What’s not to like? Ducati takes its liquid-cooled, four-valve, L-twin Testastretta motor pumping out 130 hp and drops it into a trellis-framed naked bike with a semi-upright rider’s position, then tops it off with the paint scheme from the Italian flag (or the nearest pizza joint), carbon fiber here, there and everywhere, plus distinctive dual mufflers stacked high on the right.
Oh, and let’s not forget the fully adjustable Öhlins suspension (front and rear), along with the radial-mounted twin front Brembo calipers (not to mention the beautiful radially mounted hydraulic hand levers for the clutch and front brakes). A huge low-slung oil sump keeps the cg down, and a sizeable oil cooler is mounted brazenly behind the front tire. Even before you touch the start button, the S4R S Tricolore gets the adrenaline flowing.
Happily, the promises made by the appearance of the Tricolore are met by its performance. Pull in the dry clutch (it’s smooth, but requires some hand strength) and enjoy the rugged clatter as you prepare for lift-off. If you’re the least bit generous with the throttle (connected to a Marelli EFI with a 50mm throttle body) you’ll watch the front wheel grab some air, as the front end of the S4R S is appealingly light under hard acceleration.
Although it’s a large-displacement L-twin (499cc x 2), it’s a short-stroke design, so the bike insists on being revved. Below 5,000 rpm, there isn’t much to be had and the motor feels a little rough and lugged. From 5,000 rpm to the engagement of the rev limiter at just over 10,000 rpm, things get very exciting. A 6-speed transmission ensures that you have the right gear for the job, though sixth is so high that I often forgot to shift into it on the open road (it’s actually too high if you’re going below 70 mph). The mufflers do a great job of keeping the bike quiet, so most of the sound you hear is the rushing wind (the minimal fairing is just that—minimal) and the enjoyable cacophony of the desmodromic valve train.
In the canyons, the bike is magic. Short and nimble, the Monster obediently goes where it’s pointed. The S4R S doesn’t change direction mid-turn quite as well as smaller bikes, but it’s predictable and highly confidence inspiring—no tucking, no pushing. Certainly, the sub-400 lb claimed dry weight is a big help. I was never concerned about overcooking a turn, as the front Brembos are stunning—easily manipulated and very strong.
Even on rough-pavement roads, such as a particularly nasty stretch of Mulholland Highway, the bike rides fine. The Öhlins suspension is premium, keeping everything steady in turns, even when the pavement resembles a track—an MX track! The only oddness is the engine’s roughness below 5k, so I shift more often than I’d expect from an upright L-twin. That’s hardly a worry, as the transmission is flawless and the clutch nearly so.
Personally, I don’t like Ducati’s Superbikes on the street (neither the 848 nor the 1098). The Superbike riding position is too extreme(ly uncomfortable) and they beg to be ridden in a way that can land you in jail. The Monster might get you a nasty citation for wheelying, but speeds are kept down by the wind buffeting your head and shoulders—a good thing for semi-law abiding motorcycling citizens.
One might be tempted to commute on the Monster S4R S. Well, you can do it, but it’s a handful. In traffic, the clutch pull wears out its welcome and you have to keep the motor spinning, which isn’t always practical. The seat-to-peg relationship is good, but the bars are just a bit too far forward and down for comfortable around-town riding. But, hey, the looks you get at stoplights or when you pull into a parking space might just make it worth it.