The littler Monster has received the biggest upgrade in the 16-year-old Ducati Monster history. Almost everything is new, and Ducati launched the new 696 big in Barcelona.
Ducati launched the new Monster design in Milan in 2007. People all over the world have an opinion on the way a Monster should look and the new design has received passionate responses pro and con. No doubt that the design is one of the most important things about a Monster, but we are going to leave that bit for you to decide.
One thing is quite sure, and that is the new Monster 696 is different than its predecessors. Several key areas such as handling and brakes have been improved. With a revised L-twin engine, new chassis and new styling the Ducati engineers managed to bring the weight down to a claimed 161 kilograms (354 lbs.) – 7 kilograms (14.5 lbs.) down from its predecessor.
The lightness is really impressive, and together with the increase in maximum engine output to 80 Desmo horsepower it is evident that this motorcycle is a joy to ride!
Barcelona is a fun town to be in, so to ride a fun bike in a fun city was the theme of the day. We started out by heading out to various photo locations within the city itself. Luckily, the lead Ducati rider knew the art of filtering so we got to try the filtering (lane splitting) abilities at the same time. Because the Monster 696 keeps such a low profile and due to its narrowness filtering is child’s play.
Being relatively tall, the ultra-low 770mm (30.3 inches) seat height could easily have been one of the things that I would not like on the bike. But on the contrary, on the Monster 696 this is perfect. The minimalist exterior matches the feel of riding something small and easy. If you live in the city, ride a scooter or just want a second bike that is almost as easy to use as twist-and-go scooters, the 696 is one of the best options available in 2008.
The start up procedure is quick and you’re on your way in seconds. The new air box has a large 10 litre volume that helps torque, and the throttle response is aided by sophisticated engine mapping. The 15 litre fuel tank is hidden under the tank panel that can be replaced for customisation.
The 696cc L-twin Desmo has the great and lovable character of much larger engines, but never intimidates. If you want to play, it will play all day long. If you just want to chill out on a Sunday morning it will cruise with therapeutic L-twin vibes always ready.
After our samplling of city traffic, we headed into the hills surrounding Barcelona. In Barcelona, you have ready access to miles-and-miles of these amazing roads you usually have to spend hours to get to from many other large cities. The pace was upped and the handling was put to its test. First I noticed how quick the 696 steers from left to right. The 160/60-ZR17 Bridgestone BT56 rear tyre contributes a lot to the willingness in this area. I could carry huge lean angles as easy as nothing, and the tires felt planted to the tarmac.
The highly advanced tubular trellis frame comes with Desmosedici technology and it is not only strong, it is very light, as well. The front suspension is a 43mm USD Showa fork, while Ducati has used a Sachs rear monoshock. One aspect of the Monster 696 that I could benefit from instantly is the great feedback given back to the rider. I could push much earlier than I had anticipated. Then you have the radial Brembo set-up. It’s probably pure overkill on this lightweight bike, but very reassuring as the chassis and tires easily cope with the stopping power.
Grab a bit of clutch in first and up the front wheel comes, too. Out on the motorway heading back into Barcelona, the mirrors worked in a very un-Ducati-like fashion. I could actually use them without seeing too much of my elbows or the blur of vibration.
Going up the six-speed gearbox there’s sometimes a hesitation between first and second gear. No doubt these bikes were brand new, and other than that the gearbox was fine. One of the huge positive surprises was the light clutch action. The clutch is so light that frequent use in the city doesn’t put much strain on my left hand.
The new instruments are very advanced with a host of features such as clock and temperature. Center to it all is the digital Desmosedici style rev counter.
At the end of the day I was left with an impression that Ducati has taken care of every possible issue and that the 696 in effect is the new Monster. I am pretty sure that parts of this design will soon make their way to the other Monster models, as well. If Ducati is clever, they’ll leave the S2R alone and add it to the Sports Classic range, though. The M696 is very light, very easy to ride and more powerful than the predecessors. Guess all that is left for me then is to say well done Ducati. Mission accomplished.
Handling and brakes
Easy to use clutch
I hit neutral unintentionally a couple of times during the test