by Molly Gilbert
Oh Gawd, somebody up there wants me on a Ducati and they’re not the only one! Just wish my pocketbook could afford it! After trying my first ever, a Monster 900 that a friend’s significant other owns, I was afraid I was a convert. Then Sr. Editor Victor from MMM makes one of his now famous calls to me and asks me to test ride a 620.
Here, twist my arm.
When can I get it, huh? Okay, Monday is the earliest. Gotta pick it up from a fellow MMM contributor who is also my neighbor, as it seems he’ll be writing his own (probably much more knowledgeable and technical) review. So read his if you want an expert’s point of view. Read mine if you want an average Joe’s. Or should I say Josephine’s? heh, heh.
Okay, so I pick the thing up. I’ve been out on a date with the boyfriend so have the skirt and heels goin’ on. I’m rushed, as I don’t want to wake up Gus, who is handing me the bike and it’s closing in on too late for a weeknight time. So screw it, instead of running home to change into jeans and then get to his house, I go as is. Poor Gus. He’s wanting to reach out and brace the bike as I’m maneuvering it in 3 inch heels, but he contains himself. Barely. I see him, out of the corner of my eye, instinctively reach for the bike, as if to say “I’ll rescue you from her!”, but he stops himself half way there, remembering he’s not the bike’s mother. After all, it’s a brand new Ducati, and well, those are 3 inch heels (we only live one block from each other).
Then there comes the drama of figuring out all the bells and whistles to get it started. Seriously. There’s an anti theft mechanism on it, which is a nice touch, but then there’s also a feature that says the bike won’t start unless the side stand is up–nice safety feature. But that’s not all, folks! Then there’s the issue of the clutch in, kill switch off, also in neutral. Well, all these things we had to try in different combinations, giggling like school girls, until we heard The Rumble. Felt like jack asses, but hey that’s part of the fun of trying out a new bike.
Next day, I’m properly dressed for the road. I head out on this growley, shorter version of the 900 machine and have some fun in the very few turns I am afforded via off and on ramps and possibly the 11 turns in MN out of 318 miles. But I start to notice that at about mile 25 my kidneys start to hurt while going over some slightly bumpy road. Is it me? Is it the stiff stock seat? The suspension? Maybe I will just ride it out. Nope. The longer I’m on the machine, the more uncomfortable I get. Hmmm. That’s surprising, as other than feeling some distinct heat off the engine onto the left leg on the 900, I had no physical complaints. The 620 doesn’t have the heat issue, but it’s definitely not a long distance machine.
The suspension is stiff (could likely be altered I didn’t investigate, just rode ‘as is’), and the seat is sore. I felt cramped up into a ball while I didn’t on the 900. Now, I’m 5’9″ with a long inseam, so for someone of smaller stature, this would likely be the perfect size. It’s a gorgeous bike, make no mistake about that. It just had a limit for me of about 20 miles at a shot. I rode a total of about 250 miles on it, but would have preferred the ride to have been in many, short doses.
Wandering around town though, shooting from place to place, lots of fun. This is a great looking machine (after all, it’s Italian. They know how to design!), and in fact gets plenty of attention both on the road and parked solo. The Ducati name attracts lookers, and just about everyone I ran into asked about the price –were these bikes worth the high bucks? This was the #1 question I was asked. In fact, this model is quite affordable, at a stock price of $6,495. Just a bit more than it’s supposed rival, the Suzuki SV650. In fact, the two machines are similar in their lack of plastics and their bare bones design. Personally, I preferred the gutsier look of the Ducati. There is something quite masculine and sexy about its exposed machinery, vs. being neatly tucked away as it is on the SV. Then there’s that lovely, low Italian growl. It is just so… aggressive…that even if you don’t fancy yourself an aggressive rider, you will find yourself revving up once or twice at a stoplight just to sort of … send a message. ‘Look at me–yes, I know you’re lookin’. Caught you!’. This is a fun bike.
