For over twenty years now Ducati has been building its Monster, which is not bad going for what was intended to be just a styling exercise. The Bolognese firm cannot be accused of standing still over the years either, with a constant stream of revisions, improvements and refinements keeping it at the top of many people’s list of favourite naked bike.
‘Why don’t you test the 821 and the 1200S at the same time?’ suggested our contact at Ducati. It was a splendid idea. We agreed. A few days later a van arrived at Hangar 8 and out of the back rolled said Monsters. ‘That’s the big one’ the man delivering them told us, pointing to the Ohlins-equipped 1200S. It was worth pointing out too, because to the untrained eye it could be hard to separate one from the other. The ‘1200’ badging is discreet and there are few clear visual clues.
The 821 uses a 112bhp version of the famous twin-cam Testastretta V-twin which also powers the 1200S, and starting both bikes up at the same time reveals something interesting. ‘Does the 821 sound even better than the 1200?’ I ask the population of Hangar 8’s biking community (which at the current count numbers four) which had gathered to see what delights would be wheeled out of the van. The consensus is that it does. It turns out that there’s some exhaust cleverness at hand which uses a valve to help the bike achieve emissions targets and still produce a pleasing v-twin rumble. That said, the 1200 still sounds wonderful and, unable to resist the lure of the 1200’s 145bhp (which is up 10bhp on the non-S version), I decided that the big bike would be first to pound the pretty West Sussex country roads.
Getting on for the first time I notice that I can’t quite get my feet comfortable on the pegs. The reason being that the section of frame to which the rear pegs are mounted kicks out behind the front pegs and forces my heels out to the side a little. It’s not a major moan though, and by the time I’ve trundled across the Goodwood paddock and out on to the road it’s been forgotten about.
The bike is surprisingly comfortable, despite me being 6′ 3″ tall. The bars are high up and feel quite close to you. The instrument pod is superb. It’s perhaps not somewhere I’d like to be all day long, but then again that’s not what the Monster is about, is it? No, instead I point the lithe Italian in the direction of the Sussex/Surrey border intent on finding out what it’s like on some good winding roads on a bright and dry day.
The 1200S is seriously fast. If you’re not paying close attention the front wheel will be skipping along the blacktop in third gear when the Testastretta motor approaches maximum power. The first few miles of my trip are on not-so-challenging roads and the temptation to exploit the full acceleration capabilities of the 1200S proves too much to resist. It’s so addictive. As I get stuck in to the twistier parts of the journey it’s soon apparent that as dizzyingly fast as the ‘big’ monster is, its real party piece is its handling. The front feels light and crisp and it corners in a beautifully neutral and predictable way. It is just enormous fun.
Having settled into the bike nicely it was time to play with the gizmos. Three modes are available: Urban, Touring and Sport. Each selection has a different display and offers different types of power delivery (and output in the case of the 100bhp Urban mode). Also, you are allowed to alter the traction control and ABS settings. The same goes for the 821 model, speaking of which…
A colleague followed me on my journey on the 821 and at the halfway point we switched rides. Would the lesser 821 manage to compare favourably to its big brother, or would the £4000 price difference reveal the smaller bike’s shortcomings?
Both bikes are the same size, both are surprisingly comfortable, both have the mildly irritating pillion footrest issue, and both give an impression of lightness and liveliness which remains consistent whether you’re just riding across town or getting more of a wriggle-on through the twisty stuff.
In fact, due to a slightly shorter swing arm (and therefore reduced wheelbase), the less-chubby rear tyre and the inevitable weight advantage over the 1200, the 821 is even more nimble. The lack of the gorgeous Öhlins suspension means less adjustability but doesn’t compromise the quality of the ride one bit. Aside from a slightly less-showy instrument display those are the only real differences… until the road opens up a little.
The 821 cannot ultimately match the 1200’s pace, but it isn’t that far off. It is possible to catch the engine ‘napping’ a little if you’re looking for some overtaking grunt, whereas with the 1200 of course this isn’t an issue at all. So, at £8995 it’s around £4000 cheaper than the 1200S and that’s about right. It’s tempting to call the 821 a veritable bargain compared to the 1200S and it really is close to being just that. In fact, if your use for the bike includes a heavy dose of commuting then the 821 could effectively be your friend as well as your lover. But ultimately the performance on tap from the 1200, and the manner in which it delivers it, is just undeniable.