Ducati Monster 1200R – Launch review

The Ducati Monster lineup is currently six deep. Three variants of 821 and three 1200 flavours. All offer varying levels of what makes the Monster so good. At the far left of the scale is the basic 821. It offers the most practicality and is the easiest to ride. At the far right of the scale sits the 1200S stripe. This is the Monster you go for is performance is your priority. Well, it was.

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The Monster 1200R is the bike that Ducati are billing as their most powerful naked bike to date. 160bhp no less. It’s always exciting to ride an R version of any Ducati, even with the promise of rain that was forecast for the press launch at the super exclusive Ascari circuit in southern Spain.

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The updates to the bike over the other 1200s are easy to pin down if you break them down into three categories. Engine upgrades, suspension upgrades and visual changes. We’ll talk through what they’ve done before we get to how they feel.

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Engine
Liquid cooled and 1198cc in capacity, the 1200R shares the majority of its Testastretta 11° heart with the 1200S. Changes are notable in three areas, the
Elliptical throttle bodies have increased in size to 56mm. The exhaust system has been reworked and now uses 58mm diameter pipes, which feed into new silencers and the compression ratio is increased to 13.01 (up from 12.5:1). That increase in compression ratio comes from a reduction in gasket thickness. The overall increase in power nets you 160bhp at 7250rpm and 97lb-ft of torque, of which 75% is on tap at just 3500 gargling rpm. It’s logical that you’ll want to upgrade the exhaust with the swanky Termignoni system and if you do, expect a three per cent power up for your well-spent money. The service cycles are still strong like bull, valve clearance checks are 18000 miles apart (yes, eighteen thousand!) and the service cycle is still 9000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes sooner. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again just in case you can’t hear me up the back, Ducati has been making proper motors that make reliable power for years. If you have a friend that still scoffs and mumbles about regulator rectifier induced fires and belts that snap like cold Wham bars, kick them really hard in the plums and tell them they need some new material. That joke got boring years ago…

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Chassis
The tubular steel trellis frame is mounted directly to the cylinder heads.
Ohlins spring porn front and rear, with back up from an Ohlins steering damper look every inch the R. Plush, performance focused but pretty enough to just sit and gawp at, when a naked bike has parts as pretty as these, it’d be a crying shame to cover them up with panels. Forged Marchesini wheels are from the Panigale and the bike is homologated to run on a 200-section rear tyre. As is the norm with performance focused Ducatis, the Monster is equipped with Pirelli Supercorsa SP tyres. The bike sits 15mm higher than other 1200s and as such can offer 50 degrees of lean angle. Your bum will be 830mm from the floor. The sub frame has been redesigned and is aluminium in material and powder coated in colour. The pillion pegs can be unbolted in minutes, leaving you with no excuse for removing the slim line single seat cover.

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Brakes are radial mount M50 Brembo monobloc calipers up front and a single piston caliper at the rear. Sintered pads and a three-mode Bosch ABS system combine to provide complete control when it comes to scrubbing off speed. The DSP (Ducati Safety Pack) features, offering three riding modes and adjustable levels of traction and ABS control. It’s interesting to note that the ABS and the traction control can be deactivated in any riding mode and will remain off even if you cycle the ignition system. Control of all of the available modes and systems is simple once you’ve done it once or twice. Your decisions easy to read on the TFT screen which displays everything you’ll need with complete clarity, even in direct sunlight.

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Visual changes

That sculpted seat cover looks lovely in the flesh. The paint stripes that cover it are also straight (remember the wonky ones we used to see?). The exhaust redesign and the pillion pegs being detachable are the biggest giveaways in the ride by spotters challenge. The LED headlight sits under a neat fly screen and the overall visual effect reminded me a little bit of the current Kawasaki Z range. There’s a distinct feeling of mass up front that trails off to a skinny and sculpted ass, the Ducati flows with softer lines compared to the sharp and angular Japanese style of the Kawasaki.

