Ducati Monster 696 – Test ride and review

I’ve never been too interested in roadster style or sports motorcycles. But I’ve been thinking more about pavement riding more recently. It doesn’t help that there are so many nice roads in this area. And then the Ducati Monster caught my eye. Something about its design. Something about the Ducati Type-L motors. So why not test this beauty and see what it has to show beyond its sexy shape?

Ducati Monster 696. Eugene, September 3rd, 2011

I couldn’t help spending time looking at the details. The Italians have something about design. They transform the obvious shape into an exotic shape on the detail.  And they make the sum of parts and shapes into a seamless sexy product.

Ducati Monster 696. Eugene, September 3rd, 2011

My friends at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon were kind enough to let me take it for a spin.

Ducati Monster 696. Eugene, September 3rd, 2011

Its beauty passes the “all angles” test.  And I bet it will age gracefully. Well, this motorcycle has been around for almost 20 years now. And it still looks good today, chances are it will look good tomorrow.

Ducati Monster 696. Eugene, September 3rd, 2011

Here are the specs on this little machine:

Frame: Tubular steel Trellis frame

Wheelbase: 1450mm (57.1in)

Rake: 24°

Front suspension: Marzocchi 43mm upside-down forks

Front wheel travel: 120mm (4.7in)

Front wheel: 3-spoke light alloy 3.50 x 17

Front Tire: Pirelli Angel ST 120/60 17”

Rear suspension: Progressive linkage with preload and rebound Sachs adjustable monoshock

Rear wheel travel: 148mm (5.8in)

Rear wheel: 3-spoke light alloy 4.50 x 17

Rear tire: Pirelli Angel ST 160/60 17”

Front brake: 2 x 320mm discs, 4-piston radial caliper

Rear brake: 245mm disc, 2-piston caliper

Fuel tank capacity: 15l – 3.8 gallon (US) / 13.5l – 3.6 gallon (US) ABS version

Dry weight: 161kg (355lb) / 163kg (359lb) ABS version

Instruments: Digital unit displaying: Speedometer, rev counter, clock, scheduled maintenance warning, oil temperature, trip fuel, air temperature, lap time, warning light for low oil pressure, fuel level, fuel reserve, neutral, turn signals, overrev, immobilizer. Ready for DDA system

Warranty: 2 years unlimited mileage

Body Color (frame/wheel): Red (red / back) – Dark stealth (matte black / black) – Stone white (matte black / black) – Monster Art colors (matte black / black)

Versions: Dual seat, single seat

Seat height: 770mm (30.3in)

DTC: Not available on this model

ABS: Available upon request

Engine: Type L-Twin cylinder, 2 valve per cylinder Desmodromic, air cooled

Displacement: 696cc

Bore x Stroke: 88 x 57.2mm

Compression ratio: 10.7:1

Power: 58.8kW – 80hp @ 9000rpm

Torque: 7.0kgm – 50.6lb-ft @ 7750rpm

Fuel injection: Siemens electronic fuel injection, 45mm throttle body

Exhaust: 2 aluminum mufflers

Transmission: Gearbox: 6 speed

Ratio: 1st 32/13, 2nd 30/18, 3rd 28/21, 4th 26/23, 5th 22/22, 6th 24/26

Primary drive: Straight cut gears; Ratio 1.85:1

Final drive: Chain; Front sprocket 15; Rear sprocket 45

Clutch: APTC wet multiplate with hydraulic control

Before putting it into motion, I really like to this view of the bike, with that well designed stubby rear end and the view of the tank.  Somehow it reminds me of a 60’s Ferrari 250 GTO or a 60’s Alfa Romeo GTA.  The Italian official racing color doesn’t help in making this comparison.

Ducati Monster 696. Eugene, September 3rd, 2011

Reading the specs, I paid more attention to the weight, the power output, the torque figures and how they relate to each other.  All looks good. But the question is: how does that translate into the riding experience? Well, it moves! And it moves well. If you never rode a Ducati bike, then don’t. Because the Type L engines, their high torque, their sounds, and what this combo represents when in motion is addictive. Add great handling and the result is total pleasure.

This is how it sounds.

The conventional wisdom that V-motors easily show “character” in motorcycles applies to the Ducati L-motors.  Putting the bike in motion requires some slippage on the clutch, as the motor is a bit rough on low revs and the clutch actuation seems to be really narrow. I’m sure a few more miles on this bike would make me a smoother operator. Going through the gears is a very intuitive and smooth process.  Only thing I noticed was a gap between 1st and 2nd gear, first being a bit too short and second too tall by comparison.  But it is only noticeable when riding up on switchbacks and your safe speed happens to be between 1st and 2nd gear.  In 1st you over rev, in second you lug the engine. I chose the 2nd gear after a few tries switching back and forth between 1st and 2nd.

Too bad wind noise overcomes the sweet engine sounds on this video above. But when riding, you really hear it all. It is quite the experience. You can probably notice how it accelerates on the video.  Perhaps not. So let me tell you: it does accelerate effortlessly. A Ducati characteristic. They all like to be in fast motion, reckon. This bike is no exception, the little 696 motor seems like it begs you to indulge in some throttle twisting.

