My first Ducati Monster impression came 17 years ago at the helm of an S4Rs: a raw, harrowing machine that attacked the Ascari Circuit in Andalucia with mercenary abandon. My writeup at the time remarked that “… a day of wrestling the Monster wracks the wrists, tightens the thighs, and knots up the shoulders.”
I’ll also admit in retrospect that I was a tad greener in my riding career back then, and that the thrill of the 148-horsepower brute, which lacked electronic traction control, was heightened by the fact that the 3.5-mile circuit offered nearly zero runoff around key corners.
A lot has changed since that eye-opening ride. Over 350,000 Monsters have sold in total, earning it legit legend status among both Ducatisti and non-fans alike by claiming the title of the best-selling model out of Bologna ever.
The brand has also evolved quite a bit, finding stability under the aegis of Audi AG. It’s been over a decade since the late Ferdinand Piëch acquired Ducati Motor Holding SpA., reportedly as a birthday present to himself. Stabilizing a revolving door of prior ownerships, Audi injected an air of legitimacy into the famously tempestuous bikemaker.
Powertrain, Power, and Pricing
Walk up to the 2023 Ducati Monster SP, and you’ll find quite a few improvements over its predecessor, the Monster 821. A considerable 40 pounds of weight has been shed while the 937cc L-twin enjoys modest single-digit horsepower and torque gains, for a total of 111 horsepower and 69 pound-feet of torque.
For the record, that’s down 37 hp compared to the ’06 Monster S4RS I tested back in the day, though that model was also 24 pounds heavier. The price of entry has also been democratized. Adjusted for inflation, $15k in 2006 dollars translates to a heady $22,000.
The Monster has also undergone serious nips and tucks since George W. Bush was in the White House. For starters, Ducati ditched the model’s iconic steel trellis frame in 2020, opting instead for a considerably lighter aluminum skeleton that tips the scales at a mere six pounds. Gone is the rattle-tastic dry clutch, replaced with a more workaday wet one.
Ergonomics, Electronics, and Performance Upgrades
Ergonomics are also friendlier to all sorts of bodies, thanks in part to a narrow seat that sits 33.1 inches above ground. Although the SP is nearly an inch taller than the standard Monster, it’s also available with 31.9 or 33.5-inch saddles.
A comprehensive suite of electronics brings three riding modes, traction control, wheelie control, launch control, cornering ABS and quick-shift capabilities. The $15,595 SP, which comes at a $2,600 premium over the Monster Plus, also adds Öhlins suspension, stickier Pirelli Diablo Rosso IV rubber, street legal Termignoni exhaust, a steering damper, Brembo Stylema front calipers and a lithium-ion battery to the mix.
Swing a leg over the Monster SP, and the Audi influence comes through loud and clear, starting with the TFT display. The 4.3-inch screen incorporates slick graphics, a big graphical tachometer, and a gear indicator.
What It’s Like To Ride
While the latest Monster’s hardware has been cleaned up compared to its predecessors, there’s still a lot going on visually thanks to the visible engine, cooling, and exhaust bits. Livery elements have been borrowed from Ducati’s Desmosedici GP MotoGP bike lending the tank a neat red-and-black block pattern, while a snug headlight helps gives the Monster an overall appearance that’s compact and tidy.
The 937cc fires up with a sonorous bark that’s not excessively loud, despite the spicier Termignoni pipes. Aided by the 11-degree valve timing overlap of the Testastretta engine, the L-Twin powerplant runs smoother than ever, producing evenly distributed oomph that’s notably robust around the midrange of its 9,250 rpm powerband.
While wringing performance from Monster engines of yore was a more dramatic experience, with noticeable low-end chatter and an overrun that exceeded 10,000 rpm, the latest SP shoots through each of its six gears with considerably more ease. Also aiding the proceedings is the standard Ducati Quick Shifter, which helps bang out upshifts and downshifts without the need to pull the clutch.
The Monster SP feels smooth, secure, and flickable while cornering through city streets. Old school Ducati folks might be surprised to find that the Termignoni pipes, which have been known to blast a chest-thumping rasp in the past, now emit a mighty mellow exhaust note. Credit (or blame) stricter Euro 5 requirements and more-stringent-than-ever U.S. regulations here.
Reduced unsprung mass from the upmarket Brembo calipers and aluminum flanges combine with the lighter Öhlins NIX30 fork to lend the Monster breezy handling and a surprisingly smooth ride quality. The brake lever feel is excellent, with the three-setting ABS system offering a front-only mode, or all-off if desired. Should you want to experiment with traction control, the system can be set to any of 8 settings, or entirely disabled.
With maximum torque coming in at 6,500 rpm, the powerplant feels potent, but never in any danger of truly living up to the model’s menacing name. While it’s certainly no beginner bike, the Monster SP stands out for its composure and steady nature, delivering strong performance in a package that’s more approachable than it is intimidating.
Gallery: 2023 Ducati Monster SP First Ride
While would-be Monster SP buyers will likely to be drawn to its premium features, they might be in for a bit of a sticker shock when cross-shopping against the competition. Sure, 15 large will barely cover the fancy wheel and carbon ceramic brake package on an Audi R8—to car guys, that’s a drop in the bucket. But two-wheeled competitors are fierce, namely the BMW F900R with the Premium package ($10,930), the Triumph Street Triple RS ($12,995), and the Yamaha MT-09 SP ($11,499).
The thing is, the latest Ducati Monster’s refinements are slick. This is indeed a finely executed motorcycle. However, some of the very things that make it a functional improvement over its predecessor, particularly its lightweight, non-trellis frame, also make it look a whole lot less exotic.
Sure, Ducati still (thankfully) retains its signature Desmodromic valve technology, one of the brand’s hallmarks that date back to 1955. (That feature incidentally was pioneered by Daimler-Benz and subsequently featured on everything from the iconic Silver Arrow Formula One racers to the 300 SL, but I digress.)
As one of those dewy-eyed nostalgics who owns a classic Ducati complete with a trellis frame, a tambourine-like dry clutch, and who’s familiar with all the operating quirks built into pre-Audi-era products from Borgo Panigale, my view is admittedly colored by personal biases. That said, when viewed against its potent competition, prospective buyers need to seriously consider whether they’re interested in paying the Ducati premium for what is an arguably less distinctive package.
While the Ducati Monster SP ditches one of the key visuals that differentiate it from its foes, the Italian naked bike holds its own with quality components and an overarching feeling of maturity and sophistication.
Whether that’s your cup of tea is entirely subjective; some gravitate towards vintage weirdness, while others must have the latest/greatest, and yet another subset can do without the highfalutin Italian brand name and prefer alternatives that get the job done comparably well. Choose wisely. Your two-wheeled joy depends on it.