Two Weeks With the Ducati Monster 821 Dark

With its trellis frame and menacing moniker, the Ducati Monster is one of the best-known sports bikes in the world. That’s mostly because it’s one of the sexiest vehicles on two wheels. Even to the uninitiated, it looks Ferrari-fast. And thanks to a recent redesign, the Monster is more powerful than ever. Last year, the manufacturer, based in Bologna, Italy, upgraded this beast with the Hypermotard powerplant — the Testastretta 11º engine — and bolted the motor to the frame of the Monster 1200. They also added new exhaust systems to make it more efficient.

Just how efficient is the new model? This 821 produces more horsepower than the previous generation Monster 1100, and that means the smallest Monster in the line has enough power for the majority of riders. Thanks to the Ducati's Safety Pack (DSP) that includes three-level ABS and eight-level Ducati Traction Control (DTC), it’s easy to tune the ride of the bike on the fly.

The backstory of the Monster is a curious one. Introduced in 1992, the first was the M900 and built largely from components Ducati had on hand — AKA a “parts bin” bike. Believe it or not, the OG Monster was designed to go mano-a-mano with the Harley Sportster. But Ducati designers created one item specifically for the Monster: the tank. Massive and muscular, it contrasted in a big way with the lean minimalism of the rest of the bike.

That tradition continues with the Monster 821. Throw your leg over the Monster and you're sitting behind the massive 4.6 gallon tank. The liquid-cooled, four-valve-per-cylinder engine that replaced the air-cooled, two-valve motor is smoother, while helping to produce the signature staccato sound that the Monster is known for. One of the biggest surprises is how well the six-speed gearbox paired with the cable-actuated wet slipper clutch performs and feels. 

But what makes the Monster 821 more versatile than ever are its three modes: Sport, Touring, or Urban. The modes give you specific power delivery, ABS, and traction-control settings based on the desired riding experience and road conditions. You can also customize the modes. Sport is the most raucous, producing 112 horsepower and 65.8 lb-ft. Touring mode has the same power with less aggressive delivery and more assistance for smooth riding, even when it’s wet. And Urban maxes out a manageable 75 horsepower with the maximum ABS and high traction control engagement.

It also makes the bike a great commuter — just throw it into Urban. It’s also a solid, do-anything weekend warrior: Put it into Touring for long highway jaunts or into Sport mode for more spirited riding through canyons. Unfortunately, there's no fuel gauge. Instead, the Monster offers a light that tells you when you're low on fuel. And the Dark is just south of $11,000, making it seriously tempting. The only difference between the Dark and signature Ducati red is the matte black tank, rear seat cap, and front fender. [$10,995; ducatiusa.com]