There is an imperfection on Mulholland Highway I affectionately call the Monster Bump. The uphill defect didn’t get its name from its size, or the energy drink. Instead, whenever I hit it on one of the smaller displacement Ducati Monsters, I’d inevitably get some nasty headshake — something no other bikes (not even other Ducatis) suffered when taking on the same road deformity.It was with a bit of trepidation that I approached the Monster Bump on the new Monster 821, the Testastretta 11° powered replacement for the Monster 796, with its aging air-cooled, two-valve L-twin. The great news is that the Monster 821’s non- adjustable 43mm inverted Kayaba forks sucked it right up, with nary a hint of disruption of the new chassis. I’m going to need a new name for that little guy.
In reality, the Monster 821 is pretty much an all-new machine compared to the 796, and running down the differences would take as much space as a full test. Most importantly, Ducati has relaxed the rake a bit on the 821 (0.3 degrees from the 796) and lengthened the wheelbase by over an inch.A pet peeve of mine for years has been the nervousness of the small Monsters. It is a bike that should be reassuring to the newer riders that it has been intended to attract, but in execution has been a fast- turning, highly sensitive bike that is better suited to more skilled riders. The 2015 Ducati Monster 821’s chassis is exactly what the entry-level Monster should be — responsive, yet easily controlled.
Undoubtedly, the move to the higher- revving, more powerful Hypermotard-sourced Testastretta 11° powerplant is a big one. Retaining the 796’s bore, the stroke is increased 1.5 mm and is now just a hair shorter than the Monster 1200’s.Still, it’s the revised architecture, not the additional 18cc, that gives the 821 an increase of 25 horsepower (peaking 1000 rpm later) and eight more ft/lbs of torque (1500 rpm later than the 796). With the new engine comes a wet weight increase of 41 pounds, but the chassis improvements and power increase more than offset the busted diet.After the boisterous motor bursts to life and settles into an aggressive idle, you are faced with three power choices from the truly ride-by-wire motor (the throttle is fully electric, with no cable). Descriptively called Sport, Touring, and Urban— and easily switched using the turn-signal cancellation button—the ability to tailor your ride to conditions and locale is an essential part of the success of the 821.Certainly, there is the obvious compulsion to select Sport and run with it. Like the Touring mode, the Sport mode gives you the 821’s full 112 horsepower, but with more direct throttle response, along with less-intrusive traction control, ABS, and rear lift-up prevention. Oh, did I forget to mention that the Monster 821 gets the Ducati Safety Pack? Shame on me! The DSP, which features three-level ABS and eight-level DTC, is standard. It is great to see these useful electronic enhancements trickle down through the line.On some bikes, the Sport mode seems like an excuse to give the throttle a response that substitutes notchy for snappy. Improperly implemented, the high performance mode can take a sweet motor and make it herky-jerky. Ducati avoids this pitfall on the 821 and, even though the bike accelerates hard when called upon, there is never any snatching or untoward behavior from the 11° powerplant.In the twisties, this means you can aggressively flog the powerplant without any sort of discomfort. The 821 moves ahead smoothly, with the motor really starting to pick up power at around 6000 rpm — easy to see on the cleverly designed LCD dash that highlights each thousands number as you enter that range. This gives you two ways to approach the canyons— you can short shift and keep the corner speed high, or let it rev and take the Testastretta 11° up to, and beyond, the horse- power peak at 9250 rpm.Short shifting means you are relying on chassis stability, which is a clear upgrade from the 796. While you never get the feeling of being fully locked in and settled in a turn, the M821 is much more solid and predictable. No longer do unexpected bumps change your direction at their will.
2015 Ducati Monster 821 Review, Suspension
Although the Kayaba forks are non-adjustable, the factory settings are quite good. You can work with the damping adjustments on the Sachs shock, but for most people, all that will do is upset the nicely calibrated stock suspension balance. The only time you will question Ducati’s engineers is on the worst-condition roads and corners where you’ll be think- ing you should have purchased a Hypermotard instead. In almost all situations, the 821’s mixture of compliance and resistance is perfectly matched to the available power and intended use.Corner entries and exits are purely intuitive experiences. The Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires deserve appropriate acclaim, of course, but the M821 is really about the balance of the chassis and power. You can ride it as hard as you like, or take a more casual approach to fast riding.
2015 Ducati Monster 821 Review, Brakes & TC
Braking is taken care of with familiar radially mounted Brembo M4.32 Monoblock calipers and a traditional master cylinder. The initial bite is accommodatingly soft, with a progressive feel eventually developing. You have to pull the lever in a bit more than you might expect before the pads get serious, though they do brake hard when given a firm grip. The ABS is not the least bit obtrusive in either the Sport or Touring modes.Standing up the M821 coming out of turns is easy and, as you grow accustomed to the action of the traction control, you can turn up your personal aggression level. Take some time to get used to the standard setting in Sport, and then adjust to taste, if necessary. Most likely, you will find that Ducati nailed it.
2015 Ducati Monster 821 Review, Conclusion
As enjoyable as the Monster 821 is tearing up the canyons, it is a hugely fun urban bike. Feel free to run around town in Sport or Touring modes, but the 75 horses provided in Urban mode are more than enough to do battle with city traffic, and the power delivery makes for a less fatiguing ride—just be sure to click the motor back into Sport for freeway work. Thanks to a comfortable seat, I can run through a full 4.6-gallon tank of fuel in Urban on city streets without taking a break. The only flaw—useless mirrors.Even though the bars are a bit low and the pegs trending toward high (seat height is adjustable to impact both), the overall feeling is a comfortable one that makes you just want to keep riding, though shorter riders complained of their knees hitting the trellis frame where it bolts to the rear cylinder.The modernization of the Monster lineup is now complete, and the 2015 Ducati Monster 821 finds itself in a comfortable slot between the retro Scrambler line, and the harder hitting Streetfighter 848 and Monster 1200. It’s a nice place to be, as it appeals to a wide swath of riders who know that just enough can be just right.2015 Ducati Monster 821 Review, Riding Style:
Helmet: LS2 CR1 Carbon 1.1
Jacket: Spidi R/T
Gloves: Spidi Carbo 3
Pants: Spidi Teker
Boots: Sidi Roarr
Photography by Kelly CallanStory from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine; for subscription services, click here.
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