The Ducati Monster 696

Good Guys Wear Black

by Kevin Kocur

I beep the Monster’s horn to get the attention of the guys in the Service department. They open the overhead door and in I ride. Dismounting, I toss them the keys and exclaim “You might want to wash it right away. I think there’s salt on the roads.”

review118aIn the high-speed, glitz ‘n glamor world that is that of an MMM staffer, there are two things that are certain: 1. If there are donuts in the office, Pearman is certain to grab every last one of them and 2. It’s Minnesota , so trying to wrangle a test bike in early or late season virtually guarantees that weather will be less than idealistic. If that bike is Italian, and your name is Kocur, your fate is sealed– count on snow. Dreaded white stuff be damned, I still managed to put some miles on the abominable snow Monster before returning it to its lair. Maybe I didn’t always have the luxury of perfect and dry roads, but I took the opportunity to carve corners every chance I got.

Starting out as a 600 in 1998, the smallest version of il mostro grew to a 620 and finally to a 695 just two years ago. As the original Monster series was now growing long in the tooth, the folks at Bologna decided it was due for a new look. And a new Monster was spawned.

Still at 695cc’s, most people would categorize the Monster 696 in the “entry level” bike category. Those people would be wrong. Other than a 30.3” seat height, the 696 is anything but entry level. In fact, I don’t think Ducati even makes an entry level bike – just Ducatis of different displacements.

Like it’s big brother, the Monster 1100, the 696 uses a tubular steel trellis frame with the 90 degree L-twin motor as a stressed member. And, like the 1100, it also features the belt-driven Desmodronic valve system, twin-spark cylinder heads and air-cooling. However, unlike the 1100’s dry clutch, the 696 uses the brilliant APTC wet clutch. Utilizing 21 plates (11 friction and 10 steel) in an oil bath, Ducati claims the APTC to have a “slipper feel” as well as being easier to operate in stop and go traffic, plus the added benefit of being lighter than a dry clutch. All I know is that it does take some getting used to and lacks the familiar Ducati clutch rattle (Loud Clutches Save Lives!)

Although bore and stroke remain the same at 88 x 57.2mm, the 696’s motor now features reshaped heads with bigger valves and new cylinder castings with redesigned (and more) cooling fins. Speaking of cooling, the 696 retains its oil cooler, now more clandestine than previous years.

With a slight bump in compression, to 10.7:1, the mill now puts out 80hp @ 9000rpm and 50.6lb-ft of torque @ 7750rpm. All that power goes through a six-speed gearbox and is delivered to the rear wheel via chain.

Enough with the tech chit-chat already, it’s time to ride!

First off, seated on the saddle and ready to turn the key, you can’t help but notice the gauges. Gone is the usual speedo/tach pod and in its place is a single LCD unit with multiple displays. Oddly, there’s no gas gauge, but a warning light will let you know when you’re low on fuel. And the bar-graph tach and digital speedo do take some getting used to. There’s a fast-idle control just in front of the left mirror. I had trouble starting the bike when it was cold if I didn’t use it. The motor warms up fairly quickly, so one need not leave the thing screaming at 3 grand while sitting in your driveway. Often, I would start the bike before putting on my helmet and gloves. This allowed me to listen to that sweet, sweet twin’s lopey idle before jumping aboard and snicking into first.

As I previously mentioned, the clutch took a little getting used to for me. And the motor revs very quickly, so be warned if your driveway empties into an alley slick with wet leaves. It would be easy to get into trouble.

As is MMM testing tradition with me, my riding is a mixture of commuting and play. Not having a lot of fun roads along my commute, I usually end up taking the freeway. In the cold October air, I found myself wishing for either a giant windshield or at least somewhere to plug in my heated gear.

Luckily, my commute isn’t long enough for hypothermia to set in, plus there are vending machines that dispense hot beverages once I arrive.

Blasting down the freeway, one thing becomes apparent; you really don’t need 6th gear on the Twin Cities urban freeways with their reduced speed limits. I’m just going to say it–the 696 is geared too tall. On top of that, mostro del bambino seems a little more rev-happy then its bigger siblings, so it prefers to be in a lower gear and the RPMs higher, thankyouverymuch. Keep it in that happy zone and you’re rewarded with a wonderful exhaust note and the ability to pass nearly everyone without downshifting. Molto piacevole! While commuting, one of my favorite sections involves decelerating onto an off-ramp and then whacking the throttle to the stops. The motor howls up towards redline as the cars in my mirrors get smaller and smaller. Meanwhile, the smile on my face is getting bigger and bigger….

Ergonomically, the Monster is like most naked sport bikes. There’s a slight reach to the bars, and the pegs are down and slightly back. The controls are straightforward and everything is where it should be. The levers are not adjustable, but worked fine for me. The seat is decent, providing a fair amount of grip but still allowing you to hang off if you should feel the need to. The mirrors are shaped a little odd, but work surprisingly well. That is, when the left one wasn’t coming loose and flopping around. A stop at the hardware store, for an allen wrench set, fixed that problem and I now have a new tool living in my courier bag.

