Fifteen Degrees of Separation - Ducati Monster V KTM Super Duke

All-new and more powerful than ever, Ducati's big Monster is back to battle the super-naked benchmark: KTM's Super Duke

As the scaremongering media fills the front pages with talk of how the world's perched on the brink of meltdown, slipping on a crash helmet is fast becoming the only way to truly escape the circus of madness currently surrounding us. The pub, having already been infiltrated by the tooth-sucking brigade, is no longer the sanctuary it used to be. As for TV, forget it – even EastEnders is positively euphoric compared to the nightly news. Nope, when you want real escapism a leather jacket, gloves and crash helmet are the way forward, and a street bike the perfect companion.

And what better companions could you ask for than these two European beauties? A muscular and unmistakable Austrian and a sexy and sophisticated Italian, fresh from a top-to-toe makeover and ready to take on the world.

Standing back you have to admire the flair Ducati has managed to inject back into its Monster with the new 1100S, and the lower-spec 1100. After its illustrious 15-year lifespan, the old design had run its course, so at the end of 2008 a new Monster emerged from the design studios of Bologna. A fresh Monster that will, Ducati hope, prove as much of a cornerstone to its range as the original. And boy has it done well.

In the crisp spring sunshine the tank and seat unit sparkle, while the deep black of the frame contrasts with the gold wheels beautifully. It’s an odd-looking bike, tall and almost ungainly on its suspension, with a flat front and a headlight like a boxer’s nose. Just as the Japanese create a race bike then add lights to create supersport bikes, so the Monster looks like it’s been designed to look beautiful first and then had the necessary road gubbins added as an afterthought. The road legal pipes look plonked on rather than designed, while the huge cast footrest hangers, along with the numberplate bracket, are an eyesore. Look at the Monster and imagine these areas cleaned up with stylish aftermarket items and you get a glimpse into the designer’s mind.

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Monster V Super Duke 2

Glancing into the mind of the Super Duke's designer is probably less advised. Images of praying mantes and other insects are sure to frighten the unwary visitor. Like the Monster the Duke has a unique look but, unlike the Italian machine, the KTM looks like a finished project. Obviously the numberplate hanger could be removed but, beyond that, you’d struggle to modify it much. With the Monster the designer has provided inspiration for a look you can create.

Even on cold mornings, the Super Duke feels like it wants to play. It’s not a threatening bike, more a friend who‘ll talk about a quiet night in the local, while all the time planning a monster night out that'll take you days to get over. It's trouble, but in a nice way. Sit on the KTM and it feels like a big, roomy bike with a seat that’s too firm and cut with the same harsh angles as the bike's fairing. It's neither comfortable nor forgiving, but after a few corners that's the last thing on your mind. The Super Duke is a riot to ride.

There are only a few bikes out there that hit that magical balance where, no matter what the weather or road conditions, you get a feeling of utter control and confidence. The Super Duke is almost one of them. I’ll explain why later, but for now let’s concentrate on the plus points. KTM's chassis designers have got the balance absolutely spot on. Despite weighing 18kg more than the Monster at a claimed 186kg, the Super Duke actually feels the lighter of the two bikes through the corners. With the Monster there's a reluctance to turn – it's a bike that takes concerted rider input to get it into a bend. It’s a Ducati trait and more noticeable the slower you’re going. I’m loathe to call it a fault, because it isn’t, more a product of Ducati's unique style of engine and the limitations it puts on their bikes' chassis geometry.

Apart from the rider the engine is the heaviest component in a bike, so where you place it makes a huge difference to a bike’s handling. Ducati’s favoured 90° V-twin takes up a larger space in the chassis than a more compact 75° twin, such as KTM's, which is reflected in the two bikes' handling. Where the KTM naturally drops into corners with little rider input, the Ducati requires effort. When the roads are dry and you are going quickly, this effort becomes lost in the general riding experience, but when you’re tip-toeing around corners in the wet it can be annoying – fail to use a firm enough hand and the bike can run wide. In many ways it’s all part of the Monster experience because, unlike the easy-going Super Duke, you can’t turn-off as readily on the more demanding Monster and slip into autopilot to get you home.

The Ducati’s throttle response is more demanding, too. The Monster's big air-cooled engine is so packed full of torque that the slightest whiff of throttle makes it explode into action. It’s a brilliant engine, but one that’s so brutal and forceful in its delivery that it demands a hefty degree of respect. Air-cooled it may be, soft it ain’t. Take the Monster 1100 through a built-up area and you’ll soon be cursing this responsiveness. It all gets a bit too much when all you want to do is gently nudge forwards. Instead the Monster surges and pulls like a barely restrained wild animal. It's an engine that wants to run free and objects strongly to such constraints as 30mph speed limits and other traffic. Get it out of town though and it’s brilliant; immediate and powerful.

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Monster V Super Duke 3

As soon as you sit on the bike the new, wider bars and vastly improved peg-to-seat position make you feel like you’re riding a muscular bike, a bike to be seen on. Get going and the engine has such a wide and responsive spread of torque that at any revs the motor instantly picks up and rips forward. Back-toback the KTM's 990 motor simply can’t compete and ends up feeling a little bit lethargic, which is in-keeping with its easy-going chassis, though the Austrian engine is ultimately more powerful. The difference is that to get to the power, you need to rev the Duke more. Ducati have also down-geared the Monster, giving the false impression of more power at the expense of top speed. For gentle riding the KTM’s engine is far more pleasant to use, it’s just a shame it too comes with a slightly abrupt throttle response.

Although nowhere as pronounced as the Ducati's, the Super Duke doesn’t quite have the finesse you would expect when going from a closed to a slightly open throttle. The big twin chimes in fairly abruptly, which is a bit disconcerting, but then doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. Where the Ducati shoots off instantly, the KTM needs to be revving before the power starts to come in. Maybe the Ducati just spoils you too much with its power, making the KTM seem weak in comparison, but after riding the Super Duke I couldn't really get excited about the motor. Yes it’s lovely to use, super-smooth and powerful when you’re rolling, but it can’t match the Ducati’s emotional impact. There again it is much easier, especially if the road is at all bumpy.

Despite its quality Öhlins suspension, the 1100S is, like most other Ducatis, set-up far too firmly for the average British road. It always mystifies me as to why Ducati set their bikes up in this way, or which roads they test them on – I've certainly never found any super-smooth roads around Bologna. Come on Ducati, a deeply-padded seat and a revised riding position are all well and good, but not when it feels like you're sat on top of a pneumatic drill bouncing down the road.

The first thing any new Monster owner should do is back off a few turns on the suspension to soften the ride. This done the Monster handles the bumps as well as the more sensibly-sprung KTM. The Super Duke may feel a bit sloppier when the road is smooth and the corner fast, but how often do you find those corners in the UK? Personally I'd much rather have a bike set to absorb bumps, rather than transfer them directly to your fillings.

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Monster V Super Duke 4

At the end of the day it boils down to this – in the Super Duke, KTM have created a bike that’s ready to go, while Ducati have created a bike with feeling. You could quite happily take the KTM on a city commute or a weekend blast. Come the weekend you wouldn't have to spend hours cleaning it. The half-fairing protects a lot of the bike and the water-cooled engine lacks the dirt-attracting fins of an air-cooled lump. I’m sure Super Duke owners don’t feel much need to go beyond the fairly normal route of a set of loud pipes and possibly a tail tidy to personalise their bike, and will happily use it most days of the year. If they are feeling that desperate to keep ahead of the crowd they could always spend the extra £800 and get the Super Duke R, with its slightly uprated chassis, but I doubt many do.

Monster 1100 owners will be a different breed. I'm certain come summer some stunning examples of customised Monsters will be parked up at biker meets all over Europe. It’s a bike that lends itself to personalisation. Owners will become loyal students of the parts catalogue, studying it for the next accessory to improve their masterpiece. And I don't blame them at all – as a cool blank canvas, Bologna's new naked beastie is perfect.

The new Monster is a great bike that delivers on every front when it comes to emotional, fun and thrilling riding. Yes it's a right pain at slow speed, but on a smooth, dry road in summer the sublime engine and sorted chassis make for a wonderful and involving riding experience, and a bike that’s quite possibly the perfect tool with which to escape the cloying cotton wool of modern life.


Price: £9,750 (M1100, £8,350)
Engine: Air-cooled, 4-valve V-twin, 1078cc
Power: 95bhp @ 7,200rpm
Torque: @ 6,000rpm
Front suspension: Ohlins 43mm, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Ohlins monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: 320mm discs, 4-piston radial calipers
Rear brake: 245mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Dry weight: 168kg
Seat height: 810mm
Fuel capacity: 15 litres
Colours: White, Red

Visordown rating: 4/5

Price: £8,645 (R version, £9,495)
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 8-valve V-twin, 999cc
Power: 114bhp @ 8,900rpm
Torque: @ 7,900rpm
Front suspension: WP 48mm, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: WP monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: 320mm discs, 4-piston radial calipers
Rear brake: 240mm disc, single-piston caliper
Dry weight: 186kg
Seat height: 850mm
Fuel capacity: 18.5 litres
Colours: Black, Orange/Black

Visordown rating: 3/5