2012 Ducati Monster 796 Review and Specs

THERE’S NO DOUBT that Ducati’s Monster line of motorcycles has exerted tremendous influence on motorcycling since the M900 was first introduced in 1993. To say it has been a big hit for the Bologna, Italy-based manufacturer is a great understatement, as Monsters account for half of Ducati’s worldwide sales.
Ducati’s Monster 796 fills a hole between the entry-level Monster 696 and the more robust Monster 1100. At the same time it offers performance that harkens to the early days of Il Monstro.

Engine & Transmission
The 2011 Ducati Monster 796 is powered by the 803cc version of Ducati’s air cooled 90° Desmodue L-twin, which was first introduced on the Monster 800 in 2003 and continued with the Monster S2R two years later. Its oversquare bore and stroke of 80.0 x 66.0mm offers an excellent combination of low-end torque and high-revving horsepower. Fuel is delivered via Siemens fuel injection with 45mm throttle bodies through two-valve heads to combustion chambers with an 11.0:1 compression ratio. In fact, the engine is of the same spec as the Hypermotard 796 we tested in the May 2010 issue of MCN, but the Monster’s larger, more efficient airbox allows it to make more power than the Hypermotard. Like the Hypermotard, the Monster has a 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system (with twin lambda probes for the ECU and Euro 3-compliant catalysts in its gigantic mufflers).

2011 Ducati Monster 796 claims peak crankshaft figures of 84 hp @ 8250 rpm and 58 lb.-ft. of torque @ 6250 rpm. On the dyno, our test unit produced an honest 75.8 rear-wheel hp @ 8250 rpm and 51.4 lb.-ft. @ 6500 rpm not quite 5 more hp than the Hypermotard, with a little more than 1 extra lb.-ft. of torque. Like the Hypermotard, the Monster’s rev limiter is set to 9000 rpm.

2012 ducati monster 796
2012 ducati monster 796
The New 2012 Monster 796 6-speed transmission receives power through a 21-plate (11 friction, 10 steel) Adler Power Torque Clutch (APTC) clutch, which is designed to be quieter and less maintenance intensive than the finicky dry clutch setup that Ducati used for years. In addition to a lighter effort at the lever, the APTC also feels like a racing-style slipper clutch when downshifting. Unfortunately, the APTC is not up to the task of aggressive, drag racing-style launches. Its centrifugally assisted pressure plate won’t engage smoothly when the clutch is slipped at high rpm. Consequently, we feel that neither the Monster 796 nor the Hypermotard 796 reached their full potential during our acceleration trials. In fact, despite having more power and weighing exactly 4 lbs. less than the Hypermotard (which is a bit of a surprise to us, as the Monster carries an extra 1/2 gallon of fuel 3.8 gal. vs. the Hypermotard’s 3.3 gal.), our test Monster practically repeated the acceleration performance of its sibling, turning in a best 1/4-mile performance of 11.97 sec. @ 112.30 mph.

Back in May, our Hypermotard had run the exact same e.t., with a trap speed of 109.10 mph. The 0–60 mph times were also close, with the Hypermotard coming out ahead by virtue of its 3.80-sec. sprint vs. the Monster’s 3.97 sec. The tables turned on the “big end,” however, as the Monster reached 100 mph in 9.65 sec., while the Hypermotard took 10.23 sec. Terminal velocities also showed a major difference between the two machines, as the Monster topped out at 137.9 mph whereas the Hypermotard could only muster 124.0 mph.

The difference is in the final gearing. Both transmissions feature identical ratios and 1.85:1 primary drives, but the Monster’s 15/39 sprocket combo isn’t as steep as the 15/41 on the Hypermotard, which allows the heavier and less powerful Hypermotard to run right with the Monster in the 1/4-mile. We’ll gladly accept the minor tradeoff, however, as the Monster’s taller gearing gives it excellent freeway cruising capability. It turns a comfortable, vibration-free 3940 rpm @ 65mph in sixth gear as opposed to the slightly higher 4140 rpm for the Hypermotard. In most riding situations, though, the APTC clutch is perfectly acceptable, offering smooth engagement, albeit all the way at the end of the lever throw. Even so, it matches the transmission’s clean and precise shift quality. Neutral is also very easy to find.

Chassis & Suspension
The Monster’s 796 chassis and suspension are clear examples of Ducati’s ability to mix and match components within the Monster family. The 796 uses the same tubular steel trellis frame as the 696 and the 1100, but Ducati engineers favored the 1100’s beefy single-sided aluminum swingarm for the 796 rather than the dual-sided unit found on the 696. Its matte black cast-aluminum subframe increases rigidity while decreasing weight. Its passenger footrest hangers are also made of aluminum. A 414.0-lb. wet weight, short 57.1" wheelbase, 24° rake and 3.43" trail suggest nimble handling, and the Monster 796 delivers it. From back alleys to back roads, it voraciously devours corners by virtue of its incredibly light and compact feel. Steering is agile without sacrificing straight-line stability. Typical of most Ducatis, a cut-and-thrust mentality doesn’t agree with the Monster. Rather, steady methodical steering inputs add up to huge time savings in your favorite canyons.

