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Story by Dustin A. Woods, Photos by Matt Ball and Dustin A. Woods
The tale of Goldilocks is the most immediate and obvious comparison to draw upon when considering Ducati's Monster line-up. For some, the power and proportions of the entry-level Monster 696 may be just too diminutive, while the big-bore 1100 may be too intimidating in size, stature or insurance premiums. Thankfully the legendary Italian motorcycle manufacturer also makes the Monster 796. The fact that Ducati offers three versatile yet unique Monsters is likely why you can't swing a premium leather man satchel in Toronto without hitting three of them. The Monster has become somewhat of an urban icon, but does it live up to the mystique and hype? Most definitely.
When searching out your next bike, you may question how much power you want and how much you actually need. Sure it may seem appealing to choose a supersport that can outrun a fighter jet as your next ride, but naked middleweights have many attractive attributes that make them an ideal addition to your garage. Most bikes are exceptional at one particular kind of riding, but can fall short when outside their niche. Enter the Monster 796, a well- balanced middleweight that allows for a comfortable upright riding position that does double duty as wholly gratifying transportation and an artistic masterpiece. When immobile, it could easily be welcomed as a permanent fixture of an art gallery. Thumb the starter button and the air-cooled L-twin engine barks to life before settling into an off-kilter idle emitting a sound from the massive twin pipes that is both menacing and exotic.
The 803cc mill has a torquey powerband that provides more than adequate acceleration under normal conditions but literally transforms as it approaches its maximum torque of 58 ft-lbs at 6,250 rpm. A peak of 87 hp at 8,250 rpm may not seem like a revelation, but the fact that the 796 tips the scales at only 167 kg (169 kg with optional ABS) means that its power-to-weight ratio is certainly nothing to scoff at. Incorporated into the tubular trellis frame, the fuel-injected powerplant pairs to a six-speed gearbox through a hydraulic slipper clutch. Gear changes are smooth as butter and finding neutral was never an issue when coming to a halt at a long stoplight. One thing that did take some getting used to however, was just how much attention this bike gets around town. Mind you, the standard issue Ducati red paint certainly didn't help.
Never twitchy or unmanageable, this Monster's power delivery is complimented by impressive handling and an exceptional braking prowess. While the seating position is relatively neutral, the handlebars are situated slightly forward and the pegs slightly aft. This makes the versatile Monster comfortable enough for long hauls but happy to accommodate aggressive riding. Suspension duties are handled by non-adjustable 43-mm Showa forks up front and a progressive Sachs monoshock that is preload and rebound-adjustable in the rear that allows 148mm of rear suspension travel.
Perhaps the only manner in which one could slow down the Monster 796 faster would be to equip an anchor on board. The front wheel gets four-piston 320mm Brembo brakes, while the rear wheel gets a two-piston, 245 mm single disc setup. Equipped with optional ABS, the MSRP of my tester rang in at $11,995 before taxes and freight. The system can easily be disengaged but I opted to leave it on due to the single-digit temperatures and variable precipitation that week. The system did activate a couple times during spirited riding but never felt overly intrusive or jarring which let the 17-inch Pirelli Diablo Rossos to their job.
Everything about this medium-sized Monster seamlessly combines form and function. The single-sided swingarm is not only a fetching design, but it is also lighter than the traditional double setup found on the 696, for instance. The sculpted plastic covering the 15L fuel tank (13.5 for ABS version) is aerodynamic and comfortable for my six foot frame to straddle but also exhibits subtle styling elements that evoke a unique view from every angle.
Several tweaks have been made for 2011, mostly in the ergonomics department. The lightweight aluminum handlebar is almost an inch higher, while the seat is 9.9mm lower. Four-way-adjustable hand levers were added which were welcome additions and the seat was re-shaped for increased rider comfort.
Amateurs who don't have much experience with riding who are looking to make their first big purchase are often worried about how soon they will out-grow the bike they may be financing for several years. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as an inaugural purchase, the 796 wouldn't scare off beginners and I can't imagine any of the experienced riders I know growing tired of such a bike anytime soon. For those finicky riders who can't seem to find a balance of style, size and substance, the Monster 796 might be just right.
~ Intoxicating sound
~ Combination of form and function
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~ Cranky at low rpm
~ Digital speedometer could be easier to read