Ducati Monster 796 Test
A quarter million Ducati Monster motorcycles might make for a scary world, or it might make for 20 years of happy sport riders from Bologna to Broad Beach. Ducati created the naked streetfighter bike in 1992 and sport riding enthusiasts have been enjoying the sexy Italian every since.
The twin-cylinder 803cc air-cooled Ducati Monster 796 is hardly intimidating, though you wouldn’t know if from the blustery bark it puts out when you rev the throttle. With a relatively accessible 31.5-inch seat height, narrow mid-section, and a claimed curb weight of 412 pounds, the Monster 796 is not a big handful. Save for the narrow sweep of the bars, slow speed maneuvering is reasonably easy as the bike is light on its feet.
Off idle, the desmodromic Ducati engine burbles noisily and doesn’t particularly like to hang out in the lower gears. Definitely not a commuter bike for slow-moving freeways-though it easily handles dodging through traffic-you’ll find yourself trying to contain the Monster 796 in low rpm neighborhood environments. Slipping the clutch works fine, but you will find yourself eager to move along to the boulevard where you can shift up to third.
The semi-aggressive seating position is not uncomfortable for casual riding, thanks to bar risers that lift the handlebars from a back aching level. Footpegs are in a natural sporting position, and the comfortable seat has room to move around on. I found myself sliding forward toward the tank for around-town riding-enabling a more upright position-though my knees disagreed with the steel trellis frame in this posture.
I hit very few false neutrals when shifting through the Monster 796’s six-speed gearbox. While not as spot-on precise as a Japanese sport bike, it was mostly well mannered and agreeable, even at stops.
Unleashing the Monster onto the freeway requires some restraint. Twisting the throttle on the on-ramp can rocket you beyond freeway speeds quickly, requiring braking in order to merge with the flowing traffic. The windblast from the naked 796 encourages you to slide back against the rear pillion and tuck in. Working to alleviate the tight 24-degree rake, the bike’s 57-inch wheelbase provides a stable ride across even the rain-grooved freeway.
The mirrors are pretty worthless at high speeds-too much vibration for a detailed view allowing you to spot law enforcement vehicles-and reading the dash during the daylight is similarly difficult due to small digits and glare. However, there is a nice amount of information available when you are riding slower and have time to look.
Some of the more exotic electronics include the ability to plug in a Ducati Data Analyzer. If you like to time yourself at the track, on your favorite route, or on the way to work, a stopwatch is included in the dash display choices.
The suspension is appropriately stiff and handles changing road conditions without issue. The Monster 796 cruises along in top gear at 4500 rpm in the 70s–just at the low end of the torque curve. However, you need to either twist the throttle in a big way to overtake while in 6th gear, or downshift once to drop the bike into its power sweet spot. From 5250 rpm up to just around 8k, the Desmodue pulls hard.
As much fun as the Monster 796 is on a wide-open freeway, risking a ticket on straight flat roads isn’t the best use of the Italian bike’s potential. The Monster is best enjoyed on winding roads in the canyons where its athletic capabilities shine.
Confidence comes from the 43mm upside-down Marzocchi forks that hold a solid line through tight turns and long sweepers. The Monster’s previously mentioned steep rake allows quick transitions, and turn-in is dead accurate. The Pirelli Diablo Rosso tires stick to the road convincingly, even over well-cracked asphalt and tar snakes.
The Monster 796’s motor pulls strongly in the canyons, as long as the revs are kept above 5000 rpm. This is a fairly easy task, though the relatively narrow powerband from 5k to 9k makes you glad it’s a six-speed, especially as it’s fairly highly geared. Acceleration is more insistent than blistering, which is fortunate. You can induce headshake when hard on the gas, especially on a rougher road heading uphill. It’s not a huge problem, though it really shouldn’t be there at all.
Dual 320mm ABS-enhanced, radial-mounted discs up front keep speed in check. There is no unpleasant initial bite from the Brembo brakes–simply a firm linear feel when squeezing hard. I found little use for the single 245mm rear rotor, other than finessing to a stop when cruising around town. There’s a slipper-type wet clutch, which is a big help when downshifting hard through the canyons.
Certainly a step up from the novice-friendly 696, though not on a level of the big, bad 1100 Evo, the Ducati Monster 796 is a welcoming way-station on the journey from nascent urban sport rider to demanding city and canyon demon.
- Helmet: Shoei RF-1100
- Jacket: Dainese G. Cage Pelle Lady
- Gloves: Dainese Redgate Lady
- Pants: Dainese P. Alien Pelle Lady
- Boots: Sidi B2
Photography by Don Williams