BMW S 1000 R Vs. Ducati Monster 1200 S Review
Most manufacturers offer an interpretation on the upright genre; some models are purposely designed, while others are derivatives from that company’s superbike.
The BMW S 1000 R and Ducati Monster 1200 S approach the market from those different viewpoints —the BMW is a direct offshoot of the S 1000 RR superbike, while the Ducati is a stand-alone design that has more in common with the Multistrada than the Panigale.
Getting to know the two machines was something of a challenge. I loved the BMW immediately; the Ducati, not so much. The BMW is absolutely superb at everything — it is smooth, powerful, the handling is exemplary, and the electronics package almost second to none.
From the Monster, in direct contrast, the best is not easily extracted. It has a couple of quirks and, distractingly, the chassis and engine transmit everything to the rider, whether you are riding around town or at speed. The Ducati has all the right ingredients — exceptional power, upright and comfortable ergonomics, and top-shelf Öhlins suspension — it’s just the execution that needs tweaking to make it more user-friendly.
The riding positions are quite similar, with both canted slightly forward at the controls; both bikes are comfortable and appropriate for serious sport riding without being fatiguing on long rides.
The Monster’s more seated-in feeling helps with rider confidence; however, a feeling of nervousness at the front end offsets that. It’s as though there is not quite enough weight on the front, and that twitchiness at low speed translates into vagueness at high speed.
The Monster’s 59.5-inch wheelbase is almost three inches longer than the BMW’s, and the Ducati has a steeper 24.3-degree rake than the 24.6 degrees on the 1000 R. This combination of long wheelbase/aggressive rake could account for some of the Monster’s jitteriness. Some blame should go to the Monster’s wide handlebars, as the extra leverage exaggerates any input from the rider, whether it is intentional or not.
To compensate, I focused on keeping as much weight off my wrists as possible when turning into corners. The headshaking is mild and would be helped by the addition of a steering damper — something that comes standard on the BMW. Without one, it is difficult to place the Monster precisely into a corner and stick to a line.
The Monster’s vague behavior is made worse for me by the infernal one-piece footrest mounting plates — they flare out dramatically at the rear to accommodate the passenger pegs, so when turning into a corner, pivoting on the ball of your foot becomes almost impossible. Compounded by too-short footpegs, the result is very off-putting; in a straight line I actually found myself riding pigeon-toed just to keep my size tens on the footrests.
I freely admit that the level of irritation depends on the pilot’s riding style. Managing Editor Kelly Callan had no issue as she keeps her weight centralized and her knees tight to the tank. The footrests were not a problem for her because she doesn’t shift her body in corners, and so she doesn’t pivot on the balls of her feet.
Surprisingly, the Monster 1200 S at 461 pounds wet (claimed) is marginally heavier than the S 1000 R’s claimed 456 pounds. In practice, the difference is negligible and both are highly agile machines. Yet, for me, with the combination of uncertain handling and uncomfortable foot positioning, on one super-tight, twisty section of road where the Monster should have excelled, it just became hard work. In response, I relaxed to a modest pace and enjoyed the scenery instead.
The Monster’s excellent suspension is comprised of a fully adjustable 48mm Öhlins fork, and an Öhlins piggyback shock attached to the rear cylinder head and the single-sided swingarm. Helped by the L-twin engine carrying its weight low, the Monster transitions easily and turns in a linear way without dropping into corners. So, despite the general imprecision of the handling, the Ducati can be slightly easier on the rider than the BMW at modest speeds through a series of corners.
The BMW is a different animal altogether; the addictive part of the S 1000 R’s personality is its precision and ability to go fast easily. Strangely, it appears to have handlebars identical to the Monster’s — perhaps sourced from the same supplier. Regardless, the BMW does not overreact to rider input like the Ducati.
The R goes exactly where you want it to, and on tight twisty, even bumpy canyons, or fast, smooth corners, I found I could pick a line and trust the bike to do the right thing—every time, the Monster’s, yet the BMW turns instantly, predictably, and with laser-like accuracy; it doesn’t drop into corners or understeer on aggressive exits.