If there is one Monster 796 component we wish Ducati engineers had pirated from the Monster 1100 rather than the 696, it’s the fork. The 43mm Showa male-slider is non-adjustable, and that makes it harder to get the most from the Monster’s handling character. It offers 4.7" of travel, but it feels a tad oversprung, which forces the rider to take great care in fiddling with the preload and rebound damping adjusters on the 796’s non-linkage Sachs shock in order to balance the suspension. The shock offers 5.8" of rear wheel travel with 14 different “clicks” of rebound damping adjustability, and we were able to bring it into balance with the fork for either casual riding or for sport riding but not for both. When hustling the 796 through the curves, we preferred more preload but were forced to remove all of the rebound damping.

An adjustable fork would’ve allowed us to reduce front preload so the 796 could settle farther into its travel. Then we could slow the fork down with the compression and rebound adjusters and dial in less shock preload. As it is, we feel the 796’s suspension represents a compromise between ultimate sportability and everyday riding comfort, and we raised this same issue five years ago with the Monster S2R. All we can add is that when Triumph offered adjustable front and rear suspension on its Street Triple (the Street Triple R), that motorcycle was transformed beyond belief. The 796 is simply too much of a classic Ducati not to deserve the same kind of makeover or at least have it available as an option. It would be worth the extra $800–$1000.

2012 ducati monster 796
2012 ducati monster 796

Wheels, Tires & Brakes
The Monster 796’s lightweight, aluminum alloy, Yshaped, 5-spoke wheels (3.50" x17" and 5.50" x 17") are sourced from the Monster 1100 and fitted with Pirelli Diablo Rosso radials, a 120/70ZR17 MC58W and
180/55ZR17 MC73W. We’re big fans of Pirelli tires, and the Diablo Rossos gave us no reason to change our opinion. Their grip and feedback was strong and predictable in all the road conditions we encountered.

The Ducati Monster 796 Brembo brakes are also very good, although we would stop just short of calling the entire brake package excellent. With the aid of the 245mm floating rear disc and twin-piston caliper, the front 320mm floating discs and four-piston, radially mounted calipers certainly offer excellent stopping power. Our test unit required only 117.4' to stop from 60 mph, and almost all of our stops were below 120'. Even so, some of our testers noted that the front brake lever travel of the Ducati’s nonradial master cylinder was excessive; the Monster’s rotary brake lever adjuster only features four positions. Of course, a customer could spend an extra $1000 for the optional ABS, which only adds 5 lbs. to the bike, although we can’t recommend it without testing it first. We were recently disappointed with the ABS performance of the new Multistrada, and Ducati has since told us that an update for that system is forthcoming.

Instruments & Controls
We were surprised at just how far we could ride the Monster 796 without encountering sportbike-style fatigue. Like the Hypermotard, its seat doesn’t allow the rider much freedom of movement, but the seat is wide and generously padded, and its 31.2" seat height is low enough to allow most riders to plant their feet on the ground when coming to a stop. There is also a passenger seat located under the Monster’s rear cowl, although it is best used for emergencies only. The riding position places the rider’s weight slightly forward, and the footpegs are comfortably placed so as not to cramp the legs too much. While there isn’t much in the way of wind deflection from the front of the Monster, the wind blast does not induce any helmet buffeting.

Tucked behind the Monster 796’s tiny wind deflector is a fully digital instrument unit that features a bar graph tachometer. While we’re normally not fans of bar graph tachs, this one is surprisingly easy to read and comes with an added digital readout feature that makes it even easier to decipher rpm on the fly. Other functions
include an odometer, single tripmeter, clock, scheduled maintenance warning, oil temperature, trip fuel and a lap timer, plus the usual complement of warning lights.

The panel is compatible with the Ducati Data Analyzer performance accessory, which records distance traveled, number of laps and lap times, throttle opening, engine temperature, engine rpm, gear selection and other data that can be downloaded from the motorcycle to a home computer via a USB data stick. While we like the Ducati’s instrument package, riders are encouraged to seriously study their owner’s manual to understand how to access and adjust its various functions. Ducati’s new-generation instrumentation isn’t all that intuitive.

Ducati’s Monster 796 almost combines all the best attributes of the value-priced Monster 696 and the more expensive Monster 1100. Although we wish that Bologna had seen fit to incorporate an adjustable fork on the 796, we understand the concept of price point engineering, and while said component swap would enhance
its overall performance, there’s already a lot to love in this middleweight Monster. For $9999, we’d call it a great buy.


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