Ducati Messed with a Classic (And Now It’s Better Than Ever)

The all-new Monster 1200S is completely different, and yet it’s more Monster than ever before.

When a car or motorcycle gets an update, it’s usually just a slight sheet-metal redesign, some new colors and a little more power. For the all-new 2017 Ducati Monster, however, Ducati essentially scrapped the old model: they’ve built a new frame, resized the chassis, redesigned the bodywork, borrowed the electronics from the 1299 Panigale superbike and dropped in the latest iteration of the perennial Testastretta L-Twin engine.

Building what amounts to a completely new bike certainly seems over the top. Ducati could have applied a casual update and the result still would have been a fantastic sport bike — but the Monster is the brand’s most iconic motorcycle of the past 20 years, so it’s not to be dealt with lightly.

But bringing all-new everything to the next Monster is a dangerous proposition. When you mess with the dimensions of such a beloved ride and change the design and the internals, the feverishly passionate Ducatisti start to worry about their icon. Despite the Monster having a slimmer profile, a smaller footprint and a new frame and engine, somehow, Ducati has raised the bar — again — in the very same segment the Monster helped define in the ’90s.

Ducati Monster 1200 S

Engine: 1,198cc L-Twin
Horsepower: 150
Torque: 93 lb-ft
Weight: 470 lbs
Price (as Tested): $17,195

The newest generation Monster isn’t just a brute sport bike that pulls off perfect wheelies and collects speeding tickets like its forebears were — it takes that wonderful, original formula and dials up the tech by several decades. After a full day of riding, its performance ranged from that of a downright civilized city bike to a full-fledged fairing-less superbike (still good for wheelies and speeding tickets).

I’d never recommend a motorcycle larger than 600cc to anyone for a first bike. But if the price weren’t a factor, the new Monster, with its 1,200cc engine, may be an exception to that rule. An engine that size could get anyone into trouble, but, helpfully its electronics, programmable on the fly, let you pick Sport, Touring or Urban ride presets and dial in eight different levels of power delivery, throttle response, ABS, traction control and wheelie control individually (zero being the most aggressive, eight being the most restrictive). In my experience, “sport modes” only make a slight difference. But put the Monster in Touring mode, and you’ve got a bike that feels half its size; dial all settings and systems off, and you’ve suddenly got a bike with an extremely appropriate name.

Leaving Monte Carlo in the morning, the roads were greasy from a fresh rainfall and the normal city traffic — Touring mode seemed like the smartest move with all the safety features working their hardest to keep the bike shiny-side-up. Going light to light, weaving through cars and buses, the throttle was buttery smooth, which made the prospect of owning a 1,200cc motorcycle in the city seem practical. Once I got up in the mountains on the same nerve-testing roads where the opening round of the World Rally Championship is held every year, Touring mode’s power management aids were a nice safety net on the drying tarmac.

With dozens of 180-degree hairpins and fast sweepers flanked by sheer drops littering the mountainsides, I wanted to actually make it back to write this review.

With bone-dry asphalt and a clear afternoon sky, I toggled my way to Sport mode after lunch to make sure I was getting the most out of the bike. In Sport, the computers unlock all the horsepower on offer, but traction control and ABS aren’t completely shut off — to make sure the bike isn’t completely unhinged. And that’s just fine. With dozens of 180-degree hairpins and fast sweepers flanked by sheer drops littering the mountainsides, I wanted to actually make it back to write this review.

You can see from the profile of the bike that most of its mass hangs down low from the tank with minimalist elegance. It may seem like a simple design, but that lower center of gravity helps the Monster lean into turns like it’s imitating a bike a fraction its size, and the shorter wheelbase makes those impossibly tight hairpins even more manageable. But because there’s practically nothing to the bike besides the tank, wheels and engine, an aggressive roll on the throttle is a quick reminder of the 150 horsepower on tap.

Overhauling an icon from the ground up is no easy feat. Just ask Porsche, which gets ridiculed by its own devout followers every time a new, slightly tweaked 911 rolls out (even if the car effectively looks the same as it did 60 years ago); the Corvette and Mustang get a similar treatment from fans whose tastes are stuck in the past. Something intrinsic to what they love is changed in a push for progress; sighs roll out, arms go up in the air.

The Monster is Ducati’s 911. There may be some Ducati die-hards that will go on rants about the design tweaks or electronics, but the 2017 Monster 1200 is a milestone for Ducati, one that will be celebrated as the next step forward.

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