The S 1000 R’s Premium Package includes BMW’s impressive Dynamic Damping Control (DDC) — an electronic, semi-active suspension straight off the HP4 superbike. Actuating on a slightly smaller 46mm fork and a rear shock, the electronics fine-tune the damping multiple times a second based on the selected riding mode: Rain, Road, Dynamic, or the track-only Dynamic Pro.
The BMW’s suspension range goes from city-friendly soft through to track-ready firm, and the system makes its adjustments based on the road surface and throttle demand, so mid-corner bumps do not faze the rider. Three other suspension settings — Soft, Hard, and Race — can be selected, but the Dynamic seemed so intuitive that I did not feel the need to explore the other settings.
Both motorcycles are equipped up front with radial-pump, four-piston radial caliper brakes from Brembo that have plenty of feel. The Monster’s calipers are M50 monoblocks, and act on 330mm discs, while the much larger calipers on the BMW bite on slightly smaller 320mm discs.
The ABS systems on both machines are dependent on the selected riding mode and incorporate anti-lift at the rear; if the system detects the rear wheel coming off the ground, it will modulate front braking pressure enough to bring it back down again.
BMW fitted the S 1000 R with sophisticated Race ABS that links both front and rear brakes to varying levels. It is especially impressive, and the brakes have a progressive action that increases stopping power as the lever is squeezed.
It is easy to underestimate the amount of braking available and find yourself entering corners much slower than you actually intended. The Monster’s unlinked brakes are certainly not lacking in any way; however, they are less powerful than the BMW and need a heavier hand to achieve a similar result.
Pirelli was sourced by both brands for tires—Diablo Rosso Corsas for the S 1000 R and Diablo Rosso IIs on the Monster. Tire performance on the two motorcycles is impeccable, and the engineers brilliantly integrated the tire performance to their bikes’ chassis and motor. The Corsas are higher performance and work great on the S 1000 R, but their aggressive corning characteristics would make the Monster a handful to ride.
The Monster’s color TFT instrument display is pretty when at rest, but far too dim during the day to be easily read; at night, it is overly bright and distracting. The BMW’s instruments are fully comprehensive. Unfortunately, the font used for the LCD section is too thin, so the tiny displays are unattractive and not easily read on the move.
Motors are where these two machines really differ — BMW uses its superbike-derived inline-4, and Ducati employs the same Testastretta 11° L-twin as fitted to the Multistrada and Diavel, and cousin to the Panigale powerplant. Both engines are absolutely outstanding and yield grin-inducing exhaust notes.
The 999cc BMW engine is re-tuned from HP4 spec and, although 160 peak horsepower at just 11,000 rpm is quite a big reduction from its sibling, the peak torque of 83 ft/lbs at 9250 rpm is a welcome 7 ft-lbs increase. Some people will express disappointment if they only look at the spec-sheet, but once onboard, no one will find this machine lacking.
The S 1000 R is a phenomenally fast motorcycle, yet the engine is not a screamer and remains pleasant and easy to ride slowly, even in Dynamic mode. The motor also has enormous character, with a highly addictive, crisp exhaust note that sounds really cool the way it pops and bangs slightly on the over-run. In full go-for-it mode, the fueling is flawlessly smooth and predictable—aggressive corner exits are terrifically fun as maximum power reaches the road perfectly and the bike goes into warp speed.
At 1198cc, the Ducati has 20-percent more displacement than the BMW, and, although 145 horsepower (claimed) is less than its rival, the Monster’s peak torque at 92 ft-lbs is a fair bit more — and it hits 2000 rpm sooner. As you might expect, the Monster still feels incredibly powerful, and it pulls very hard from low down, whereas the BMW reaches its stride around 5000 rpm and then starts to really take off.
