AFTER GETTING the Monster’s first service out of the way a couple of weeks ago, I said that I was ready to stretch its legs with intent so along with plenty of nice, dry and sunny road rides since then, I’ve popped its track cherry. With such pukka suspension, electronics, tyres and all that power, it was begging for it, frankly.
Ducati invited me along to its track day at Donington Park last week, and in between some laps on a couple of Panigles, I spent several sessions seeing how the Monster hustles.
What I’ve learned this week
The Monster 1200 S's ridiculous torque saw me able to mix it up with most bikes there and in between trying to pick off other Monster owners, I found that the bike beneath me was more than capable of surprising the odd superbike rider on the way out of a corner, such is its grunt. You probably don’t need me to tell you that the 1200 S is no track scalpel. Of course, it lacks the precision of a superbike and isn't as precise as bikes like the S1000R and Tuono V4, but that didn't make it any less fun on a lap of Donington and its power combined with the way it requires a firm hand on track, turned out to be the recipe for a good time.
Apar from being able to use all the engine's power without a nagging feeling of guilt, the main thing that was noticeable on track, which goes under the radar on the road, is the Monster’s weight – 211kg with a 90% full tank. Into the first corner at Donington, and on the way into all its tight corners, the excellent Brembo M50s were getting a serious workout and on the brakes is where the bike’s weight is most noticeable.
But with 93lb/ft of torque and 150hp available at my right hand, there’s nothing wrong with the way the Monster shifts and Donington was the perfect place to unleash it. Once spinning above 6,000rpm, the engine delivers a fat wadge of torque that was capable of dispatching any nearby rider that wasn’t on the gas with intent. But I already know that the 1198cc Testastretta L-twin is a powerhouse of an engine, so more than anything, lapping round Donington was a chance to really experience how good Ducati’s traction control is…
… or rather, see how easily provoked it is. I did my first session with the TC on level four of eight, then knocked it down to three, then two. On level four, the flickering orange TC light was on near constantly on the way out of corners but it worked without giving me the sensation that it was really holding me back. With TC turned down to level two, the light stayed off more when the bike was upright and only seemed to intervene when driving hard out of slower corners or getting on the power when using more of th side of the tyre, which is to be expected. I'm not brave/stupid enough to spank the throttle open at big lean but when the orange dash light was flickering away, it I couldn't ever feel the TC holding me back. I don't know about that's all I want - to know that the system works as I try and get incrementally faster, with it standing there to prevent me pulling some mid-air shapes.
The Monster’s wide bars meant that levering it through Craner Curves, the Old Hairpin and round McLean’s was easy, but not effortless. On track, the 1200 S is a bike that requires a firm grip and needs bossing and although the Monster’s short wheelbase and wide bars means it turns keenly, shifting from side to side at speed made me dimly aware of the bike’s weight and the additional bit of muscle required to keep it hustling, baby.
That’s not a criticism, just an observation; without question it handles respectably and throwing it around Donington is fun because it comes with the sense that this bike shouldn’t be barrelling in to corners and still hitting apexes while going after more capable machinery.
Donington seemed like a good place to start fannying around with the Öhlins suspension because after just one session on track it was clear that both ends needed more support – the front was compressing too much under hard braking and the rear was moving about way too much under power on the way out of corners. At the front two turns additional preload and two turns less rebound, with two clicks more rebound and compression damping at the rear went some way to making the Monster feel more supportive and composed, but it still needs some adjustment.
And to top it off, I discovered that the frankly gorgeous colour TFT display can be put into different styles for track riding, so speed and revs take up most of the screen. Nice.
What I like
Giving it a pasting (well, trying to) round Donington
What I don’t like
Standard suspension settings are too soft for fast road riding and track use