Before the 2011 Ducati Monster 796 was unveiled, the rift within the Monster lineup was considerable: the entry level 696 served as a great advanced beginner bike, while the 1100 offered a considerably more ballsy option.
How does the Monster 796 bridge the gap?
To find out, I put Ducati's newest naked bike to the test on the twisty, hilly roads surrounding Bologna, Italy.
The Goods: Middleweight Architecture, Enhanced Ergonomics
Like the Monster 696, the 796 features non-adjustable Showa 43mm inverted forks up front, while the rear monoshock by Sachs is preload and rebound adjustable. The Monster 796 incorporates a wet, hydraulically actuated clutch with an APTC slipper unit (a la Hypermotard 796), and unlike the littlest Monster, the 796's swingarm is a slick, single-sided design. As with the Monster 1100, the 796 receives aluminum tapered handlebars and Pirelli Diablo Rosso tires; the wheels and tires are identical to the big bore Monster's, apart from their black finish with short section pinstriping. Dual-disc, 4-piston Brembos are found up front, with a 2-piston disc at the rear.
The new Monster 796's ergonomic triangle has been revised for greater comfort: the handlebar is .79 inches taller, the saddle has been re-shaped for greater comfort (and sits .39 inches lower than the 1100's), and 4-point adjustable hand levers have also been incorporated.
The Monster 796 comes with a 2 year, unlimited mileage warranty, and is available in red, white, black, or Ducati's custom color schemes.
Throw a Leg Over: Snarly Growl, Easier Rider
The air-cooled twin starts up with a snarly growl, and letting out the light clutch results in similar takeoff dynamics to other Ducatis: the need for some clutch slippage, and a bit of engine chatter at the bottom end of the powerband. Especially once you rev past 3,000 rpm, the new Monster pulls quite nicely, with grunty thrust that doesn't quit until the rev limiter kicks in at around 8,500 rpm. Riders familiar with high-revving four-cylinder sportbikes might need to adjust their shifting style aboard the new Monster, which exhibits some roll-on throttle abruptness but grunty mid-range torque; despite (or perhaps because of) its relatively low redline, the Monster delivers satisfying acceleration in urban settings, thanks to the oodles of available torque which obviate the need to wind up the engine to stratospheric rpms. Shifter feel is positive, and sometimes requires a bit more than a gentle tap to trigger a gear change-- which might be aided by some break-in miles.
Our tester was equipped with anti-lock brakes (a $1,000 option), which adds only 4 pounds to the bike's total weight, but cuts fuel capacity from 3.8 to 3.6 gallons. The system doesn't step in as aggressively as it could (which is a good thing), and several intentional actuations revealed a perceptible pulse that was easier to trigger when surface conditions were visibly loose. Brake feel and stopping power are both exceptional, and the ABS function can be easily switched off, though shutting and restarting the engine will automatically switch the system back on.
Overall, the Monster 796's road manners feel like a solid balance between the 696 and the 1100; the 796 is flickable yet stable, with a spirited exhaust note and enough thrust to appease most speed hungry riders.
The Bottom Line: A Right-Priced, Right-Sized Bike
Coming in just below the psychologically crucial $10,000 mark, the Monster 796 offers a lot of bike for a relatively reasonable sum, especially considering Ducati's typically premium pricing. The new Monster may not be the most practical commuter or the most potent motorcycle around a track, but for a city bike with real world usability, it strikes a sweet spot between the smaller-engined 696 and the bigger, pricier 1100.
The Monster 796's gruntier engine and single-sided swingarm are notably more lust-inspiring than what the 696 has to offer, and with a price difference of only $1,000, those two distinctions will almost certainly cannibalize sales from the smaller-engined stablemate. That said, the 796 hones in on the qualities many riding enthusiasts are looking for in a naked middleweight: a quick, nimble, reasonably comfortable, and appropriately priced ride with loads of personality.
Welcome to the world, Monster 796; you've got a winning personality that should draw plenty of new fans towards the Ducati brand.