Once the work week was over, I found myself watching the weather channel and crossing my fingers for luck. Saturday arrives and we’re able to photograph the bike in action before the big white flakes made an appearance. Drat. Sunday is looking better and I have a family function in Stillwater to attend. Time to put some miles on today! I suit up and head out. A little rain is all I encounter and the roads are good enough to allow me to hit some of my favorite twisties on either side of the St. Croix. The bike is really in its element here, as I find my line, knock it down a gear, lean, then back on the gas. On some of the wetter corners, I swear I can feel the slipper clutch helping me out., because I didn’t break the rear end loose once. In true Ducati fashion, this thing is bloody brilliant in the curves. I could use a cliché such as “corners like it’s on rails” but I think that you already get the picture.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that fast bikes need good brakes. Dual 320mm front discs with radial four-piston calipers seem to be common on mid-displacement performance bikes, so it’s no surprise that the 696 sports them as well. Top notch Brembos, of course. There’s a single 245mm disc and two-piston caliper in back, should you need it. A single finger on the front brakes is all I usually needed.

review118bStyling-wise, the 696 stands out from its predecessors. The fuel tank is now covered with color-matched plastic panels. Want to personalize your Monster? Simply swap out the tank panels for another color, or even carbon fiber ones. Both are available from your Ducati dealer. The vents in the “tank” serve dual purpose as both intakes for the airbox as well as providing clearance for the handlebar controls. The headlight is one of the best looking ever fitted to a motorcycle and works well to boot.

The taillight consists of LEDs and is BRIGHT! Not a fan of our 696’s matte black paint scheme? No problem, as you can also choose from red or pearl white. Overall, this is a great looking bike!!!

While my time aboard the Ducati was an absolute hoot, there were a couple of things that bugged me. The tall gearing is an easy fix. Re-gear, or simply live with it. Stop and go traffic is when I really noticed it, despite the wonderful two-fingered hydraulic clutch. I also noticed that my left thigh was getting a little too warm from the exhaust. Why only the left? I don’t know, but this could become a bigger problem once summer arrives.

Whether capable commuter or corner carver, one ride aboard the Ducati Monster 696 will have you screaming “Sono un teppista!” Roughly translated from Italian, it means “I am a hooligan!”

This teppista would like to thank Motoprimo Motorsports for the use of this month’s test bike. Give ‘em a call at 952-465-0500 or surf over to www.motoprimo.net. Tell them Yukon Cornelius sent you.

by Sev Pearman

I love autumn. The cooler temps and shorter days sweep the trees of their leaves and the streets of all manner of RVs, Sunday street rods and other fair-weather riders. With the cool, fall days, I at long last stop sweating in my gear. In short, this is perfect riding weather.

What better reason to put down the coffee mug and suit up than a glorious V-twin? After securing a 2009 Ducati Monster 696 from MotoPrimo in Lakeville, I pulled rank and copped the keys. Hey contributors: fellow tester. KRevin, delivered a box of doughnuts to MMM® World HQ. Just saying…

review118cMonsters have been storming our back roads since the early 90s; the 600cc version first appeared in 1998. Despite evolutionary improvements, the Monster 696 is still air-cooled (with oil cooler) and runs Ducati’s signature 2-valve Desmo heads. You know you are on something different the minute you turn the key and thumb her to life.

The model name is a bit of marketing double-speak. The 696 retains the same 88 x 57.2 mm bore and stroke as the previous-generation Monster 695. Actual displacement is 695.5 ccs. To extract more power, Ducati bumped compression to 10.7:1, increased valve size and reshaped porting. Fuel injection (45mm throttle body) is now supplied by Siemens.

These refinements, in conjunction with optimized mapping and a new dual exhaust, extract 66 rear-wheel horsepower at 9,100 rpm. Peak torque is 43.4 ft-lbs at 7,800rpm. Ducati claims the best power-to-weight ratio of any of their air-cooled motors. Fans of inline-four screamers may scoff, but these numbers drive a bike with a curb weight of only 409 pounds.

Like the last Monster we reviewed, the 800 SR-2 (MMM® #91), the Monster 696 runs an Adler-sourced APTC slipper clutch. This reduces wheel hop on downshifts if you don’t match engine speed to road speed. I tried this feature away from prying eyes and it really works. Squeeze the clutch lever, grab three downshifts and (gulp) dump the clutch. You can hear and feel that something is happening between the gearbox and rear wheel, but the chassis remains composed and the motor doesn’t over-rev. It literally feels like your clutch is slipping.

The moment rear tire traction returns, the drive train returns you to your regularly scheduled riding line. This works instantly and seamlessly. The clutch also is quieter and has an easier pull than Ducati’s traditional dry clutch. I had to slip the clutch a bit to get underway. I am unsure if this is a function of the APTC, the taller gearing or my eighth-ton mass. No matter, the rider-friendly clutch is one of my favorite details on this bike.

This is a fun and easy bike to ride. All riders can appreciate the forgiving clutch and broad torque curve. Want to hear the Monster 696 sing its sweet aria? Simply open the throttle. The bike slingshots you out of the corner and on down the road.

