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  • September 19, 2011
  • Gabe Ets-Hokin & Friends
  • Alan Lapp
  • 48 Comments

2012 Ducati Monster 1100 Evo

Just over a year ago, in the go-go-boot hip-hop sensory overload of Milan’s humongous EICMA motorcycle show, Ducati showed a heavily updated Monster off to the press, a bike that was maybe a bit overshadowed by the 848 EVO and love-it-or-hate-it Diavel. But the new Monster deserves another look.

It’s the first air-cooled Monster to make 100 claimed horse at the crank—not bad, when you consider the six-figure NCR Leggera (which I got to ride last year) only makes 30 percent more power. That’s thanks to re-worked heads, camshafts and pistons in the Evo, and the cooling has been improved to bump reliability. The shotgun dual exhausts are new, as is the addition of the Ducati Safety Pack, which includes ABS and Ducati Traction Control. To make it even more civilized, the clutch is now bathed in oil (“Sacrilege!” shriek the Ducati faithful in their chat rooms. As for us, we really don’t get the appeal of the dry clutch, although it does sound cool at stoplights) and equipped with a servo mechanism to reduce lever effort.

The chassis is much the same—only there’s a bit less of it. Ducati’s engineers managed to shave four pounds off the bike, getting it down to a claimed 373-pound tank-empty weight (other publications report air-cooled Monsters weigh in at about 50 pounds more than the claimed dry weight with a full tank). The standard ABS adds back four pounds, which really means you get the ABS at no weight premium. The 43mm fully adjustable fork is now Marzocchi instead of Showa. The brake calipers are still the cast Brembos, sadly, instead of the monobloc racing units the 848 EVO sports. Rake stays the same at 24 degrees, as does the 57.1-inch wheel base. The ABS takes up a bit of fuel tank troom, leaving only enough room for 3.6 gallons. But best of all, pricing also stays the same at $11,995.

But like all Ducatis, the Monster is more than a sum of its spec sheet. Thanks to the ever-friendly and indulgent Samson at Munroe Motors in San Francisco, we got to spend some quality seat time with the new bike. Here’s what we thought.

Alan Lapp (6’2”, 245 pounds, 46 years old): Monster (s)Mash

I was so stoked to throw a leg over the Monster, I didn’t get any quality time with the owner’s manual to familiarize myself with the ample and generally well-working electronics package. So I left the traction control on in the least intrusive setting for my test ride. New bikes are—love it or hate it—very dependent on electronics, and I don’t see that changing any time soon; we had better get used to the idea that our vehicles are controlled by more processing power than Apollo 13.

My initial impression was that the ergonomics are very humane compared to a sport bike. The bars are a moderate bend, and the reach is reasonable. The seat is firm, but supportive. I didn’t notice any “hot spots” in the saddle or rub points that would become uncomfortable on a long ride. While the levers and pedals on the test bike were out of whack for me, it was clear that they could be adjusted in a wide range of motion to accommodate nearly any size rider.

Firing it up requires a brief wait while the computer does a self-check. It starts instantly and settles into a slightly ragged idle. The shifter has a pleasantly short throw, and clicks gratifyingly through the gear box. I did find a couple of unauthorized neutrals, but I trust that with properly-adjusted controls this would be a non-issue. The only other gearing quirk is that 6th gear is so tall, it’s pretty much useless unless you are well in excess of most speed limits.

The motor is awesome. It makes great noises, and is very responsive and torquey. The fueling, once underway, is very nice without any latency or touchiness, and even over bumpy roads, there was no tendency to ‘whiskey throttle.’ Only a few years ago, extracting this much power out of an air-cooled motor would have required full-on race tuning, resulting in a thoroughly uncivilized motor. The fuel injection and ignition timing computers make this high state of tune not only possible, but livable.

The suspension is quite nice as well: the high-end, fully adjustable components are firm but quite well-damped without being excessively harsh over bumps. The spring rate and damping are well matched front and rear. Combined with the Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tires, I found the handling to be extremely predictable and confidence-inspiring. It holds a line very nicely, but squirms a bit if you touch reflectors on the center line. I’ll admit to not flogging it terribly hard on my test ride: my willingness to risk balling it up is inversely proportional to the MSRP.

