Whether you’re betting the farm on a horse or launching a new motorcycle, picking a winner is a gamble. Market research, cost analysis, and projected earnings reports might muddy the waters enough to make that wager a corporate-friendly “calculated risk,” but it’s a bet, nonetheless. Well, it’s safe to say that Ducati is glad it rolled the dice on the Ducati Monster in 1993, with its sales still going strong nearly 30 years later.
If everything in life were guaranteed, we probably wouldn’t be able to have fun with the mystique of the Monster’s birth, which started as little more than a parts-bin pet project.
Cue the black and white footage and dramatic music
Toiling away in a dark corner of Ducati’s Borgo Panigale factory, sparks fly as a wild-eyed Miguel Galluzzi fits a 900SS L-twin engine in a Ducati 888 chassis, attaches an upright handlebar, a buxom fuel tank, and a round headlight to a motorcycle. As the Monster takes to its wheels for the first time, Dr. Frankenstein Galluzzi shouts, “It’s alive!” with arms raised. Lighting strikes.
That’s how I imagine it, anyway.
His creation was a back-to-basics approach in early ’90s motorcycle design when fully-faired, plastic-laden motorbikes dominated, revitalizing the naked sportbike class. More to the point, the Monster diversified Ducati’s sportbike-centric lineup, offering superbike chassis performance with a real-world level of engine power and street-friendly comfort. Dr. Galluzzi’s experiment has paid off handsomely, with 350,000 Monsters sold to date.
Those core tenets still define the Monster just as much as it does now, as it did then. The 2021 Ducati Monster is 40 pounds lighter than the defunct 821, packs more punch throughout the rev range, is quicker on its feet, and armed with top-tier tech, without forgetting its mission—be a Ducati for the masses.
The gasps were nearly audible when the 2021 Monster revealed itself to the world. Modern, chiseled styling and the lack of a trellis frame saw some Ducatisti take up their pitchforks against the new Monster; others defended the Panigale superbike Front Frame chassis as progress realized. For my part, the pushback seems unwarranted—didn’t we pull this Band-Aid off when the Panigale superbikes ditched the trellis frame?
Incorporating the latest and greatest tech from superbikes tends to have profound results. The Front Frame and Glass Fiber Reinforced Polymer Subframe (GFRP) save over 14 pounds alone, while the aluminum swingarm and cast wheels save another 3.5 and 3.9 pounds, respectively. Meanwhile, the updated 937cc Testastretta 11° L-twin shaves another 5.7 pounds with its new clutch and alternator covers, cylinder head, piston and rod, gear drum, and clutch, bringing the motorcycle’s claimed wet weight to a fit 414 pounds.
These numbers go well beyond impressing the spec sheet, as the Front Frame design informs everything else about this new steed. Once in the cushy 32.3-inch high saddle, the Monster+ feels incredibly inviting and slim, allowing me to get my boots on the deck with room to spare. Yes, I was testing the slightly upmarket 2021 Ducati Monster+, which comes with a flyscreen and pillion cover for an additional $200. Otherwise, it is identical to the standard ’21 Monster.
The handlebar is 2.6-inches closer to the rider, and the footpegs are 1.4-inches back and 0.4-inches down, making the Monster+ pleasant when bopping around downtown San Francisco. Thanks to the lack of a trellis frame, the lock-to-lock steering sweep is dramatically increased by seven degrees, translating to more maneuverability at low speeds. Ducati hopes to attract even more riders to the Monster fold with a low seat option (31.5 inches; $160), as well as a low seat and a suspension lowering kit (30.5 inches; $300).
So, I learned that it’s more comfortable. The Monster+ also has fancy hydraulic master cylinders with adjustable levers and a spiffy 4.5-inch full-color TFT display. Wonderful. What gives the new Monster a devilish grin is the updated 937cc engine, which pumps out a healthy 111 horsepower at 9250 rpm and 69 ft-lbs of torque at 6500 rpm. True to form, the Monster has a decent dose of low-end grunt to help you scoot around with glee, but things get lively from 4,500 rpm on up, where its punchy and thrilling midrange power grabs the spotlight. It’s zesty, willing to leap from apex to apex through the twisty Northern California redwoods, all while enjoying that twin-cylinder thrum between the knees.
Not an ounce of the sprightly performance goes to waste and, for those graduating through the displacement ranks, it doesn’t overwhelm. One can also use the Urban throttle map, which limits the engine to 75 peak horsepower. For me, the excitement of Sport mode is not to be missed. Lower the wheelie control to 1, and comfortably hovering the front wheel is a cinch—even for someone as mediocre at wheelies as I am. Don’t dawdle, though, as this red-blooded creature does get a bit toasty at low speeds when the wind isn’t circulating.