The Ducati engine vibrates and clatters, and that does get transmitted to the rider. It’s a not-unpleasant low-frequency vibe, and very much a part of the visceral character of the bike. The S 1000 R is, of course, beautifully smooth, although as with all inline-4s, there’s a certain amount of high-frequency buzz once the rev counter crosses 7000 rpm. As with the Ducati, it is neither unexpected nor particularly intrusive.
The BMW’s electronics (the Premium Package as tested) are a highly complex suite of functions and, despite the price of the BMW being a grand less than the Ducati, the electronic suspension is included. Both motorcycles have three riding modes of varying flavors that basically cover a full-on sporting function, a street version, and a reduced power option (Rain on the BMW; Urban on the Ducati) with maxed out ABS and traction control. All modes on both bikes can be individually tailored to the rider’s personal preference as desired.
For those who enjoy closed courses, the S 1000 R also comes with the Dynamic Pro setting designed for the track and slick tires. It requires a coded plug to be inserted into the ECU, and it disables the rear-wheel ABS and lift detection.
The BMW scores over the Ducati in convenience items as they include BMW’s excellent Gear Shift Assistant quickshifter (an invaluable tool for any serious rider and something casual riders will love), as well as Cruise Control, heated grips, and self-canceling turn signals.
Inevitably, part of the equation of selecting a bike is appearance, and the Germans and Italians definitely have different ideas. The BMW has retained some of the styling cues (such as the shark gills on the side fairing) from the superbike. However, it does follow the streetfighter ethos and rather looks like someone crashed the RR model and couldn’t afford to replace the fairing.
Conversely, the new Monster is not a superbike derivative. Although it is perhaps not Ducati’s most elegant looking machine, its handsome, flowing design is cohesive and each part complements the whole.
A large, flared gas tank rises up in front of the rider, and Ducati’s signature thick-piped trellis frame catches the eye. There are a few stray water hoses to irritate the purists, but there is no getting away from it — the Monster 1200 S is a gorgeous-looking motorcycle. A man’s bike, it is big, loud — both visually and aurally — and it has terrific road presence.
Pulling up at traffic lights, I couldn’t get away from the feeling that everyone was looking at the big red bike — clearly green with envy. The BMW has an angular styling aesthetic that certainly helps it appear purposeful and aggressive—however, the Ducati is the clear winner when it comes to looks.
Simply put, the Ducati Monster 1200 S appeals to the heart, while the BMW S 1000 R appeals to the head. Without a doubt, the BMW is faster, smoother, and its clinical precision, high level of equipment, and easily tapped-into performance make it an easy (and safe) bike to ride very, very fast. If you are a serious rider, then your purchase decision is an easy one.
However, if other less obvious things factor into your decision-making, then you could go with the Ducati. Your level of exasperation with its quirks will depend on your usage. Sure, you can pootle around town without drama and bask in the admiration of fellow road users; even in the canyons, if you’re not overly demanding, you will love your Monster life. Beyond that, the Ducati will challenge you. It is a capable machine if you are a skilled rider; however you will find it hard to ride fast, and certainly much harder work than on the BMW.
Starting the test I admit I didn’t love the 2015 Ducati Monster 1200 S; but it’s fair to say that by the end I had been seduced. It is a very capable motorcycle and, as the miles clicked by, I found myself more enamored with it.
I can entirely see why someone would buy it — and as the 2014 BMW S 1000 R rider pulls away from him through a series of twisty corners, he will slow down a little, smile inwardly, and tell himself that if he has to explain to anyone why he bought the Monster, then they just don’t understand.
Riding Style – Ducati Monster 1200 S
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-V
- Jacket: Cortech Adrenaline
- Gloves: Cortech Scarab R.R.
- Pants: Cortech Adrenaline
- Boots: Cortech Latigo Air Road Race
Riding Style – BMW S 1000 R:
- Helmet: Arai Vector-2
- Jacket: AGV Sport Solare Vented
- Gloves: Racer Guide
- Pants: AGV Sport Solare
- Boots: Sidi Fusion
Photography by Don Williams