First ride: Ducati Monster 1100 Evo review

MotoGP tech meets Monster

Quarter of a million Monsters and eighteen years later, Ducati’s sub-brand is still going strong.

They've just launched their new 1100 Evo and we've ridden the new £8995 model around the roads of Mount Etna in Sicily.

It’s no coincidence that the Ducati factory chose this location. Endless second and third gear switchbacks really suited the strong mid-range power of this new, biggest and most powerful two-valve motor, to date.

The 1079cc capacity is formed by way of the 98mm bore and 71.5mm stroke. A fairly giddy 11.3:1 compression ratio, 5mm more inlet valve lift and re-worked inlet port throats mean that this latest variant on the thirty year-old basic design now punts out a claimed 100bhp and 105Nm of torque. Thanks to massively improved tolerances and production methods service intervals are now at 7,500 miles.

Compared to the basic twin-carb set-up of the original 900 Monster in 1993, the 1100 Evo’s engine management system is on a different planet. There are three ECUs on board, one to control the fuelling and ignition maps, one for the ABS system and one for the Traction Control. Two Lambda probes constantly monitor exhausts gases to adjust the fuelling and an exhaust valve (quite exposed and quite visible) keeps a cap on noise levels for testing purposes and to improve bottom end torque figures. The twin alloy silencers contain the catalytic converters.

Other interesting engine tweaks? Vaccum-cast crankcases are lighter, thinner and stronger than conventionally cast items. There’s a new self-servo wet clutch with slipper mechanism and an in-built cush drive , revised oil cooling of the cylinder heads and a much lighter 848-style flywheel assembly.

In the chassis department it’s all familiar fare. Tube steel trellis frame with detachable cast alloy sub-frame  (87mm of trail, 24 degrees of rake) and 43mm Marzocchi USD forks and a Sachs off-set monoshock unit at the back. Bow and stern are both adjustable for bump and rebound damping and spring pre-load. One of the nicest components on the new 1100 are the gorgeous ten spoke alloy wheels, just a shame they’re hidden by the huge 320mm floating discs at the front and those big, fat alloy silencers at the back.

For current Monster owners, the ergonomics are only slightly different from what you might already be used to. An 810mm seat (narrow at the front) height still suits people with short inside leg measurements and the wide, flat, taper bars are apparently 20mm higher due to new risers to reduce the stretch across the fuel tank. An LED rear light, redesigned number plate holder and rubber mounted indicators complete the picture.

So what’s it like to ride? Not much fun with two fractured ribs, but that’s by-the-by.

The first thing you notice when it fires into life is the real crack from the twin pipes. It’s loud but the noise is good: deep, bassy and suggestive of a high compression ratio. Throttle response is lively and the revs rise and fall very, very quickly – maybe also thanks to the much lighter flywheel assembly.

The first part of our route was through traffic infested town streets and this new Monster, like all previous Monsters, is a bit of an art to ride at these speeds. The new wet-clutch action is very light, the bite and take-up extremely consistent and progressive. It’s just as well, really because to ride the 1100 Evo at these speeds you’re constantly having to dip and slip the clutch to avoid that clacka,clacka chain slap that’s incited by every power pulse. You can hold a gear too low but I found it calmer and smoother just to ride with two fingers on the clutch to smooth out this drivetrain snatch. They’ve always been like this, haven’t they? Honda’s VFR1200 is the same. At low speeds you have to ride the clutch to avoid the drivetrain shunt in the shaft drive assembly. The one I ran last year obviously stood me in good stead for this new Monster. Anyone who's done a bit of trials riding will find this style of low-speed riding second nature.

Once out of the derestriction zones and amongst the corners, the Evo started to make a lot of sense. The power deliver is ideally suited to a twisty mountain road and there’s little need to rev it to the rather abrupt rev limiter as the power has already started to tail off by this point, anyway.

Just hold a gear and roll it on and off the gas to thread corners together, smoothly and quickly is what the Evo is best at. It’s a strong engine in the mid range but it didn’t feel like the claimed 100bhp – perhaps that was the Mount Etna 6,000ft altitude working against it. In short the Evo makes really strong every-day riding sort of power. The kind of grunt where you don’t have to change down fifteen gears to overtake a car before an approaching corner – the kind of power where you can travel at a really respectable rate of knots without your passenger even really noticing.

The gearbox is peachy. Compared to my Fireblade, which sounds like someone’s dropped a monkey wrench in the gear clusters when you engage first from neutral, the Evo snicks first gear in comparative silence. Up-shifts and downshifts are slick, sweet and smooth – sixth is really leggy which should make big motorway distances relatively relaxed (and fuel efficient).

The handling? It’s very firmly sprung and damped to the point where you wonder whether they’ve gone slightly too far for a bike designed to bop around on. Cobbled Sicilian streets are a harsh task master, though. On smoother roads the suspension control was a nice balance with just enough brake dive and just enough on-power squat to let you know exactly what the dual compound Pirelli Diablo Rosso 2s were up to.

Speaking of which, there’s the small matter of traction control – a first for the Monster range. It’s got four settings with 1 being the least intrusive and 4 being designed for the most cack-handed applicants. A mode button of the left bar lets you scroll through and choose the setting (must be done at a standstill). It’s so easy to use, even I sussed it out.

Only on the fourth setting did I notice its effect. Powering hard out of lava-dust strewn hairpins, the engine would stutter and gurgle as the DTC cut in and out, smoothly and seamlessly. It’s a really impressive, easy to use system that would be perfect for rain-lashed UK streets – could save a fortune in bodywork, levers and Cocodamol, too.

Steering-wise the 1100 Evo feels like every other monster in the family. Tip it into a corner and the bars appear to move more than the lean angle and corner radius would suggest – it’s not over steer but over-steering, if you see what I mean.

Once you get used to that trait, the monster handles brilliantly and is particularly susceptible to throttle inputs. A closed throttle, with engine braking really helps to you tighten a line (you notice this on slippery downhill hairpins) whereas front brake tends to make you run a bit wide. It’s really easy to hurl the Evo from one bank angle to another (even with two fractured ribs) and it only takes a bit of counter-steer to get it to turn accurately at high speed. High speed stability (even cranked over through fifth gear sweepers) is good, too.

Obviously, as responsible members of the press, we don’t do wheelies - but if you were to, you’ll find that this new Monster with its new dose of mid-range power is possibly one of the finest monowheelers around. Possibly.

Colours? You can have black with a grey stripe (subtle) or red with a white stripe (unsubtle). You can also spec bodywork from the Logomania range so you can make your Evo look like a 1981 Pantah, an original black and gold 900SS or a Mike Hailwood Replica bevel drive. There are also Rossi and Hayden replica paint schemes. Obviously.

The new Monster 1100 Evo is in the shops now.