Monster S2R Review
The tangerine red Ducati Monster S2R parked in front of a small café in the hills outside Fermignano, Italy, quickly attracted the admiration of two stout, elderly men. One of them furrowed his brow in deep concentration, carefully choosing words from his charming economy of English. “In America, Harley-Davidson is patriotism; in Italy, Ducati is religion.” That elegantly encapsulated the reverence with which Italians regard Ducatis, an esteem that verges on the sacrosanct. And in the pantheon of hallowed models from the Bolognese factory, none is as worshiped as the Monster.
Introduced in 1992, the upright sport machine eschewed fairings to reveal what intricate, engineering artistry lay beneath. The Monster’s minimalist approach proved central in the creation of a new category, with the fittingly lusty moniker “naked,” and each of its various incarnations—the 900cc, 600 Dark, 900 Cromo and mighty S4, for example—enjoyed remarkable success.
The no-nonsense styling and aggressive design of the newest Monster—the S2R—continues the tradition for sparse aesthetics with an air-cooled 800cc two-valve L-twin engine cradled in the Superbike trellis frame. This back-to-basics approach, of brute power and functionality, eliminates the bulk and presence of a radiator, hoses, and fans. The Monster S2R’s dynamic paint scheme features a ’60s-style, off-center racing stripe that runs from front to back over the contours of the bikini fairing, fuel tank, and rear section. The beefy aluminum alloy tubes comprising the single-sided swingarm combine with a two-into-two exhaust pipe configuration sweeping along the right side of the bike, to give the machine an aggressively bold stance.
The S2R’s proven and versatile Desmodue 800cc engine is more manageable than the Superbike-bred 996cc powerplant in its big brother, the exalted S4R. But you won’t feel deprived. The L–twin engine delivers plenty of low-end torque, courtesy of two valves per cylinder, and an even, progressive powerband from the tachometer’s lower digits all the way to redline. This predictability is welcome, given the Monster’s short wheelbase and steep steering head angle, where explosive, excessive power could turn the S2R’s quick turning and feather-light responsiveness into a white-knuckle affair for some. Be assured, though, that in stock trim the S2R has plenty of sumptuous horsepower long before you hit the rev limiter, and that Monsters work best when growling, not screaming.
Part of any Monster’s appeal is its short, low, compact design. The seat and tank configuration, coupled with the design of the frame, allows the rider’s body mass to sink in just above the engine; you feel like an integral part of the machine. This positioning, and the handlebar placement, enable the confidence-inspiring leverage and high visual line-of-sight of an upright motorcycle while maintaining an extremely low center of gravity.
Turn-in is exceptionally quick. The S2R responds to rider input—whether counter-steering pressure on the bars or weighting the footpegs—with minimal coaxing, and rewards with precise tracking and steering. It feels like a street bike with the snappy handling characteristics of a lightweight off-road machine. Once you get used to the Monster’s quick, responsive nature, the handling of most other motorcycles will seem slower and heavier, requiring more physicality to perform the same duties as the effortlessly compliant S2R.
A smooth, positive six-speed gearbox couples with surprisingly light clutch lever action that requires minimal hand pressure. Dual 300mm disc brakes on the front end have a progressive feel—as opposed to the twitchy grab of the track-oriented 999R—and are conducive both to the everyday riding situations for which the Monster is ultimately designed, as well as the quickened pace of the track. Upside-down 43mm diameter Marzocchi forks married with an adjustable Sachs rear shock comprise the suspension, soaking up the road’s imperfections with ease and grace, while keeping the S2R tracking and stable.
Pleasing stylistic touches abound on the Monster: 5-spoke Marchesini wheels, a tapered Magura aluminum handlebar, functional mirrors and beautifully shaped clutch and brake levers which accent the natural motion of the fingers.
At the risk of exploiting clichés, please indulge me. The new S2R is a capable, comfortable, sexy, exciting, and functional machine. Offspring of a Superbike champion, tamed for domestic purposes, the S2R is an unintimidating naked sportbike that, when the occasion calls for it, can easily transform itself into a Monster.