Road Test: Ducati M600 Dark V M900 Metallic

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By Chris Moss on Sat, 19 Apr 2008 - 09:04

Visordown Motorcycle News


For those sorts of buyers Ducati's Monsters are a welcome relief.

The first Monster, the 900, caused a stir when it was launched back in 1993. Quite apart from its attractive and alternative chic Latin style, which set it apart from the Japanese masses, it had several virtues to satisfy the tastes of the more traditional biker - features which until then had seemed to be on the way out.

To these purists, a level of rawness and basic engineering made the Monster more endearing. Fans of Italian iron liked its simplicity, mechanical noise, vibration and quirks, which gave it some essential personality. And the slightly unfinished look provided by exposed wires and cables added to the appeal. To them it was more of a real bike than most of the opposition could offer. The Monster was something they could have a relationship with, rather than just ride.

Performance wasn't a priority and instead of keeping up with the bhp Joneses, Ducati concentrated on other virtues. It considered more real world issues like making the Monster easy to use and have fun on, especially around town. And included a level of flair and style to make it stand out. It quickly became a cult bike with the city set.

The 80bhp air-cooled 90¡ V-twin motor, taken from the 900SS sportsbike did have a fair turn of speed. And the use of a chassis, including a frame from the 851 Superbike, gave it respectable handling. But at the end of the day this was still a bike designed more for show than go.

It was a gamble that paid off, and the Miguel Galuzzi-designed Monster became an instant hit in the showrooms. Though it has to be said, its success was for more evident in Europe than here in the UK, where its sales were far more modest.

A year later the 600 version was introduced. It had significantly less engine power, with a claimed figure of just 53bhp. This made its straightline performance fairly weak, and it was lucky to break the ton on a good day. But its light weight and manoeuvrability made even easier to ride than the 900, and popular with those who wanted a bike which they could use to the full and not feel intimidated by.

Since then Ducati has made a 750 variant, and introduced lots of different versions of the three basic models in the Monster range. Their appeal is obvious and has helped the bike become Ducati's best selling model. We've chosen two of them to give you an idea of just what's on offer in the world of Monsters - the cheapest one, the 600 Dark. And the 900 Metallic, the most expensive of the air-cooled models.

Saunter towards the two Monsters and their similarity is immediately obvious. Shaped and crafted in much the same way, only a closer inspection will identify their differences.

The 600's single disc front brake is one giveaway - the 900 has twin discs. And another extra on the bigger bike is an oil cooler. Aside from those two features there are only a few detailed differences like the shape and size of the clutch and brake master cylinders to distinguish one Monster from the other.

The metallic paint finish on the 900 isn't available on the 600.

Even sitting on the two bikes doesn't highlight any real differences. Because the chassis spec and layout is virtually identical, there's no difference in the riding position.

Chuck them around at bit before you fire them up, and even at a standstill the 11kg lighter 600 suggests it's going to be easier to manage and flick around corners once you're underway. Aside from that the feel of both Monsters is very much alike. Get them fired up, click them into gear and the similarity soon fades.

Let's start with the 600. In fact starting is something you might be forgiven for thinking you haven't done when you first let out the clutch and wind the throttle back.

The motor might show all the signs of life with its pleasant vibes and exhaust note. But the scenery around you seems to move so slowly, at first you'd swear you'd forgotten to put the thing in gear. Actually that's a bit harsh, but make no mistake this Ducati was not built to get you anywhere fast.

The broad spread of what little power there is will suit the novice or anyone else with less of a sense of urgency in their lives. There's a seamless and smooth build up of power and torque which means using the slick six-speed box isn't critical. Though to get the little 43bhp 90¡ V-twin scooting along up to its 105mph maximum you'll have to be willing to hammer it hard through the rev range.

The real secret to satisfaction from a ride on the 600 Monster is choosing the right route. Avoid fast A roads and motorways where you'll get harassed by traffic, feel bored and inadequate. And instead stick to quiet twisty backroads, where the deprivation of speed feels far less bothersome and where the excellent chassis feels far more at home.