Topping it off is a smooth six-speed gearbox with a standard up/down quickshifter that offers excellent gear changes at high or low rpm. The ratios are nicely spaced, though a bit of clutch feathering is needed at parking lot speeds.
A relatively short wheelbase, steep rake, petite trial, and weight loss regimen have made the Monster far more athletic and maneuverable than predecessors. Plenty of Ducati sport DNA is showcased with a taut chassis that communicates more feedback. The Monster+ can be whipped around on a whim and incredibly planted while hustling around the world-famous Skyline Boulevard (State Route 35) that runs along the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Monster+ is also less of a workout than the Monster 1200s.
Aiding in the handling cause is the non-adjustable 43mm inverted fork and spring-preload adjustable shock. At somewhere north of 190 pounds, the sportingly stiff suspension is nearly on the money, soaking up all that the mean streets can deliver—save for the harshest of hits. The lack of adjustment is a sticking point because, with a bit of preload and rebound added, I’d have found previous Monsters to be spot on.
Unlike the suspension, everything about the Monster’s whizz-bang six-axis IMU-supported rider aid package is adjustable. Three throttle maps (Sport, Touring, and Urban), three-level cornering ABS, eight-level traction control, three-level wheelie control, launch control, and the aforementioned quickshifter, round out the offerings and work excellently, even when in less restrictive settings. One curious omission is cruise control, which seems far more applicable than launch control, given that the Monster is designed to prowl the streets.
Also doing their part in keeping the shiny side up are the Brembo M4.32 calipers and 320mm rotors, offering plenty of power and feel. Taking care of things in the back is a two-piston Brembo caliper and 245mm rotor, which is excellent for avoiding urban obstacles.
Now we know that the 2021 Ducati Monster is sportier than the outgoing 821, more manageable than the 1200, and the updating ergonomics (as well as the options) help make it more accessible to a broader audience.
Well, that makes sense because, according to a Ducati North America insider, the Ducati 1200 will be phased in 2022—the new Ducati Monster and Monster+ will soon be the sole torchbearers of the revered name. Those are big shoes to fill, making the singular Monster name far more appropriate for a motorcycle that needs to cover many demographics—riders climbing the displacement ladder, intermediate pilots, and seasoned veterans alike. Will a subsequent “S” model, with fully adjustable Öhlins suspension, or a more new-rider friendly model arrive next year? Only time will tell.
In a way, we’re back to where it all began with the Monster—a streetable engine paired with a superbike-derived chassis. It’s a simple premise that marries some of the leading tech of the day with useable performance. The Monster’s most significant evolutionary step is a reflection of that tech.
Taking a look at the sharp end of Ducati’s lineup is an indication of where things are going. With lightweight monocoque chassis becoming more common, I’m hard-pressed to believe that Darwin himself would be in disagreement. I’ll leave the comments on looks to the peanut gallery, and I suspect they’ll douse the torches once they’ve ridden one.
Still, when it comes to living up to its namesake, the 2021 Ducati Monster+ checks all the boxes with greater comfort and performance in a downright civilized package that will still bare its teeth when asked. To me, that’s a Monster.
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-X
- Jacket: Spidi Hoodie Armor H2Out
- Gloves: Spidi X-4 Coupe
- Jeans: Spidi J&Dyneema
- Boots: XPD X-Road H2Out
2021 Ducati Monster+ Specs
- Type: Testastretta 11° L-twin
- Displacement: 937cc
- Bore x stroke: 94 x 67.5mm
- Maximum power: 111 horsepower @ 9250 rpm
- Maximum torque: 69 ft-lbs @ 6500 rpm
- Compression ratio: 13.3:1
- Fueling: EFI w/ 53mm throttle bodies
- Valvetrain: Four desmodromically actuated valves per cylinder
- Transmission: 6-speed w/ up/down quickshifter
- Clutch: Assist-and-slipper, hydraulically actuated
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: Aluminum Front Frame
- Subframe: Fiberglass w/ polymer reinforcement
- Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 43mm inverted fork; 5.1 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted spring-preload adjustable shock; 5.5 inches
- Wheels: Cast aluminum
- Front wheel: 17 x 3.5
- Rear wheel: 17 x 5.5
- Tires: Pirelli Diablo Rosso III
- Front tire: 120/70 x 17
- Rear tire: 180/55 x 17
- Front brakes: 320mm semi-floating discs w/ radially mounted Brembo M4.32 4-piston calipers and axial pump
- Rear brake: 245mm disc w/ 2-piston floating caliper
- ABS: Cornering-aware
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 58.0 inches
- Rake: 24 degrees
- Trail: 3.7 inches
- Seat height: 32.3 inches
- Fuel capacity: 3.7 gallons
- Curb weight: 414 pounds
- Colors: Ducati Red; Dark Stealth; Aviator Grey
2021 Ducati Monster+ Price: $12,195 MSRP