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Old 10-15-2015, 09:00 PM   #1
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First Ride Review: 2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R

Iíll admit to being a bit confused when Ducati unveiled its 2016 Monster 1200 R this past September. The Monster, in all but a few of its previous configurations, has invariably been the forgiving, city-street-loving naked bike that Ducatiís big bore Streetfighter never could be. Then, along with the 1200 Rís unveil, came photos of the bike at the track and with the Ducati test riderís elbow dropped to just an inch or two off the ground. Cool? yeah. How I ever pictured a Monster being marketed? Not exactly.

Any and all skepticism surrounding the Ducati Marketing Teamís approach to the R changed this month, however, when I had the chance to ride the new 1200 R at the Ascari Race Resort in Malaga, Spain. The 1200 R is nimbler, more composed, and so planted that it seems almost natural to be throwing the bike around as if its fairings read, ďPanigale.Ē No, I didnít drag any elbows of my own, but I can definitely see where Ducati is trying to take the R. And if that new position isnít exciting.

Assuming youíre one of those people who likes the best of everything, then you'll probably be excited over the bike as well. Hereís why:

For starters, the 1200 R is the most powerful naked bike that the boys from Bologna have ever built, and yes, that takes the 155-claimed-hp Streetfighter 1098 into account. Ducati started with one of its Testastretta 11-degree engines, but used a thinner head gasket to bump compression ratio up to 13:1 (from 12.5:1 on the 1200). This, along with a move to larger elliptical throttle bodies with an equivalent diameter of 56mm (versus 53mm on the 1200) and larger, 58mm-diameter exhaust pipes, has bumped power output to a claimed 160 hp at 9,250 rpm. Torque, meanwhile, climbs from 91.8 foot-pounds at 7,250 rpm to 97 foot-pounds at 7,750 rpm.

Ducati Monsters have had a striking appearance since the dawn of time, but it'd be easy to argue that the 1200 R is the best-looking one yet. Credit the new tail and slightly updated lines here.

There are other changes to the engine, though most of those were done in order for the R to meet strict Euro 4 standards for noise reduction. As an example, the pistons have a new material on the side to reduce leak, while the clutch cover has added material near the oil pump to reduce mechanical noise. Also, the Rís redesigned exhaust muffler now has more volume.

Itís worth mentioning that despite these weighty updates, Ducati has managed to actually reduce the claimed curb weight of the R by a claimed 4.7 pounds, to 456.3 pounds (Ducati curb-weight figures account for all operating consumable liquids and a fuel tank filled to 90% of capacity). This compared to the ÷hlins-equipped 1200 S, which has a curb weight of 461 pounds.

Speaking of suspension, the R continues to roll on fully adjustable ÷hlins bits, only the suspension on the R has been lengthened in an attempt to both increase cornering clearance and raise the bikeís center of gravity. Suspension damping has been updated, though spring rates remain the same. The effect on geometry is minimal, with the R having just a 2mm shorter wheelbase (1509mm versus 1511mm on the S) and 4.2mm less trail (89mm versus 93.2 on the S).

The 1200 R uses one of Ducati's Testastretta 11-degree engines but with a thinner head gasket for higher compression, plus larger, 58mm exhaust pipes and smaller updates for reduced noise. These smaller updates include pistons with a new material on their sides plus clutch cover with added material near the oil pump. Thanks to its claimed 160 hp, the 1200 R stakes claim as the most powerful Ducati naked bike yet.

Electronics are the same as they are on the Monster 1200, which is to say the bike has the same three riding modes (Sport, Touring, and Urban) that can be customized via three varying power modes, three-level ABS, and eight-level DTC. All of these settings continue to be adjusted via a switch on the left side of the handlebar and through the Monsterís dash, which on the R now has a gear position indicator. In all situations except for when the sun is directly behind you, each of the bikeís electronic settings are clearly visible. , sun...

Additional updates for the R include an ÷hlins steering damper, larger 200/55-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP rear tire (instead of Pirelli Diablo Rosso II rubber), and separate rider/passenger footpeg brackets, the former holding pegs that are machined for better grip and live on an extremely short list of Ducati footpegs that we like (and actually work to keep your feet in place). To accentuate its sportier personality, the R also gets a more stylish rear seat cover, plus an updated seat.

