The 150-Horsepower Ducati Monster 1200 S Is Elegant Excess

Ducati’s naked bike is muscled up and trimmed down for 2017.

Milagro

Before the Ducati Monster there was a line dividing sport bikes and the rest of motorcycles. In 1993, the line was drawn in lurid day-glo greens and pinks and purple. The Japanese made brilliant race replicas, gaudy things with sky-high redlines and racing pedigrees. The Italians too, splashing their charisma across the giant fairings of distinctive superbikes and almost unapproachable homologation machines. So when the Ducati Monster debuted, every inch essential and pared down, shouting athleticism with its architecture while remaining accessible to an average and enthusiastic rider, it shook the industry something fierce.

Brilliant in both design and execution, the Monster was Ducati’s first big success. 23-years later, the 2017 Ducati Monster 1200 S has big shoes to fill.

Monte Carlo is a cougar bar of a town. Always leaving a little unsaid. Always a haughty eyebrow at any kind of unsanctioned good times. Stand in Monaco and point yourself any direction but seaward, though, and you’re going to find a brilliant road. They’re busy, flashy and spectacular along the coast, and they take you carving high into the Maritime Alpines if you head inland. Today, that’s the plan.

Milagro

Evolution and time have been kind to the Monster’s original design, and 23-years later, it takes a keen eye to discern differences between this new 1200 S and its predecessors. The machine is water-cooled now. It has grown and matured, and with this latest update it’s caught up on Ducati’s latest electronic technologies. An Inertial Measurement Unit is stashed away under the Monster’s spartan bodywork, allowing for everything from wheelie and traction control to cornering ABS. The 2017 Monster 1200 S is faintly shorter in length, imperceptibly higher at the seat, and identical in purpose. Tighter lines define the tank, and rein in the tiniest bit of bloat from the previous model’s tail section. It looks good and purposeful in the beach-side overcast, trimmed of everything superfluous except power.

The morning cool is tough on motorcycle tires and joints alike. Taken together, we’re bent out of shape as we ride out of town and into the mountains. Roads wet from dew make ascending switchback after switchback a clumsy and upright affair, but every corner exit is an excuse to dip into the Monster’s 150-horsepower, and every low stone wall canted over a precipice is another reminder to invoke the faint tea kettle whistle of the big four-piston Brembo M50 brakes up front. Little frustrations with the previous bike, crowded footpegs chief among them, are gone. The new Monster feels smaller, too. Mostly, it’s a beautiful place to ride. The road cuts across ravines, all oaks and oilslicks, and turns on itself more as it ascends.

Milagro

Roads dry. Traction improves. The Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires finally have something to bite, and the new Monster begins to feel like the old Monster: Communicative. Easy. Familiar. It’s this eagerness that made the Monster a success. It’s still there , thriving after all these years. The switchbacks never give up, but a ridgeline yields a few open corners with a bit of visibility. It’s heaven. The Monster transitions quickly between lefts and rights, and the handsome color TFT dash blares out the rapid march toward the 1200’s 10,500-rpm redline. Shifting in busy corners is helped by a new quickshifter, snatched off Ducati’s Panigale superbike, but through long sections of ridgeline it’s not worth the hassle. Second gear and a swell of torque from the big L-twin seem able to match the pace of any tightly twisted road. The big, adjustable Ohlins front and rear dispatch frost heaves and seams comfortably, even cornering, even hustling. The setup’s stiffness bodes well for track days, and might make a more leisurely rider think twice about whether they really need the upgrade.

A base Monster 1200 doesn’t get the fancy suspension of the 1200 S — settling instead for an adjustable Kayaba fork and a Sachs monoshock out back — but just about everything else makes the cut. The shared engine is good for a 15-horsepower bump over the outgoing Monster 1200, and the standard bike gets the same IMU as the Monster S. The quickshifter lands on the accessory list, and the Monster 1200 has to make due without a carbon fiber mudguard. Either can make a case for itself as the better value.

Milagro

The road back into Monaco could be a repeat of the ride out. The throaty grumble of the Ducati’s exhaust reverberates off stone canyons and stone walls and stone villages. Even snuffed behind a Euro 4-approved exhaust, it’s still the main attraction here. Distinctive and charismatic, it’s the sound of Ducati’s rolling through town that shakes young French boys out onto the street like walnuts out of a tree as we descend to the Riviera.

It’d be tough not to see the appeal, and Ducati knows it — they’re asking $17,195 for loaded 1200 S dressed in Liquid Concrete Grey. A traditional red can be had cheaper, and the standard Monster 1200 even cheaper still, at $14,695. With either package the old Monster’s values remain intact, just with more power and technology. True to type, the 2017 Monster 1200 S is elegant excess.  

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