The underpowered Monster's saviour is its handling. The taut and stiffly suspended 600 really shows style in corners. Agile and stable in equal measure, the Ducati can howl down backlanes with competence and confidence. Only the limited ground clearance hinders cornering heroics.

Of course riding in town is also a good place to appreciate the virtues of the Monster 600 - after all it's a place where the Ducati was specifically designed to work well. And so it does. Fluid throttle response makes for prompt departures from traffic lights and swift overtaking. On the downside, the sidestand is too short and the turning circle is way too wide.

The basic story of the way the bigger Monster behaves is much the same as its smaller brother. It's slightly heavier and needs a fraction more muscle to haul around, but like the 600, the 900's handling is a strong feature. Carving through corners is a sharp, responsive and secure affair, with only the low slung silencers clattering off the road curbing the fun. Knocking off speed is easier because of the extra braking power, though in fairness the lighter 600's single front caliper is up to the job.

The 900 Monster's extra kilos do give it a slightly more reassuring feel, and paying the price of marginally reduced agility is more than made up for by this.

But the big gains, in not just speed but enjoyment, come from the extra power of the motor. An 80% boost in power is, unsurprisingly, easy to detect as soon as the throttle is twisted. There's just so much more stomp and response from the motor, you could never go back to a 600.

Route planning is nowhere near as essential on the 900 as it is on the smaller Monster. The extra speed means it's 'competitive' on all sorts of roads, and makes for quite a good all-rounder. Don't think for a minute it's a racer that can take on focused sporting tackle, because it's not quite fast enough for that. But it is rapid enough to give thrills, and if you want to lose your wheelie virginity, the 900 Monster is the business.

Life at continual high speed gets a bit unpleasant without a fairing as it does to a slightly lesser extent on the 600. And like that version, pillion provision hasn't been on the top of the designer's agenda. Passengers will survive OK for a while, but the slim seat doesn't give enough support for longer rides.

Practicality didn't get too much consideration either. There are a couple of grabrails for the pillion, but they're better used as bungee loops. There's no centrestand and the instrumentation is basic and doesn't feature a clock. Underseat storage can't accommodate much more than a credit card. If you want to carry any odd and sods on a Monster, then wear a jacket with deep pockets or a backpack.

Choosing which Monster suits you best is very much down to your need for speed and how important having a bike with an appreciably greater amount of grunt is to you. It does, after all, affect every aspect of your riding experience.

The 600 is best described as a stylish tool for getting you around from A to B at a modest pace. It's not designed to go very fast, and rarely provides enough gusto to stir the loins even when you cane it within an inch of its life. The lack of performance from its little motor ultimately restricts its use and thrill power.

But if you're not in a rush and want something that's dead easy to ride, especially in town, and won't scare the pants off you every time you open the throttle, then the cheapest version of the Monster is the right one for you. It has to be said it's a ladies' favourite too, with its less intimidating attitude, yet it's still a macho-looking bike. If you're into the pose, the Monster Dark is cheap money for the kudos the badge of Ducati carries, not unlike Harley-Davidson's entry-level 883 Sportster which sells for under £5,000, priced low to get you hooked into the brand. You see a lot of Monster 600s around the streets of London for that reason - the right image at the right price.

However if you need a little more from a bike, then the 900 has to be considered. Its extra speed makes it more of an all-rounder. It's something you can consider for the sort of lengthy journeys the 600 would struggle with but what it really comes down to is something entirely personal. If you're a more aggressive rider, the bigger Monster is simply a damned sight more fun.

Depending on exactly which model you opt for will dictate the exact price differential over the 600. The glitterball Metallic version we tested is another £300 more than the Monster 900 Dark. So like-for-like, look at spending another £2,000 for the privilege of the extra power. On top of that, running costs like servicing, tyres and insurance are all higher and add to the overall costs of 900 ownership. Sounds like a lot? Well have a go on each and decide - you might find it's a price worth paying.

Technically the 600 and 900 Monsters are very closely related, featuring simple but effective engine and chassis engineering.