The 1200 R continues to come with Brembo M50 brakes that offer incredible feel and power, but gets upgrades in the way of forged aluminum wheels and fully adjustable ÷hlins suspension that is taller for a higher center of gravity and better ground clearance. Suspension damping has been adjusted, while spring rates remain as they are on the S.

Throw a leg over the bike and youíll notice right away the effects of the new seat and taller suspension, which together bring the seat height from 31.9 inches max on the Monster 1200 S to a non-adjustable 32.7 inches on the 1200 R. While that number doesnít seem skyscraper high, itís definitely worth keeping in mind if your parents didnít grace you with long legs; at 6-feet-3-inches, I could flat foot no problem, but my legs were definitely straighter than they would be on similar bikes. Other riders on hand for the Monster 1200 R launch didnít find the seat height as friendly, with one Japanese test rider having to come up with some, umm, unique methods for ascending the bike.

The tradeoff here is that the R handles so much better than any Monster that came before it. The bike steers into a corner lighter and through a transition quicker thanks to the higher center of gravity (and forged wheels, weíre sure). On top of that, when itís on its side, the re-damped R feels more planted and composed than ever before. I am generally not a huge fan of naked bikes on the track as the wider handlebar paired to street-soft suspension typically causes those bikes to move around quite a bit through all parts of the corner, yet with the R thereís relatively none of that unwanted movement, even as the pace picks up.

Thanks to its higher center of gravity and forged aluminum wheels, the R steers into a corner and through a transition with less effort than any Monster that came before it.

Compare dyno charts between the Monster 1200 R and the 1200 S and youíll notice that the bikes make about the same power most everywhere below 7,000 rpm. So, similar to the S, the newest Monster makes good power off the bottom and is plenty capable of running a gear higher than youíd expect in tighter sections of road. The benefit here is less shifting over the course of a ride or session at the track. Things change past 7,000 rpm though, with the Rís engine starting to pull a bit harder and not feeling like it goes flat as you close in on the rev limiter. For some, that added liveliness will be the punch to the adrenal glands that the S simply couldnít give. That extra power will probably help the bike come closer to the class-leading Tuono V4 1100 RR, S 1000 R, and 1290 Super Duke R as well, even if those bikes will still have a bit of a power advantage.

Of course, thereís more to the Rís new engine than more steam up top, as when Ducati engineers mounted up the larger throttle bodies they also went through and fine-tuned the parameters for the new Synerject-Continental fuel injection system. The result is near seamless fueling almost right off the bottom. Whether youíre riding stoplight-to-stoplight or going to crack the throttle open in the middle of a corner, this has obvious advantages in that it makes the bike less work to ride or stay on top of.

Thanks to smooth fueling and good torque, the 1200 R will wheely with the best of the naked bike crowd. The other benefit of the power curve is being able to run up a gear and shift less over the course of a lap at the track.

And overall, thatís what the Monster 1200 R feels like to me, an easier bike to ride. Sure, itís a bit faster, but more importantly itís lighter on its toes and more composed when ridden aggressively. Add in electronic rider aids like traction control and ABS that can be easily tailored to provide as much support as you need, and without an overly aggressive cut, and you have a bike thatís surprisingly well suited for track riding.

Does that mean that if you are looking for a track bike you should be looking at the Monster 1200 R? No, not necessarily. But, if you are looking for the best performing naked bike with Ducati logos on it, and arenít scared away by the Rís $18,695 price tag ($18,895 for "Thrilling Black") that makes it the most expensive bike in the naked bike category, then you definitely should.

, maybe one day youíll even take it to the track and get a photo of you dragging elbow. Seriously, itís possible, just check out the Ducatiís photos of the R below the spec chart:

Specifications 2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R MSRP: $18,695 (Red)Engine Type Liquid-cooled, DOHC V-twin, 4 valves/cyl.Displacement 1198.4ccBore x stroke 106.0 x 67.9mmCompression ratio 13.0:1Induction Synerject-Continental EFI, 56mm equivalent throttle bodiesChassis Front Tire 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SPRear Tire 200/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SPRake/trail 24.3 degrees/3.5 in. (89mm)Wheelbase 59.4 in. (1509mm)Seat height 32.7 in. (830mm)Fuel Capacity 4.6 gal. (17.5L)Claimed curb weight (90% fuel load) 456.3 lb. (207kg)Electronics Riding Modes, DTC, ABS

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