I did something I haven’t done so for a long time today as I was riding my motorcycle home from work – Instead of taking the CTE highway, I took the “scenic” route with the most number of traffic lights in heavy peak hour traffic.
To my surprise, I didn’t feel irritated or tired when I arrived at my house. It was actually a rather relaxing ride where I was going at a slow speed of 50kmh most of the time and was at peace with other car drivers on the road as I kept running into red stop lights.
That is the Ducati Monster 1200S experience in the congested city – it can be really easy-going even when other temperatures are flaring up around you.
This was not really possible on my older Monster 1100 Evo, where the engine would jerk and shudder violently below 70kmh and always insist on either going fast or engage the half-clutch constantly to rein in the unruly beast within.
That’s not to say that the 1200S is a meek bike.
Oh far from it.
Each time I get on the 1200S, I ask myself : Is this really a Monster I’m riding? How can it be so…malleable and obedient?
This Monster 1200S review is not your usual one (there are many 1200/1200S press reviews out there, I will not revisit the same old points so please go search for them). I write this for all fellow 1100 Evo or older Monster owners who wonder if they should spring for the new generation of naked Ducs.
The quick answer? A frustrating “It depends”.
Yeah, I know.
From Air-Cooled To Liquid-Cooled
I have been riding the Monster 1100 Evo for the past two years. It is the last of the air-cooled Ducatis and maxed out at 100hp from a decades-old Desmo engine design. If you have read my older review, the 1100 evo is like an ill-tempered mistress, always wanting to punch forward like a rocket and never easy to please.
The 1100 evo is a true test of one’s bike handling skills, requiring precise clutch control and gear changes just to survive a simple ride to work. The reward is a thoroughly engaging and emotional ride if you don’t mess up, albeit with a tired left hand. I consider it old-school motorcycling at its best, compared to the fuss-free, smooth Japanese modern bikes.
When Ducati announced the Monster 1200 and 1200S about seven months ago in Nov 2013, my eyes widened. From the tech specs alone, it looked like Ducati listened to the feedback of current Monster 1100 Evo owners and fixed some of the really niggling issues like low fuel range (with a bigger metal tank) and low-rpm engine smoothness (with a liquid cooled Diavel engine)
Visually, the 1200S looked similar at first glance to the 1100 Evo, but any Monster owner could tell that the tank looked much more muscular and sexy, the engine entrails were more gnarly than ever, and that this was bigger and longer than the usual Monster.
Most people’s reaction to the Monster 1200S is that it is the improved version of the 1100 Evo. But after about 800km of running in the 1200S, I’d say it’s a completely different motorcycle from the older Monster and both are phenomenal bikes in their own right. If you’re thinking of the 1200S as an “upgrade” to your existing Monster, you will soon realize it’s more like getting a different Ducati model altogether.
A Beastly Body
The biggest difference between the two Monsters is the sheer weight gain of the 1200S. No matter what the Ducati specifications say (1200S weight of 209kg vs 1100 Evo weight of 188kg wet), the 1200S feels much heavier (almost 50%, it seems) than the 1100 Evo when you push it around a carpark.
So much that the 1100 Evo feels like a light 400cc bike in comparison (and I used to think it was heavy).
Much of the weight gain comes from the larger liquid-cooled engine and increased tank size (17.5L instead of 13.5L). The 1200S also has a longer wheel base by about 5cm, and looks more like a dragster than the old sporty and compact 1100 Evo.
When you sit down, the 1200S kinda “swallows” you in with its wider seat and wider engine size. You feel that you are sitting inside a cockpit instead of perched on a racehorse. My legs now flare out when seated, instead of hugging the old tank tightly. Another analogy I often use is that the 1200S feels like piloting a Star Wars battle cruiser instead of a nimble TIE Fighter.
Even though I’m still leaned forward in an aggressive stance, this is probably as close as to a cruiser experience that the new Monster allows for. The lowered center of gravity of the 1200S also provides more stability and rootedness no matter your style or mode of riding.
I thought a great selling point of the 1200 is that you can lower the seat height by an inch by just removing a few plastic bits in the seat. However, it made my legs so cramped (I’m 1.71m tall) that I got a backache, so it was back to the standard 31″ seat height. Probably better for shorter ladies, but don’t bother lowering the seat, guys.
That Controversial LCD Dashboard
Many press reviewers have complained that they can’t see the 1200’s color LCD dashboard content clearly in the hot sun, but honestly, it isn’t that bad once you get used to it. It’s also very easy to navigate.
What I like is the sheer amount of information it can display clearly, and for any geek, color LCD is always better than a conventional monochrome screen 🙂
What I really dislike is a rather annoying user interface flaw. With the new four-directional buttons, the left and right will activate the turn signals. The middle button will deactivate the turn signals, but if you mash it again (like all bikers do constantly out of habit), it jumps into the Riding Mode selection screen and you have to wait a few seconds for it to return to the normal dashboard.
A really silly design flaw. Ducati should have installed a separate button for the Riding Mode selection.
So Much Engine
The 1200S Testastretta 11° L-Twin engine is remarkable. It pushes out 45% more max power (145hp) and 21% more torque (92 lb-ft) than the 1100 Evo engine, yet sips less petrol while doing so (About 17kml vs 13kml).
The engine has very linear response, meaning that the acceleration climbs in a predictable manner when you open up the throttle, compared to the more jumpy engine response of the older bike.
The new 1200S engine can go as fast as you need it to, but lacks the abrupt hurtling punch of the old (which may be good or bad, depending on your liking).
You can go on and on about which other bike has more horsepower, but seriously, for a daily commuter like me, I’ll never touch the full 145hp. What I do enjoy immensely is the delicious torque that allows me to teleport faster than ever before when the coast is clear.
I like all 3 riding modes depending on my mood – Sport (145hp, minimal ABS and traction control), Touring (145hp, more ABS and traction control), Urban (100hp, most ABS and TC).
Sport mode is the most similar to the default 1100 evo character – twitchy, eager but never unruly. Touring mode is the best balance of torque and smoothness. Urban mode is great for big bike newbies, rainy days or traffic jams. They work as advertised, and it’s easy to switch on the fly (just need to close the throttle after selecting the mode if you’re on the move)
Apart from actual performance, I love the looks of the H.R. Giger-inspired 1200S – all twisty pipes, gnarly shapes and sharp edges like a scene from one of his horrifying art pieces or Alien movies. Some people hate the radiator pipes, but I think they add to the messy, chaotic look that no other bike has today. It’s like a beast whose stomach has split open, and can barely keep his entrails from spilling all over the floor.
You either love it or hate this design, so stick to your fairing sportbikes if you don’t like naked, exposed, enormous engines.
The increased fuel tank size allows me to go up to 250km range (on 15L of fuel before reserve) instead of the former 130km range (due to the ridiculous small 10L capacity in the 1100 Evo)
This a godsend for someone tired of the constant visits to the petrol station, but in a cruel twist of fate, my Monster 1200S has a frustrating issue where the yellow fuel warning light comes on prematurely at exactly 10L of fuel usage instead of the actual 15L capacity before reserve.
Some other 1200S owners have reported this and I’m waiting for Ducati HQ to let our local dealer know what to do about this glaring problem.
It doesn’t affect every 1200S though, so hopefully you don’t run into the same issue as me and some other unfortunate 1200S owners. In the meantime, I just have to keep ignoring that yellow warning light when I ride.
Update: It’s not really a production issue, but an odd phenomenon with the new muscular-shaped tank. If I fill up to the normal petrol level I do with all other bikes (ie. looks almost full and at the level where the fuel pump will automatically cut off), it’s about 10 liters of fuel.
If I continue filling up until the fuel is nearly to the brim (don’t let it overflow!), the tank actually takes in another nearly 4 liters of fuel (impossible, but true). So my fuel warning light now comes on at 225km instead of 170km, an improvement of 55km because the fuel tank design is just mindboggling. Ducati needs to know that not everyone fills up to the very brim.
Louder, But Not As Musical
The 1200S’ exhaust note is not as sexy as the 1100 Evo though. It’s louder, but not as bassy or “thumpy”, and oddly, sounds like a real helicopter (I’ve taken quite a few rides in my army days) so I guess you won’t be wrong to call it a “chopper”.
I considered changing to the carbon Termignoni 1200S legal slip-ons but after doing an actual A-B sound audition at Ducati Singapore, the Termi pipes don’t sound very different from stock pipes with the baffles on. They do look prettier though!
Update 3 Aug 2015: After a year of ownership, I finally decided to get the street-legal Termignonis and while they aren’t louder than stock (for legal reasons), they do sound tighter and deeper on the road, and do provide a different riding experience. The bike seems more urgent now (while still being absolutely under your control) and where it used to sound like a loud helicopter, it now sounds more focused, like a gunship. If you can get a good deal on it, go for it.
The Ride Is What Counts
Like I wrote earlier, riding the 1200S is like being in a heavier, less agile, more stable, more powerful vessel versus the crazy, lightweight feel of the 1100 Evo.
Both are thoroughly enjoyable experiences and it’s hard to say which is “better”.
On the 1200S, I spend less time worrying about how I’m shifting gears and more time just bopping along the road as the engine is always smooth with a hint of the old Ducati vibration. Want more power? It’s served with sophistication and a cherry on top. I feel less anxious and more relaxed, and never feel the need to switch to the aggressive Sport mode to unleash the beast.
On the 1100 Evo, there is only one old-school mode – you are expected to exercise absolute control as the engine invites you to hear every whirr, click, and clack below your arms, and it’s just plain fun when you decide to throttle more. The 1100 Evo is a living, breathing horse, and may not always respond the way you expect it to. It’s not a relaxing experience in the city, but the adrenalin rush is unmistakable.
A newbie to the 1100 Evo will be shocked at how jerky the 1100 Evo engine is, but actually it takes time to understand and appreciate the raw torque-y personality of the 1100 Evo. I tried to tame this air-cooled engine’s low-rev performance with the Bazzaz fuel-injection module, but I removed the module when I realized the engine needed to be liberated to be its default ill-tempered self.
So Which Is Better? Old or New?
Are these changes in the 1200S for the better? Has the Monster lost its soul? Doesn’t Ducati care about tradition?
To be honest, the rawness of the 1100 Evo really grows on you. But the 1200S engine is also very appealing in its sheer power delivery and makes city commuting much more bearable in the hot humid Singapore weather.
I like both engines so much, I can’t decide which I like more. So I decided to keep both bikes for the long term.
So I hope this doesn’t sound like a cop-out for a review- both Monsters deserve much love and praise, but they are apples and oranges. Whichever you decide to own, you can’t go wrong.
To Ducati’s credit, they know how to make beautiful machines, and both Monsters are true works of art in form and function.
So What About The Monster 821?
A few weeks ago, Ducati announced the Monster 821, which is essentially the same 1200 frame and design but with a smaller engine, double-sided swing arm, conventional licence plate/mud guard (instead of the uber-cool rear wheel-mounted licence plate). It also drops the oil radiator below the header pipes for a more compact engine size and has less premium shocks.
What’s really odd is how the 821, for all the reduced bits, is only 4kg lighter than the 1200S (209kg wet). For Monster fans wanting the old school lightweight bikes, the 821 is another heavy slap in the face.
But I do like the 821 – it’s probably more fuel efficient and more agile with the smaller engine and changed CG. The engine is also the same beautiful gnarly mess!
Some press reviewers are already saying they think the 821 is a better Monster, but I believe it depends on how much displacement you desire. Or in a more shallow way, whether you like having gold forks or rear wheel-mounted licence plate.
The 1200S has a deep, deep well of power and oodles of torque. Until I get to test ride the 821, I’m sure the smaller model is more than sufficient for our roads.
But the sheer feeling of authority and power on the roads that the 1200S imparts? That’s going to be hard for the 821 to match.