At one point of time, I started to wonder if I had made the right decision in getting a Ducati Monster 1100 Evo. With all relationships, it takes time to get to know your partner well. If the Monster were a woman, I’d say she was hot-tempered, high-maintenance and unforgiving.
And you know, I’ve come to learn that those attributes makes her the perfect mistress.
If you’re looking for a new motorcycle, and been wondering why would people buy a Ducati Monster for daily city use in Southeast-Asia, here are some things I’ve learned in living with her for six months
It takes that long to write a proper review as the bike needs time to run in, and the bike has revealed more of its character to me since I last wrote about it. BTW her name is Sharona, but I just call her Monster most of the time.
I’ve read on forums that the Monster is not suitable as a city bike, but don’t get swayed by those comments. What’s important for any biker is that the bike makes you happy, and I am always happy after each ride with the Monster, despite all the quirks. There are plenty of Monster 1100 Evo technical reviews out there, so this is more of a personal review as a city rider in hot and humid Singapore.
(In the meantime, I’ve also been riding a secondhand Triumph Daytona 675 because I’ve always been curious about a triple engine and whether I could love a pure sportsbike. The Daytona has really helped to put things into perspective for a Monster owner.)
1. Every annoying flaw is overwhelmed by a greater strength.
I don’t see many Monsters on Singapore roads. Most Ducati owners tend to go for Hypermotards or Panigales. I’m not sure if it’s because the Monster has a rep it cannot live down, or people prefer the newer breeds of Ducatis. But I can tell you it has several niggling flaws that are conveniently negated by amazing strengths.
Flaw: It’s a drudge to go slow on this bike, with the sputtering fueling at low RPMs and constant need to half-clutch on a pretty stiff lever. With most bikes, you can do a sharp right turn on small roads on second gear, but it’s usually first gear on the Monster because the engine might just die on you. Travelling within legal speed limits (60-90kmh) means it’s usually 3rd or 4th gear, with the engine grunting heavily as if you are in the wrong gear. Remember, there isn’t any relaxed cruising speed like a normal street motorcycle.
Strength: The engine was designed to hurl you (strongly, but elegantly I must say) from one point to another. Every time I think I should be riding like a well-behaved gentleman, the Monster engine reminds me to forget it, because I’m perched upon a pouncing lion (ok, lioness). While a retro bike like the Triumph Bonneville demands that you ride it with a certain politeness, the Monster insists that you change your riding style dramatically. See that red traffic light there? It’s your start line before the next blazing burst of power.
As said by the late Kevin Ash: “What no (inline) four does is punch like the 1100 when you turn the twistgrip in the engine’s midrange. It fires forward with a force that makes a mockery of the 99bhp output, partly because the bike is very light but simply because this is one of the few bikes that makes most of its urge at speeds normal riders use on normal roads.”
Flaw: The fuel tank is really low capacity at 13.5 liters. That means that with a fuel consumption of 14-17 km/l (yes, it’s that hungry), the fuel warning light will pop up after about 120km or 140km of travel. Luckily for me, my office commute is just about 10km each way, so I don’t have to top up except on weekends.
Strength: The tiny fuel tank does help reduce the wet weight of the Monster, making it one of the lightest literbikes in the world – It’s only 169kg dry, and 188kg wet. Compare that to my old Ninja 250R, with a fraction of the power, but 170kg wet. So while the engine requires a lot of firm handling, reining in the Monster is made alot easier by not having a behemoth kinda weight to push around. This means that the Monster is extremely agile – you just gotta have the guts to lean over if needed, and it goes where you tell it to go.
2. Try not to break the law.
While most superbikes these days can easily hit 100kmh within three or four seconds, it’s how you get there that counts. My Triumph Daytona’s triple engine has a linear torque curve, meaning that it will obediently and steadily accelerate under your control. I would imagine the Triumph Street Triples, which use a similar engine, behave in the same way.
The Monster isn’t just capable of getting to 100kmh easily, it insists that that’s the correct speed to be from the get-go, and after that, all the time. The massive pool of Torque (with a capital T) feels like it’s available at any time and while expert reviewers complain of a RPM redline limit that comes early, hey, I’m not track riding here.
So if you treasure your hard-earned Class 2 licence, you have to really hold it back and let the engine growl harder than one is comfortable with all the time to avoid getting summoned on the roads. That means that while it’s easy to maintain at 80kmh on the Daytona (or at 70kmh in the stuff Kallang-Paya Lebar KPE tunnel), the Monster sounds unhappy all the way, and it does take a while to get used to this character trait. As long as the RPM remains above 4000, I know the Monster’s engine is going to be ok even if it is grumbling loudly.