Oh, and let us not forget that it’s a gorgeous bike in a way that only the Italians do. I don’t see this as a do-everything bike—I wouldn’t use it to ride to say, Alaska—but for 85 percent of the riding I do, it would be ideal. The torquey motor would be a hoot in the city. The narrow, light chassis is great for lane sharing. The outstanding handling would be a pleasure on the Sunday Morning Ride.

Now, I just wish my house weren’t $200,000 upside down, with my credit swirling the bowl…

Gabe Ets-Hokin (5’6.999”, 160 pounds, 42 years old): Monster? Maybe.

Oooo, I do love me some Ducatis, improbable products that could only come from Italy, products that have never left Borgo Panigale in a fully finished state. Sure, they’re rideable as is, but who leaves them as is? Ducati just starts building your bike before it gets sent to the dealer for you to pick up, and no wonder—if you waited for the company to actually finish building it, you would probably never take delivery. As it is, you just take it home so you can finish the job.

If you (not unreasonably) feel like you should get a completely developed, no-warts motorcycle for your $11,995, you may not be a Ducati person. You may not understand the appeal. You may not like this Monster EVO. I can’t blame you.

For the rest of us, though, the Monster’s rough edges are its charm. Like all Monsters, the seating position is comfortable, but sort of wrong, unless your arms are longer than your legs (note that Alan liked it). Fueling is okay, especially when the bike is WFO, but is surge-y at lower cruising speeds. The suspension is, of course, set up too stiff, and build quality is great if you’re used to Ducatis, but would result in a Honda QC inspector being sent to repair shut-off valves in Fukushima if that kind of fit and finish rolled out of the Kumamoto plant. In an era where even inexpensive Chinese-made products are universally expected to possess a kind of bland perfection, the fact that you can own something handmade—and slightly imperfect—is comforting, reminding me that we still live in a world where not quite everything is made by desperate robots. Yet.

Let me give you some less-esoteric impressions, lest you think I’m a paid apologetic shill. On a twisty road, this little bike is all you need, and it works well. The motor’s torque and throttle response make it easy for a less-experienced rider to go fast, or an experienced rider to go fast without working as hard as usual. It’s very light and nimble, but its compactness makes it feel sharp and aggressive. The motor is everything a sporting motor should be, with good pulling power from three or four thousand rpm until you shift or the engine explodes. For an air-cooled Twin, it hauls ass, and more importantly, feels like it’s going faster than it is, important when you’re talking power-to-weight ratios that you’d have to use a time machine set for 1992 to impress middleweight sportbike riders with.

The electronics did what properly designed electronics should do—work properly and only when needed. The traction control didn’t interrupt my riding, and the ABS system, when activated, felt as seamless as a modern ABS system could. The brakes felt a little weak and mushy compared to the monobloc calipers, but you expected that, right?

So yes, this bike is flawed, as are we all. The seat is painful, the engine surges and flames out occasionally, the turning radius is wider than an ‘urban’ bike’s should be, and the motor is noticeably buzzy at certain rpm. Oh, and seeing your low-fuel warning come on at under 100 miles is disappointing on a bike this fun to ride. Happily, aftermarket fixes to almost all these problems are out there.

And that’s Ducati’s evil genius—giving the right consumer a bike he or she needs to improve will make that consumer bond to your bike—and to your brand once that bike is custom-tailored to the rider.  Don’t believe me? Count the Ducati T-shirts the next time you’re at your local moto-hangout. I’m guessing the number will come in second only to another purveyor of air-cooled, two-valve Twins. You may like to ride more than “improve” your bike, and prefer something perfect for your needs right off the showroom floor. I hate perfection—nothing is more certain to cause me to get rid of a bike in a relatively short time. I think this is the best air-cooled Monster yet, and although it’s not perfect—because it’s not perfect—I’d consider getting one.

Lucien Lewis (6’3”, 210 pounds, 45 years old, very grouchy): Monster? Meh…

The success of the Monster is a strange phenomena. Ducati’s best-selling bike, one that has at times accounted for more than 2/3rds of the company’s annual sales, is not a motorcycle that was carefully planned out and designed, component by component, but was built on a budget out of the parts bin, with an 851 Superbike frame, a 750SS front end, and a 900SS mill (the same basic motor design it has used since its initial inception in 1992). The bike has morphed over the years with different engine sizes and refinements, but is, at its core, still not that far from its original roots.