Coming from the perspective of my tall enduro bikes, this bike’s ergonomics put you in a more aggressive stance. Foot pegs are positioned further behind, your body is leaned forward, and you see the road up close.  But it is not as radical as what is today a classic sports bike. It actually is a rather comfortable position. If you, like me, ride adventure touring bikes, I would assume that, like what happened to me, once you get moving and acquaint yourself with the location of the controls, you will forget that you are riding on different ergonomics than your regular set up. But you will certainly notice how well it handles. Like the true roadster that it is.

In terms of price, this bike is reasonably affordable for what it delivers. For being an entry level of the Italian marque, it represents Ducati’s legendary performance extremely well.

Bottom line:  Would I buy it?

Yes!

But.

It would not be my primary bike. Why? Mostly because it is not the most practical machine for my adventure touring style of riding.  But I would love to have one just for day-rides.  There are plenty of nice roads in Oregon where this machine would excel. And I could enjoy the experience and sounds this machine delivers every weekend I’m not traveling anywhere too far from home and with gear. And if I were ever to get into going to a track, this would likely be my machine of choice.  Not to race, just to enjoy the riding experience only a Ducati can deliver. Have you ever been tempted to experience this bike? Stop by your closest Ducati dealer and take one for a spin. Just don’t blame me when you write a check to keep the bike’s keys for good after the test ride.

Edit:  On Autopia, at the Wired magazine, under an article titled “9 Rides Truly Wired Gearheads Should Love” written by Sam Smith and posted on 11/11/2011, there is an interesting bit about the Monster.  The nine rides are a 2012 Mustang 302 Boss, a P-51 Mustang (yes, the WWII airplane), Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Car, The French great speed train (TGV), the 1954-63 Mercedes Gullwing, vintage Chris-Craft boats (any from the 1920-50’s vintage), The 2012 Nissan GT-R, the Aprilia VF4 Factory APRC SE (which he considers the Nissan GT-R of motorcycles), and the Ducati Monster.

And here is what Sam wrote about the Ducati:

Motorcycles are funny things. Unlike cars, most are specialized tools. No one has to use a bike every day, so motorcycle manufacturers are free to build products almost completely without compromise. That’s where the Ducati Monster comes in.

[The Monster] is an old-school, pared-down sport bike, not a crotch rocket, repli-racer or squid machine. The 90-degree V-twin nestled in the Monster’s trellis frame is a strong, soulful piece, offered around the world in displacements ranging from 400 to 1,100 cc. This isn’t a machine of extremes, whether in power, handling or comfort. You get what you get, but it’s somehow always enough.

This is what fast bikes used to feel like. This is also what motorcycling, at its core, is all about: a frame you can see through and just enough power to scare yourself.”

Is that cool or what?

Thank you for reading.

Cesar

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4 Responses to Ducati Monster 696 – Test ride and review

  1. Jose says:

    I have been looking to buy a bike for quiet some time now and the Ducati Monster 696 has really stuck out to me. In the article you mentioned practicability so I was wondering where would you find it to be practical. I live in NYC and the city streets sure do be getting hectic at times. Do you think this bike would work in the surrounding?

    • cesardagord says:

      Hey Jose, I mentioned the 696 not being practical for my adventure style of riding. That is, going long distances on the road, carrying a bag for staying more than a day on the road. The Monster is a good cafe style bike, where you go out with friends, stop at a cafe, things like that. Now, NYC, that is a different story all together. From my experience when I lived in a large city, with traffic and people, busy streets, my option would always be a small displacement up-right riding position bike. A small dual-sport or motard. At the time, long time ago, when I rode in busy streets I had a Honda XL250. There weren’t many options then. Now, in the Ducati line up there is that nice Hyperstrada. That bike would be a blast to ride in a busy urban scenario. You sit tall seeing traffic ahead and letting traffic see you, the bike’s ergos are perfect, and the bike’s motor offer three modes of operation, if need be, you can use the “urban” mode and the bike will be as tame as you need it to be. But you can also set it for “sport” and get the hooligan spirit out of it. Of course, the Monster is the less expensive option, what keeps it attractive in the Ducati line up. Let me know what you end up getting.

  2. Shane says:

    Nice ride. The roads in oregon look so enticing for a monster. Would you recommend this bike for a beginner rider? I’m also shorter at 5’5″ so I worry I won’t be able to get 2 feet planted on the ground at traffic lights and stop signs. But the red and black on the bike look so cool. Thanks

    • cesardagord says:

      Hi Shane

      As far as Ducati goes, the Monster is a good entry level bike. Not sure it is a good first bike, if that is the case, simply because it is still a Ducati, That is, it is a performance motorcycle.

      I haven’t ridden the new 821 Monster yet. But I want to bet it is going to be a more manageable motorcycle than even the 696 based on what I know about the 821 motor (from my test ride of the Hyperstrada), and because it comes with three riding modes.

      Cesar

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