In the early ’90s with Ducati sales in the doldrums, bosses at the Bologna factory were looking for a miracle. Technical Director, Massimo Bordi took a long hard look at the factory’s line-up and decided that perhaps a change was needed. Bordi put designer Miguel Angel Galluzzi to the task of coming up with a bike that was in keeping with the Ducati heritage, easy to ride but which moved away from the traditional sports bike, maybe even breaking into the Cruiser market.
Galluzzi, having already hit the nail on the head creating the 916 range, which would go on to be considered a design classic in its own right, was more than up to the task. However, the project was limited to a tight budget and Galluzzi was forced to design the bike around components leftover from existing models.
The result could easily have been a machine that looked exactly like the parts bin special it was. Instead, it became the Ducati Monster, a bike that started the wave of naked muscle bikes and eventually accounted for over two-thirds of Ducati’s total output.
The next milestone came in 2000 when, with the opposition catching-up fast, Ducati kicked down a gear and introduced the Monster S4. Using the frame from their ST4 and the 916’s legendary liquid-cooled 4-valve engine. By the time the S4R followed on with its single-sided swinging arm and dual exhaust system, the monster re-defined the class once again.
In 2013, the factory released their biggest monster to date. With stricter emission laws preventing the Evo 1100 Monster from any further development, Ducati shoehorned the liquid-cooled power plant from their 1198cc Testastretta model, which called for a radical redesign of the trellis chassis and used the cylinder head as a stressed member.
Leaving the old-school engines behind, not to mention their trademark dry clutch, the new Monsters not only grew physically larger but had to take on complex electrical components. The classic lines of the seat and tank design took on new shapes too. All of this lead Monster purists to say that the 1100 Evo was the last true Monster. The 1200S was such an improvement in almost every department and it was soon winning a host of new fans.
Ducati, if nothing else, are traditionalists and at least proved that they were aware of such criticism when they opened their press briefing with talk of the new Monster ‘returning to its roots.’ The super naked market, however, is hugely competitive, and such rout-returning can only go so far.
The 2017 Ducati Monster 1200S, even with further refinements, however, finds itself in some serious company in the super naked field, with the likes of the BMW S1000R, Aprilia Tuono 1100, and KTM Super Duke 1290. So, has it done enough?
The most obvious changes are in the bike’s appearance. Although the fuel capacity has only dropped I liter, the facelift has given it much more angular lines, making it look a lot smaller. The tail section has also been re-designed and also takes on an angular look.
In purely technical terms, the tail section has lost 0.8 of an inch and the tank narrowed by 0.26 inches, the result of such fine-tuning is that it looks like you’re sitting on top of the bike rather than in it, as was with its predecessor.
Changes to the chassis are also small tweaks rather than anything earth-shattering but have more significance over the bikes handling characteristics. The new 1200S comes with a 58.5-inch wheelbase, which is an inch shorter thanks to a new single-sided swinging arm, whilst rake is one degree steeper at 23.3 degrees.
These changes to both wheelbase and steering should lead to improved agility and lighter steering and together with upgraded Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires, the handling improvements should be noticeable.
The press launch for the new Monster was held in Monaco and its endless sweeping bends and hairpins were guaranteed to give the bikes 48mm fully adjustable upside-down forks and fully adjustable mono-shock Ohlins, a serious workout. The S also gets the newer Brembo M50 semi-floating, radially mounted, 4-piston brake calipers on 10mm larger rotors. Combined with Bosch cornering ABS as standard, hauling-up the Monster should be comparatively stress-free.
The bike’s altered proportions, which don’t appear to add too much, really are noticeable and even though it has a seat height of 32.3 inches (which can also be adjusted slightly lower), the contoured front section makes it more comfortable than others in its class, yet still slim enough to get a foot down at a stoplight.
Handlebar width is just about right, not adventure-bike wide, but still giving plenty of leverage and added to the Monster’s center of gravity make the bike feel agile enough to trickle through traffic without resorting to any trial rider type acrobatics.
It’s no wonder that Grace Kelly fell in love with the place, Monaco is incredibly picturesque and out in the countryside, the twisting roads were specially chosen to present the rider with hairpin after hairpin, much like the mountain road to the Spanish village of Ronda in the Costa del Sol.
Whilst both of these roads in favorable conditions are a rider’s dream, on greasy rain-washed roads, a continuous sway of hairpins is the best way to show-up a bike’s shortcomings. In this case, the 1200S took some real effort to line up on corners and keep a tight line through the bend. But whether this was more to do with an unfamiliar bike in testing conditions, or getting used to the bikes computer input, is hard to say.
With more miles under its wheels, or should that be kilometers, it becomes increasingly apparent that the Ducati’s traction control and cornering ABS combined with the great Ohlins USD fork and rear shock combo, are far more suited to the conditions than I was. And yet again, it takes a little time to stop fighting it and become attuned to the bikes’ strengths. And as every rider knows, it’s always at that point that you can increase the pace without much effort.
As the road test continued up into the mountains, the bike’s electronic wizardry played a more important part as the conditions got trickier. Stretches of dry road instantly giving way to wet shaded areas. Here, ‘Touring mode’ was the safest bet, giving the best combination of throttle response, ABS, wheelie, and most importantly, traction control. And of course, when conditions ease off a little, just like in up-market cars, switching to sport mode gives you back a more spirited ride.
And talking of switching modes, the electronics suite comes straight from the 1299 Panigale and can be done whilst on the move, with adjustments coming from a dab of the thumb on the left handlebar switch. What’s more, each of the three riding modes can be customized still further, giving an infinite variety to the ride. The first mode, ‘Urban’, limits the engine to 100 horsepower, with ‘Touring’ next up and ‘Sport’ unleashing all the horses.
The TFT screen is lit even in bright daylight conditions and although may appear slightly daunting to the uninitiated, becomes intuitive as the miles are clocked up. But speaking, the cornering ABS is assisted by an IMU or Inertial Measurement Unit, the traction and wheelie control has eight different stages of adjustment and there are three selectable levels of ABS.
The Monster 1200S also comes with a quick-shifter as standard, which gives you the option of using the clutch around town for instance but once accelerating hard on the open roads, allows for slick clutchless gear changes by electronically blipping the throttle.
So, with issues arising from the previous model such as engine power and footrest problems addressed and advances in the on-board electronics, can the 2017 Ducati 1200S hold its own against the opposition?
As with everything, although the price is always a consideration, it all comes down to personal taste. For me, I prefer the look of its predecessor. But all I have is one final question, the cost of the bike in vibrant Ducati red is $16,995, so why on earth would anyone pay $200 more for a paint job (the optional gray) that looks drearier than a wet Saturday in Seattle?