Ducati Monster 821 Dark: First UK road test!

By Marc Potter
marcpotter Tested every new bike since 1994, loves anything on two wheels, runs Potski Media, ex-BikeSocial boss. Recently discovered elbow-down riding - likely to end in tears.

Bike Social's Marc Potter rides the Monster 821 Dark

Ducati’s Monster Dark is the slightly cheaper version of the new Ducati Monster 821. But that doesn’t make it any less fun to ride. In fact, in lots of ways the smaller, revvier 821 is nicer to ride than the brutal Monster 1200. We rode it in the UK.

Think Monster and what comes to mind? Air-cooled, steel trellis chassis, stiff suspension, punchy motor? Well, all of that has changed with the new liquid-cooled 821, and most of it for the better.

Ducati has sold more than 250,000 Monsters since the first one was released in 1993, so it’s pretty important for the Italian brand to get it right. And though the Monster’s creator Miguel Galluzzi’s original concept of ‘a saddle, tank, engine, two wheels, and handlebars’ has come a long way in the 21 years of the Monster, the essence is fundamentally the same.

It started with the Monster 900 and has been through various incarnations including 600, 400 (Japan only), 1000 water-cooled in the S4R, 696, 750, 796, but it’s always the little ones that Ducati sell the most of, in the UK at least, so this is an important model in lots of ways.

112bhp liquid cooled Testastretta motor

Stricter emissions laws mean the Monster finally kissed goodbye to its air-cooled roots in 2014 when Ducati in 2014 the bike made its way as a water-cooled model that Ducati had previously dabbled in with the S4R. The purists were up in arms, but in the same way Harley’s will one day all be liquid-cooled, it’s still fundamentally a Ducati Monster at heart, even without the air-cooled fins. This is the Dark, which means it’s £200 cheaper than the standard bike, but the only differences are that you don’t get a seat cowl, and you get a matt black tank, seat unit, and black frame The standard bike comes in either red or white.

No seat cowl with the Dark

So what’s different to the Monster 1200? Well, the engine for one. It’s an 112bhp version of the Testastretta lump that’s taken from the 821 Hypermotard and Hyperstrada. The chassis, bodywork and styling is the same as the Monster 1200, but on the 821 you get a double-sided swingarm rather than the bigger bike’s double sided swingarm. The whole bike weighs 179kg dry rather than the 1200’s 182kg claimed dry weight too.

Available in an A2-licence friendly version too

The rear tyre is a 180/60 rear tyre rather than a 190/55 section rear on the 1200, and the front forks are non-adjustable, but don’t worry, they feel perfectly set-up for the Monster 98.5 per cent of the time.

So, we’ve established that it looks like a Monster, but what does it ride like?

Well, put it this way. Back in 1993 when the first Monster was launched it had 80bhp (claimed). This new ‘little’ Monster has 112bhp, to put that into some kind of perspective. It’s not aggressive like the big bike which keeps you on your toes, but in lots of ways actually works better than the bigger lump. It’s never frightening, but gives you enough grunt to make it live up to the name Monster, even if it’s not quite as punchy low-down as the air-cooled bikes. And though the water-jacket might hide some of that glorious air-cooled Ducati rattle of old, the twin standard pipes more than make up for it.

Punchy at low revs but plenty in top at 70mph too

Clever electronics mean the bike sounds stifled when it’s in neutral. Blip it and it sounds like someone has shoved a rag down your pipes. Muffled even. But put it in gear and there’s a deep rumble as the exhaust flaps open up and let the bike breath. That’s one way to fool the noise testing man I guess.

The noise sounds way better than any ‘entry-level’ Monster should do, with a deep growl in the mid-range. There’s a slight dip in the power around 7000rpm, again, I would imagine for the noise and emissions test, but other than that it’s revs cleanly and strongly.

The motor is punchy at low revs and has plenty of go even in top gear at 70mph to go for an overtake. The fuelling is spot-on, it’s tractable in town at low revs, feels really smooth and revvier than the bigger lump.

Not only is the Monster 821 not so demanding in terms of power, but it also steers better too.

Steers better than the 1200, ideal for Oxfordshire's country roads

That taller 180/60 rear tyre means it’s a bit more eager to get into a corner. Not alarmingly flyweight and twitchy like the old bikes, but quick steering all the same. The 1200 occasionally feels reluctant to turn. The suspension isn’t ultimately as plush, or as adjustable, but works great.

I’m 15.5 stone and the rear felt fine for me, the front never felt choppy on bumps, or underdamped when riding fast. In the wet there was really good feel from the Pirelli Rosso tyres, and a good connection from the throttle to the engine meant you could pile on revs without upsetting the bike, or making the traction control kick-in.

Where you sometimes tend to fight the immense power and torque of the bigger bike, the 821 is rider friendly, but still has plenty of speed to hit 140mph-plus if you want it. I don’t on a naked bike, but it’s nice to know it can. It’s also available in an A2-licence-friendly version too. Speak to your dealer, or click on Ducati’s website.

The brakes are spot-on, the ABS never really chimes in, and it’s comfortable at 80mph too. In fact there’s very few things wrong with the 821. Purists will argue that the exhausts and liquid-cooling are messy. I say, move with the times. It’s still a good-looking bike, in my opinion.

The clutch is beautifully light, but the lever feels cheap, and so does the brake lever, but the clocks are quality items, you can switch modes easily on the left-handlebar button depending on what fuel map you want to play with.

I left it in Sport most of the time, and never went near Urban. Like the big bike, the footrest hangers get in the way of people with big feet, and the seat was a bit too low for me (a higher one is available). But other than that, it’s a great bike. Okay so even in ‘Dark’ spec it’s still £8795, compared to the red, or white none Dark spec bikes at £8995. But, most of these bikes are bought on finance for a little over £100 a month in many instances, according to Ducati.

A Ducati spokesman told me: “On a PCP finance deal the bike is within a few pound of rivals like Yamaha’s MT-09, because the depreciation is less over the same period than the equivalent Japanese bike.”

So, big bike or little Monster? Ride the 1200 if you can get a test ride because it’s hilarious, and most of the time is a touch too much. Personally I love it for that slightly macho over-the-top-feel, especially in the 1200S with its 145bhp that we have as a long-term test bike.

But for most people, most of the time, the 821 gives you a versatile, cool bike with the right badge on the tank, and at 821cc it’s hardly a small motorcycle.

 Price

 £8995 (Monster 821 Dark £8795)

 Power

 112bhp, 66ft.lbs

 Wet weight

 205.5kg

 Seat height

 810/785mm

 Colours

 Red, White, Black (Dark only)

 

Gloves and Jacket: Alpinestars

Jeans: PEKEV Black Bird by Resurgence

Side on; double-sided swing arm and twin pipes