Monster 796 Test
Ducati’s new 2011 model of its cultishly popular Monster line is the 796 – slipping the 803cc Monster between the established 696 and 1100 iterations.
After official introductions and a quick spin around the neighborhood, you realize you’re going to be fast friends with this spunky bike. The 796 is easy to maneuver, eager to run, and the get-acquainted curve is already receding in the rearview mirrors.
The compact, narrow, and naked Monster has such a steep rake and forward riding position that much of the time the 796 is completely outside my field of view, save an occasional glimpse of the gullwing-like mirrors. I’m moving about intuitively, and it almost feels like self-propulsion. Surely this is how Harry Potter feels on the Nimbus 2000-the 87 horsepower is right under your belt, just waiting for you to lean forward and take off.
The semi-aggressive seating position favors faster speeds, as well. The rider’s feet are tucked up and back, ready for canyon carving, though the ergonomics have been tweaked slightly from the 696 edition for rider comfort.
The wide, flat-bend handlebars are within easy reach, with slightly higher bar risers and a seat height that is a bit lower. The security of an extra half-inch, even while flat-footed, is welcome. Well-balanced and light at well under 400 pounds, the Monster quivers like a willing quarter horse awaiting the rider’s cue.
The new Desmodue engine revs quickly for an air-cooled L-twin, so a ready hand on the light, four-way adjustable (and late-engaging) clutch lever is advisable. The well-oversquare 796 is tuned toward mid-range and top end, making riding under 40 mph a bit tedious due to high gearing. It is like trying to walk a greyhound on a slack leash-it’s just not happening. Let the air-cooled mill rev high, or be prepared to nurse the clutch and finesse the throttle.
Short shifting reveals an indifferent disposition, and the shift lever does not have the satisfyingly definitive and precise feel of a Japanese bike. I had to hunt for neutral at stops and, paradoxically, discovered several false ones when downshifting to first in very tight turns. Other than the neutral issues, the transmission works well enough from gears two to six.
Once out of town and on welcomingly winding roads, the 796 comes into its own. Brisk riding through the hills confirmed the Monster’s agility, despite the somewhat longish wheelbase (over 57 inches), and the 24-degree rake allows quick transitions through switchbacks. Turn-in is exemplary, thanks to the flawless Pirelli Diablo Rosso tires.
Trade-offs are the devil’s details and that steep fork angle contributes to less stability at the front. Hard uphill acceleration on real world mountain roads caused startling tank swapping on several occasions. While the bike was stable enough to recover instantly, it is not the sort of feeling that one likes to associate with twisting the throttle aggressively.
Unfortunately, the non-adjustable 43mm Showa forks don’t provide any tweaking to alleviate this weakness. Overall, the suspension is firm, and there is a certain elemental pleasure in feeling the road as long as you don’t feel like you will be bucked off.
Flying into downhill turns is a rush, but downshifting without simultaneous braking can redline your adrenals, even with the non-skid APTC wet clutch that is Ducati’s version of a slipper clutch.
Although the 796 lacks a radial master cylinder like the Triumph Street Triple R, the radially mounted four-piston Brembos squeeze twin 320mm discs progressively and most effectively-there is no unpleasant first bite. Looking after the rear is a single 245mm rotor with good feel and useful power.
Out of the canyons and onto an open highway, click up through the six gears and hang on. The micro-fairing-like most bikinis-looks sexy but doesn’t contain much. The buffeting wind keeps your speed mildly in check, and the easily adjustable mirrors remind you not to get stuck with the bill.
The Monster’s LCD instrument panel is small and almost straight below your helmet. You have to take your eyes far off the road to read and focus on it, and the mph readout is unnecessarily small. There is an LCD tach, but it is well out of the rider’s field of vision.
A blinking red LED alerts you to an impending implementation of the rev limiter, which is thankfully much more gently enforced than on earlier Ducatis. An array of data is available at your left fingertips, as well as a lap timer activated by flicking the high beam flash lever; however, I am usually too busy having fun to bother with non-intuitive electronics.
The narrow, compact design of the 796 makes for great lane splitting, but if the traffic is moving slowly it won’t take long to get bored of the heat pouring from the air-cooled engine. And, there is the issue of the tall gearing, late clutch engagement, and weak bottom end. What seems on paper to be a great urban machine does not work that well in city traffic.
Instead, wait for the sun to go down and the traffic to dissipate, and then take the stylish Monster on an inner-city romp where its light, athletic body can shine. Italian style radiates off the red trellis frame and voluptuous 3.8-gallon tank; the single-sided swingarm and twin high tucked exhaust pipes add a sporty flare. In motion, the wheel rims appear to be red, but turn out to be 60-degree smiles along Y-shape spoked wheels at rest. Fun!
The 796 is presented in three standard colors, but personalization is strongly encouraged. You can pick from 10 additional quick-change graphics schemes in the new Logomania collection-many with historical touchstones-part of Ducati’s Monster Art project, which is a kit consisting of tank panels, fairing, passenger seat cover, and front fender. The 796 shown in this test is the Ducati Corsa edition.
The 2011 Ducati Monster 796 certainly won’t be the forgotten middle child of the Monster family. It is the kind of bike that has you spinning around for one more lap up your favorite winding road, even as the pesky yellow low-fuel light makes its presence known. For those looking for a bike sized just right for the restrictions of public roads, the 796 is easy, fun, and perfectly positioned.
Ducati Monster 796 | Motorcycle Specs
- Frame: Tubular steel Trellis frame
- Wheelbase: 1450mm (57.1in)
- Front suspension: Showa 43mm upside-down forks
- Front wheel travel: 120mm (4.7in)
- Front wheel: Y-shaped, 5-spoke in light alloy 3.50 x17
- Front tire: 120/70 ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso
- Rear suspension: Progressive linkage with preload and rebound Sachs adjustable monoshock
- Rear wheel travel: 148mm (5.8in)
- Rear wheel: Y-shaped, 5-spoke in light alloy 5.50 x 17
- Rear tire: 180/55 ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso
- Front brake: 2 x 320mm discs, 4-piston radial caliper
- Rear brake: 245mm disc, 2-piston caliper
- Fuel tank capacity: 15l – 3.8gallon (US) / 13.5l – 3.6 gallon (US) ABS version
- Dry weight: 167kg (369lb) / 169kg (373lb) ABS version
- Seat height: 800mm (31.5in)
- DDA: System-ready for Ducati Performance accessory
- DTC: Not available on this model
- ABS: Available upon request
- Type: L-Twin cylinder, 2 valve per cylinder Desmodromic, air cooled
- Displacement: 803cc
- Bore x Stroke: 88 x 66 mm
- Compression ratio: 11:1
- Power: 64kW – 87hp @ 8250rpm
- Torque: 8.0kgm – 58lb-ft @ 6250rpm
- Fuel injection: Siemens electronic fuel injection, 45mm throttle body
- Exhaust: Lightweight 2-1-2 system with catalytic converter with twin lambda probes
- Gearbox: 6 speed
- Ratio: 1st 32/13, 2nd 30/18, 3rd 28/21, 4th 26/23, 5th 22/22, 6th 24/26
- Primary drive: Straight cut gears; Ratio 1.85:1
- Final drive: Chain; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket 39
- Clutch: APTC wet multiplate with hydraulic control
- MSRP: $9,995.00 USD
- Warranty: 2 years unlimited mileage