9995. Fortunately for Ducati, licensing restrictions and insurance requirements will keep both bikes strong sellers across the pond. Bikes should be in dealers by the time you read this. -TS
2010 Ducati Monster 796
Type: Air-cooled, 4-stroke, SOHC L-twin
Bore x Stroke: 88.0 x 66.0 mm
Induction: Siemens EFI, single-valve 45mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso
Rake/trail: 24.0 deg/3.4 in. (87mm)
Wheelbase: 57.1 in. (1450mm)
Claimed dry weight: 368 lb. (167kg)
Seat height: 31.5 in. (800mm)
Fuel Capacity: 3.8 gal. (15.0L)