Test Ride: 2017 Ducati Monster 1200 S

 

In the not too distant past, only Moto GP riders had access to 150 horsepower motorcycles. Designed for riders with next-level skills, these bikes were built for one thing: performance. But after a massive overhaul that includes an updated design, new proportions, an evolved engine, and upgraded electronics package, the new Ducati Monster 1200 S gives mere mortals access to 150 horsepower in a bike that loves track days and is not too overpowered to be a daily driver.

“It’s not a face lift,” said Ducati product manager, Stefano Tarabusi, at a recent press conference in Monte Carlo. “It’s a completely new bike.” The next day we took the 1200 S on an 80-mile ride above Monte Carlo, ripping through endless switchbacks in the Monaco mountains, narrow two-lane roads through farm villages in the tiny independent city-state, before finishing the ride on some of the same turns that Monaco's F1 racers charge through at the Grand Prix. Although the road conditions were mostly dry, at higher elevations the roads were wet, especially in the corners. In short: great testing grounds for a naked sport bike.

The largest Monster in the Ducati line-up was due for a full make-over to replace the 1200 released in 2014 — a bike with more relaxed handling than previous Monsters, poorly placed footpegs, and an aesthetic that missed the mark of a motorcycle model that’s always been defined by form following function with an unmistakable Italian flair. The 2017 1200 S addresses all of these issues and is the obvious heir to the Ducati lineage that began with the original Monster M900 in 1993.

With the exposed trellis frame and muscular tank, the new Monster 1200 S is a little leaner and meaner than its predecessor. The signature gas tank (4.4 gallons) is streamlined, .26 inches narrower than the 2014, and the tail is also .8 inches shorter. Thanks to a new, single-sided swingarm, the 58.5-inch wheelbase is an inch shorter. Pairing this with a sharper fork rake and shorter trail, the bike is quicker to respond to steering input.

But the heart of any Monster is its engine. The 2017 Monster S features the liquid-cooled Testastretta L-Twin engine introduced on the 2010 Multistrada 1200. This iteration produces 150 horsepower at 9,250 rpm and maxed out at 93.1 lb-ft (126.2 Nm) of torque at 7,750 rpm. And the powerband is consistent across the range.

This much giddy-up can be a whole lot to handle. Three riding modes — Sport, Touring, and Urban — ensure the bike has three very different personalities. Each is customizable, so the rider can adjust ABS, traction control, and Ducati Wheelie Control, which helps riders keep the front wheel down. And the character of each mode is distinct. Although 1200cc of Italian power is way too much for new riders, an intermediate rider could have a blast in urban or touring mode.

These modes are controlled via a full-color instrument panel that was lifted directly from Ducati’s superbike, the Paginale. Intuitive and easy to use, the display also includes a gas gauge, something missing on this year’s Monster 821. With a seat height of 32.28 inches, which can be dropped almost a full inch for shorter riders, the cockpit was comfortable, even for us and our 6’2” frame. The Brembo M50 brakes are exceptional, and the same goes for the Öhlins suspension. Ducati also added a nice bit of flair to the wheelset on the S — a subtle red line around the circumference of the wheel.

Riders can also shift the 1200 S sans clutch. Dubbed Ducati Quick Shift, it will be an available option on the standard 1200. Neither is inexpensive. The 1200 will set you back $14,695, and the 1200 S is about $17,000 ($16,995 for red or $17,195 for gray). However, for riders looking for a bike with aggressive handling, more power than they may ever need, and insane versatility, the Monster is a great bet. Even if you’re not in Monaco. [Available February 2017, $17,195; ducati.com