Riding The Monster

I didn't realize how similar the curves of Gardens by The Bay were to those on the Monster.
I didn’t realize how similar the curves of Gardens by The Bay were to those on the Monster until I parked the bike and looked through the lens. This is a truly fortunate combo of the right dawn lighting, street lighting and juxtaposition. Christmas Eve 2012.

The Ducati Monster 1100 Evo is my first Class 2 bike and it was a shocker to ride during my first 24 hours with it. The engine vibrated terribly, you can’t go slow in the carpark (or actually below 40kmh) without clutching in halfway, and the engine is always complaining if you don’t rev enough. And if you aren’t careful, you’re breaking the speed limit…by a lot.

But what a pleasure it is!

Having only ridden bikes like the SAF hybrid street-scramblers (about 185cc, from Honda and Yamaha), learner bikes in Bukit Batok Driving Center (Honda 125s, 400s and 600s) and my Kawasaki Ninja 250R, I did not know a modern motorcycle could be as rough as a Monster. The Japanese bikes were really easy to handle with smooth engines and clutch controls, while the Monster is the complete opposite.

Its torque-y engine lurches forward, always eager to get off the stop line. You can hear every mechanical whirr and click when the wind isn’t rushing through your helmet. The engine gets hot enough to sear your thighs red though the jeans if you decide to do multiple short trips (I have a photo to prove it). The tiny tank only holds enough fuel for 140km before the fuel reserve light comes on, so frequent trips to the petrol station is mandatory.

However, once you get used to those quirks, man, you learn to love this Italian stallion (no, no, not Stallone) and its unique character – arrogant, impetuous and always challenging you to take a firm rein or just buzz off.

If you’re going to own a high capacity bike, why not own one with character? I’ve always loved the Italian approach to art and science, driven forward by ego and passion and a deep understanding of aesthetics. That’s pretty much like my own personality, as my friends would readily tell you. So a Ducati is a natural fit.

I was considering the Ducati Streetfighter 848 at first, but the Monster’s classic design language spoke directly to me while I could never love the aggressive lines of the Streetfighter as much. As well as the lower seat height 🙂 The Streetfighter probably has more in common with modern anime-inspired Japanese bikes like the Kawasaki Z1000, the latter of which was one of my earlier candidates for the Class 2 bike but it was just too bulky with that gigantic inline-4 engine.

Monster at Upper Peirce
Upper Peirce Reservoir is one of my favorite locations for any bike photo shoot. But be careful of the monkeys who always look for a chance to grab your gear and run away gleefully.

The current Monster design is superior to the original 1993 forebear, with a much more muscular trellis frame, stouter tank and a well balanced mix of smooth curves and twisted metal innards out in full view. Even though the Triumph Street or Speed Triple is arguably a more well-rounded machine for city use, (the triple engine is much smoother to ride at all gears, as I’ve experienced with the Triumph Daytona 675) there is no contest in the looks department.

The Monster engine may vibrate incessantly but once you hit the sweet spot at each picky gear, it’s really enjoyable. The exhaust sound is a sweet mix of bassy low notes and happy mid-tone barks and I think the matte aluminium stock pipes look superior to any third-party alternatives. I removed the odd-looking flyscreen and now there’s nothing to obstruct my view as I soak up the beautiful sunsets or empty morning roads. It responds nimbly due to its compact shape (a neighbour thought it was a 400cc bike, and really, it is just a little bigger than a Super 4), and the bike just commands so much presence whether moving or stationary.

I don’t know if this same affliction hits other Ducati owners, but I now have a weakness for Ducati apparel even though they are quite pricey (A Puma-Ducati tee is usually about $50, and it’s hard to find good discounts even with free shipping from the online apparel store). To make you feel even more special, Ducati sends you a membership card all the way from Italy embossed with your bike’s frame number. You can’t do much with the card but it’s the thought that counts and most companies don’t do this sort of consumer marketing anymore.

With the crazy COE prices for cars (S$81.8K for 1600cc and below as I write this!), Japanese bikes getting more expensive now due to the high yen, and European bikes coming down in price due to the weak euro, I suspect there are going to be more Ducatis, Triumphs, MV Agustas and other continental bikes on our roads in the next few years.