Of course, you will always find chances to let the Monster breathe hard, but I don’t need to tell you how to. (wink)
3. It’s drop dead gorgeous, even after six months.
No matter how beautiful a woman is, she’s going to age.
Not a motorcycle.
The Monster is such a classic beauty that I can never get sick of looking at it, or taking photos of it whenever the scenery is good. While I have deep respect for the older Monster models, this particular model outshines all of them in aesthetic balance and energy. While modern superbikes like the Kawasaki Z1000 and Honda CB1000R is all about Transformers-like design with multiple body segments, the minimalist shape of the Monster appeals to a wider swath of art critics. With nothing much apart from the tank cover to polish, it’s easy to maintain its looks too.
The other fun bit about the Monster’s gorgeous design is that the profile is relatively slim and you can squeeze between cars easily at traffic stops. Then proceed to give the drivers a heart attack as you blast off like a bass-heavy rocket.
But you have to swap out those original mirrors first, which look like wide rabbit ears. They are very functional but they take up too much space and make the Monster look a little like an Animaniac. I replaced them with a pair of aluminium Rizomas.
4. It’s hot, but it’s still ok
Before I bought the Monster, a colleague warned me that her sisters had abandoned their Ducatis because they were too hot. Well, I have a photo of my seared thighs after a particularly hot afternoon doing several short trips in the Ubi area with the Monster. So I thought that the Monster was a furnace. Well, that until I sat on the Daytona and got seared even worse by the exhaust pipe that goes under the legs and under the rear seat.
Singapore’s a stupidly humid place, and the Monster needs some careful heat management – ie. stop as little as possible, even during traffic jams, and you’ll be ok. I guess that’s the same with most Class 2 bikes.
5. There’s no real need to mod it.
I confess I went a bit wild when modding my old Ninja 250R, but that was because I found many cosmetic things I could improve on. I’ve been studying all the modding options available for the Monster and I’ve concluded there’s nothing much I can do to improve its timeless looks, and I don’t need extra performance since it’s already overkill on the roads. I also think the stock pipes look better than the Termignoni aftermarket exhausts.
I did remove the mini flyscreen and replace it with the stock naked dashboard cover, for a more retro look.
Also, the roads are teeming with LTA inspectors on bikes these days, and after learning my lesson with the Ninja’s unapproved Yoshimura exhaust, I’m happy to leave the Monster alone.
Conclusion: So how?
Like any high-end machine, the Monster is not for everyone. It’s wild, impetuous character is appealing on paper and in media reviews, but I know of many people who just want to have an easy ride on a daily basis. Especially in overcrowded Singapore and other Asian cities where every day is a battle with sweat and bad drivers. Sometimes, I wish I had a scooter or mid-range cruiser just so that I don’t have to deal with an aching left hand, high fuel consumption and a furnace between my legs. I like the 675 engine plenty, and wonder if a Street Triple is a better compromise for street use.
Yet the Monster is like a drug addiction. The guttural growl of the exhaust, the clickety-clack of the engine’s air intake process, and the ability to warp from one point to another at will (just make sure the road is clear first lah). I believe it was never designed to be a work commute bike, but it’s perfectly do-able once you can accept the workarounds like getting to work early before the traffic builds up, or topping up fuel every 100km. I do wonder how the 1100 compares to the lower-capacity 696 or 796, but hey, maybe you can tell me.
The greatest charm about the Monster is how it makes you feel with each ride – so alive and aware of the joys of motorcycling with a machine designed to have fun. As a dad, I put safety above all, and that means I have to rein in the Monster regularly – it’s just responsible riding. But even within legal limits, the lioness-like nature of the Ducati is undeniable for all to see and hear, and trust me, she’s always your best friend in this urban jungle.
The question is – are you willing to enter this heady affair?
PS: What I also like about being a Ducati owner is that you feel that you’re being taken care of, both by the local distributor Minerva and Ducati’s HQ in Italy. Minerva organizes regular group rides and “appreciation days”, which sadly I can’t join due to busy family weekends, and has friendly staff. Ducati HQ constantly sends email updates to its owners on the latest happenings. It’s a mixture of great marketing and customer relationship management that you won’t find with most other motorcycle brands here (save Triumph Singapore by Mah Motors).