Living with a 2008 Ducati Monster 696

James Whitham's review of the Ducati Monster 696. What's it like to live with?

October 2008

When I got to thinking, I’ve owned a lot of bikes over the years, some I’ve run for a bit,  some just passed through my hands, and some were as hard to get rid of as a tickly cough. Most have been Japanese, but interspersed with some less main-stream stuff like a Cagiva, a Mallaguti, a couple of Bultacos, even the odd Moto-Guzzi chucked in. Funny thing is, I’ve never actually owned a Ducati. I raced a superbike version of the 916 for a couple of seasons, and I’ve road-tested various models of this most prominent Italian make for the magazine over the years, and although riding a longterm loaner doesn’t count as ‘owning’ exactly, I was still looking forward to seeing what the little Monster was like to live with day to day.

I’d ridden the previous model Monster and my abiding memory of it was the riding position, the bloke they designed it around would be easy to spot if you passed him in the street, he’d be the one who resembled an orangutan, with the six foot long arms and no legs !

The new bike is a lot more comfortable, still stretched out a little for this type of naked bike I rekon, but loads better. To be honest, once you get moving and the wind takes the weight off your arms you don’t notice it. The seat-height is low and the bars wide so backing out of a parking spot or picking your way between stationary traffic is a doddle.

Once you’re out on the open road it remains an easy bike to ride, the motor is at it’s best above about 5,000rpm,  but will pull quite happily from 3,000rpm with very little vibration or chain-slap. I was worried when I saw the figures that with less than 70bhp my new toy would feel slow, but it’s like the difference between a diesel and a petrol car. Even if a diesel has less power on paper, they feel as quick because they usually have more torque. The Monster has torque and you feel to be covering the ground even if you short-shift through the gears, and that’s no bad thing on a bike like this.

The slipper-clutch works well, but you have to be giving the gearbox a fairly hard time into the turns to notice it. Riding normally the bike has enough grunt not to have to backshift for Britain into the bends, leave it in the gear higher than you think and it’ll still pull when you open the tap.

The front brake is awesome, loads of power and plenty feel but the rear feels quite puny to me, not that I’m bothered, I use very little rear brake, but there does seam to be a bit of an in-balance.

Another feature that I like is the interchangeable body panels. Two days after I got the bike, which was in a fairly uninspired matt-black, I received a large box from Ducati with everything needed to convert it to the more traditional red livery. On most bikes this would be a days job, on the monster, even I managed it in 10 minutes...and without breaking anything! The only tool you need is a 4mm allen key out of the under-seat pack. It looks a lot better in red.

My main gripe initially would be the lack of adjustment on the clutch lever, well, there is an adjuster screw but it’s been jammed up with some sort of araldite stuff so you can’t actually use it. It’s annoying because the clutch is light and smooth, I’d just like the lever in a different place, not too much to ask, is it ?  

Overall it’s a case of so far so good, the bike suits my kind of short hop riding and I have to say, people, especially those who aren’t into bikes, look at it like it’s a bit special. Not that I buy into this, it has to prove itself to me.

November 2008

I seem to have been on the Monster non-stop since my last update, mostly I have to say with my over-suit on in the pissing rain such has been our summer, and a strange thing has happened. Mostly when I get a new bike, or any other toy for that matter, I’m dead enthusiastic about it for a bit then the novelty gradually wears off and I lose interest (see my garage for proof). But with the 696 the opposite seems to have happened. The more I do with the bike the more I get used to it and in turn the more I seem to be enjoying it. Weird!

   I was instructing at a Knockhill track day recently and instead of using the CBR600RR they provided I thought I’d use the Ducati instead just to see what it felt like in a more controlled environment with me able to push it nearer to it‘s limits than is possible on the road.

   I was shocked at how good this bike felt on track. The harder you push it the more fun it was, and without feeling you were on a knife edge like you do on some pure sports bikes. It’s not going to ever be the quickest thing you take on a track day, in fact it feels steadier on track than it does on the road, but that just means you can thrash it harder without scaring yourself. One thing I didn’t like, however, is the gearbox, which ain’t as slick as most Japanese units by a fair stretch.

   But everything else about it was spot on. Sharp steering, good front brakes and even the stretched-out riding position felt good on track.

   In the afternoon it rained heavily and it was almost as much fun splashing round on the Monster in these conditions as it was in the dry. The standard fit Bridgestone BT56 tyres coped really well and gave you confidence that you weren’t going to hit a puddle and end up on your arse.

   It’s not all smiles, there are some small niggles, the worst being the mirrors. No matter what you do they seem to work themselves loose and end up pointing straight back like a Spaniel’s ears with its head out of a car window. And in the dry, and especially if you have someone on the back, the footrests and side stand tend to deck a little. But having said that, you would have to be a bit mental to want to go pillion with me around a track on a Monster.

   Apart from these little points I’m really enjoying the Ducati 696 like I thought I never would. 

MILES: 1745