First ride: Ducati Monster 821 review

A latest-generation Ducati, only more affordable

TRACTION control, Bosch ABS, 112hp, loads of use-able torque and a price of under nine grand. Throw in the fact it's got a Ducati badge and the Monster 821 looks like a convincing package before I've got as far as starting the engine.

It's not looking too bad afterwards either.

When you do start the engine, you're greeted by the deep rumble that characterises Ducatis. The temptation to blip the throttle and turn that rumble into a bark is irresistible. It's already an emotional experience.

Ducati say the Monster 821's target customers include established Monster fans and new riders. They're offering a restricted 48hp version in some EU countries for A2 licence holders. Sadly the plan doesn't work in the UK (and the 48hp version isn't offered) because rules say a restricted bike must not have made more than double 48hp to begin with.

It's a shame. New riders wouldn't go far wrong with the Monster's 821cc 11° V-twin Testastretta engine , the same one that powers the Hypermotard, making 65.9lbft of torque.

It doesn't really matter what gear you choose in corners. You can be below 3,000 rpm, and it will drive you briskly through and onward with that self-assured rumble as sound track. Or you can shift down and explore the bark, keeping it between 7,000 and the 11,000rpm red line. It's as easily controllable - just faster.

There are three riding modes, Urban, Touring and Sport. Sport gives the most direct throttle response, while Urban limits power to 75hp.

As with the bigger Monster 1200 (and Multistrada and Diavel), you can tune the three modes, changing the degree of traction control and ABS intervention in each one. You can also switch the traction control off in this way.

What you don't get is the 1200's full colour display. The 821 has a grey scale digital dash instead. It's nice enough, with the rev counter consisting of a curved bar crossing the top of the display horizontally. But using it to change those settings, and switch traction control off, reminds me of trying to work out how to set a digital watch my mum bought from the market with no instructions in 1980, when digital watches were new and mysterious. I used to wait until midday and drop it, whereupon the shock would change it to 12 o'clock.

I got there in the end with the Monster (without resorting to dropping it) but it's a long-winded process of pressing and/or holding three buttons, including the indicator switch, with lots of potential for confusion.

It chucked it down on the morning of the launch ride yesterday, on twisty roads near the Ducati factory in Bologna, so I left it in Touring mode at first. It gives a gentler response to both opening and closing the ride-by-wire throttle, but I detected a moment of hesitation at times. Coming out of a corner, I'd open the throttle, the power would come in, and then it would hesitate just for an instant before continuing. It wasn't pronounced enough to be alarming or even particularly annoying, just enough to be noticeable.

When the sun came out in the afternoon I switched to Sport and didn't notice it again. Sport mode, with low traction control intervention, was how the Monster was best enjoyed on those twisty passes. Power delivery remains unintimidating and easily manageable but you get a crisper throttle response.

The Monster felt agile through the turns, with wide, high bars making it easy to chuck in and out of corners. The reach to the bars is a little further than typical of naked bikes but the position is still upright and comfortable, and the seat nicely padded.

At 60° from full lock to full lock, the steering lock is somewhere between sports and novice bike.

The seat height is adjustable, from 785-810mm.

The suspension, a fully adjustable Sachs shock and non-adjustable upside-down fork, coped well with everything the roads threw its way. When the roads dried and we started going a bit faster, the Monster skipped about a bit over bumpy sections but there was never too much drama and always plenty of feel for what the Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tyres were doing.

The front brake is superb, with a precision-progressive feel, delivering exactly the level of power your fingers ask for, and plenty of it. Close your fingers a touch and there's bite. Close them 5% more and you get 5% more.

The back brake, as on the Monster 1200, is vague and dull-feeling. Press it and you're not exactly sure what it's doing.

The 821 has the same frame as the 1200, a small steel trellis joining the head-stock to the cylinder heads. The swing-arm is different, a double-sided unit instead of a single-sided one, but the 821 also retains the 1200's slightly annoying lack of clearance behind the rider's pegs. Put your toes on the pegs and your heels rest on the pillion peg hangers. 

It probably wouldn't feel like a Ducati without these foibles though, another of which is that the pillion seat cover, and in fact the whole pillion seat, can be wiggled about from side-to-side with a little force. It's nice that the pillion seat cover comes as standard though, and the movement is not something you'd ever notice while riding.

Like a footballer who scores fabulous goals then bites you, you have to accept failings if you want genius.

The Monster 821 feels very much a Ducati, with all the noise, emotion and spectacle that goes with that. At £8,995, or £8,795 for the black 'Dark' edition, it's also one of the cheapest Ducatis you can get, undercut only by the Monster 696 and 796, which are continuing in the range.

Perhaps it could still be slightly cheaper. Yamaha's MT-09, a 115hp, 847cc triple, is £6,949 plus on-the-road charges, or £7,349 with ABS. But the MT-09 doesn't have traction control. Does it have quite the inherent desirability of a Ducati, not to mention a latest generation Ducati that looks almost exactly like the Monster 1200? I'm not convinced.

Model tested: Ducati Monster 821

Price: £8,995 plus on-the-road charges (£8,795 for 'Dark' edition)

Power: 112hp

Torque: 65.9lbft

Wet weight: 205.5kg

Tank capacity: 17.5 litres

Seat height: 785-810mm

Colours: Red, white/red ('Dark' edition in black)

Availability: July

Read our Ducati Monster 1200S first-ride review

Read our Yamaha MT-09 first-ride review