As far as engine designs go, the 90¡ V-twin Monsters are very dated. Air-cooled, with only two valves per cylinder, it's no wonder the power and performance of the low-revving motors is only modest.

But one technically interesting feature of the Monster motors, and something unique to all Ducati engines, is the Desmo valve gear arrangement. The near fifty year-old design is not new. But the use of camshafts to both open and close the valves, therefore eliminating springs, is certainly different.

One concession to the modern era is the 900's fuel-injection system. It provides cleaner and crisper fuelling via its 45mm throttle bodies than the 600's 38mm carbs. The extra and more broadly spread power of the 900 means it can use a five speed gearbox. The 600 has an extra ratio. The bigger bike has an oil cooler as standard to keep its engine temperature consistent.

Chassis format of the Monsters is very similar. The steel tube trellis frame might not look up to much, but it's easily strong and light enough - it's the same design used on all of Ducati's WSB championship-winning superbikes. Suspension is exactly the same on each bike. The 43mm upside down forks are non-adjustable and the rising-rate monoshocks can only be altered for pre-load and rebound damping. The bigger Monster features twin-disc front brakes, the 600 only has one. But otherwise the rest of the rolling chassis, bodywork, and cycle parts are virtually identical. That's £2,300 for a bigger engine, fuel-injection and an extra disc. Looking at it that way, it's a harder one to call.

COST OF LIVING

TYRES

The different brands and types of tyres fitted to each Monster reflects the use Ducati had in mind for each machine.

Given its budget status and lower performance, the 600 is fitted with Dunlop's D205 SportMax 120/60 ZR17 front, and 160/60 ZR17 rear sports-touring rubber. These tyres are designed to give a balance of long life and decent grip.

That's a fair choice, but to take fuller advantage of the 600's excellent chassis, and make up for the weakness of its engine, fitting stickier rubber would increase its A to B speed on a winding route.

D205s are becoming difficult to buy now as they've been superseded by the D207. This model has slightly improved performance and is actually marginally cheaper. Expect to pay around £180 a pair, with another £8 to fit and balance them to loose wheels. They should last between 5-8000 miles.

The slightly sportier 900 has Michelin Hi-Sports fitted as standard to cope with its extra power and speed. But Hi-Sports are rarely found in tyre dealers these days, having been replaced by the Pilot Sport.

The 120/70 ZR17 front, and 170/70ZR17 rear Hi-Sports give very good grip though they do have a tendency to let go suddenly when they reach their limit. The Pilots are more predictable, but must be warmed thoroughly before they give their best.

Prices for a set of Pilots fitted and balanced to a pair of loose wheels will cost around £220. Expect a life of between 4-7000 miles.

Tyre bills for the 900 Monster will be 25-40% more than the 600.

DEPRECIATION

The Monsters' loss in value as soon as they leave the showroom is an inevitable fact of life. But their rates of depreciation do differ.

Neither model is highly sought after in the race-rep sportsbike-mad UK. But because the 600 is a little less common it doesn't suffer as badly as the 900.

New prices of £4500 for the Monster 600 Dark, and £6800 for the Monster Metallic can be reduced by a few hundred quid maximum with some serious haggling.

Both bikes need looking after well to stand a chance of staying in clean condition and retaining a decent retail value, as their build quality and finish isn't the toughest on the market.

A year-old 600, in decent nick with around 3000 miles on the clock will be worth around £1500-2000 less than new. But that figure can drop as much as £2500 for the 900.

FUEL ECONOMY

You'd think the smaller-engined Monster would be quite a bit more economical then the 900 version. But only when the two bikes are being ridden at a very leisurely rate does the 600 cost less - returning around three mpg more. Start going a bit faster and the difference is reversed.

Ironically the very fact that the 600 doesn't produce much power is one of the reasons behind the extra thirst in most circumstances. Because of its 34bhp deficiency, most of the time the 600 has to be thrashed hard to perform anywhere near as well as the 900. And that makes it drink just as much, if not more juice.