Riding
If you haven’t heard of Ascari circuit in Spain, do some Googling and have a look. In short, each corner of the 5.5km layout has been designed to replicate some of the best corners from circuits all over the world. It’s a members only track that costs over €150k to join. The only way a scrotum like me would ever get a chance to besmirch an apex there is on press launches like this. This wasn’t my first time here, I convinced myself I knew which way the track went on the journey out there and felt confident I knew where I would be going from the off. The boys in my group said that when I paddled onto the grass (clutch clutching in between third and second gear, with eyes like Ronnie Pickering), at the end of the start finish straight that I still looked confident.

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It was at that point I realised it had actually been about eight years since I’d ridden the track. Even after I’d told myself off and spent an entire session rolling round trying to remember which way was which, I still felt like a bit of a long lost brother. The bike was performing well. Ducati asked that we spend the first session in touring mode, which meant soft power delivery and plenty of traction control as standard. I’ll be honest, my first session was more about the track than the bike and I didn’t really push anything other than my luck. I did get clean fuelling. I also got lovely brakes and fluid, compliant suspension. What I didn’t get was a quick shifter, which I expected to see as standard. It is an R, after all. There is one available in the factory accessory brochure. Until you get one, you’ll need to manually shift using the lightweight clutch and perfectly pitched ratios. I didn’t hit a single neutral all day apart from the one I was looking for and felt that the characteristics of the motor were given the best possible chance to shine, whether going up or down the box. I asked about the lack of assisted shifting and was informed that although the Monster R is a track ready bike out of the box, it was assumed that the bike would spend most of its life on the road.

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The riding position is lovely. No cocked feet bent around exhaust pipes or balls getting squashed by fuel tanks, both previously unwelcome features in the Monster range. The pegs have a lovely knurled feeling to them. Digging your boot into them in search of grip is easy, as well as adding to the feeling of being on something special.

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In the flowing sections of the circuit, the bike tracked beautifully. There’s something about riding a naked bike fast on a track that delivers a completely different riding experience to that of a traditional sports bike. The upright riding position means your view is panoramic, rather than the tunnel vision effect that you can sometimes get when your hunched around the headstock of a fully faired bike with a proper screen to hide behind. Easy to find torque wrenches you off corners, making light work of the slower turns. Power at the top end was exciting, rather than aggressive and it didn’t take long to settle into running higher than expected revs pretty much everywhere (rather than shifting up and tapping back into the available torque). Fast changes of direction are something that Ascari has plenty of and something that the 1200R is more than happy to do. In some sections it was clear that the steering damper was a necessity, but it did a fantastic job of taming the front end. One of the guys that’s substantially quicker than me was really getting the thing moving around. It didn’t look flustered to watch and it didn’t feel like the bike wasn’t happy to move around a bit if you took liberties and leant on the traction, but it sometimes got quite physical to ride. Not in a way that would scare you away from making the most of what’s available, it’s a quick steering bike with wide bars and loads of power, things are going to move around when you push hard. It’s important to remember that this is a 160bhp motorbike. One with traction control and sticky Supercorsa SP Pirellis. Five years ago if this bike had a full fairing we’d be raving about the performance in pure sports bike terms. The fact that naked bikes can do what this bike can do needs to be celebrated. It wants you to push and when you do, your reward is a very fast bike doing what very fast bikes do when you ride them very fast. I love it. A real world test will answer the real world questions. I have no idea what fuel economy to expect and I’d be guessing if I had to comment on wind protection from the screen (Ascari only has one big straight and I was too busy screaming in my helmet going down that to get a feel for wind protection). I can tell you that the Monster 1200R is a fantastic track bike, one that would be just as happy carting you to work everyday as it would stretching your legs at weekends on faster rides (road or track). By the end of the day I didn’t care that it didn’t have a quick shifter as standard.

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The depth of talent that the Monster range has just got a little deeper. This 1200R would obviously suit an ageing Ducati sports bike fan that has tired of aching wrists and backache, but I think it’d be a shame to wait until you’re too old to make the most of the potential this bike has. If you’re a dyed in the wool sports bike rider of any age, you will love this bike. It’s an absolute monster of a Monster.

Words: John Hogan Images: Milagro

Price: £15,250 in red and £15,450 in black
Weight: 180kg dry
Power: 160bhp at 7250rpm

For more specs, click here.

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