The 43mm inverted fork is by Showa and is non-adjustable. Sachs provides the rear monoshock that features a progressive link and is adjustable for preload and rebound. The fork gets points for style and finish but loses them for its fixed nature. Rear rebound is easy enough to dial in but preload is the finger-smashing ring-and-locknut affair. Do yourself a favor: buy a ring spanner that fits and learn how to set your suspension. It makes a huge difference.

I was worried that my mass would overwhelm the non-adjustable fork but I was pleasantly surprised. I pushed the Monster at 8/10ths and on a heavy throttle it felt composed. When heeled over on rippled pavement, the 696 remained calm and kept its line. Freeway expansion joints hit you hard through the bars. While the suspension won’t win any awards, it stays on the clock and gets the job done. Only a heavier and/or more aggressive rider is likely to be disappointed by the suspension.

review118dThe brakes are by Brembo and are superb. Dual 4-piston radial-mount calipers pinch twin 320mm floating discs up front. A 2-piston caliper grabs the 245mm rear disc. One finger is enough to pull smooth, consistent stops when in-town or commuting. Even from ticket-writing speeds, two fingers were enough to discreetly reign in the 696. The rear brake comes on progressively. I was easily able to modulate its power. Only a deliberate stomp would lock it up.

Nothing need be said of the styling. To my eye, Monsters have always struck the perfect balance between unadorned, pure-function race machines and festooned tourers or cruisers. Even non-motorcyclists find the Monster family cool.

Our Dark tester contrasts gloss, satin and flat black painted surfaces against aluminum, polished castings and bright bits. Twin mufflers are now tucked under the tail section. The wee Monster earned many compliments from riders and non-riders alike.

The wide, flat bars bring your hands to about waist-level. Foot pegs are slightly rear-set. You lean forward in a sport-tourer stance. If your wrists start to complain in traffic, remember to keep your elbows loose. Better yet, head out of town, open her up and let the wind support your body.

I loved the headlight. It carves a wide swath on low beam and punches extra-deep on high, just the thing to help you avoid Bambi and other forest rats. The LED taillight was also bright; the brake lights dazzling. LEDs weigh less than incandescent bulbs and draw less power. Brighter lights in stylish fixtures that weigh less and draw less power? Win-win-win-win!

I didn’t care for the LCD multi-gauge dash. I found it hard to read in sunlight and fumbly. Gadget geeks will enjoy cycling through the tach, coolant temp, shift light, lap timer, service interval and other functions, but I am old and crabby. Give me separate, round gauges and don’t take the last doughnut.

I had a couple of other gripes. The seat slopes down toward the colored tank cover and can compromise the gioielli di famiglia during hard stops. Did Ducati product managers OK this in an attempt to place only the young and buff on their product? I did like the cool color-matched cover for the passenger portion.

KRevin fixed the wonky left mirror but I gave up on them from day one. When they weren’t completely buzzy, I could see only my elbows and forearms. I would bin them and mount up a cool bar-end.

Fuel capacity is 3.8 US gallons, including 0.9-gallon reserve. There is no gas gauge. A low fuel level light is paired with a count up trip meter in the dash. With aggressive flogging, I saw mileage between the high-30s and mid-40s. The reserve light would illuminate at around 130 miles, with a theoretical 36-mile reserve remaining. Lighter and/or more genteel riders will undoubtedly do better.

Who is this bike for? Obviously, the ultra-low 30.3” seat height will appeal to the most diminutive rider. You no longer need settle for a plodding cruiser if you want a lightweight V-twin with a low seat height. Ducati offers a righteous alternative to the inseam-challenged.

We hear from many women riders who complain about the mass of cruisers. While cruisers typically carry their weight low, 550 pounds is still 550 pounds. Passenger X observed that the combined weight of the Monster 696 plus herself was less than her V-Star 650. The low mass in conjunction with its narrow width makes the 696 an excellent point-and-squirt commuter that is easy to park. Urban hipsters can soak up the attention they desire when pulling up to classroom, office or coffee shop. Wear a helmet anyway. It creates an air of mystery.

With its low seat height, feathery mass and un-neutered performance, the Ducati 696 is no entry-level pudding bike. Rather, it is a full-on screamer that accentuates its killer motor with tailored, Italian style. If you are in the market for a middleweight sporting twin, do yourself a favor and arrange a test ride on a 696 Monster.

Podium: 66 rear-wheel bhp. 409 lbs. wet weight. Bravo! Impressive slipper clutch delights. Awesome head and taillights.

DNF: Gimmicky LCD gauge. Buzzy mirrors are essentially useless. Sloped seat creates opera singers

By the numbers: Rider: Editor Pearman 5’-10”/260 lbs/32” (height/weight/inseam) Total miles driven: 348 Average fuel consumption: 43.3 mpg

Wife’s First Reaction®: “Very sexy. Very cool.”

Selected Competition: Aprilia Shiver, Kawasaki ER-6n, Suzuki SV-650, Triumph Street Triple.

MMM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *