Viewed from above, the Ducati Monster’s shape is a study in sensuality: a voluptuous tank tapers delicately; the triangular saddle sits low; the midpoint begins slender before flaring to mimic a perfect 0.7:1 waist-hip ratio; the rear seat is capped with what can only be referred to as a “bikini-bottom” tail fairing. From every angle, for over twenty years, its unmistakably Italian design has simultaneously oozed sex and personified power. The Ducati Monster is raw, naked aggression, a motorcycle that defines its very genre and epitomizes an iconic brand.
Despite success throughout the ’70s — the 750 SuperSport, 860 GT, and 900SS remain high watermarks — Ducati struggled to survive after its climb to stardom. A lineup slowly withering on the vine combined with product misfires like the ill-conceived H-D clone Ducati Indiana had sent the Bologna, Italy based company back to the drawing board in need of a Hail Mary by the early ’90s.
The pencil fell to the hands of Industrial designer Miguel Angel Galuzzi. Galuzzi had been playing with a concept mentally for some time: he reasoned that “all you need is a saddle, tank, engine, two wheels and handlebars”. A motorcycle distilled to its purest form, Galuzzi’s Monster would put the rider experience at the forefront. To appease management, the Monster concept was sold to them as bike built for “bolt-on” customizers. This niche market, dominated largely by Harley Davidson, was a cash bonanza and something that Ducati wanted a piece of in a major way. The idea was immediately green-lit, but there would be a hitch.
“All you need is a saddle, tank, engine, two wheels and handlebars”.
True to its name, the Monster was a “Frankenstein” build. To keep development costs low, component sourcing was confined to pilfering the parts bins of readily available bikes. The Monster’s engine and signature trellis frame came from the 900SS; the forks were from the 750; the brakes and wheels were donated by the 851 Superbike project. Bodywork was almost completely out of the question. In fact, the fuel tank was the only significant design item crafted solely for Galuzzi’s monster.
Despite essentially being a standard motorcycle — a bike with an upright riding style, with no fairings or windscreen — the manner in which Ducati packaged the Monster was viewed as radical. When it debuted in 1993 the naked motorcycle was born, and the public fell in love. Its completely exposed Desmodromic L-Twin motor hung from the trellis frame, itself a stressed member to reduce weight, shouting that this bike meant business. Its wide handlebars and low seat ensured that rider ergonomics wouldn’t suffer, and the aggressive rear-set positioning teased just enough of its sporting intentions to make knee-draggers froth at the mouth. This combination also made the Monster incredibly nimble, a recipe it maintains to this day.
Performance has come in many different flavors over the years. From 42 horsepower, 400cc “city” bikes to the firebreathing 145 hp, water-cooled, dual-spark Testastretta 11 that resides in the all-new Monster 1200S, Ducati has built Monsters to suit every riding personality. And yet a large part of the Monster’s success lies in an essence that has remained unchanged, even during minor styling evolutions.
This one-time parts-bin special has been credited with keeping the Italian marque afloat on more than one occasion; at one point, nearly 65 percent of Ducatis built and sold were Monsters. The formula is simple: for over twenty years the Monster has pushed performance and rideability while continuing define the very naked bike market it invented. Thankfully that tradition seems far from over, as Ducati continues to crank out the kind of sultry nudes that end up being as fun to hang out with as they are to gawk at.