But I could be wrong – there’s still a strong stigma against bike ownership in Singapore thanks to the reckless riders on the roads, as well as inconsiderate drivers. To make things harder for bike class upgrades, the Traffic Police tests are getting harder to pass with more stringent testers. My Class 2A and Class 2 tests were no walks in the park. Taking a minimum of over three years to get a Class 2 licence (400cc and above) is very long, but then again, I do understand the rationale behind this restriction. I don’t think I could have respected or handled the power of a Class 2 bike during my early biking days in the army.

One just wonders how long people will tolerate the high car prices before considering going the patience-draining motorbike licence route.

Off topic: I’ve always wondered about the high population of Honda Super 4 owners in SG – don’t they ever think of upgrading to a nicer looking bike if they could afford it? The Super 4 is the equivalent of my Corolla Altis – a nice bike for daily commuting, but nothing more. I was dead set against owning a Super 4 during my year of Class 2A ownership because it’s enough to be an everyday Altis owner 🙂

In recent weeks, I’ve been scouting Singapore for the right backgrounds to take portraits of the Monster, and here’s a small gallery with more to come:

Found this beautiful backdrop on Christmas Day morning at Punggol Way. The footpath is much narrower than it looks.
Found this beautiful backdrop on Christmas Day morning at Punggol Way. The footpath is much narrower than it looks.
Another shot at Punggol Way.
Another shot at Punggol Way.
Monster At Gardens 2
This was taken at Gardens by the Bay itself.
Changi Coastal Road at dawn.
Changi Coastal Road, along the pathway at the carpark, at dawn.
Monster at Changi 01
I installed these drop-dead gorgeous Rizoma Circuit 851 mirrors but removed them soon after because the mirror is so small you really can’t see much of what’s behind you. Sigh, it would have been the perfect naked bike mirror.
Monster at Changi 03
Changi Coastal Road, as the sun rose. Most of my shots are taken in the early hours because the family is sleeping then, and so is the rest of Singapore. This way one can ride the Monster the way it’s meant to be ridden – without stopping 🙂


10 Replies to “Riding The Monster”

  1. Very nice pictures. I ride a ST4 and it seems the rough nature of old Ducatis has passed down to the current generation!

    RIde safe and enjoy the bike, make sure to get to the track in Pasir Gudang if you haven’t done so!

  2. Hi,
    I am upgrading from a Honda Super 4 Spec 3 to a Ducati Monster 98 version. Been reading extensively about it. Would appreciate your views on this. Still abit half hearted. about it but I would really like to try something new. Do let me know your opinion. thanks

  3. Hey Ian, thanks for your blog; absolutely loving it.
    I own a pre owned super 4 spec 1 before my Class 2, and my fascinating dream bikes. The former was planned as a transitional bike for me and as it holds its resale value very well (trade ins would be easy too) with plenty of spares available in the market should something breaks.
    Between work and family, time only allows me to acquire my class 2 much later than fervently anticipated. I believe many S4 riders are still stuck and lost at that phase. It’s a trusty bike nonetheless and many are so used to it, the fuel economy, low maintenance, bulletproof engine and the I-dropped-it-scratched-it-and-ppl-would-still-buy resale value have also reassured many owners.
    With the advent new 400s; also came the rising COEs, many prudent riders are not jumping in to trade in their trusty transitional bike for another with no proven record…
    Just my 2 cents .

  4. hey Ian,

    nice duke there… I couldn’t justify to splurge on a red duke., when my bikes end up with less 5 clicks per year.. so ended up with the “jap equivalent” Honda V4.. (no offense duke owners =)

    i think 7 out of 10 biker will have went thru from 2B to 2 with a S4. personally, owned a spec one during my younger years. most owners will agree the resale value of the S4 is one of the best. I managed to sell mine for just a couple hundreds lesser than the buying price, after a couple years of ownership.

    agree with skoder; S4’s reliabilty , is second to none.

    Ride safe!

    1. Thanks for reading. Just FYI that “Duke” these days is used to refer to the KTM Duke (or SuperDuke) and Ducs are now just Ducs.

      And nothing against the S4, guys. It’s a perennial workhorse and it’s reliable, but it’s terribly unexciting once you try out the Class 2 bikes that are available on the market today. My current issue with S4 owners is how so many of them do not maintain their bikes properly. I can hear so many S4s going past with chain issues.

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