Despite the latest generation of Monsters being purpose-built and not an amalgam of different bits, I found the bike rather a chore to ride. It seems you should be able to ride it hard like a hooligan bike, but it fights you if you do, quickly tiring the upper body. Let up a little on it and it complains less, as do the hands, wrists and shoulders. Because of its light weight and modern suspension components, the bike gets down the road fairly quickly, but it is not comfortable, and after 45 minutes the seat is reminiscent of a medieval torture device (why can’t Europe produce a seat built for a human rear end?). My passenger fared no better, giving the seat zero stars and a raspberry. She also complained of the footpegs being so far apart that the seating position reminded her of squatting over a hole in a third-world country.

This is a modern, sub-400 lb 1100cc bike, but it only makes 100 hp and feels rough and unrefined. Below 2500 rpm it chunks and coughs, then starts picking up strongly until, before you know it, you are bouncing off the 8500-rpm rev limiter. Let off on the throttle and a pleasant burble comes barking out of the ‘love it or hate it’ oversized side-mount muffler. The motor has the feel of a vintage bike—unsurprising from a basic design that’s more than 20 years old. Yes, it goes, but there is nothing smooth or modern about it.

The traction control system, while a cool safety feature, seemed more invasive than necessary, completely choking power delivery when the rider even thinks about getting a holeshot, and you can forget about lofting the front wheel. I ended up being much happier with it turned off. The ABS, however, seemed to work well front and rear, engaging when it was supposed to with minimal pulsing.

The standard controls are well laid out, but the digital display could be a lot better thought out. The tach makes up the bulk of the display, and for some unknown reason the speed is displayed in relatively small numbers at the lowest point on the unit.  Not exactly conducive for quick mph monitoring.

They do have the look, sound and feel that’s unmistakably and purely Ducati. That’s enough for tens of thousands of Ducati guys and gals all over the world; just not enough for me.

48 Comments

  1. 3n31h3m says:

    need to know fuel tank spec??
    what fuel tank made it??
    its metal/alloy fuel tank??

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  2. Matt says:

    Why isn’t everyone trashing the exhaust like they did on the Z1000? Of course I liked it on the Z1000.

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  3. JPJ says:

    I like the looks of the monster and believe I’d enjoy one. I would really like to see Suzuki make another SV 1000 or how about a SV 1200 ?

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  4. ABQ says:

    I wish it was raining outside so that I could stare out a window, arms behind my back, and really figure out where I stand on Ducati gas tanks.

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  5. Vroooom says:

    Really the power seems about right. That’s about what I get out of my V-Strom 1000, and really while I have a 4 valve Duc that makes a lot more power, I never really wish for more on the Strom. Great looking bike, but not designed for NW weather!

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  6. Tim says:

    I was loving it right up until the “3.6 gallon” tank. What is going on with manufacturers these days? How about those of us that actually want to ride more than 100 miles between gas stations? I guess I’ll keep my VFR and its 5.8 gallon tank a little longer.

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    • Neil says:

      More fuel? It’s called a Buell with the fuel in the frame. Still only 4.3 gallons or so, but more in any case. I think it is just that at a certain point, the gas tank gets too big to be practical in the engineering sense. The VFR is a MUCH bigger and heavier bike overall. And Ducati will say, we make a tourer if you want. Ducati knows that the HUGE tanked BMWs exist. But they are not trying to be that. They want you to enjoy just what the Monster is, and what it is not. It’s something engineers struggle with. Engine placement. Fuel capacity. Mass centralization. In the end it is all about the ride.

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “was loving it right up until the “3.6 gallon” tank. What is going on with manufacturers these days?”

      what’s going on is a change from the white rotational moulded nylon that invariably swells or puckers under long-term exposure to ethanol to the more pliable black plastic “fuel cell” design like BMW’s used for years that are more inert, but necessitate tank covers. ethanol is a wicked solvent.

      sure, they could increase capacity by using metal like the monster tanks of yore, but the 21st century cost of raw materials and manufacture would add significantly to the MSRP. compliants wouldn’t then magically disappear… oh no… they would simply shift from “tank size” to “price”. so better complaints from “talkers” who were never going to come off the dime to buy the bike anyway…? than continue to incur the ever increasing losses on warranty claims for a model they tend to sell the most of. besides, statistics show modern day riders have shifted away from being “riders” and moved towards being “exterior decorators”… and what does an exterior decorator know from the range afforded by a true 5 gallon tank…?

