Ducati Monster 821

This weekend I had the distinct pleasure of participating in the first Sunday Demo Ride offered by the great folks at Kissell Motorsport, State College, Pennsylvania. This is my second encounter with the folks at Kissell and I must say it was another pleasant experience. I received their monthly newsletter about 10 days prior to the ride and inquired about the ride. They told me this was something new they were trying out and, if it’s a success, hope to make it a monthly event. Essentially they’re allowing people an opportunity to ride certain models of available demo bikes on a day/group ride. as I’m interested in purchasing an 821, which they happen to have in their demo fleet, I thought it would be a great opportunity to get out on one for an extended test ride. What I wasn’t expecting was the email I received from Josh Nolten (Kissell sales manager) with the route.It turned out to be a beautiful route through central Pennsylvania and Black Moshannon State Park. An incredible ride that went on for 122 miles. I was expecting MAYBE 50 miles, 122 miles was, without a doubt, a surprise. A very welcome one. I’ll get into the pros and cons of this particular ride in another post. In short it was very good and is something all high quality dealers should consider doing.

Now onto the motorcycle. Let me open by saying this piece is going to be biased in favor of the 821. I’ve ridden it a couple of times and really like this bike. A LOT. Having said that, I’ll do my best to be balanced. As a new design starting with the 2014 Monster 1200, this series of Monster really appeals to me. It looks good in person, like Ferrari, Ducati does Red right. There’s no denying that. The dark series and the white look good also, especially the white, but I’m biased, Ducati’s are Red. I wasn’t a fan of the prior generation as they put a lot of weight on the forearms/wrists and I didn’t like the sensation of my head being out over top of the front wheel. This generation is more upright and you sit more in the bike than on top of it. For me, at 5’11” with a 31″ inseam, it’s a good fit. Could it be more roomy? Yeah, a little, but not enough to steer me away from the bike. Especially in light of its mission. I recently read where someone referred to the original Monster, released back in 1993, as Ducati’s version of a cruiser. I can’t disagree with that. Swing a leg over the bike after getting off something like a BMW R1200RT and you quickly realize how small the bike is. It’s not TINY, but it’s compact. Reach out to the bars and they feel great, right about where you would expect to find the bars on a sport standard motorcycle. Forward lean for sure but not sport bike forward. You put weight on your hands but not a lot. It’s a good balance. The seat is pretty wide and supportive. Not uncomfortable at all in the showroom. Lift the bike off the side stand and you really get a sense of how light the bike is. Again, coming off a big bike it’s a welcome encounter. Instrumentation is a natural look forward and down to view and it’s a welcoming place to sit. Mirrors are typical motorcycle manufacturer mirrors. The designers must have an elbow fetish, because, that’s all you see in these mirrors. Ridiculous.