On the down side, aside from the physical discomfort, I found myself concerned over the market this bike will no doubt attract. This bike should have a warning sticker on it stating:” Notice: if you have never owned a bike before, this is not the bike for you”. Why? Because it was designed for a racetrack. This bike just begs to be pushed to 90 mph as an average speed. I found myself trying to go 55 in a 55 zone. I look down at the speedometer and I’m effortlessly at 70. I get pulled over by a cop for doing so. He’s kind and doesn’t ticket me (now THAT’S a first!) so I go off with my warning. Again, I find myself creeping to 70, and the devil in me looks around to be sure no one’s looking, then BLAMMO off to 90 just because that’s where the bike really wants to be! Don’t try this at home, kids. I was out in the middle of nowhere on a back road. Otherwise I never, ever speed… But the fact that I felt compelled to speed on this machine is what makes it so scary for me. If I had not had the experience of riding a couple of different bikes prior to this, I would have likely and easily killed myself. I can’t imagine the average, testosterone laden male in his early 20’s would behave much differently…
The other market it is likely aimed at is that of the female gender just due to its size alone. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s manageable, however (see turning radius point made below). And it’s not much lighter than any other bike I’ve ridden from the 600 &endash; 900cc range.
Of course, this is yet another bike that doesn’t have a gas gauge. But you know what? You will always know the temperature of your engine (225 degrees F) yet you will never know if you have much gas left. This I find stupid. But who am I to say? I’m just an average gal who wants to ride from point A to point B with hopefully some fun along the way and not run out of gas, oh yeah with out having to worry about practicing Algebra I in my head. Maybe these designers have very good reason for constantly displaying the engine temp., but I’d rather know other things. The only other issue I found consistently annoying was the turn around radius. There is none. It’s funny, as it emphasizes the machine’s need for speed by implying, through design alone, that the only time you should be turning is through a lean. But there are times when I’m sure even Luigi needed to turn the bike around in his garage. Very difficult to do unless using the “sales person’s spin” (balancing on the kickstand then twirling. Quite the art form…).
There are some neat little features like the left front finger pull for the brights nice feature when that Windstar van is being persistent about hogging the left lane. I was also warned that the headlight seemed to be aimed a little high so that it hit folks right in their rear view mirror, and we didn’t have time to adjust it. I also noticed that people moved out of my way more quickly…
I also liked the way that (once you figured out how to start the damned thing &endash; I’m not kidding!) it lit up like a cockpit. Very spiffy. The signal lights are an easily accessible switch all on one hand so no switching back and forth for the right vs. left turn, which means less distraction on a machine that demands your full attention.
As a friend said, the Monster is no Lamborghini, but it was interesting to get the different perspectives on a 900 vs. a 620. The 900 has 15ft lbs of torque, which is really fun; 18 more hp; and twice the brakes (single brembos vs. double). None the less, I would like it on twisties and racetracks and back and forth to Bob’s Java Hut. Other than that, I’ll take a more comfortable bike, thanks.
Nevertheless, I did really enjoy having this bike for a couple of days. It’s always a pleasure riding a brand new bike this pretty. Many thanks to MotoPrimo for lending us this beauty, have any others you need reviewed? (heh, heh)
by Gus Breiland
When I took off on the Monster for the first time, all I could think of was “Damn this thing is going to be fun in the corners.” And was it ever. I spent the rest of my time with the 2002 Ducati Monster Dark finding as many curvy roads as possible.
At start up, and I realize this is trivial, both speedo and tach “cycle” in unison with all the pretty lights shining. This means nothing, but it is just too damn cool! With a digital read out for Odometer, Trip, Clock and Oil temp the Monster also reminds you of its’ maintenance schedule (valves every 6000 miles). This clean instrument panel also includes a turn signal light, high beam indicator, low fuel and an engine light.
Ducati puts you in a comfortable yet aggressive position on the back of this 618cc’d critter, which feels great as you come around a curve searching ahead for the best line through the next grin inducing stretch of road. The bars are positioned to give a wonderful amount of leverage while the controls put everything at your fingertips. The best little feature on your left hand is a high beam lever next to your index finger that allows you quick access to you your high beam for times of passing or those instances when temporary night blindness may occur.
While in town, I rarely got out of 3rd gear and during the test had very few opportunities to see if 5th gear did exist. This bike loves 70 to 80 mph as a nice cruising speed. Acceleration is not an issue, there is so much power available to get up to cruising speed that merging into freeway traffic will not be an issue. At 30 mph however, the bike likes to argue with you and demands that you ride faster. It wants speed, it needs speed and all I could do was appease the Monster!