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      • MikeD says:

        Norm G said:

        besides, statistics show modern day riders have shifted away from being “riders” and moved towards being “exterior decorators”…

        I lost it there, man…ur are priceless…LMFAO.
        P.S: Thanks for Xposing me…lol.

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        • Norm G. says:

          is this in fact you…? hell, i don’t know…? merely a statistic. not that there’s anything wrong with it. it’s the OCC effect. ducati themselves even made an attempt (albeit failed) at embracing it. see “exterior decorating” involves coming out of pocket same as riding. coming out of pocket ultimately closes the loop. and with that the cycle (pun intended) continues.

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  7. Gutterslob says:

    Why no carbon frame? =P

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  8. Jeremy in TX says:

    Couldn’t agree more. What a let down for people who actually like to ride their motorcycles rather chat up at the gas station.

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  9. JoeV says:

    I have a 95M900 that I’ve had since 98. I’ve fiddled with it with high comp pistons and flat slide carbs (it’s like working on a lawnmower engine so nothing difficult here) and it dyno’d at 89hp which is a good bit better than stock. Now I’ve had other bikes that out hp’d my monster, (daytona 675, sprint ST) and the monster always felt way faster than and more powerful than the dyno numbers would have suggested. They put power out where the majority of people use it. Just my opinion, but I’d take a well thought out vtwin or I3 over an I4 any day.

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  10. MGNorge says:

    Isn’t there a catalyzer in there? Isn’t that one large can made to look like two? There’s your answer, have to put the cat somewhere.

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  11. YellowDuck says:

    “Beautiful Bike…must feel pretty similar to my SV1000N when it rolls(maybe better ?)…BUT…TIMING BELTS…and DESMO. NOPE…not a chance.”

    Yep, you have to enjoy tinkering, and be willing to learn…all part of the bonding process discussed in this article. Really, doing belts and shims on one of these is pretty straightforward and fun if you like to wrench – about a 3-beer job, and a great way to spend a rainy Saturday.

    Now, if you are the “take it to the dealer and bend over” type you are definitely not going to have a positive ownership experience. Or should get a 4V and wear full leathers on your street rides. The 2V air cooled ducs are for a certain sort of owner – the dirty hands type – and you either get it or you don’t.

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    • JoeV says:

      I’m not sure where the issue is with timing belt’s. I honestly prefure them to any of the timing chain bikes I’ve had (for one they look cool with no covers). Valve checks are not difficult at all but I do see why people dislike the 7500k mile interval (I’ve only done mine twice in 40k miles..oops). Think fancy lawn mower engine. It really is silly how easy it is to work on.

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      • Norm G. says:

        re: “but I do see why people dislike the 7500k mile interval”

        said people also kid themselves into thinking that they are actually going to ride enough to even see the 7.5k mark. for the majority, the external influence of g/f’s, wives, work schedules, kids, weather, seasonal changes, crashes, etc. puts the “kibosh” on that illusion no matter what they ended up riding by the 4000 mile mark.

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    • Fred M. says:

      YellowDuck, I’m with you 100%. The vast majority of “motorcyclists” could not change a tire or sync a pair of carbs or throttle bodies, much less adjust their own valves. I’ve currently got a few bikes (Buell 1125CR, XB12Ss, Ural Solo sT, Suzuki DR-Z400S) and I’m happy to say that I’ve never paid a dealer to do anything to any of those bikes. I’ve tweaked the valves on my Ural before riding home from work when they sounded a bit loose. I’ve lost count of the number of tires I’ve changed and wheels I’ve balanced over the years. When I was younger, I took the cylinder off of my two-stroke enduro that I rode to work and port-matched it with a die grinder before riding home. I’ve jetted more carbs than most riders have had underneath them.

      For so many of the know-nothing, learn-nothing riders out there, the tool kit is just ballast. They could not imagine buying higher quality tools to carry on a ride. Their idea of working on a bike is washing it.

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      • Norm G. says:

        re: “I’m happy to say that I’ve never paid a dealer to do anything to any of those bikes.”

        i’m happy to say i DELIBERATELY support local business, see the importance of “recycling” my money back into the economy, and how doing my small part helps bring this industry (nay, this country) that much quicker out of recession. that’s what i’m happy to say.

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    • MikeD says:

      No big deal, is just that some of us would rather spend more time riding than tinkerin or worrying about that next adjustment and why does it feel like it was done last month.
      Nothing wrong with getting it done urself…save those $$$ and get to know ur bike.
      Ducs are certainly NOT YET for me to own, i’ll keep admiring from a distance in the mean time.

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    • JoeV says:

      So you don’t have lube the chain, change the oil or check the tire of pressure? Sign me up for one of these zero maintenance motorcycles.

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      • MikeD says:

        Synthetic Motor Oil=twice a year.
        Tire Pressures=less than 5min.
        Chain lube ? Mine is O-Ringed…not really that needy, maybe once a month.

        One low low low maintenance bike ?…that’s easy…XB12S…i owe it to myself to own one of those before my time comes.

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  12. Eric says:

    Hey, glad to see you got some real sized folks on this bike – but was waiting for a profile picture ;-( Anyway – nice ride, and I like the less complex air-cooled models from Ducati as they are the ‘essential’ bike. Also – I think 100HP is more than enough to get the attention of local law enforcement :-)

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  13. Morris Bethoven says:

    You could actually store your helmet in the space between the rear tire and the rear fender. Why such a huge gap?

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  14. MikeD says:

    Beautiful Bike…must feel pretty similar to my SV1000N when it rolls(maybe better ?)…BUT…TIMING BELTS…and DESMO.

    NOPE…not a chance.

    Report this comment

  15. Tom R says:

    “With a 90 degree V-Twin that was designed from the beginning for performance, I find Ducati’s 100hp figure to be disappointing.”

    The Ducati is a smaller motor. You statement makes no sense. Also, they make more powerful engines if you want one.

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  16. monsterduc1000 says:

    Fantastic looking bike! It will even be better looking when the back section is modded to tuck the lights and plate under there, and a nice set off slip-ons fitted to it! The guy was so right in the article about making the bike your own.

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  17. Denny says:

    One perhaps silly question: “Ducati’s engineers managed to shave four pounds off the bike.” And then they add ABS and twin exhaust…. Why not simple one with one oval muffler? That would shave off 4 lbs. These stacked up twin mufflers do not impress me much. Otherwise, the package looks quite basic and attractive.

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    • MikeD says:

      How can i put it…? The Shotgun, Stacked Mufflers is an Italian Thing (seen the Streetfighter yet?)…
      Im on the same Boat…i think they look pretty tacky, heavy and overdone. Nothing wrong with a single can…but…i guess they “need to be” Ducati.

      Go to Arrow’s website and check it with a their half system…much improved.

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      • Denny says:

        Oh yeah righ, thanks for clearing me on that. Shotgun exhaust, ok. As long as it is legal to use it on public.

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        • MikeD says:

          Oh yes, and best of all…the Nazi Police known as EPA and the Goverment approves of this practice. WIN-WIN.
          So…put down the cut-off wheel and strut your STUFF(xhaust)…LOL.

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          • Neil says:

            I rode the Diaval and the twin exhausts sounded great on decceleration especially. We always complain as if the engineers did not see what we see. I am sure someone in engineering said the same thing. It sounds cool with no mods is all I can say…on the Diavel. I saw an EVO already sold at the local dealer so people still want them. And the 848 naked will likely sell well too.

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  18. TimC says:

    “…the appeal of the dry clutch, although it does sound cool at stoplights”

    If you’re into vintage sewing machines

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  19. Don says:

    They should have just tacked the evap can in place (like usual) and not built a special fitted shroud around it. If I take the can off now (I don’t live in Calif.) I have to live with the large shroud blocking the view of the engine or try to find a European one (looks count for a lot on this bike).

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  20. Kjazz says:

    With the exception of the ugly engine, this is a great looking machine. Nice lines, bodywork, paint (love the stripe!). But those cans…..yikes!!! Really, at least make em black so they dont scream so loud.

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  21. Mark says:

    Ah, so many wonderful bikes and so little time (and money!)

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  22. Fred M. says:

    The article states “Only a few years ago, extracting this much power out of an air-cooled motor would have required full-on race tuning, resulting in a thoroughly uncivilized motor. The fuel injection and ignition timing computers make this high state of tune not only possible, but livable.”

    Buell was making 103HP out of a 1203cc 45 degree V-twin starting in 2004. Buell was doing this with an engine that started life as a Harley Sportster engine. The long-stroke motor, even after Buell had worked his magic, red lined at 6,700 RPM. It had a torque “curve” that was almost a flat line from 3,000RPM to red line. I own one and it’s a reliable motor that’s docile when you want it to be.

    With a 90 degree V-Twin that was designed from the beginning for performance, I find Ducati’s 100hp figure to be disappointing.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I don’t know much about the Ducati’s 1100, but the Buell 1203cc is built within an inch of its life. The Ducati feels twice as fast in comparison, and has a much larger powerband. By the numbers, the Duc makes over 8% more brochure power per liter than the Buell and probably even more rwhp. That is pretty significant and impressive for a 2-valve, torque-tuned, air-cooled engine.

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      • Fred M. says:

        Come on! The Buell is built to go tens of thousands of miles with an easy maintenance schedule. They torture tested the hell out of them in places where the temperature would turn other air-cooled performance bikes to slag. It’s docile, friendly, and has a much wider power band than the Ducati. The article even calls the 1100 EVO engine “rough and unrefined”, coughing and sputtering below 2500 RPM, where the Buell is perfectly happy to run all day.

        If the Ducati is “torque-tuned”, then why does the Buell make 84 lb/ft while the 1100 EVO makes 76?

        And why do you claim it is likely to have more RWHP, when belts, such as used by Buell, are more efficient than chains when it comes to drivetrain losses?

        Going from a long-stroke cruiser engine that has been tuned to produce 103 crank horsepower to a purpose-built Ducati L-Twin that was designed, from the outset, for performance, I’d expect a lot better than 8% better per-liter performance.

        I’ll stick with the better-handling Buell bikes rather than the pretty-boy Ducati.

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        • Jeremy in TX says:

          The Buell engine in general is not particularly reliable (nor is the rest of the bike) and does terrible in hot weather. The engine has hydraulic valve lash adjustment going for it which is nice, but nothing else about the motor is worth mentioning in my opinion. (I own one too. I’m not just spouting off.) They said the Duc motor was rough and unrefined, but that is a relative statement. Had they ridden it back to back with an XB12, they may have described the Duc as smooth. I won’t make presumptions about your Buell, but the ones I know are not at all smooth below 2500 rpm without ECM mods. And come on! The Duc 1100 has a much broader powerband. I rode it. Like the Buell 1203, it is game on around 3000 rpm except the Duc stays in the game for another 1700 rpm after the Buell signs off. And it feels significantly more poweful everywhere. Go ride one. It is the engine that Buell should have put in his otherwise excellent bikes.

          The Duc is torque-tuned. The two-valve head is evidence of that as is its flat torque curve. If they wanted to build it for all out HP performance, it would have a four valve head, shorter stroke and could likely pump out 110 – 115 hp with ease.

          With respect to the RWHP both the Ducati and the Buell see a drop of about 14% from rated HP to RWHP. The efficiency of the belt, if it exists, doesn’t seem material.

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    • MikeD says:

      FWIW:

      I used to ride the piss off an 1100cc Air Cooled Suzuki with hardly 90hp…the bike was on the 500 lbs+ bracket FULLY Fueled…underpowered ? Perhaps…but i was able to squeeze the daylights off of it each and everytime.

      I think this Duc has got the same going on here.

      Try doing something like that on my “only 118hp” SV1000N and u will LOOP it…(^_^ )

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “With a 90 degree V-Twin that was designed from the beginning for performance, I find Ducati’s 100hp figure to be disappointing.”

      the true definition of “performance” is not simply the myopic focus on power… but a commited look at the LARGER picture of power/weight.

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