Turn the key to the on position and the gauges come to life, then flip the kill switch to the on position and fire up the bike. Oh man, that Ducati music is incredible. For a stock exhaust it has a good bark but not intrusive. I’m not a loud pipe guy, at all, and I found it a pleasant track to listen to. Blip the throttle a little and you really get a sense there’s some fun going on beneath you. Check the gauges to see that you’re in the touring ride mode and there are no warnings before heading out. Lead rider rolls out, I let a few riders go ahead, pull in the super light clutch and drop the bike into first gear, roll on the throttle and away we go. This bike needs a little throttle to get going from a stop but once rolling all is good. This bike responds to throttle input with a progressive push forward and winds up pretty quick in the softer touring mode. It’s OK, we’re just getting our day started and we want to get into the groove of the bike and the crowd we’re riding with. Roll on the throttle some more and the incredible Ducati soundtrack is music to the ears. It sounds so good.  The bike is very smooth and spins up easily enticing you to add a little more and push it a little harder. It’s a soft hit from the available 112hp, however, in a bike weighing 450lbs wet that’s good, usable power and it’s  easy to modulate. It’s 10:30 AM and about 65 degrees the full shot of air coming at you feels great. It’s a naked and it feels exactly that. Naked. You get hit with everything. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s impressive how the air hitting your chest does a very good job of supporting the body and reducing the pressure on your wrists and forearms. The rider is pretty neutral at speed. This bike is powerful enough for the experienced rider and not overwhelming for someone either stepping up to the 821 or choosing this as their first ride. I wouldn’t recommend it as a first bike, but, there are some that will go that way.  As the roads begin to twist and turn the little Duc starts to show where it really likes to be. Dropping down into curves and having its throttled rolled on. The bike responds better and better the more the throttle is rolled on. Again, we’re still in touring mode but the throttle responds well and keeps asking for more. This bike definitely loves being over 3500 rpm and is incredibly smooth at higher engine speeds. I really don’t mind being on this bike today. The suspension does a great job on smooth and moderately bumpy roads. Lets be honest, what bike isn’t great on a smooth road, however, when the roads get choppy this bike sends everything it has right up into your backside. I didn’t play with any of the suspension settings, not that there are many on this model, and may have been able to dial out quite a bit of it, but I wasn’t going to try on this ride. It is a trade off though, if the suspension were much softer you’d likely lose the fun you can have when the roads turn twisty. Seat comfort is surprisingly good on the first 30 miles of this trip and wasn’t feeling any discomfort, however, my legs felt quite cramped and I wasn’t used to that as the 821’s I’d ridden previously seemed more comfortable and roomy. All in all it’s good. We leave our first stop and head back out through countless twists and turns for another 40 miles. Rowing the transmission up and down through the gears is effortless and very easy. However, on more than one occasion I found a false neutral. I’ve read about others experiencing this, however, this was my first encounter with it and it’s annoying, to say the least. Fortunately, it didn’t happen a lot, but it happened more than once in the 122 mile ride. Brakes on this bike were pretty touchy and could use a more progressive feel. Didn’t take much to get the front brakes to produce some front end dive. The adjustable front brake lever was set to its furthest setting out, once I adjusted it back one level it got much better. Even still, it doesn’t take much to stop this bike. It’s so light, and the brakes so good, stopping definitely isn’t an issue. Obviously there’s ABS and traction control to save your bacon should you get in over your head. As we get closer to our lunch stop I switched to sport mode knowing a good set of twisties was coming up and I wanted to see how much different the modes would feel in this scenario. To say it’s a noticeable difference is an understatement. As most reading this will know, when you’re rolling twisties you want to add a little throttle to steady the suspension while in corners. Here’s where the sport mode shines. As settling the suspension only requires light throttle input, when in touring mode light throttle input produces a very soft, almost flat, power response, however, in sport mode you’re treated to a slight increase in power allowing the suspension to steady without having to tip so far into the throttle to get what you need. Then roll on the throttle out of the corner and the bike responds with a very willing push forward. Not having much experience with ride mode equipped motorcycles I’ve always approached ride modes as a gimmick to sell motorcycles. On the Monster it’s a noticeable, and welcome, addition as riding around town in sport mode can make the bike a little hyper, and snatchy.

It’s right around the 75 mile mark the little Monster starts to show itself for what also is. A tight, cramped motorcycle. The bike is an absolute blast to ride but I’ve about had it with the seat. My backside just wants off. My legs are uncomfortable and ready for a stretch and I just want off this thing. It’s fun to ride, but, at what cost? At least that’s what I’m thinking at the moment. Fortunately, we’ve arrived at the Hublersburg Inn in Hublersburg, Pa. for lunch. A meal out on the patio was in order for sure. The air was cool, the sun was shining and I’m rolling a Ducati monster 821. Life’s pretty good today. With the exception of my sore posterior and legs needing a good stretch everything else is great. More on this later.

Lunch is good, iced tea is good. Burgers looked good and those eating them indicated they were happy. I’m OK with spinach and chicken. Turns out this is about an hour of much welcomed rest and chatting with the other good folks on the ride. We’re a group of about 30. Lots of people to chat with and a good time being had by all. Note, there were not 30 demo bikes available, but they combined this demo ride with a planned organized ride. A couple of BMW’s, a Triumph and a couple of Ducati’s. A great idea I think. They ask the demo bike riders, as a courtesy, to top up the tank at the end of the ride. I think that’s a small price to pay for a planned ride and the opportunity to put considerable miles on a bike you’re interested in. If you think it’s a great idea, definitely tell your local dealers, regardless of the brand, to consider doing the same thing. These bikes are expensive and choosing the right one matters.

Alright, we’re back on the bikes for our last 40 mile blast back to the dealership. Getting back on the bike after resting feels as good as the first time I ever sat on one. A very welcoming place to be. Sore backside gone and looking forward to this stretch to see how I’m holding up. Turns out, much better than I hoped.Still a little cramped in the legroom department and has me considering if this is the right bike for me. I’m usually an all day rider. If I’m heading out it’s typically a minimum of 150 miles, more often than not, more. But the little Duc is still impressing the heck out of me. I love this bike. It just feels right. It’s light, powerful, flickable, upper body is comfortable and seats can be replaced. So what gives with the cramped legroom? Again, I’ll get to that in a minute. More twisties in Sport mode really brings home why being in this mode is where you wanna be when the road gets curvy. Small throttle inputs produce results. As much, or as little, as you twist the throttle. Grab a handful and the motor is gonna hit hard, grab a little and you get a little. The closer we get back to State College we’re hitting fewer and fewer curves and it’s time to switch back to touring mode. Again, the difference is noticeable, and welcome, as touring mode produces a smooth throttle on experience. I remained in this mode the remainder of the ride back to the dealer. We did have a short stint (5 miles maybe) of slab and was able to roll the bike up to 80 mph. Surprisingly, the windblast was pretty smooth and tolerable at those speeds. I was expecting to get blown around pretty hard but didn’t experience that. Would I want to spend a day on this bike, on a slab, at that speed? No, but, that’s not what this bike is about. Peeling off from the group into a gas station near the dealer, if I recall correctly, I put 2.7 gallons of fuel in the bike. Digital display indicated something like 43 mpg. I’m OK with that.

Some other insights to what may have caused the discomfort. Truth be told, I live 200 miles from Kissell and it was a long 3 hour slab slog to get there before the ride. Admittedly, I’m spoiled with a BMW R1200RT and a Russell Day-Long seat (Best seat ever by the way) to coddle my cushy bottom on long rides. Even still, three hours straight on the slab sucks. Plain and simple. At least for me. I arrived at Kissell at 10:15 and was rolling out on the monster at 10:30. So, let’s just say I wasn’t entirely fresh for the first half of the demo ride. That being said, I’m not surprised that the seat didn’t hold up at 75 miles as 1) That’s not uncommon for me. Stock seats just don’t agree with me on long rides. 2) Even though I was comfortable on the ride out to Kissell, I’m sure there was some fatigue that set in on that three hour slog and I didn’t leave myself enough recover time before heading back out.

Rolled back in to the dealer and talked with Josh. He led the ride and kept up a fine pace. Lets say the pace was appropriate and within reason of the speed limit. When asked how I liked the Monster 821, I quipped “Well, it’s not an all day bike”, to which he responded, no it’s not. I mentioned I’m really thinking about whether this is the right bike for me or if I should consider changing how I ride if I were to purchase this bike. Plan shorter rides and/or stop more often. A fellow Ducati owner indicated his solution is to simply stop more often. Is that me? That’s the question that haunts me. Should I have to adjust to a bike or should I adjust a bike to fit me? There’s always options, it’s just a matter of money and desire. Is my desire for this bike strong enough to make the sacrifices necessary to make it work?

After a 30 minute rest, it’s back on the RT heading east back to New Jersey. Can’t stop thinking about what the heck happened and why all of a sudden the Monster feels SO uncomfortable. Usually you get some sort of indication of what’s ahead of you but in this case I had no idea it would be that much of a difference. About half way home as I’m pondering all this I’m wondering if there’s a chance the seat was in the low position. Sometimes dealers do this on their smaller displacement bikes to attract women and vertically challenged men. I shot Josh an email and inquired about the seat position when I arrived home. As the dealer is closed on Monday’s I didn’t get an immediate response and spent some time Monday researching foot peg lowering options for the Monster as well as taller seats.They’re available. Again, it only takes money and desire. I received an email from Josh and there it is my friends, the seat was in the low position. Now, typically, I don’t think this would make that much of a difference as the difference is only an inch. However, on a small bike like the Monster, with limited legroom as it is, one inch can make a big difference. Is this definitely the problem? I can’t say for sure and Josh did offer up the 821 on the next ride they’ll be having. I haven’t decided for sure if I’ll go that route yet, but, I’m considering it and will post an update if/when I do. Anyway, hope this helps and ride safe.

 

And for those that are interested, Here is a link to the route.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s