When talking about twisties, two of the most important things are acceleration and brakes. I love this bike off the line. Need to get around that damn Volvo at the light? Wanna make sure you are the first one to the next stop sign? With a claimed 0-60mph of 4.3, you won’t have any problems. Considering this is the entry level bike for Ducati, the fact that you get fuel injection is amazing considering the competition is still giving you a rail of carbs.
The single 320mm disk with Brembo 4 piston caliper in the front and 245mm disc with twin piston caliper in the back do a great job shaving speed, and at only 424 pounds wet the braking system has no issues with emergency situations. Grab hold, be calm, you may even have a little time to salute the offending traffic obstacle.
I love the note that the exhaust gives off. Not only does it give a rich, deep sound without being offensive; it turns heads as you roll by. Not a real necessary item to note, but damn it makes you feel fine when passing a gawker on the street. The matte black finish looks stealthy and hides a bit of “filth” leaving you time to ride rather than washing and polishing, unless your into that kind of thing.
Anecdotal research (6-7 coworkers asked to sit on the bike) show that this bike has been built for a short to average height rider; 5’2″ to about 6’0″ tall. With a seat height or 30″, it is quit manageable for the shorter rider while still comfortable for those non NBA stars. For those of you who have long femurs, you may find that your knee hits the buldge in the tank sculpting.
The seat does keep you in a comfortable riding position without sliding around but its’ comfort was apparently less important than its’ styling. The seat is something to sit on, rather than the support you want for knocking out miles all day. I found the 30-40 mile range just fine, it made my commute a hoot! Any mileage over that and you will hope your arse falls asleep quickly.
The pillon seat leaves much to be desired. I asked my domestic associate to hop on for a little ride to get an idea what the back seat feels like. Her response was “You want me to sit on that?” Yes, she was looking at the bike. We scooted around town a bit and that was it. Her review of the rear seat was “I don’t need to get laid that bad.” In other words, if she left the bar with you and saw what you were taking her on to get back to your crib to “get it on”, she would turn around and find the guy who cares about her cervix! The rear suspension is not easily adjustable for single to 2 up riding causing you to bottom out on driveways and tight corners.
The mirrors need to be extended out and forward a bit more, otherwise some bar end mirrors would be an ideal modification. With riding gear on, you can see your shoulders and what is in the lane behind your left and right side. Places where it is nice to see, but it would be better if you could see more, such as the “rollers” behind you who are not as impressed with your accelerating power as you. With that, the most significant comfort is the lack of wind noise around your head. There is very little turbulence around your helmet that only becomes noticeable once you get over 80 mph.
The Monster has an integrated security system called the “immobilizer” that locks out your ignition if the incorrect key is used. If the ignition does not pick up the keys signal correctly you have to turn the key off and then back to start to get a new reading. Not a big issue once you understand the concept, but I know it caught both testers off guard initially. It is at this point that I have to say “Thanks guys” to all the pricks who make this system necessary.
What is amazing to me is the diversity of the Monster. I, as you, have seen some highly modified, customized and personalized Ducati’s from the all chrome to the billet aluminum with plexiglass view windows to see the inner workings of this advanced, yet simple motorcycle. Do you like a bike that is clean yet pleasing to the eye or are you the type of biker that after you remove the “SOLD” tag from your bike you start adding, subtracting, repainting and customizing your ride. The Monster gives you flexibility to play not only while riding, but while staring at it during those long winter days when all you can see is the salt truck through the gray winter sky. Ducati also has a large selection of off-the-shelf customization and modifications if want to buy the cool bits for your bike directly from the manufacturer.
For the 2003 Monster, Ducati has figured out that some people like to start the bike before they hop on. The 2002 Monster must have the side stand up to start while the 2003 will allow you to warm up the bike, or start it up to give a listen, while the kick stand is down. Speaking of stands, this bike has a chain with no center stand. This makes your chain lubing session a little more difficult than it has to be. Granted, the exhaust location pretty much kills any thought of putting a center stand on this bike.
For the most part, my complaints are trivial when all is said and done for the Monster Dark. This is a great commuter that wants to play. Whether you are weaving in and out of traffic on your way to work or on a Sunday afternoon club run over in alphabet land, the Monster Dark will put a smile on your face every time. This is Ducati performance in a tight, manageable package for a damn fine price for a little Italian engineering and styling.
Thank you to Motoprimo Motorsports of Minneapolis, MN for the opportunity to play. You can find them at 2610 East 32nd Street and they can be reached at 612-729-9391.