Ducati Monster 796
Not Just For Hipsters

by Paul Berglund 

Before us we have the 2011 Ducati 796 Monster. It’s an air/oil cooled, two valved (per head) 803cc L-twin. The cylinders are set at 90° so the “V” becomes an “L”. It has fuel injection, runs on premium gas and the tank holds 3.8 gallons. I averaged 40 mpg on two tanks. It weighs 446 pounds and puts out about 76 horses and 51 lb. ft. of torque. It has chain drive and a very cool single sided swing arm. Fit, finish and components are all top notch. You would expect that for a list price of $9,995. You can an ABS version for $1000 more. The good people of Motoprimo in Lakeville lent us this bike for testing.

The bike looks smallish when you walk up to it, but when I got on and road off, it disappeared. The only thing I could see of the bike from the saddle were the tiny vestigial mirrors. You may have heard of bike reviews saying you “sit on” or “sit in” a bike. This bike you wear. It’s like a prosthetic magic carpet that you strap on and glide down the road. I’m 6’ 2” and I do fit on the bike. That wasn’t a problem. I did have to adjust the way I sat on the diminutive Ducati or it would come to tears. it may look like a standard bike, but if I tried to sit on it like a standard, both the bike an I would get a little grumpy. After riding for an hour or so I found the best man-bike relationship could be reached in a three step process.

First I had to relax my arms with a slight bend in the elbows. If I tried to stiff arm it, my arms, shoulders and the bike’s handling would suffer. Second, I had to arch my back and hold my torso up with my lower back muscles. This did two things. It took the weight off my arms and freed them up for working the handle bar and it rotated my pelvis forward so I could sit on the forward sloping seat. If I didn’t do this I was WAY to intimate with the back of the gas tank. No one was comfortable with that. No body wants a lap dance from a steel gas tank, even if it is a shapely Italian. Once I had my body leaned over in the proper Ducati stance I found part three to be the most fun and the most difficult part, you have to be going 80 miles per hour or more. When ridden like that, this bike was a joy. From the factory, this bike is pretty insistent that you ride it’s way. It looks like a standard bike but it rides like a sport bike. The people carved into the side of the Khajuraho temple in India are in more comfortable positions. But, they aren’t riding a Ducati.

The gearing is strangely tall for a mid displacement bike. First gear is too tall and 6th gear is nearly useless for real world driving. Again, you’d have to be going over 80 to use top gear. If I bought one of these, I’d order a new set of sprockets before I even took delivery of the bike. One tooth smaller on the front sprocket and two teeth larger on the rear. That way you can use the stock chain. I was happy with the performance of the motor, but dropping the gearing would liven things up every where and the over drive 6th gear would keep you happy on the free way.

Like most midsize bikes the 796 makes great power, but you have to be active with the shift lever to use it. Not much going on below 4400 rpm, but from 4500 to 8500 it’s all V-twin woo hoo. I was very happy when this Ducati was in the power zone. At 8500 the bike goes into Def Con 2. Power cuts off and several red lights start flashing on the dash. This mini apocalypse only happened when I was distracted from my shifting duties. Like when I was trying to get around and a way from a cell phone talking car driver wandering in and out of my lane. The motor is making so much power and such a sweet sound that I just want to keep on revving it. Once again the 796 is adamant that you ride the way it wants you to, it can be a harsh mistress.

Speaking of suspension, I loved the way this bike handled on smooth roads. It really is a sport bike how ever it may look. On typical (bad) Minnesota roads it is not kind. The fork has no adjustments. I didn’t have time to monkey around with the rear shock, but I would have liked to ask it to be both kinder and gentler. The single sided swing arm and wheel did dress up the back of the bike. You may not be comfortable, but you’re going to look good doing it. (Think Kate Beckinsale in Underworld.) For me the 796 Monster is everything I expected a Ducati to be. Except our example was white. I would have preferred it to be red, but Bruce may have found a solution for that. I’ll let him explain.

I like the style and build quality of the 796 Monster, but I’ve ridden Ducati’s 1100cc Hypermotard. The big motor makes me want that strange looking bike in a very bad way. The 796 just leaves me scratching my head. Yes, it’s more affordable than their larger bore offerings, but it’s not for beginners. It rides like a sport bike with a narrow power ban. Those new to motorcycling should direct their V-twin lust else where. If you are an established ridder and find your self wanting a Ducati, then the 796 might be your bike. A test ride should be all it takes to determine if this Italian delicacy is to your tastes.

The mid size Monster is obviously attractive and the things I don’t like about it are just as obvious on just a short ride. Its siren song is very strong in the showroom, and once outside the sound it makes when running will make you go weak in the knees. Take it on a date before you commit would be my advice. I could marry Hypermotard, her homely sister, and live happily ever after.

I read on the internet that Justin Timberlake brought sexy back. I don’t think so. Sexy never left. If you can’t find it where you live, stop by a Ducati dealer. Its been living there for years. The good people of Motoprimo in Lakeville know all about it. They lent us this bike for testing. They have the sexy mid Monster and many more Ducatis to tempt you with. You can reach them via www.motoprimo.net or 952.465.0500

by Bruce Mike

One of my favorite things about working for MMM® is the opportunities I get to ride new bikes. I’ve owned a few sport bikes over the years but I’ve never owned a Ducati. In fact, I had never ridden one more than a couple of blocks. So when the 796 came up for review I was all over it. Naked sport bikes have always appealed to me. I really like the raw, simplistic, no bells or whistles look of the Ducati Monster 796. This bike is “Dead-Sexy”.

The bike may look like just a motor on wheels but it has all the high-tech gadgets it needs to be a great sport bike. It’s powered by an 803cc air-cooled L-twin, which has been part of the Monster line since 2003. It offers a great combination of low-end torque and high-revving horsepower. It’s fitted with a Siemens fuel injection system that delivers smooth and quick throttle response. I found horsepower ratings from 75.8-84 bhp and torque ratings from 51.4-58 lb.-ft., which is more than enough to get me where I want to go. The 796 uses a tubular steel trellis frame, a cast aluminum sub-frame and a badass aluminum single-sided swingarm. All of this aluminum translates into a 414-lb. wet weight.

The suspension on the Monster 796 consists of a Showa front fork and a Sachs rear shock. My co-reviewer commented on the fact that the front suspension would be better if it was adjustable. I will take his word for it. I don’t have any track experience and I do a pretty good job of riding within my skill set and this bike did everything I wanted it to as delivered.

The wheels are 5-spoke cast aluminum fitted with Pirelli Diablo Rosso rubber. The Diablos offer great grip and the dual, 320mm rotors and 4-piston Brembo radial-mount calipers stopped the bike on a dime. ABS is a $1,000 option.

Now that I’ve covered all the mechanicals it’s time to share my riding experience. I picked the bike up from our friends at Motoprimo and the first thing I noticed was the riding position. This bike was a great fit for me. I’m 5’-7” with a 30” inseam on a good day and this bike was instantly comfortable. The seat was right; the bars were right; I was good to go. When going down the road, my field of vision was much greater than on my touring bike. I was seated a little forward and fairly upright. It was more sport than standard but it was like there was nothing in front of me. Going through tight corners and big sweepers was a real joy.

Passenger accommodations are fine for gymnasts, leprechauns and hobbits only. Despite this bike’s drop-dead sex appeal, no one at MMM® was able to entice anyone to ride pillion. The fact that some of us have AARP cards has nothing to do with it. It’s the seat. Really.

I commuted on this bike a couple of days and my only complaint would be the gearing seemed pretty high. I never got out of second gear and sometimes even first when meandering around on city streets. I did get used to this but it seemed weird. Sixth gear was not really necessary unless I was breaking the law. I would definitely change the sprockets if I were to buy a 796. Other than the gearing, commuting was great. This bike is quick and nimble and stops really well. The 796 Monster is everything I would need in a commuter.
I also spent the better part of a day riding some rural two lanes and quickly discovered this bike would be all the sport bike I would ever need. Between 4,000 and 8,000 rpms, riding this bike was like dancing with the perfect partner. When you get it up around 4,500 r’s it’s like the exhaust opens up and yells, “HERE WE GO!” It was flat-out, ear-to-ear grinnin’ fun.

I’ve always thought of Ducatis as works of art and the 796 is no exception. From the paint and attention to detail, to the subtle little design nuances, it all just blows me away. Nobody does this stuff better than Ducati. After visiting a few coffee shops and gas stations I quickly came to the conclusion that everybody digs a Ducati. Men and women both were quite taken with the 796. The hip and cool factor is through the roof.

An interesting aspect of this bike we discovered by accident, literally, is that all the painted body parts are replaceable panels. While the bike was in our possession, it was knocked over by a car in a parking lot. A panel covering the tank and one of the side covers was damaged. I thought being able to replace just a color–matched panel instead of the entire fuel tank was a great deal. Our friends at Motoprimo pointed out that if you wanted to, you could get a whole set of panels in a different color and completely change the look of your bike whenever you felt like it. It wouldn’t necessarily be cheap but it sure would be fun.

At around $10,000 without ABS, I wouldn’t recommend this bike to a brand new rider but I think it would be perfect for a rider moving up from a “starter” bike. The 796 thankfully does not have that, “Whoa, I have to be careful how I ride this” feel to it. I found it fairly forgiving and easy to control. Half of Ducati’s worldwide sales are Monsters. That being said, if you’re thinking about buying your first Ducati, this may be the bike for you. As with any bike purchase I think you should ride the model you’re thinking about getting. There are plenty of demo ride days at Motoprimo that would allow you to test drive several different models.

Motoprimo is located at 16640 Kenrick Avenue, Lakeville, MN 55044; 952.465.0500 or on the web at motoprimo.net

• Italian supermodel looks
• Torque-y motor both easy to ride and powerful
• Everyone digs a Ducati

• Stock gearing is way too tall
• Stylish mirrors are functionally useless
• Uncomfortable ergos for ice giants and yetis
Sev’s wife first reaction®:
“White! I love it!”


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