Test Ride: 2017 Ducati Monster 797

Credit: Photos Courtesy of Ducati

Known for sexy, powerful, high-performance motorcycles, Ducati might be the last company you associate with beginner bikes. But that’s exactly what the Bologna, Italy–based manufacturer delivered with the new Monster 797. 

“This bike is intended to be a real Monster, a real Ducati, but at the same time presents the accessibility of the Ducati brand... this bike is 100 percent Monster,” said product manager Stefano Tarabusi recently at the international press launch for the 797.

During two days on the French Riviera, a stone’s throw from Cannes, we rode the bike in conditions ranging from pouring rain to sunny and dry through countless roundabouts, small French towns, and more technical mountain roads. We found the 797 both capable, an appropriate option for a rider who just finished their Motorcycle Safety Foundation intro course, and, most importantly, a hell of a good time.

The first Monster was launched to the public 25 years ago at a trade show. A select group of Italian dealers saw the original Monster before the public debut, and their response was both lukewarm and confused. Their confusion stemmed from the fact that all sport bikes included fairings up to that point. Not the Monster. The frame and motor were exposed. Without the added bits of plastic, the original Monster’s trellis frame and engine were visible. In a word: naked. And thus the “naked bike” category was born. 

The 797 is the latest in Ducati's naked family. The first thing you’ll notice is the upright position. More relaxed than the previous entry-level Monster, the 821, the footpegs are farther forward and lower, allowing the rider to stretch out, and the handlebars are closer — the happy medium between sport bike and cruiser bike position. With a seat height of 31.7”, even shorter riders should be able to easily put a foot down. Ducati also offers a “comfort” seat for riders who want a little more cushion. At 6’2”, we were comfortable, even if the Monster felt slightly small.

Powered by an air-cooled 803cc L-twin, the Monster produces 80 percent of its peak torque from 3,500 rpm. And the reported 75 horsepower is plenty for even intermediate riders. Unlike last year’s 821, the 797 doesn’t include a choice of three distinct modes — sport, urban, and touring — that let the rider change the ride characteristics on the fly, and this is our singular complaint about the 797. It’s also one of the reasons the 797 is almost $2,000 less expensive than the 821.

Tipping the scales with a wet weight (but sans fuel) of 401 pounds, the 797 features 4.4-gallon "bison-back" gas tank complete with signature ski buckle tank clamp. A Bosch ABS system that’s standard matched with Brembo brake calipers provide confident braking in all conditions. A 43mm inverted Kayaba USD fork and the Sachs monoshock with adjustable pre-load and rebound lets riders choose between plush and performance.

The all-digital LCD is minimal and intuitive, and most riders will be able to figure it out without even scanning at the owner’s manual. And if you’re thinking about a new Ducati and you’re new to motorcycles, the 797 is a great option. For the price, it's competitive with similarly sized Japanese bikes, and it’s powerful enough that you won’t grow out of it for some time. [$9,295; ducati.com]