On average you'll return around 40-45mpg on each machine. But get more serious with the throttle use and the 600 will dip right down to as little as 33mpg. A 900 running at the same pace will consume fuel at around 38mpg. And if you're riding the bigger bike hard enough to return as little as its 35mpg minimum, then you'll have left the 600 standing. The 900's fuel-injection system is another reason why it's generally more frugal overall.

Both Monsters have a fuel level warning light, which comes on with about 20 miles to go. Ranges vary between 105-170 miles on the 600, and 130-160 miles on the 900.

SERVICING

There's no difference between the service intervals of the 600 and 900 and only a little extra cost for the bigger Monster's service charges. The first service for both Monsters at 600 miles is labour charge-free. And you only pay about £25 for new oil and filter.

The service cost rises to £230 for the 600 at the 6,000 mile interval, with another £50 required for the 900.

The next interval at 12,000 miles involves more work. The Desmo valve clearances need to be checked, a job best left to the dealer. Expect a £230 bill for the 600, and £280 for the 900. At 18,000 miles the fee rises to £300 and £350 due to timing belt replacement.

Extra costs for consumables like brake pads, chains and sprockets depend on use. But overall look at spending between £450-500 to keep the 600 ship shape for a two-year / 10,000 period. And around another 20% more for the 900.

SPECS 600 MONSTER

TYPE - STREETBIKE

PRODUCTION DATE - 2001

PRICE NEW - £4500

ENGINE CAPACITY - 583cc

POWER - 42.8bhp@7500rpm

TORQUE - 33.1lb.ft@5750rpm

WEIGHT - 227.5kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 770mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 16L

TOP SPEED - 105mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

SPECS 900 MONSTER

TYPE - STREETBIKE

PRODUCTION DATE - 200

PRICE NEW - £6800

ENGINE CAPACITY - 904cc

POWER - 68.5bhp@7000rpm

TORQUE - 56.6lb.ft@5200rpm

WEIGHT - 185kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 770mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 16L

TOP SPEED - 130mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

For those sorts of buyers Ducati's Monsters are a welcome relief.

The first Monster, the 900, caused a stir when it was launched back in 1993. Quite apart from its attractive and alternative chic Latin style, which set it apart from the Japanese masses, it had several virtues to satisfy the tastes of the more traditional biker - features which until then had seemed to be on the way out.

To these purists, a level of rawness and basic engineering made the Monster more endearing. Fans of Italian iron liked its simplicity, mechanical noise, vibration and quirks, which gave it some essential personality. And the slightly unfinished look provided by exposed wires and cables added to the appeal. To them it was more of a real bike than most of the opposition could offer. The Monster was something they could have a relationship with, rather than just ride.

Performance wasn't a priority and instead of keeping up with the bhp Joneses, Ducati concentrated on other virtues. It considered more real world issues like making the Monster easy to use and have fun on, especially around town. And included a level of flair and style to make it stand out. It quickly became a cult bike with the city set.

The 80bhp air-cooled 90¡ V-twin motor, taken from the 900SS sportsbike did have a fair turn of speed. And the use of a chassis, including a frame from the 851 Superbike, gave it respectable handling. But at the end of the day this was still a bike designed more for show than go.

It was a gamble that paid off, and the Miguel Galuzzi-designed Monster became an instant hit in the showrooms. Though it has to be said, its success was for more evident in Europe than here in the UK, where its sales were far more modest.

A year later the 600 version was introduced. It had significantly less engine power, with a claimed figure of just 53bhp. This made its straightline performance fairly weak, and it was lucky to break the ton on a good day. But its light weight and manoeuvrability made even easier to ride than the 900, and popular with those who wanted a bike which they could use to the full and not feel intimidated by.

Since then Ducati has made a 750 variant, and introduced lots of different versions of the three basic models in the Monster range. Their appeal is obvious and has helped the bike become Ducati's best selling model. We've chosen two of them to give you an idea of just what's on offer in the world of Monsters - the cheapest one, the 600 Dark. And the 900 Metallic, the most expensive of the air-cooled models.

Continue the Ducati Monster road test

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