To question a motorcycle’s relevance is usually a sign of trouble (or worry, depending on which side you’re on), but allow me to explain. The Monster, you see, is essentially a 25-year-old idea. Sure, it saved Ducati from extinction and made its former owners, the Texas Pacific Group lots of money at the start of the new millennium, but it never was an engineering marvel. The Monster was essentially built from scraps of other Ducatis nobody seemed to want at the time. This worked in 1993 because it came at a development cost that was the equivalent of a team lunch, but the times are so very different today.
The burden of this realisation descended upon me the instant I swung a leg over the shiny new Monster 821. I couldn’t grasp the needless outstretch demanded by the nearly flat handlebar, and the very premise of having just two cylinders at my service – when other marques offer between three and four – didn’t appeal too brightly either. The naked motorcycle of today is all about pushing the performance envelope in a supremely accessible package and the Monster didn’t quite come across as the flag-bearer of this philosophy. I pressed on, hoping something would change my mind during the course of the sweltering day.
Twin exhaust sounds characteristically Monster!
In about 20 minutes, I felt calmer. Ducati’s L-twins have an addictive quality about them and the newest generation – across all its models – is particularly likeable for retaining a mechanical character despite the leaps in refinement. I was beginning to enjoy the creamy layer of torque and the fact that I could rapidly alter my speed of travel at any rpm, in any gear, with a simple twist of the wrist. The 821 sounds nice, too, leaving a raspy exhaust note in its wake as you indulge in bursts of acceleration. An hour later, the Monster had begun working its charm. I was having fun now, enough to not notice that it had, in fact, shed a sliver of its output figures in the process of getting BS-IV compliant. Now left with 108.7hp and 86Nm of torque, the Monster 821 still proved entertaining if not exactly explosive, unlike its peers.
Brilliant colour TFT display is easy to read in daylight.
With Sport mode engaged (the other two being Touring – same power but milder responses – and Urban, which cuts down power to 73hp), the Monster is brisk. It’s at ease sustaining triple-digit speeds and has just about enough brawn left even towards the tail-end of its rev range. What those with prior Monster experience will appreciate is its polished low-speed performance; the progressive clutch action and crisp throttle supplement the smooth layer of low-end torque admirably. Another good thing is, in modern Ducati tradition, the Monster 821 comes with an impressive electronics package and you can customise the rider assists (eight-level traction control, three-level ABS) to suit your appetite. Unfortunately, doing so isn’t most intuitive; I spent what felt like an hour buried into the new (and fantastic) colour TFT display, trying only to disengage traction control using the left-hand-side switchgear. Now, I’m no tech-wizard but I do know an intuitive interface from one that isn’t.
Once you do manage to set up the 821 to your liking, there’s no other disappointment headed your way. The suspension is supple (albeit on the softer side) and absorbs most bumps delightfully, and you can adjust the offset monoshock for preload. The 320mm twin-disc setup offers confident braking and lever progression is good, too; your arms, however, do get stressed under hard braking forces, due to that handlebar. The best bit is the chassis itself – it masks its 206kg kerb weight beautifully and also goes on to deliver a seamless handling package that is, in every way, a step up from the Monsters before the 821.
However, true as that may be, it still can’t quite hold a candle to its peers. The Monster is, perhaps, too deep-rooted in tradition to ever be able to outdo any of its existing competitors again. Its very premise, revolving strongly around minimalism, dictates the course of its evolution; it’s never going to be a raging fireball that is the Street Triple RS, or even just a sharp pocket knife like the GSX-S750. However, at Rs 9.51 lakh (Rs 9.65 lakh for the Ducati Yellow, ex-showroom, India), the Monster 821 is a motorcycle-sized chunk of Italian art and heritage wrapped in an exciting, if not completely insane, package. And you can’t really wheelie a Leonardo Da Vinci painting, so it’s a fair deal, right?